Well here we are, my fine feathered freaks – at the end of yet another season of American Horror Story. Before we dig into the last episode of Freak Show, aka Rachel Berry: The True Hollywood Story, I’d like to thank everyone who walked hand-in-hand with me along this swampy midway, taking in the candy-striped sights and sampling the off-brand Cracker Jacks. I know that I didn’t keep it a secret that this season let me down in a big way, and I appreciate everyone who either made room in their own viewing lives for my opinion or ignored it altogether. Because despite differences of opinion about a show featuring Tupperware party lobster-hand fingerblasts and killer clowns, we are all living under the same big top, aren’t we? Or… um… weren’t we?
Let’s dig in!
The Dandy Mott Show advertises, but the veteran performers are doubtful that anyone will pay to see Dandy sing Cole Porter. Paul (Mat Fraser) says that Dandy’s a cash cow and their best bet for employment. Back at the camp, Dandy (Finn Wittrock) berates the lighting guys, mourning that he’s “surrounded by amateurs”. Dandy isn’t happy that they haven’t sold a single ticket yet, but Paul tries to assure him that sales will improve. Eve (Erika Erwin) tries to help and Dandy calls her “an ugly cow” and reminds them all who is in charge. He tells Suzi (Rose Siggins) that audiences are bored with their “mediocre oddities” and suggests adding horns to Penny (Grace Gummer) – Eve punches him onto his back and Paul tells him that “nobody gives a shit about bloody Cole Porter,” adding that Dandy isn’t even a good singer. He says they’re freaks, and he isn’t – and he’ll never be one of them: “We quit.”
Dandy brushes the dust off of his Ted Baker ensemble and stares after them, despondent.
OPENING TITLES, I’ll miss you most of all!
Enter Elsa’s macrame Freak Show bag! Okay, I’ll miss YOU most of all. She (Jessica Lange) barges onto a spare set from Mad Men demanding to see Henry Gable, the president of the network. The receptionist tells her that she doesn’t have an appointment, just like yesterday. Elsa won’t take “nein” for an answer and says she’ll wait. Okay I’ll call it right now – during this montage of elbow-length gloves stubbing out cigarettes in a cut crystal ashtray – that this guy is going to be into S&M and Elsa will pull some old tricks out of that carpet bag to land a deal. Elsa is furious to learn that the network head left out the back door, and the receptionist tells her that “Marlena did it better” and she needs to find a new act. But thankfully, a German expat named Michael Peck (David Burtka) helps Elsa up – after she slaps the shit out of the receptionist, mind you – and introduces himself as the VP of casting.
Dandy beats his face: “Showtime.” Is he going to go and do what we all expected him to do 10 episodes ago? He strolls around the campsite, humming. Paul comes up to him and asks about last week’s pay, and he shoots him in the face. Okay then. Penny hides behind the laundry and he shoots her, too. He shoots Toulouse, and then chases down Legless Suzi and shoots her down, too. Is he humming something from The Nutcracker?
Desiree (Angela Bassett) hears the gunshots from inside her trailer, and Dandy shoots more freaks. Eve comes out to see what’s going on and runs to help Paul. More gunshots. Eve grabs an axe as Dandy shoots Ima in the face. Desiree hides in the closet as Dandy enters her trailer. He’s furious that he can’t find her – and then Eve attacks with the axe. He drops the gun, and they fight. Eve gets the upper hand, but he gets the gun and kills her. Serious question: Is this compelling or simply mean? In either case, this is somehow, against all odds, worse than the end of Coven.
He leaves without finding Desiree, and for some reason he has left Dotte and Bet (Sarah Paulson and Sarah Paulson) tied up and gagged in their tent. He ungags them and asks them to come with him. Later that night, Jimmy (Evan Peters) comes home with his new wooden lobster hands to find the midway quiet and blood everywhere. He calls for Elsa. He finds all the freaks dead and arranged in the big top. He screams. The corpses make a trail to the stage, where a sign for Dandy’s Cabinet of Curiosities stands. Desiree finds him and they cry together.
Back at Casa del Mott, Dandy marries Bette to a flute rendition of Ave Maria. Gag me. Dot looks dyspeptic, speaking of. This is clearly a dream sequence, right? Dandy tells Dot – at the altar – that he doesn’t want her to feel like a third wheel, and she says that during the honeymoon she can “just leave her body” – an old trick she learned ages ago. Dandy warns her that “a stallion demands a certain respect from all his mares.” Bette says that the new housekeeper they hired is a French trained cook, and this is going on waaaaay too long for a dream sequence, at this point. God help us.
At dinner, Dandy drunkenly says that on their honeymoon safari he’ll kill lots of big cats for their future three-headed children. He gets woozy, and the new housekeeper – Desiree – sits down and reintroduces herself to him. She and the Twins tell him that he’s been had. Dandy moves to stab Desiree and Bette shoots him with his own golden gun. Jimmy comes in to serve something and suddenly the girls are outside with Dandy and they ask for lemonade while Jimmy peeks in from the bushes – and then Dandy snaps to back in the dining room. Wait, what? He blacks out. Right behind you, kiddo.
Dandy comes to – in his underpants, because that’s essential to the scene – in a glass tank on the stage. It’s Harry Houdini’s famous escape tank, according to Desiree. From above, Jimmy tells him that this is his chance, reminding him that those people he killed were good people. Dandy says that you can’t punish a man for fulfilling his purpose. He begs Dot and Bette to take him home, and they tell him he’s going home. Uh… to hell. Bette adds, “I hate you.” Okay, at least someone is bringing the histrionics. Desiree reminds him that someone started putting freaks in jars weeks ago, and he’s the biggest freak of them all. Okay, but a second ago he was told that he wasn’t a freak. Is he maybe a superfreak? Super-freaky? They drown him SLOOOOOOOOWLY. Can’t they just shoot him? Jimmy mutters, “The freaks shall inherit the earth…” but didn’t Desiree just say that Dandy was the biggest freak of them all? I think he’s inherited quite enough already. Eh – details. Dandy screams as he drowns and the three remaining cast members eat popcorn out of old-timey boxes. Glad that’s over with. Desiree purrs, “That boy… is a star.”
Okay, so that’s – wait, we still have 30 minutes left??!
Uh… uh… 1960 Newsreel! Sure, why not. They are honoring 3-time Emmy winner Elsa Mars with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! And she has three gold albums! One of which is rather awesomely called “Merry Christmas Noodlehaus”. She’s also married to Michael Peck David Burtka – in a “private ceremony”. Mm-hmm. They shoot an ad together for Campfire Gold Instant Coffee. Elsa yells, “This is shite! Pure shite! Where are the writers?” Uh… what she said. Later, he brings in the publicity manager for the network, who wants to do a spread for Parade Magazine for the holidays. Elsa declines a Halloween show – remember Mordrake! – and calls her husband a “pussy” in the process. Oh lovely. She tells the woman that she made a terrible mistake marrying him – and we see Elsa playing dominatrix to him while he purrs “I live to serve” in a diamond-stud collar. Called it!
Back at her home, she greets Massimo (Danny Houston). She apologizes for running off, which is apparently something she just does every 8 years or so. They sit down and talk about atomic bombs, because we’ve got all the time in the world here. He marvels that she has everything that she ever wanted but she says, “I’m bored.” She insists that she has always been cursed and talks about her birthday cake eight years ago, when Miss Elsa just wished to be loved. Elsa wants to run off to Rome with Massimo. But he is cursed as well – he cannot love her, because he has a disease in his lungs and bones and only has a month to live. Okay then. Wait, didn’t he say last week that his curse was being turned into a hollow puppet man by Nazi ball-torture? He’s the Mayor of Excuses Village, that Massimo.
Michael visits but Elsa warns, “Leave me alone, Michael – I am drinking.” But Michael brought the head of the network there to discuss… well, not the Halloween episode, apparently. Turns out he got a hold of her snuff movie from Germany and some gossip column is going to write about it. Michael is furious that she lied to him about how she lost her legs. Marriage is “one stupid, ugly lie!” This article about Elsa will ruin her, apparently. But why? Wouldn’t that actually make her more interesting? Gable asks her about the freak show she used to run, and tells her that all the freaks are dead – “some kind of massacre”. He says that they will pay out her contract, but she’s off the show because of the morals clause. She says she will perform on Halloween after all, even though nobody was asking. Hell, why not?
Places for the Elsa Mars Halloween Spooktacular! Just bring on Mordrake and get this over with, eh? No – first, we need to sit through another David Bowie Massacre. This time it’s “Heroes”, a true anthem that deserves much better treatment than this. Desiree and her man (Malcolm Jamal Motherfucking Warner) – remember him?! – see her on the air as they take their kids trick-or-treating, and Jimmy and a pregnant Dot/Bette watch the special at their home. Yep. Bette deadpans that she feels like she’s seen this act before, and we see Edward Mordrake and Twisty arriving on their cloud of green fog to take Elsa away.
Mordrake realizes that Elsa is a suicide and kills her, telling her that her place is not with them. Elsa suddenly is transported back to the freak show, where all of the dead freaks are alive again. Elsa doesn’t understand – neither do I. Ethel (Kathy Bates) tells her that the sins of the living don’t add up to much there. Ethel says that it’s all show business, and “stars never pay”. They hug and Ethel invites her to headline again (after insulting her cooking). I think at this point the show has become sentient and is writing itself, seriously.
Ethel introduces Elsa to the crowd of… dead people? Who goes to a freak show in heaven? No idea. Elsa rides out onto the stage in her “Life on Mars” outfit and are they seriously going to make us listen to this amazing song get brutalized AGAIN?! Elsa takes a breath to sing the first line and we cut to black, thank GOD.
Notably Absent: Stanley, Chester, a satisfying ending
Notably Dead: Everybody except for the Twins, Jimmy, and Desiree.
Quote of the Week: “Leave me alone, Michael – I’m drinking.”
Freak of the Week: Amazon Eve.
Thus ends American Horror Story: Shitshow. I’m sorry, but despite a few scattered bright spots, that was a mess. In the end Elsa and Dandy are christened King and Queen of the freaks because of their delusions and hunger for fame, while all of the other freaks are either shot in the face or happily assimilate themselves into the suburbs. You tell me which is worse. Elsa – barely even a presence for most of the season – hijacks the show to defile more contemporary rock and commit ghost suicide on television (or something) and goes to heaven. The freaks she essentially murdered are all, “No bigs!” but I’m not compelled to let her – or the show – off so easy.
The show’s ultimate message appears to be that being different will get you killed or turn you into a monster, unless you manage to beat the odds and fit in. Which is lovely, by the way. But even that Debbie Downer of a moral is contradicted by the ending, which essentially says that nothing we do really matters because we all wind up in the same paradise of our own making anyway. Elsa was a flat, uninteresting character to begin with and did nothing to deserve forgiveness – real or delusional – in a season otherwise brimming with potential.
In the end, I think they bit off more than they could chew and didn’t have a destination in mind. While the season had its moments, it suffered from being too melodramatic and from a markedly slower pace than previous seasons, which let the narrative cracks show through the veneer. Maybe they expected the lights of the midway and the spectacle of the “freaks” to be enough to carry the season – but as they themselves acknowledged, simply putting something on stage doesn’t make for automatic quality entertainment (nod to Chester, Dandy, and Elsa). The season’s meager storylines could have easily been wrapped up weeks ago, but you know what they say: “It ain’t over until the Fat Lady gets shot in the face.” (RIP, Ima.)
Two out of five Pennywises from me:
What did you guys think? Worst season yet? Or were you as big a fan of the Freak Show as Dandy was? Sound off in the comments!