“American Horror Story: Freak Show”: “A Mother’s Intuition”

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Gloria Mott (Frances Conroy) smokes next to a coffee table that looks like a massive cherry pie. She’s in therapy. Bless. She talks about Dandy as a child – he tortured Regina by cutting her hair off. He killed the cat, but at least he did it for his momma: “The boy never learned to play!” He befriended wee Emil, the gardener’s boy. The kid disappeared. Shocker, I know, but Gloria seems legitimately surprised. The shrink says that she has to bring him into the shop for a tune-up, but she says Dandy will never come. She denies that anything recent triggered this anxiety: “Just a mother’s intuition.” What was up with the weirdo voiceover shrink? And is his scribble of “Dr. Winters” a possible tie-in to Lana Banana’s backstory?

The opening titles remain the scariest thing about this whole show.

Manhunt for Ma Petite! Nice cover, Dell (Michael Chiklis). The dogs pick up a scent… and Jimmy (Evan Peters) finds something in the woods and screams. They file back into the big top with an apple box, and Elsa (Jessica Lange) opens it and squeals – it’s Ma’s stained nightgown. Dell suggests that it was an animal what took her, bones and all – you know, to make stock. Elsa keens, but Ethel (Kathy Bates) looks at her suspiciously.

Later Ethel brings tea as Elsa talks to the tent wall about God and Ma Petite. Elsa points out that Ethel is drunk, and Ethel tells her to mind her ewn deym business. She tells Elsa that she gave quite a performance over Ma Petite’s loss – she almost believed her grief! Elsa slaps her, but it sounds like a punch. (And it felt like a kiss?) She accuses Elsa of being jealous that Ma Petite stole her spotlight by being so goddamned adorable with her little Ben Hur chariot. Elsa tries to kick her out, but Ethel tells her that she knows her better than she knows herself – Elsa is too busy sucking down schnapps to notice. Seriously, she is SWILLING that schnapps. Elsa overturns the dinner tray in anger at the accusation that she harmed Ma Petite and that she might be overacting in this scene.

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Elsa insists she killed nobody, and Ethel reminds her about her chat with Stanley (Denis O’Hare) about killing the twins. Ethel says she died when she heard Elsa say that, but Elsa says she should be judged on her actions, not her words. Elsa says she’s going to go find the twins to prove her innocence AGAIN. Ethel says never mind, she took the twins somewhere safe. Elsa says she didn’t want them dead, just on a bus to Tampa – and to her, “death would be preferable to Tampa.” (Nice joke – Sarah Paulson is really from Tampa.)

Elsa tries to walk out, but Ethel pulls a gun and shoots her in the leg, which Ethel apparently doesn’t know is fake. Elsa laughs and tells her that she doesn’t know her at all. We see in flashback that after her snuff debut, she was saved by the Axeman from last season (Danny Huston), now named Massimo, who gave her prosthetic legs. The sight of Elsa with no legs done up like Madonna from the Sex book is pretty awesome, I have to say. He says he will make her legs beautiful, and I believe him because he has GREAT hair. Massimo wanted to work in the movies in special effects, but she was his masterpiece. He gives her … Pinocchio legs.

Wait, nobody in the sideshow knew that she had prosthetic legs? Okayyyyy….

Ethel won’t put the gun away, saying it all ends tonight, and Elsa tries to talk her out of it. Ethel insists, “No one’s innocent anymore.” Elsa asks her to join her for one last schnapps, and Ethel of course has a moment of boozy weakness, and Elsa takes the opportunity to pick up one of her throwing knives and plant it in Ethel’s eye from across the room.

Well… that happened. Kathy Bates, thanks for coming to work today. Please return Louie Anderson’s chin merkin before leaving the set.

Maggie (Emma Roberts) is found blubbering for attention by the Ferris Wheel. She says she was in the woods picking flowers for Ma Petite, and a car crashed, and Ethel was in the car and she’s dead. Dell: “Oh, shit.” Ironically, Elsa is not, turns out, good at faking grief (“OH MEIN GOTT IN HIMMELLLLLL!”). Turns out Ethel was beheaded by a chain tied around a tree – they really believe she beheaded herself? What?! And Stanley helped Elsa arrange the scene of the crime, and probably that Norma Desmond outfit she’s wearing as well. He purrs, “You’re gonna win an Oscar one day.” Are we sure he’s not the psychic? They behead Ethel, and Elsa continues her off-key caterwauling by the scene of the crime. It’s so bad it’s good.

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A swirling staircase shot that could be B-roll from Coven. It’s Mott Manor, and Gloria has brought Dandy (Finn Wittrock) a stack of pretty boxes. Regina (Gabourey Sidibe) is chatting with Dandy, and she wants to know where her goddamned mother is. Gloria says that Dora is off trying to procure a proper squash. Pthh! Regina isn’t buying it, and she’s happy to wait, playing Chutes and Ladders with Dandy.

The sideshow performers give Ethel a proper funeral. Jimmy cries and reads poetry. There is blues music. Paul (Mat Fraser) and Penny (Grace Gummer) are there. Dell says they should all go get a drink, despite the fact that no one has filled in the grave. I guess that’s legal in Florida? Desiree (Angela Bassett) says a few words for Ethel. Penny chimes in, telling them to just look at what her daddy did to her, because CLEARLY this funeral is all about her. Legless Suzy (Rose Siggins) and Amazon Eve (Erika Erwin) say the law won’t care, and Desiree says that Penny is one of them – and any man that would do that needs to pay. They all pick up rocks and dirt and throw them on the coffin.

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Dandy is looking at Rorcschach tests, and sees bloody crime scenes in every pattern. He’s bored with these “genius tests” and the shrink says he needs to see him twice a week. We still don’t see him. Dandy wonders if you can take someone’s power by eating their flesh or bathing in their blood. He storms into the house and yells at his mother, who is trimming the Christmas tree. Regina pops in and demands to know where her mother is, saying she’ll go to the police if she’s not back tomorrow. Dandy says he’ll go back to see Dr. Feinblum if Gloria will kill Regina. He hangs a cat skull ornament on the tree. He says Regina wants to send him to the electric chair, and if he goes, he’s putting his mom on his lap. He lights up the tree. In red, of course.

Elsa has an embroidered freak show bag! It’s kind of amazing. She visits a… facility? and finds a very large lady in a ¬†weight loss belt machine. Her name is Barbara and she hates this place. She’s a New York debutante whose family sent her down there for “being a big fat pig.” Gah. Elsa says she is simply a hedonist, and that’s okay. She unwraps a 50-year-old Baby Ruth bar and eats it in front of her while she pitches the freak show to her.

The ladies raid Dell’s trailer for supplies to take out Penny’s dad, but she says she’ll take it from there. Desiree says that they are family now, and families kill together. They creep into Penny’s dad’s house – Suzy in particular is quite nimble, prowling around on cat’s paws. Daddy (Lee Tergesen) strips down to a tank top upstairs as the radio croons, “don’t call me Daddy again.” Is that a real song? Because it needs to be. He pulls a shotgun, and asks Penny how she got in: “Locks can’t stop us.” The gals knock him out.

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Back at the show, they set up a dinner table but drunk Jimmy says he’s not hungry. Elsa smacks the bottle out of his hands. He yells at her for not coming to the funeral – she says that she was in Miami, recruiting Ima Wiggles. Oh my dear. Elsa tells her to eat – “you are no good to us without your figure.” Elsa named her after Ima Waddler, the “greatest fat lady of all time.” Elsa says that Ethel lives on in Ima. Jimmy says that this world is dying, and “all the fat ladies and lizard girls in the world can’t stop that.” You know, I’d pay money to see that scenario play out. Elsa tries to pimp Ima out on Jimmy, and he tells her she’s sick.

Aaaaaaaand this episode was sponsored by Victoria’s Secret. Not a joke.

The ladies have Beecher stripped down in Dell’s trailer, and they “fetch the tar” and pillows. Okay, he’s still got it. Wait, are they gonna turn him into a chicken?! Desiree says they’re gonna tar and feather him, then cut his dick off, then shoot him in the head. Jeez, lady – he’s an asshole, but he’s not Rasputin, for chrissakes. Penny begs them to stop… so that she can be the one to do it. HA! Maggie hears his screams and interrupts before Desiree can cut off his junk. Desiree kicks him out: “This is freak women only.” Maggie – ever the chewy moral center – tells them that they’ll get caught and go to prison, and Penny will lose Paul. Desiree tells her to stuff it.

Penny looks… so sad. She takes the knife and says, “I am the Astounding Lizard Girl, and you get to live only because I say so.” She tells them to let him go, and tells him to never come back.

Gloria’s shrink tells her on the phone that he fears for her safety. She tells him that she’s taking Dandy to Europe and they don’t need him anymore. Dandy pops in and asks if she thinks he’s “fragile” or “unbalanced.” He says Dora told him everything, including that Gloria married her own second cousin – who was a known pervert – to get her family money back. He hisses, “You’re no better than the Roosevelts” and she grunts, “Don’t you DARE say that name in this house…” She says this is their last chance – he has a sickness, and she loves all of him, even the madness. He says he is going to end it all and puts a gun to his head. She begs him not to do it, saying that if he dies, she dies, too. He says, “Okay” and shoots her instead. He cries and smiles at the same time.

Jimmy is still wasted and hanging out in the yard. Maggie tries to talk him into doing his job, so that they can leave. She says she fell in love with a leader. He tells her to buzz off. His words, really. He tells her not to burden herself with him, and she thanks him for the Claritin. Sorry – clarity. Pepper (Naomi Grossman) serves some stew to Ima, and Jimmy marvels, “You still here?” He stumbles over to her and hugs her.

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Dandy disrobes and takes a bath in his mother’s blood. Well, at least this nutbag’s pretty fit.

SCENE

Notably Dead: Ethel, Gloria, Emil, a cat

Notably Absent: Dot and Bette, Cam Mitchell’s mom

Freak of the Week: I know i should probably be Ethel because it was her swan song and all, but I really think Penny grabbed her moment by the tar-soaked balls and ran with it this week.

Quote of the Week: As down as I am on how Dandy’s character is generally written, I’ll admit that his exchange with Gloria about the Roosevelts was fun.
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Blood – 10/10

You’re soaking in it!

Beasts – 5/10

Hey, a cat! Ohhhhh….

Buns – 10/10

Gentlemen, start your screencaps.

Rating

I don’t know if it’s just because I’m still recovering from having a turkey-stuffed week off from the show or because episode director Ryan Murphy actually managed to strike the balance of Grand Guignol violence and over-the-top period camp that the season has been struggling to maintain since week one, but I thoroughly enjoyed this ep. (Maybe it was the lack of musical numbers?) The parent/child theme was carried nicely throughout (Gloria/Dandy, Daddy/Penny, Elsa/Ethel), there were some moments of actual suspense and surprise, and they finally got the nerve to pick off some major players (though they were quick to restock the pantry yet again with a new character). The fact that the two pivotal murders actually made very little sense didn’t bother me as much as it maybe should – because at least the episode gave us some quality screen time with the two doomed women for a change and let them do their thing. I’m still a little disappointed that the big bads are a Muppet Baby Oliver Thredson and a con artist, but it beats witch hunters. I’m in until Ima Wiggles sings.

I’d give it four out of five Pennywises.

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