The Penultimate episode of the Freak Show season of American Horror Story was all about paying tribute to its roots, Tod Browning’s cult classic Freaks. And also about killing off a few characters who have just been hanging around for a while with nothing to do, because why not. Who survived to see the finale? Let’s dig in and find out!
Stanley (Denis O’Hare) returns to the Freak Show to find that a party is underway. Toulouse and Legless Suzi serve wine. Elsa (Jessica Lange) makes a toast to the new owner, Chester (Neil Patrick Harris). She hopes that he will cherish the “monsters” as much as she has – you know, before she sold them to the highest bidder and all. He promises to uphold her standards and wishes her safe travels – Marjorie makes a “kraut” joke and threatens to kill her. Business as usual! Elsa tells him to hit the road so that they can celebrate together as a family. Elsa then toasts Stanley for getting them all on television. She says that after their party they will watch Freaks, one of her own pictures. Stanley doesn’t know it. The company explains the plot to him, and he is oblivious to the fact that they are discussing both the scene they are appearing in and his imminent downfall. “Well it sounds like a hit!”
Stanley tries to leave but Elsa and Maggie (Emma Roberts) tell him to stay and open his present. They bring out a big gold box with a pink bow. Desiree (Angela Bassett) says she made it herself and when he opens it – it’s Cam Tucker’s mom’s head! Maggie and Desiree murdered her at the museum. Stanley insists that he’s innocent, but Maggie sells him out. He appeals to Elsa, who says that Hollywood was “just a dream” all along. They put him on the wheel and Elsa throws her knives. He insists that he does know people in Los Angeles, namedropping someone who sounds like he works at a restaurant. Probably not what she’s after (unless they have an impressive selection of schnapps). She says that he cannot murder her dreams, and for bringing death into this place, he must pay. She stabs him in the leg. They all pull out knives. Stanley says that Elsa killed Ethel as he runs out into the rainy night to try to escape. A giant ball rolls at him from out of nowhere – what the hell?! Penny (Grace Gummer) is looking particularly ominous. He screams as they corner him under a wagon, Paul (Mat Fraser) hovering over him with an axe.
Elsa visits Jimmy (Evan Peters) in the barn, where she feeds him and tells him that they all killed Dell together for murdering Ma Petite. He calls Maggie a “deceitful little slut” and Elsa says that she herself heard Dell confess to the crime. Elsa says they need Jimmy’s leadership, and he screams, “I HAVE NO HANDS!” Elsa says an old friend is coming to help, but in the meantime he needs to let Maggie change his bandages. She does, and Jimmy literally bites his pillow. Maggie apologizes for hurting him and tells him that the “loving him” part of her act was real, and they can still go to New York like they had planned. He reminds her that his hands are in a jar because of her, and she says she is going to make it right.
Elsa yells at the technicians, who can’t seem to focus a spotlight. A strange man appears with doctor’s cases – it must be Gepetto! Yes, it is Danny Huston (Coven’s Axe Man), who embraces her. At least he’s not playing a saxophone.
Later, the Twins (the Sarahs Paulson) ride Chester, and seem a bit put off that Marjorie (alternately a doll and Jamie Brewer) is watching them. They ask if they can put her away, and Chester agrees – actually , he knocks the doll off the damned nightstand. Okay, both that and the sound of two Sarah Paulsons having sex at the same time are kind of amazing. Later, Marjorie is upset that Chester threw her on the ground and tells him that the Twins are using him – he insists that they are curing him. She calls him a murderer, and he swears it is she who is the murderer. She deadpans, “That’s impossible – I’m a DOLL.” He flashes back to the memory of killing his wife and her lover. Marjorie tells him that love destroys him, but he doesn’t need the other women – he has her. She demands, “Those Twins – they have to geeearw.”
The freaks look at old photos and discuss what they think Elsa will do now that her Hollywood dreams are dead and she sold the show. Suzi (Rose Siggins) points out what Stanley said about Elsa killing Ethel, and they all agree that Elsa murdered one of their own and they need to stop her. They toast to killing her. Okay then! Good meeting, now let’s get out there and sell some microwaves.
Dot and Bette discuss Chester and Marjorie, noting that they think they are a good influence. Dandy (Finn Wittrock) shows up out of nowhere and they are shocked that he would barge into their “boudoir” in the middle of the night. He says he’s there as a friend, bearing information. He also pretends to be upset that his mother died. Wait – they both killed their own moms, didn’t they? That’s some Match.com gold there. Anyway, he says he’s there to support and protect them. He hired a “gumshoe” who uncovered the fact that Chester is a “beastly sicko”. They throw the file away and call him a “troublemaker”. He blows them kisses on the way out – Bette flinches.
Jimmy wakes up in a fever to find Elsa there in a STUNNING black number and looking much younger, as she apparently is being shot through a bowl of milk. She gives Jimmy a shot as Massimo introduces himself as the man who is going to make his new hands. Jimmy declines – he wants hooks instead. No termites! Elsa reveals her own wooden prosthetics and says that Massimo saved her life, and therefore theirs.
We then see in flashback that the leader of the group of men who sawed her legs off was none other than the Muppet Baby version of Dr. Arden from Asylum. Massimo hunted them down one by one and killed the snuffers, but when he finally found Dr. Hans Gruper, Gruper shot him and electrocuted his nuts off. Was that really necessary? Gruper locked him in a cell and tortured him some more, but he was eventually saved by a collector of stolen books before making it to America in 1947, where he tried to track down Elsa. He says he is “like Pinocchio” in that, due to the torture, he has no soul and cannot love. Whatever, Moss – we have our second connection to Asylum, anyway.
The next day, Bette and Dot watch Chester walk through the routine (Desiree will “twirl her titties”) and wonder if he’s as nuts as his file says he is. They pipe up and say that they don’t want to be his assistant anymore. He says that, whaddayaknow, his new big finale is that he wants to saw the two of them in half. Uh… not going to be the thing to convince them: “We are not gettin’ into that box.” They leave.
Maggie offers to get in the box – she wants to be part of the show. Chester says, “Get in the box, Lucy” (he looks at Maggie but sees his dead wife) and puts Maggie in the box. Chester loses it as he locks her in the box, telling everyone to get to places for the run-through. Marjorie watches from offstage. Suddenly Chester is in his glittery tux again and the show is on (though there is still no audience). He handcuffs Maggie’s feet together in the box and she panics – that’s not part of the trick. He pulls out the saw and Lucy and Marjorie hiss insults at him. He stats sawing, and Maggie screams. Wait – did he seriously just saw her in half?
OMG yes he did. Her guts spill out all over the stage as the rest of the company gawks. So stupid, but the first legitimately shocking thing to happen on the show in weeks – the icing on the cake is Chester’s pathetic “Ta-da…” and vain attempt to put her back together again. Well, bless Chester for finishing the job that Dandy started four months ago, right?
Marjorie laughs from the audience and skips out. Okay, she wins. The freaks circle around Maggie’s body and Desiree says, “She had it comin’ – steal her jewelry and bury da bitch.” Always the practical one. Marjorie and Chester argue, and Chester stabs Marjorie to death as she insists, “I love you.”
We flash back to 1946, when Ethel (Kathy Bates) introduced Jimmy the Lobster Boy as a juggler for the first time. Hi, Ethel! She tells him he has Star Quality. Back in the rain-soaked present, Eve (Erika Erwin) visits Jimmy to tell him that Maggie is dead. He doesn’t want to hear the details. She tells him that Elsa is next – tonight. She looks at the plans for his hands and says he’s got a shot at a normal life and she’s happy for him.
We waft into Elsa’s tent in the rain and see her taking off her legs – it’s Dot and Bette, and Elsa is furious that they barged in on her. They tell her that the “monsters” are going to kill her and she needs to leave. They remind her what they did to Stanley. She whispers, “But where will I go?” and they answer, “Anywhere but here.” Is this a reference to this being Lange’s last season? Elsa marvels that they would save her, and they reply, “Now we’re even.”
The freaks get their blades out, with Desiree leading the charge. She screams, “ETHELLLLLL!” and takes a big swig from a bottle before breaking it and leading them to Elsa’s tent for “justice”. It’s empty but the Kurt Weill is blaaaaring.
Elsa sits in her old-timey car in the rain. Dandy hops in and says he never refuses a lady in distress – she says she’s just in a rush. He brandishes a shitload of cash and she nods. Huh?
Chester, meanwhile, walks into the police station holding a bloody bundle, sobbing – he wants to report a murder of a lady. It’s just a doll. He confesses, telling them to send him to the chair. Bless.
The next morning at the midway, Dandy pulls up in his fancy car. He’s the new owner! Elsa has gone off to follow her dreams, and sold her family for $10,000 cash. Dandy wants to see what’s his and he barges into the tent. Paul asks him if it’s always been a dream of his to be in show business – Dandy confirms, and demands a lemonade with a paper straw. Can someone please kill him already?
He pauses after taking a bow at a noise coming from backstage. It’s Stanley, who has been cut up and turned into a Meep. Dandy is DELIGHTED.
Jimmy is very pleased with his wooden hands. Massimo helps him put them on. Awww – he gave him wooden lobster hands! That’s actually very sweet. Jimmy thanks him.
Notably Absent: Penny’s paw, Stanley’s boy toy
Notably Dead: Maggie, Marjorie, Cam Tucker’s mom
Freak of the Week: Let’s welcome Stanley to the party!
Blood – 9/10
Cleanup, Aisle Freak!
Beasts – 4/10
Meep Stanley did have his chickens..
Buns – 0/10
No Trouser Howser this week, sadly.
While this season is still a complete mess, this episode at least operated at the fever dream pitch necessary to make this kind of thing enjoyable. Very little of what happened made sense, either in a cause-effect way or within the broader arc of the season (what there is of one, anyway), but it was garish, histrionic (“I HAVE NO HANDS!!!”), tense, and proudly ridiculous (Bette touching her pinky to her lips after saying “We’ve got… a maaaaaayun!” was a moment of pure Little Mary Sunshine genius). By contrast, the quieter moments – Jimmy getting his wooden lobster hands, in particular – actually had a little weight. It’s a balance of extremes that the show has been missing for far too long.
But can anyone explain to me why Maggie was kept around this long to begin with? If her only purpose in the last 7 episodes was to expose Stanley, there are other ways to do that. Especially considering that Stanley was more than happy to expose himself.
So Elsa abandons her family to be a star (unless the previous flash-forward with Pepper was a red herring) and now that Jimmy has fully embraced his freak he can kill Dandy, take over as benevolent leader, and find it in his heart to love Dot and Bette, right? Unless they’ve got more tricks up their sleeve, they really could have wrapped this up tonight.
I’d give it four out of five Pennywises, mostly earned by NPH:
What’d you freaks think? Any predictions for the finale? Sound off in the comments!