Let me apologize for taking a week to recap the season opener of American Horror Story (AHS). I’m a huge fan (have been since Season 1 Episode 1) and was waiting eagerly for this season to begin. Well, season four is upon us. And this time, our attention turns toward the Freak Show. The Freak Show, or Sideshow, has always interested me. This idea that people’s lives, their tragedies, were little more than entertainment for people is sad, and yet, it’s hard to deny how compelling the acts must have been.
As is the norm for AHS, we have a number of familiar faces back for another go round – Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates and a few more! I love that Director/Writer/Creator Ryan Murphy brings these actors back each season, but always with a different role.
Note: There are potential spoilers throughout this review, so you may want to stop here and return after watching the show.
We open with Sarah Paulson’s character – we don’t know what her name is yet! – walking down a road. The sun is shining on her, and she seems happy, almost dreamy. And then we cut to a desolate farmhouse and a bewildered milkman. It would seem that Ms. Tattler isn’t answering, and the milkman is concerned. As he should be! Ms. Tattler is dead on the floor, but that’s not the worst of it. He hears something. He creeps upstairs… and whatever he finds in that closet horrifies him!
Cut to a hospital. All we see is a pair of feet being rushed into the OR, and then a nurse rushing out to vomit into a trash can. We have yet to see what is scaring/disgusting everyone, but once we get to the scene of a doctor going over X-rays (or some sort of CAT Scan) we get an idea of exactly what it is that is scaring people – two hearts, one reproductive system, three kidneys, but four lungs… conjoined twins!
Penny, the candy striper, is not impressed. She tells a nurse if that was her baby, she would have drowned them in a lake – what a gal! And in walks Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange – She is so great in this show!).
“You can’t smoke in this part of the hospital,” Penny tells Elsa.
“Don’t worry, dear. It’s a Lucky Strike. They’re good for you,” Elsa tells her, while handing her one.
Ahh! The 50’s!
Elsa appeals to Penny’s vanity and talks her out of her uniform. This allows Elsa to gain entrance into the room – the twins’ room. The police officer standing outside tries to dissuade Elsa from going in, but she isn’t having it, and the officer does nothing to stop her.
Honestly, this scene was very effective. We see a large shadow behind a curtain in the middle of the room, and whatever (whoever) is behind it is completely obscured. But what I found… well, the scariest about this scene was Elsa’s lurking. She came off as sinister, devious. And when the curtain was flung open, and we get our first glimpse of Sarah Paulson’s two-headed character (conjoined twins Dot and Bette), I was still more creeped out by Lange’s Elsa! The way she looked at the girls – if she had a knife and a fork, there is little doubt in my mind she would have devoured them.
After some wonderfully creepy opening credits, we are back to the hospital room. I particularly enjoyed it when Elsa gave Bette a drag on her cigarette, but Dot was the one to cough out the smoke. Nice touch. Elsa is certainly manipulative, and she knows exactly how to get the girls (well, Bette at least) talking – by appealing to her love of all things show business. And Elsa learned this by apparently breaking into the girls’ home and ransacking their rooms. Creepy and a criminal – nice!
And then we get to meet our clown. And let me just say, YUCK! I’m not particularly afraid of clowns, but I’ll admit this one is certainly frightful! The mask and that knowing look in his eyes – dead on! The young couple that wanted nothing more than to engage in a little afternoon delight got the shock of their lives when the clown decides it would be a much better use of their time to become his victims. Poor Troy didn’t last long. I assume he is this season’s Adam Levine, as he didn’t make it past the first ten minutes either. And though Troy’s girlfriend tried her hardest to get away, you just knew something would trip her up – in this case it was her own feet.
Over at the diner, Elsa is going through her scrapbook. I couldn’t quite make out what she was blathering on about, but I believe it’s more or less her dream book. See, Elsa envisions herself a star, and when she sees Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) trying to charm a waitress… well, Elsa’s just not having that. And she tells Jimmy so! Of course, more is said. She tells Jimmy he’s a fool if he thinks the pretty young thing would like him, hands and all. He tells Elsa she is delusional. The battle ends in a draw, and Elsa leaves, telling the waitress (who just wanted Elsa to close out her check) that it’s on the house! Apparently, (wannabe) stars never pay.
It would seem Jimmy has a side job. Jimmy is what was once termed a Lobster Boy, and his hands look more like claws. Oh, but wait… They sure seem good for something! Bored housewives pay him (he’s cheap by the way!) to help them release some stress – if you know what I mean (*wink*wink). Apparently, their husbands all suck at it. I’m not sure why, but I found this hilarious!
Back at the hospital, Elsa is once again pretending to be a candy striper. The (conjoined) girls are saying their mother was killed in a robbery gone bad. Unfortunately for them, Elsa catches them in a lie and tells them to get their story straight. She’s good!
We bounce back to the creepy (CREEPY!) clown. Let’s just call him CC. He’s at it again! This time the victims are a young couple in their home, but CC decides to spare their young son – though just because he’s spared doesn’t mean this young man is really faring any better. CC takes him to an old bus and throws him in a cage with… Troy’s girlfriend! AHS is firing on all cylinders here, as this is once again a very well-done scene. The clown doesn’t say one word, though that laugh of his was certainly creepy. When the young woman tries to appeal to his vanity in an attempt to get the two of them released, CC loses it! He is still silent and never touches his two victims, but he throws things at the cage they are in and generally scares the hell out of them. Well done, CC. Well done!
Back at the homestead, Bette and Dot are packing their suitcase. I just have to hold up a minute here. Really? They know they need to get out of town, but one tiny suitcase is gonna do it? I pack more than that for a weekend away! Okay, back to the story. Their departure is curtailed by Elsa, crafty lady that she is. She works it so the girls think coming with her is their best shot. They’ll be protected, among family. I don’t trust Elsa as far as I can throw her, but she’s convincing, and the girls fall for her lines.
The girls are being shown around the Big Top. Bette is in awe, but Dot thinks this is a cesspool. And she’s kind of right. Meep the Geek kills helpless farm animals by biting their heads off! Eve, or Evie as Jimmy calls her, is an Amazon woman. There’s Jimmy and his mother Ethel (Kathy Bates as the Bearded Lady). But back to the cesspool… It would seem Candy Striper Penny has been hanging around, and she stumbles into Elsa’s lair (Yes, I just compared her to some sort of vicious animal.) claiming to have been drugged and ravished. But Elsa sets her straight. Hell, she even has film. I guess Penny loves being ravaged by the freaks. Okay, Penny is into some kinky shit, but what’s up with Elsa filming it? Anyway, Penny doesn’t know what to make of her starring role in the films, so I see some therapy for poor Penny in the future.
Later that night, Jimmy hears the twins crying and goes to investigate. Did I mention that he has thoroughly charmed and melted Dot’s icy heart? It would seem a detective is on to the girls. Remember that story they can’t get straight? Well, Jimmy tries to persuade the detective to go, that the girls are innocent. But then the detective crosses the line and calls them all freaks. Jimmy whistles, and the rest of the gang wanders in. The detective knows he stepped in it now. Jimmy won’t stand for the insults and… slits his throat. But not to worry, the gang has his back.
SHOWTIME! Ethel (Bates) is a sort of ringmaster – introducing the freaks, much to the enjoyment of Gloria and Dandy Mott (Francis Conroy and Finn Wittrock). Dandy is eating it up and is just enthralled by the gang. In fact, we later see him (or more accurately, Mommy) try to buy the girls.
But not before we are treated to Elsa singing a David Bowie song, “Life on Mars.” Umm… okay. It’s a strange production and a strange song choice, but then again, isn’t that what this show is about?
After the singing and the attempted purchase of the twins, we see CC sitting on the merry-go-round. No one notices this?! Ugh!
But it’s what happens in the last few minutes of the episode that really creeped me out. We see the gang, in a line, with Evie at the back carrying the detective’s body. Once they reach a field, Jimmy starts preaching – about what, I dunno. But it works. Next thing we know, the gang is hacking away at the detective’s body, while Creepy Clown watches from the shadows. Say what?
Back at the midway, Ethel brings Elsa some food. Elsa confesses that she didn’t bring the conjoined girls there to save the show. She wants them to bring people in to watch her sing. Ethel blows some smoke up Elsa’s ass and is then dismissed.
Elsa looks lost, sad, and desolate, so she puts on some even sadder music, pulls up her skirt, and removes… her legs! Yes, ladies and gentleman, Elsa fits right in.
I’m often left a little stumped at the end of an American Horror Story episode, and that’s okay. In fact, I prefer it that way. If I get 3/4 of the way through the season and still feel that way, I start to lose a little patience, but at the beginning, I enjoy the set up, the introduction of characters, and trying to figure out exactly who’s on what side. The villains are rarely as bad as they seem at first (Okay, some of them aren’t!), and the heroes are never without sin.
As I did with The Walking Dead, I tried my hardest to refrain from doing too much research about this season. I want to be surprised, enchanted… and hopefully terrified.
And I have to say, if “Monsters Among Us” is any indication of what is in store for us this season, we are in for a treat! What a ride!