American Horror Story Freak Show episode 4 review: Edward Mordrake (Part 2)

American Horror Story continues to be provocative, depraved and unsettling. It's fantastic stuff, says Ron...

This review contains spoilers.

4.4 Edward Mordrake (Part 2)

One of my hopes for this season of American Horror Story is that it wouldn’t be focused on the usual cast members. Sure, I’m always game for Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates to square off with one another, but given that Freak Show has a great deal of participation from actual sideshow-type performers, I really wanted to see them be something other than colour. I’m aware that these people were cast primarily for their differences, to fit in with a proper freak show atmosphere, but I would hope that when given a chance, they could act well, too. Considering the focus of Edward Mordrake Part 2, that ability could make or break the episode.

Fortunately, the show has an ace in the hole in the form of Mat Fraser, who plays Paul the Illustrated Seal. He’s a musician, has done his own one-man show, and is a pretty experienced actor, albeit it not so much in America. He’s gotten little scenes here and there, but never something as extended as his appearance in this week’s episode. He gets a really good scene with Wes Bentley, telling the story of his disability and how he struggled to survive it, baring his darkest secret, and generally doing a great job of selling his heartbreak at having a handsome face but a misshapen body. Legless Suzi’s meeting with Mordrake is also pretty effective, given that Rose Siggins has less acting background, but no less dedication to her performance, though she can’t dig into the pain that Fraser can.

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Even though the way the plot shaped out was pretty predictable—Twisty was pretty much determined to become Mordrake’s victim once Mordrake showed up, because who is more of a pure freak—it ended up working well because of John Carroll Lynch’s ability to coax just enough pain out of Jennifer Salt’s words to make Twisty’s insanity… well, not reasonable, since it’s still insane behaviour, but a little more pathetic. Lynch makes a great beaten-down character, and Twisty has more than a little debt to Lenny from Of Mice And Men, given his tremendous size and killing prowess. Dandy will be a poor replacement on the terrorizing front, but as a psychopath and general figure of coiled rage, he’ll work just fine (and Finn Wittrock is great in the role of grown-up Joffrey Baratheon, changing his eyes completely when he slides on Twisty’s discarded mask). However, the fact that poor, mistreated Twisty will get a Harmon-style happy ending with Mordrake makes up for that shift.

Twisty’s death, the gathering of Mordrake’s previous victims, and the brutal way in which Dandy Mott pops his murder cherry contribute greatly to this episode’s feeling of horror. (Shame to see Patti LaBelle leave the show so soon.) Amazing to think that Howard Deutch directed Pretty In Pink, given that we get an extended depravity montage that features some of the grossest sexual, psudo-sexual, psycho-sexual, and scatological activities ever shown on basic cable. It’s both stylish, in that it perfectly replicates grainy 8mm film stock, complete with missing frames where the film had to be spliced together. The beginning of the footage is more Ryan Murphy provocation, what with the bondage and butts and someone peeing in a teacup, but the end, in which Elsa is turned from a singer/dominatrix/stag reel star into a failed snuff film subject is infinitely more unsettling.

With effective flashbacks and an actual arc for Twisty, Freak Show is shaping up to be a bit more like Murder House than Coven or Asylum. One of the things I liked most about Murder House was the way it would introduce plot elements, use them up, then move on to the next thing without much pause. Every arc was succinct and enjoyable, and aside from the dud Monster of the Week show, it was efficient and impressive television with a thick, chewy glaze of crazy on top. This is a reminder that the show can close out an arc in a satisfying way, while progressing other arcs—Jimmy as the self-appointed saviour of the freaks, Bette and Dot versus Elsa—at the same time using the same circumstances.

After wallowing in horror for the past two episodes, specifically the horrors of the human condition, it was nice for Freak Show to end on a happy note. Granted, Jimmy is taking credit for something he didn’t do and he’s still stupidly picking a fight with the cops, but for a brief moment, everyone in Fraulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities is bathed in the love and gratefulness of Jupiter, Florida. (Except for Dell, who was apparently taking a nap or shaving his arms.) Given the nature of the show, this happiness is going to be transient, but it was an appreciated exhale and a brief glimmer of hopefulness.

I cannot wait to see what happens at the big show next week.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Edward Mordrake (Part 1), here

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US Correspondent Ron Hogan has spent entirely too much time in the darkness in recent days, thanks to the electric company inefficiently replacing utility poles. Still, at least he got to see the death of Twisty and the rise of Twisty 2. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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