12 “Showstoppers” (American Horror Story: Freak Show) [SPOILERS]

ahs freakshow

The penultimate episode is here: after this only one more episode left to go of the premier horror TV show’s fourth crack of the whip.

I could moan on about how quickly it has gone, but I actually think that this has been the strongest series yet, managing to maintain its pacing and story over (almost) the whole season.

The fact that Freak Show has woven into a better piece of the tapestry than what might by some be thought better general horror fare, is a testament to how this show is growing into its format and maturing.

So with two episodes left, the show must go on…

After Maggie’s revelations last week, the freaks now know all about Stanley’s murderous plan. They lure him out at an send off dinner for Elsa, to enact their revenge. Jimmy, meanwhile, is slipping into depression, not to mention anger at Maggie’s revealed betrayal — though Elsa has a plan to help him. And Marjory tries to turn Chester against the twins.

Firstly, Freaks. If you haven’t seen that film, then go and do so. It’s a wonderful black and white 1920s film, which has served as the inspiration for much of Freak Show‘s atmosphere.¬†The revenge scene at the start of the episode lifts almost directly from its climactic moments. So is this okay?

Well, I’m a little torn. On the one hand, it comes across lazier than more subtle homage. However, it is beautifully executed — and knowingly, too, since Elsa praises it as the troupe’s favourite film. I’m also aware that this is the rounding off of a single thread of the story. Were the climax of the series just a rehash of a cult classic, then I might have other thoughts, but this struck me as a loving homage and thanks for everything that the show has gained from a now-beloved classic which was banned when first released.

Other opinions are, I’m sure, also available.

Chester’s storyline continued to creep me out; and Marjory is probably the most overtly unsettling character since Twisty’s departure. The way that the camera transitions from the puppet to Jamie Brewster at her maniac best, is chilling, and when he actually saws Maggie in half in front of the speechless and unbelieving freaks… Well, its one of AHS‘ more stomach…turning moments.

I’m not sure about that as an end to Maggie’s arc though. True, as Desiree remarks, she probably had a messy end coming after helping Stanley, but from the point of view of her and Jimmy as an item it’s an unsatisfying final refrain — even if I did love that she eagerly volunteers for the box. That said, AHS has never really minded sudden and abrupt endings.

Ah, but Elsa. Jessica Lange, as ever, is the star, and here she comes into her own. Summoning her old friend, the man who crafted her legs, to help Jimmy, we get to see a little more of her backstory. The grainy 1930s flashback scenes of Massimo’s revenge for Elsa’s legs fits in perfectly, and the genuine emotion with which Elsa greets him is probably the first time we’ve seen such warmth from the character.

But here is where the freaks finally turn on her. This has been a long time coming, slowed down by what happened to Jimmy, but the freaks¬†put together that Elsa was behind Ethel’s death, and resolve that they must be revenged upon her as upon Stanley. The twins warn her, though, and when Desiree’s lynch mob arrive at her tent, she is already gone — having sold the show to Dandy. The look on her face when Bette and Dot warn her that “her monsters” want her dead, is heartbreaking.

But it is Evan Peters’ Jimmy who steals the show in one of the closing scenes. Presented with the prosthetic hands Massimo has made for him, he declares them perfect, before fitting them on and raising two wooden replicas of his lobster claws. Yes, it’s clear from the moment he reacts what they are going to be, but this is still the most powerful moment of the episode. The conclusion of Jimmy’s acceptance of his difference. It was a beautiful close.

In know I have a soft spot for AHS, and am prone to heap praise on it, but I really am impressed with how well the stories have hung together this season. There has been — that I can recall — one “off” episode, and unlike with previous offerings it hasn’t either dragged in the middle or felt like an unsorted jumble of ideas. What is forming is a beautiful story of difference, normality, outcasts and self-acceptance. That it is bathed with a liberal sprinkling of blood and horror has only made it more potent, more effective.

Roll on the “Curtain Call”.

Closing thoughts:

  • That was definitely a young Hans Gruber in the Germany flashback — better known to viewers of Asylum as the sinister Dr Arden. That is — after Pepper and Sister Mary Eunice — the second Asylum link in Freak Show so far.
  • He wasn’t played by James Cromwell though — but by his son John Cromwell. Honestly, if the writers want to set the next series in 1930s Germany, with him as a main character, I’m onboard.
  • The showrunners did heavily hint that Twisty would be returning. Back for the curtain call next week, perhaps?
  • I really do hope that Jessica Lange decides to do another season. She has made this show what it is.
  • Actually, they usually include some horribly vague hint at about this point as to the theme of the next series. The flashbacks, perhaps? “The Party”? It would be a difficult one to do, but nobody can accuse AHS of shying away from a difficult topic.

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