“American Horror Story: Freak Show”: More More Mordrake

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Before we start, am I the only one who has taken to periodically bellowing “EES THERE LIFE ON MARSSSSS?” at the top of his lungs in a wobbly German accent? Yes? K, just checking.

At The American Morbidity Museum (which is not, it turns out, a slang for Wal-Mart), a pair of two-bit con artists try to shake down the staff by selling them a fake baby Sasquatch in a jar, but they aren’t buying. On the way out, they are told in hushed tones by Cameron Tucker’s mom that the Museum would pay top dollar for Siamese twin organs from a freak show. Well how convenient! Also convenient? The cons are played by returning players Denis O’Hare and Emma Roberts. Welcome back, kids!

It’s Halloween, y’all! Which means there’s an excuse for the show to crib from the quintessential American slasher flick, Halloween. Which it does, only in West Palm Beach, with Twisty. As with the premiere’s reference to Zodiac, the show apparently loves putting Twisty in homages to movies that are actually scary.

Meanwhile, Ethel (Kathy Bates) goes to the doctor, and learns she has not only a terminal Baltimore accent, but also cirrhosis of the liver. She counters, “Mah liver’s tough as an awled bewt!” but sure enough, she’s got a year to live. She cries as she tells the doctor that he’s the only doctor who’s ever treated her with respect, and it’s actually really touching. Also, she can’t drink booze ever again. REAL TEARS.

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Back at camp, the legless lady bobs for apples, and Paul (Mat Fraser) rather hilariously tells Dot and Bette (Sarah Paulson and Sarah Paulson) that they could win the game in half the time. Ha! They decline. Jimmy (Evan Peters) comes back from digging Meep’s grave, and Dot chastises them all for partying when they should be paying tribute with a show dedicated to Meep. They tell her that no freaks work on Halloween because of Edward Mordrake, a dude with a face on the back of his head that whispered horrible things and a face on the front of his head that looked like that kid from American Beauty (Wes Bentley). Ethel pours a shot (WHAT, mama?!) and tells them the tale until Jimmy drags her away, asking what’s up with the folklore (Mordrake will appear and take a freak away from any side show that performs on Halloween, y’all) and her boozing. The old-timey flashbacks of “The Two-Faced Prince” are, it must be said, delightful.

At Mott Mansion, Gloria (Frances Conroy) has turned out a Halloween spread for Dandy that includes franks-in-blanks and Patti Motherf*cking LaBelle as Woody Woodpecker. Dandy (Finn Wittrock) is not happy that mama wants to dress him as Howdy Doody, because he’s not a f*cking 3-year-old. He throws a tantrum, insults Dora, and makes his own GD clown costume, thank you very much.

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At Meep’s funeral, Jimmy gives the eulogy and the side show crew throw chicken heads and booze onto the casket. Meep loved Halloween, turns out – he’d sneak chicken heads into kids’ candy bags. Okay, I’d take that over a Three Musketeers any day. Jimmy is distracted when a Yellow Cab pulls up… and it’s of course the lady con artiste. She says she’s Esmerelda, a fortune teller.

Either Dot or Bette has a dream that they are being surgically separated – turns out it’s both Dot’s dream and Bette’s nightmare. Yeesh. Dot wants to kill it at the freak show so she can save the money to get separated, insisting, “One will die, one will have a chance at happiness.” Showbiz! (Also, wouldn’t the medical community be falling over themselves to have a crack at these two? I think they’d do it for free.)

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Speaking of, Elsa (Jessica Lange) smokes up in her tent and Esmerelda visits her to audition for the company. She does a quick Mentalist-inspired read of the room and tells Elsa everything that she wants to hear, namely that Marlene Dietrich stole her look. Elsa hires her on the schnitzel.

Del (Michael Chiklis) is working out and Desiree (Angela Bassett) starts drinking – happy Halloween! She tries to rub him into action but he can’t get it up – so she disses him (“I’d get more satisfaction from a doorknob!”). He throws her up against the wall and immediately regrets it. Later, Ethel meets Del in the swamp and they talk about Jimmy, who is Del’s kid (duh). Turns out Del has always had trouble getting it up, for whatever reason. Anyway, Ethel says Jimmy can never know that Del is his “paw” and also she’s dying, so there. Also, Jimmy always wanted to be a soldier on Halloween. Foreshadowing?

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Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge) scares Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin) outside of her trailer by popping out of a jack-o-lantern in perhaps my favorite ten seconds of the entire season thus far.

Back at Mott Manor, Dandy puts on a mask and stalks Dora in another homage to Halloween. Only this time it’s more like a scene from Scary Movie, because girlfriend is NOT putting up with his nonsense: “Go on, kill me! I dare you!” Okay, that’s amazing. Dandy tries to stab her with a table knife but he can’t, and they both admit they hate one another. Anyway, the point is that Dandy is NOT a killer, and Patti Motherf*cking LaBelle does not suffer fools messing with her good flatware.

Esmerelda calls her partner Stanley and tells her that the freaks are freaking her out, especially the two-headed chick. Stanley gets extremely excited, either about this news or about the shirtless guy dressed as a viking in his motel room. Wait, what?! Back in Florida, Jimmy and Ez get shaken down by a cop, and she lies to the cop and convinces Jimmy not to pick a fight before curfew. Okay, I think I might like her. Back at Stanley’s, we get viking buns and apparently this con man is in for the looooooooong con, if you catch my meanin’. He’s got a sword for this viking? HE HAS A LARGE PENIS.

Moving on.

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Back in Key West, the housewives complain that Dragnet “is going to be the downfall of American culture” as snotty older brother Mikey gets nabbed by Twisty in front of his baby sis. The not-at-all-scarred-for-life little girl says, “The clown took him.”

Dot is mean to Bette and the others won’t rehearse because of the legend – but then Elsa shows up to shove them both aside so that she can fill Ryan Murphy’s monthly iTunes commitment with a cover of a Lana Del Rey song and also impress this phantom that Esmerelda has somehow convinced her will launch her career. I find myself wishing that they had auto-tune in 1962. Mordrake arrives on a carpet of green smoke. This. Is. TERRIBLE.

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Thankfully, Mordrake is gone when she finishes. But then he visits Ethel in her trailer and makes her confess her sins, which involve flapper beads and bad Shakespeare. Wait, is she actually Baz Luhrmann?! Also, Del sold tickets to Jimmy’s birth, and his biggest crime was that he did a lousy job of it, from what I can tell. Ethel mourns, “He’s never known anything but exploitation!!” She could be talking about either Jimmy or Ryan Murphy. Mordrake hands her a hankie and a disembodied voice purrs, “Not. The one.” So we can move on to the next crew member.

Dandy pops in at Twisty’s van but he can’t bring himself to actually harm the hostages. Twisty arrives with his new boy-toy.

TO BE CONTINUED.

Notably Dead: Edward Mordrake, a bunch of old-timey people, a viking hustler’s gag reflex

Notably Absent: Penny the candystriper

Freak of the Week: Give it to Ethel for not only rocking some intensely emotional scenes but also maintaining a tight greaser ’do in 90% humidity.

Quote of the Week: “Take your Sasquatch with you!”

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Blood – 4/10

That spatter during the surgical dream sequence was great – but otherwise not much going on this week.

Beasts – 3/10

I guess chicken heads is all we’re getting by way of fauna this year, but at least this week they brought a whole sackful.

Buns – 10/10

Viking buns! Until the real Thor drops trou, we’ll take what we can get.

Rating

In all, this was a decent ep. As suspected, the human drama is taking center stage this season, and I expect that we’ll be getting more scenes like the ones that Ethel nailed this week about the pain and burden of being different in a society that thrives on sameness (in this show’s universe, anyway). I loved the inclusion of historical curiosity Edward Mordrake and am hoping they do a bit more with him next week that doesn’t involve green fog, which felt like it might have blown over from the set of The Strain. Twisty and Dandy continue to be the least interesting storyline, and somehow get less scary by the minute – am I the only one who expects Dandy to fall head over heels for the new hostage and suddenly be cured of his fake psycho shtick? And I can’t quite pin down Twisty’s criteria for kidnapping versus killing versus glaring at from over a hedge – hopefully that will be made clear soon. I love that O’Hare is playing a gay character this year, and Roberts has dialed down the Mean Girl routine considerably from last year, and it’s nice to see some range from her. Am I the only one a bit disappointed that Elsa has turned out to be such a blockhead? I mean, this isn’t her first day at the side show.

More than anything, I really don’t know that they needed 90 minutes to tell this chapter of the story – these extra-long episodes are getting a bit out of hand. We recappers need our beauty rest!

Overall, I’d give it three out of five Pennywises:

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What’d you folks think?

Writer-filmmaker Brian Juergens launched CampBlood.org, the world's first website devoted to horror films from a gay perspective, in 2003.