I write this blog, humming the horribly catchy theme tune for American Horror Story. Specifically, for its latest incarnation, Freak Show. I’m sure you’re absolutely fascinated to hear, but I place great stock on soundtracks, and the general mood-setting tone of TV series and films.
And it was the theme music — and the credits sequence — which first sucked me into American Horror Story. Throughout each of the series so far it has set the stage as a chilling and surreal preview of the series to come.
There is something different about this series though; the music has changed subtly to a give it a carnival edge, and the freaky freaks of the visuals have less of the dream-like, found-footage-esque sense.
I rather like it. And will be humming it for at least the rest of the day.
After she sold/gave away the twins to Gloria and Dandy at the end of the last episode, this week is Elsa’s birthday, and she is being extra…Elsa-y. Still convinced she’s going to have her own TV show, she hauls out a spinning wheel to chuck knives at. The twins, meanwhile, are Dandy’s latest plaything; a turn of events which Bette is happy about and Dot is not. Stanley is pushing Maggie to deliver one of the freaks for the museum, and to save Jimmy her eye falls on Ma Petite. And as suspicions rage around the canival about what happened to the girls, Elsa’s jealousy soars with tragic consequences.
After starting with a potent burst of physical horror, between the freaks themselves and Twisty, the series is transitioning to a very real, very human sort of evil. It is like the Edward Mordrake episodes were the high-watermark of the supernatural — for the time being.
Dandy is utterly brilliant. Put next to the mirrored personalities of the twins, he makes for a delightful display. Amused, at first, by his new toy(s), he revels in Bette’s enjoyment, and wants Dot’s affection. But Dot, of course, only wants to be normal, free of her sister, and Jimmy. When Dandy reads Dot’s diary and realises he won’t get his own way, he embraces his inner psycho. Just as Jimmy turns up looking for the girls.
Dandy as a character wouldn’t work without the excellent acting of Finn Wittrock. He fits the role like a glove. The biggest freak of the lot.
But Elsa gives him a run for his money. Having gotten rid of the girls out of jealousy, Elsa rages at the others missing their friends. When Paul, who she has been sleeping with, falls in love with Penny, the candy striper who came to the freak show in the first episode, had an orgy, and left, she hauls the troupe out of bed in the middle of the night. Elsa demands that one of them prove their absolute trust, by going on the spinning wheel while she chucks knives at them.
Paul volunteers, and of course, she skewers him through the midriff. Elsa doesn’t call the doctor, and he is left slowly ebbing away as Penny turns up to sit beside him.
Elsa is losing her grip on the freaks. Jimmy goes from her staunch defender, to suspicious of her motives. And when, at the end, Ethel threatens to kill her herself if Elsa had anything to do with Dot and Bette’s disappearance. Elsa is jealous, at the end of her chances, and as she says, “just wants to be loved.”
What she actually wants is to be worshipped.
The third strand of the story is Stanley and Maggie Esmerelda. Stanley, frustrated at the disappearance of the twins, wants a new prize. In order to distract him from Jimmy’s hands, she suggests Ma Petite. Maggie carrying her out to a barn to drown her in preserving fluid is one of the best horror moments of the episode. The tiny, helpless woman smiling and playing as Maggie prepares the fluid is horrible.
Fortunately, she doesn’t go through with it. Instead she tries to run away with Jimmy, whether she really loves him or not being still unsure. At any rate, the timely appearance of Stanley, demanding she bring Jimmy to him, is another shiver up the spine.
Having drawn us in through the contortions of the freaks, what AHS has done is make us care deeply for them. At the same time, those “normal” characters have been revealed as the darkest, the real evil. Dandy is psychotic, which is probably the least terrifying. He’s a pantomime villain in many ways.
Stanley is slimy, dark-hearted, pulling Maggie in further than she wants to go whilst only caring about his profit, about finding something to sell to the museum. The near-death of Ma Petite is harrowing, because she is so helpless and Stanley so ruthless.
But Elsa. Elsa has back story, Elsa we understand why she is how she is. The chilling part is that the understanding doesn’t make any difference. When she turns on Paul, it is vicious and unrepentant. The tension as he is strapped to the wheel, and then the lingering cruelty as she sits and watches him deteriorate; all for having the gall to turn away from her. She is the ego-driven goddess of this freak show, the black heart more insidious than Twisty, and she is shattering the troupe with her jealousy and greed.
The human evil is exactly what the show needed. The freaks in the skins of “normals”, become the focus of the show, is a perfect fit, setting up in the same way as Asylum did the mirror effect and the look at different sorts of evil. I have been really enjoying this series so far, but I think this was the best episode yet.
- More centre stage for Ma Petite and Amazon Eve. I did say that I loved the background characters. Seems someone was listening
- Despite his man-child nature, Dandy does recognise that he himself is a freak. And there is something potent in his admission that when he is with the twins he feels normal.
- They’re in the middle of a field, in the 1950s. How exactly is anyone calling an ambulance?
- Still no appearance from Gabourey Sidibe. I’m a touch disappointed, I’ll admit, but hopefully next week.