“American Horror Story: Freak Show”: Hello, Dolly!

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So was last night’s episode of Goosebumps dirty or what?!

In this week’s American Horror Story, we met a new character with a bloodstained past, witnessed a loss of two-headed innocence, and checked in with the series regulars as an afterthought. Let’s dig in!

TWO DAYS AGO…

Stanley (Denis O’Hare) talked Jimmy (Evan Peters) into selling him one of his hands (for a “Hollywood collector”) in order to get out of prison. Jimmy says he’ll take his chances with the public defender, but Stanley reminds him that Meep didn’t fare too well in the system, and also Benched’s chances of renewal are spotty at best. He gives Jimmy something to drink and tells him to leave the rest up to him. Jimmy cries, hesitates, and takes the bottle. The medicine makes him very sick and Stanley gets him out on a “medical emergency” and they take Jimmy away in an ambulance. It’s being driven by the gay hustler doctor, who just looks happy to have another line. Stanley purrs, “Don’t worry, Jimmy, you’re in my hands now.” Jimmy wakes up in the hospital, where he is chained to a bed. He asks for something for the pain, and the nurse says no – her friend Myrna was at “that Tupperware party.” Shelley – sorry, Jimmy – looks down, and both of his hands are gone.

Okay, well that played out… exactly as expected, right?

Opening Titles

The Twins (Sarah Paulson and Sarah Paulson) write in their diary about how Miss Elsa thinks her freaks are brave. Dot and Bette admit that freaks are the most joyous people on earth, because they don’t deny themselves any pleasures. Bette has gone back to being a brunette, and she now admits that falling for Dandy was a mistake. Paul (Mat Fraser) says hello and one of the twins telepathically notes that she hears he and Penny do it with the contortionist. The girls now think about sex all the time and are trying to pick the right freak to give them their first orgasm. It’s not Toulouse, whose kisses Bette feels are more like licks (his excuse: “I’m French!”). Then they burn their diary, because this really, truly, seriously, for reals this time is their home now and they don’t need to keep secrets anymore.

The gals go into the tent to find a traveling salesman shilling chameleons. It’s some dude named Chester (Neil Patrick Harris) – Dot pegs him as a potential good lay, being a salesman and all. (Is that a thing?) It must be said that the tiny lizard cages are adorable. When Chester looks at the twins he sees two totally different ladies’ faces sticking out of their custom necklines. Hmmm… Chester mentions that he has a metal plate in his head from the war, so he never goes outside during a thunderstorm. [rimshot] He confesses that he auditioned for Ringling Bros. once – he can do magic. Meaning he can pull a fabric rose out of a wand. The gals decide together that he could be “the one”.

Dell (Michael Chiklis) visits Jimmy in the hospital and loses it at the sight of his missing hands. Jimmy tells him he sold the hands, though he only meant to sell one. Dell says he shouldn’t have trusted Stanley and Jimmy regrets that he can no longer facepalm. Jimmy winces and looks over at his untouched hospital meal. Dell sits and feeds him and tells him that some prosthetics these days are great. Jimmy says he wants to buy the show from Elsa, and Dell says he’ll go in with him – “Toledo and Son Freak Show!” Dell explains that the famed Toledo Lobster Claw Clan gene skipped him, and it made him a freak at home. “Imagine that – bein’ a freak for bein’ normal!” Yeah, imagine just picking up on that after eleven episodes of having it spoon-fed to you like hospital mashed potatoes!

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Chester shows off his magical wares to Elsa (Jessica Lange), whose eyes literally roll into the next tent. She says that they are a freak show, not a magic show. So… he pulls out a dummy named Marjorie. OMG, it speaks with Jamie Brewer’s voice. I don’t know how I feel about that. Elsa shuts him down, again. He asks if he can sell his chameleons before the show, and she declines: “Nobody wants to buy baby lizards.” He shows off his impressive sales books and she says that if he would be willing to help with their accounting, she could let him warm up the crowd. He thanks her, adding that he’s been to hell and back. And back.

My husband just said that NPH needs to eat a pizza bagel.

Backstage, Marjorie sass-talks Chester and he freaks out on her. Okey-doke. Paul tells him he might want to go easy on the rouge and also the, you know, being totally insane and everything. Marjorie giggles at the word “Nutcracker”. It’s delicious.

Later, Eve (Erika Erwin) and Suzy (Rose Siggins) help Eva put her costumes away – Eve jokes that she can’t tell her costumes from her clothes. Dell barges in and tells Elsa about Jimmy and storms out. Eve follows him out, saying that they should team up after all – Strong Man and Strong Woman – to help Jimmy. I hope she kicks the shit out of him again!

Chester the Molester visits the twins to bring them a present – let me guess, it’s a chameleon. Oh no, it’s a music box with two dancing ladies. He also got Elsa’s permission to go through the props tent and found a genuine trick sawing box. Dot is sharp: “We don’t wanna be sawn in half.” He tells them how the trick works, and asks them to be his assistants – not because they are freaks, but because they are beautiful. He says he has been taken, not just by their beauty, but because seeing them was like coming home. We see him flash back to being a soldier, when he used to watch ladies have chaste, sheet-covered gay-girl sex while he and his puppet watched. Okaaaay…

He walks them through how the trick would work, and it plays out – with Dot and Bette helping him to cut a woman from the audience in half. Lord – he is wearing more makeup than he did in Hedwig! A man watches from the back suspiciously – meaning I guess this isn’t just a visualization and this performance actually happened?

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Police transport Jimmy on a road at night – until Eve throws a brick through their windshield. Atta girl! Dell follows up by killing the cops with a crowbar. He leaves the one guy’s head looking like a bowl of Spaghettios. But they get Jimmy out.

Meanwhile, Dot and Bette get all sexed up for Chester, but he argues with Marjorie about his new assistant. Both twins kiss him and grab his junk – he draws back, but they say that they have chosen him to deflower them. He gets a ringing headache and they rub his shoulders. Marjorie chirps from the other room that it’s not really Chester’s thing to actually get involved with the two girls. In his flashback, the bed-rolling ladies make fun of Chester – and call him Chester the Molester – and he says he is going to the garage to do some magic. Alice – one of the ladies – says that she is going to do some magic, too: “I’m going to make these two fingers disappear.” So… is one of them his wife or something? I confused.

Back in the present, Dot and Bette talk Chester into it, but he insists that Marjorie must be involved, because she relaxes him. NPH buns! Splitscreen! Baby doll feet in tiny Mary Janes! Now this is more like it. Both of the gals seem to be into it.

Over at Mott Manor, the “private dick” that was watching the show earlier gives Dandy (Finn Wittrock) photos ot the twins with Chester. Dandy cries, because they were supposed to be his. Here we go again…

Chester tries to get Marjorie to go into her silk-lined crate, but she says she’ll tell “everything” if he stuffs her in there. We flash back again to Chester with his ladies – looks like Alice “stole his wife” and she calls him a perv for not being able to get it up without Marjorie being in the room. He suddenly sees Marjorie – person-sized, which is extremely wrong, and indeed played by Jamie Brewer – standing behind her.

The flashback is interrupted by Paul, who summons Chester to Elsa’s tent. Elsa sells the freak show to him for $1000. Oookaaaaay… she outlines her caveats, that no one can be fired and the show is to continue to be performed in the proper order. She says she is leaving her antiques behind, and he says that he thought that Marjorie should have Elsa’s tent because of all that she’s been through, and with her being the new headliner and all. Elsa looks at him like he has two heads. Or three, I guess, on this show.

The cops arrive at the freak show, hot on Jimmy’s trail. Dandy’s murderous cop (at least I think it’s him) promises to string up whoever killed his men. Chester interrupts to beg the cops to search for Marjorie. Elsa realizes that Chester is a nutjob – always so quick on the uptake. The cops search the show but find nothing, and Chester continues to hunt for Marjorie after they’ve all gone, in the dark. Alone. Dandy is waiting at the carousel wearing a massive fur coat that I’m hoping was his mother’s. He says that Marjorie is running away because she is mad about what he did to the twins. He also says she is going to tell what he did to his wife Lucy and her wartime lover, Alice. The private detective figured all of this out. In Chester’s memories, it really was Marjorie that killed them both, complaining as she hammered in their skulls that the ladies should have let them join in: “We should have been included.” Chester asks if Dandy is going to turn Marjorie in, insisting that he needs her to be happy. Dandy tells him to look for her in the big tent, and he finds her there, eating grapes.

Chester begs for him to talk to him, and she demands op billing, and that he get rid of Dot and Bette for her – she wants him to saw them in half.

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Elsa self-medicates and Maggie Esmerelda (Emma Roberts) – hey, remember her?! – pops in to say she has something to show her.

Dell comes back to his trailer to find Desiree (Angela Bassett) – hey, remember her?! – holding a gun in his trailer. She’s had enough of his behavior (including the “homo erectus nonsense”) and asks who he’s killed since they came to town. He admits to killing the cops, but she wants to know more. Maggie unveils Ma Petite in a jar to Elsa, who… um… freaks. Dell admits to Desiree that he killed Ma, because he was being blackmailed. Elsa shoots him in the back of the head. Bye! “That’s all I needed to hear.”

SCENE

Notably Absent: Penny the Amazing Lizard Girl

Notably Dead: Dell, two cops, Chester’s wife and her lover, the twins’ V-card

Freak of the Week: Honestly, nobody had a great week, so I’ll give it to the twins for getting what’s theirs. Atta girls!

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Blood – 9/10

Between Marjorie’s naughty pajama party and Dell’s cop-smashing, this was a pretty bloody episode.

Beasts – 5/10

Lizards!

Buns – 7/10

Not quite a full moon, but a most commendable showing by Doogie’s trouser Howsers.

Rating

Meh. I love NPH as much as if not more than the next guy, but this show didn’t do him any favors. I mean, if ever there was a time to pull out a random musical number, this would have been it – but instead he got crammed into a muddled and completely random story about a vet whose wife cheats on him with a sassy lesbian and oh yes by the way there is also a talking doll. I get that the show loves mining old horror tropes – which I am totally for – but puhleeeze at least try to make them scary. This was ridiculous. And the fact that Talky Tina arrived out of nowhere in the season’s final three episodes while the rest of the cast stood around and waited for the fake blood to dry does not engender much confidence that any of this is going to come to a satisfying close.

And seriously, at this point they really should just rename the series, because they haven’t been in the horror business for two years now. This season could be American Melodrama With Some Gore Snuck in Every Now And Then Between the Icky Sex Stuff. Or maybe just Nip/Tuck? And of course last season would have been more aptly titled The Issue of Elle Decor That Wouldn’t Die.

I’ll give this one two 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.