11 “Magical Thinking” (American Horror Story: Freak Show) [SPOILERS]


ahs freakshow

Welcome back American Horror Story.

Yes, I’ve been looking forward to the new year’s return of this particular series, and not just because of the, err, attention that my reviews of it received last year.

Freak Show has been my favourite series of the anthology show so far, pushing the boundaries of what it can achieve through the format. I’m less onboard with the after-the-fact linking of the different seasons, but I have to admit that the last episode was an absolute masterpiece.

After the disappointment of Gotham‘s return, part of me was a little trepidatious. But the first few bars of that creepy theme music had me as excited as ever…

After the shocking revelation at the end of the last episode, we see the rest of Stanley’s pitch to Jimmy, leading up to poor lobster boy selling his hands. At peace at last in the freak show, Bette and Dot are after a man; enter travelling salesman/magician/ventriloquist Chester. In the tradition of AHS, he’s not all there, but the girls like him, and Dandy is very jealous. Which does not, as we know, end well…

New character time at the freak show, probably necessarily due to the numbers they’ve bumped off. But Neil Patrick Harris is an excellent addition, and Chester a very AHS character. Talking his way into the troupe, more on account of his skill with numbers and his means persuading Elsa, he and his dummy Marjorie fit right in.

Except he thinks that the dummy is alive, almost certainly masking some sort of PTS from WWII. And she’s voiced (and occasionally played) by the excellent Jamie Brewster, who was one of the stand-out stars of Murder House and Coven.

The, err, scene with him and the girls is raunchier than AHS usually goes, but it’s played out well. Particularly intersecting with what Chester is running away from — the murder of his wife and her lesbian lover by…Marjorie. Who is none too pleased at his relationship with Bette and Dot. And Dandy is, as said earlier, very jealous.

Jimmy, meanwhile, is holding onto his hope that Stanley isn’t a crook. Of course, Del knows otherwise, having been blackmailed by him into killing Ma Petite. Del and Amazon Eve bust Jimmy out, killing a couple of cops in the process — which only brings the eager police down harder on the freak show.

In the nick of time, though, Maggie Esmerelda and Desiree return, with the preserved Ma Petite in tow. Del’s tearful confession, elicited at gunpoint by Desiree, is just the final straw before Elsa shoots him from behind.

Good.

I hope you were paying attention, Gotham, because this is how you avoid disappointing your audience after a break. This was another episode of AHS at the top of its game, building on the escalations of last episode with weirder and more wonderful characters and plot developments.

There’s also a real sense of the story playing out to an actual conclusion, which is something that American Horror Story has previously struggled a little with. Here we have justice for Ma Petite, some sort of emerging future for the freak show, and surely with the revelation of Ma Petite’s fate the end of Elsa’s pipe dreams of stardom. Or maybe not, given the magazine in last week’s flash forward…

At any rate, Neil Patrick Harris is a great addition to the cast, his character a great addition to the show, and the heavy weight of the horror of the different hanging over the show like an unsettling blanket. Some damn good television.

Closing thoughts:

  • Ventriloquism. Dummies. Buttons pushed.
  • I’m a little surprised at how well the show has moved on since it got rid of Twisty. The horror has matured, grown more subtle, grown…sharper.
  • Killing Del when the police are crawling all over the camp seems a bit foolhardy.
  • Chester actually represents the first person in this show, set in the early 50s, damaged from the war. I actually surprised it’s taken this long.
  • Whenever a new actor or actress shows up in this show, I privately try to guess whether they’ll become one of its regulars. I don’t mind saying I’d be very pleased if Neil Patrick Harris had a couple more seasons of AHS in him, based on this performance.
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