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American Horror Story | Freak Show, Episode 5 RHAP-up


Welcome back to another recap of AHS: Freak Show, where we discuss all of the goings-on of Fräulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

Last week, we got backstory on various characters as they spilled their secrets to plot device ghost Edward Mordrake. And Mordrake claimed a victim to drag into his eternal haunted afterlife: Twisty the Clown. But not to worry, the increasingly psychotic Dandy Mott was around to pick-up the torch and claimed his first victim in his nanny, Nora.

I’ve thought a lot of AHS this week and the rather slow unfurling of its universe we’ve had this season. On one hand, it’s a welcome break from the rushed pacing of Coven… but on the other hand, it feels like I’m watching a dramatic series, not a horror series. I don’t find myself frightened by almost anything that happens. And the one genuinely scary element that the show had going for it – namely, Twisty – is now defunct.

So I’m skeptical going into this week, which has been heavily teased as an hour that gives us more detail on Stanley, Dell and Desiree. I’ve made no secret of my interest in learning more about those specific characters… but with almost half of the season over, I feel like I’m ready for some plot-oriented movement now.

Without further adieu, let’s get right into it.

Stan with a Plan – We begin in the American Morbidity Museum again, where Maggie Esmeralda and Stanley are watching the reveal of a new exhibit… an illustrated seal. One that looks exactly like Paul. Uh oh, this might be a flash forward. Edward Mordrake would love this.

In present day Jupiter, Maggie and Stanley are chatting about their diabolical plan to steal a bunch of Elsa’s freaks and sell them to the museum for cash. Maggie is gun-shy to murder any of her new friends, but Stanley does not share her sentimental outlook. He’s just looking to make some coin (to the tune of a hefty $5000). I just looked it up: $5,000 in 1952 would be worth roughly $43,000 in today’s dollars. While this is a large sum of money, is it really worth murdering anyone for? When Fabio is winning a million dollars on Survivor, is murder really what we need to resort to? Maggie and Stanley, my advice is to wait forty years so that you can land a reality show. You can make a whole career out of it – think Jonny Fairplay, Rupert Boneham, Evel Dick, pretty much the entire cast of Survivor: One World – which must be a better alternative than committing double homicide.

Anyway, Stanley convinces Maggie to go along with his plan – for an extra 5% – and they now have a deal. He’ll keep Elsa convinced he’s a talent scout (and a straight one, at that), while she’ll infiltrate the freaks and gain their loyalty. A perfect plan, which is sure to go haywire over the next seven or eight weeks.

The Morning After – Gloria awakens to find Nora dead in the dining room. Dandy initially tries to sell it as a home intrusion, but Gloria instantly knows what he’s done. Despite his proposal to help to clean up the mess, Gloria banishes him to his room.

Gloria ends-up getting a massive flower bed built to cover Nora’s body. And it seems that she forgives Dandy, chalking it up to him taking after his father’s deranged nature. Dandy, of course, blames Gloria for his murderous streak. If only she had let him become an actor, he says, then he would have had a better way of expressing himself. Uh huh. I don’t buy that for a second, buddy.

Later, we get a fascinating montage narrated by Dandy’s inner monologue. He says he’s destined to become the most famous actor of all time. And he’s probably right. Did you see how well he emoted happy, sad and angry? Impressive stuff. Three whole emotions! I’m already convinced he’s good enough for at least a bit part in The Scorned.

Knowing that his mother will not let him become an actor, however, Dandy now has realized that his true purpose is to be a murderer. The narration is truly haunting. He confesses to feeling nothing when he killed Nora. And he’s convinced that Twisty’s purpose was to show him how to murder people. Frightening.

Full House – It’s our first full house at the carnival! And that gives us some interesting movement in several storylines as everything runs… less than smoothly.

Stanley continues to sell Elsa on his fake status as a television scout, there to make her famous. But Elsa persists, believing that live theatre will live on long after the television. I find this to be a very interesting perplexity. American Horror Story, a program airing on television, is selling us a message that some things cannot be captured on television, that they must be felt and seen to be believed. Such a fascinating contradiction. I’m really invested in seeing how this plays out over the next few weeks. Interestingly enough, Elsa is sort of right – television is dying. And live theatre is continuing to thrive. Her prediction may have taken a long detour, but actually does seem to be coming true.

Meanwhile, Jimmy is nervously practicing his act for the show. Maggie, who Jimmy is obviously into, offers to read his fortune to make him feel better. She tells him to stay away from a man who will soon make him false promises and she forewarns him that he should run away immediately. She then, however, puts down Jimmy’s romantic interest, sending him off angrily.

Dell is running late, so Jimmy goes to fetch him. But all he finds is a drunken Desiree. Desiree’s also not in the mood to perform in the show. She begins reminiscing about her past with her husband, recapping how he used to make her feel alive. And now, she says, she just feels empty. Jimmy decides to share his secret with Desiree: he didn’t really do anything to stop Twisty. The real hero, he says, is Meep, and he feels incredibly guilty for his death. Can we stop trying to make Meep happen? Jeez. He was in two episodes, Jimmy. Get over it.

When Desiree tries to calm Jimmy down, he goes in for a kiss. Although she initially resists, she’s soon into it. After all, she just wants to feel something. Anything. In trying to keep this as PG-13 as possible, I’ll just say that Jimmy’s lobster fingers are too big for the trap. And that friction results in… um, yeah, blood. Gross.

Jimmy quickly gets on stage to introduce Elsa as the main event. In case you forgot, Elsa uprooted the twins as the starring act last week. But that is looking to be a poor decision, as many of the audience – likely upset to see her reprising Life on Mars only four weeks after its first airing – start pelting popcorn at her. This is disappointing to me for several reasons: partially because I think Jessica Lange, so by proxy Elsa as well, performs the hell out of this song. But mostly because popcorn is my favourite food, so watching these people mercilessly waste it is flat-out disrespectful. My heart can only take so much.

Of course, all of this chaos puts Elsa right into Stanley’s hands. Now she wants to know more about television.

Man! I’m Completely A Woman! – Ethel brings Desiree to her doctor. This is a bit much when you think of the logistics. Ethel is supporting her ex-husband’s new wife through some traumatic vaginal bleeding, caused by her son with said ex-husband. Excuse me while I puke.

The doctor starts asking some questions, giving Desiree the opportunity to dump some exposition onto the audience. She reveals that she was thought to be a boy when she was born, but then grew breasts at twelve. The doctor, somehow a medical genius on strange cases like this, gives us the answers. Desiree is a woman, who produced excess estrogen to compensate for an initial overage of testosterone, resulting in a third breast and an enlarged clitoris that resembles a penis. See: there’s an unneeded scientific answer for everything out there, kids.

Unfortunately, the upsetting part here is that Desiree’s bleeding was a miscarriage. This is a surprising notion to her, as she never knew she was enough of a woman to have any children at all.

Strike A Pose – Elsa’s ready for her close-up. She gets herself all dolled up, only to find herself left waiting at the altar. Stanley, really a con artist of course, has taken off with Bette and Dot.

Another flash forward reveals that he was successful in killing the twins, selling their attached head to the American Morbidity Museum. When the curator lady questions him on their death, he sidesteps the question. Uh oh.

Back to Jupiter. Stanley has taken the twins out for a picnic, trying to sell them on getting their own show. But he’s poisoned their cupcakes – one that Bette is all too happy to sample – and it’s only a matter of time before she starts foaming at the mouth. Soon, Bette’s dead and Stanley suffocates Dot until she joins her sister.

… Psych! It’s all a weird fantasy of Stanley’s. Dot, insisting that the twins watch their figure, refuses to eat the cupcakes. Phew.

Killer Abs – It seems that we’ve located the missing Dell. He’s chatting up a young man (named Andy), played by the formidable Matt Bomer, who it seems is a prostitute that he’s having an affair with.

Dell is naturally extremely possessive… but it seems he’s been making Andy a million false promises about leaving Desiree. Andy tries to explain that coming out as a gay man should not be a huge deal for Dell, since he’s only a professional strongman in a freak show, but he insists on continuing to live a facade. But he is insistent that he has real, strong feelings for him.

It’s fascinating to watch Dell have the exact opposite feelings that Desiree shared earlier in the episode. Unlike Desiree, he feels. Perhaps too much. His desire to remain committed to Desiree, all the while still living a sexually fulfilled life with Andy, has him incredibly torn. “There’s nothing worse than the hurt of loving someone who you can’t have,” he says. And it’s apparent that he’s referring to both Desiree and Andy simultaneously. He physically loves Andy, but doesn’t want to leave his wife. And he emotionally loves Desiree, but can’t commit to her physically.

Dell storms off in a huff, opening up the door to another friendly face. Dandy.

Dandy brings Andy (rhyming names – adorable!) out to the old bus. Andy has horrible instincts: this all feels so overly creepy. And it’s like, one day after they just revealed that this was the place that an evil clown was keeping a bunch of hostages. But okay, fine, we’ll go along with Andy’s idiocy. We did just meet him.

The boys strip down to their underwear (and jeez, these guys work out). But when they turn to face one another, Dandy is wearing Twisty’s mask again. Andy, we heardly knew you. Rest in peace, friend. Oh, wait, he’s not dead. Awkward. Naturally, he screams for help… so Dandy drives the knife into his back a few more times.

Okay, now we’re ready to get rid of the body. Whaaaat? Still alive?! Andy, you selfish jerk, you’re making Dandy feel bad for murdering you. So thoughtless.

So after two false starts, Dandy delivers the final blow. Ladies and gentleman, a serial killer is born.

The Ex-Wives Club – When Dell returns to the carnival, Desiree gives him the news from the doctor. He feigns joy, but she can see right through it. So she goes right on the offensive, revealing that she knows that Jimmy is Dell’s son.

Now that she knows she’s a woman, Desiree has a renewed sense of confidence. She plans on getting some cosmetic surgery to fix her third breast and her enlarged clitoris (slapping God in the face if you ask me). And she wants everything – a house, kids, a white picket fence. Just not with Dell.

It doesn’t take long for her to pack her bags and move in with Ethel. Another spinoff idea! Two ex-wives becoming best friends! Isn’t this legitimately the plot of Reba?

Dell pays a visit to the doctor, questioning him about the surgeries he’s planning on performing on his wife. He threatens the doctor, bullying him into agreeing not to operate on Desiree. What an a-hole.

Bette and Dot… Mott? - Nora’s daughter, Regina, later calls Gloria looking for her mother. Gloria assures Regina that her mother won’t have time to call her for at least a month, but Regina won’t stand for it. Gloria then starts confessing her emotions about Dandy, reflecting on her motherhood and how she parented her son. Obviously, this makes Regina uncomfortable, who hangs up.

Just as Gloria gets off the phone, Dandy gets home. And I presume he’s got Andy’s body in tow.

The episode ends with another visit to the Mott household, as Elsa, having falsely sold the twins on becoming their unofficial mentor at Stanley’s request, brings the twins over. “I believe I have something you want,” she says to Gloria.

This is not looking good for the poor twins. And poor Dot. If she’s sold into the Mott household, will she become Dot Mott? Tragedy!

Overall – Good episode. I think it was really nice to get some backstory on Dell and Desiree that moved the plot forward simultaneously. That’s what I’d like to see from the storylines for Ethel and Elsa as well.

One of my biggest gripes with the show is that Elsa, who was sold as the protagonist to this story, is a truly sensational bitch. I’m not rooting for her in the slightest. I don’t know if that was Ryan Murphy’s intention, but she’s as cold as Dandy. And at least he’s a really interesting character, formulated by deep-seeded emotional baggage and undiagnosed mental issues.

I think the show would work better in this format if it gave us someone to see the season through. Early on, this looked to be the twins. But they’ve since taken a supporting role, giving the spotlight to various other characters. A bit of course correction here – especially as they end up in the hands of the twisted Dandy Mott – seems likely moving forward.

And, as I’ve been saying, let’s add a bit of horror to this thing! Nothing scary has happened in at least three episodes. Just saying.

Episode Grade: B


  • It was revealed this week that the AHS world is officially connected. While this is unsurprising given Pepper’s inclusion this season, I’m not sure it’s entirely a good thing. The connective tissue should always be unconfirmed – something to be teased, but never revealed. If explored, I think we’d see way too many plot contrivances trying to make the various seasons fit together. Trying too hard to define this universe, and not just letting each season stand on its own, could be the undoing of what has been Ryan Murphy’s most successful work yet.
  • Bette chokes on a poison cupcake. Dot’s reaction? “Serves you right for being such a glutton.” This is only funnier when it’s revealed that Stanley was just imagining it. Dot’s a sassy bitch even in the mind of a guy who barely knows her. Perfection.
  • Poison cupcakes? What does Survivor’s baked goods expert, Muffin, have to say about this?
  • Theory of the week: a blissfully unaware Dandy has doomed us all by donning Twisty’s mask. The spread of the germs can only mean one thing… American Horror Story: Ebola.
  • Turns out that Nora was named Dora all along. Whoops. We’ll still call her Nora. RIP Nora.