American Horror Story Freak Show episode 5 review: Pink Cupcakes

Messy, scary, thrilling and crazy as ever... American Horror Story is a unique piece of work that deserves celebrating...

This review contains spoilers.

4.5 Pink Cupcakes

I have to admit to being a real mark for Dandy Mott, to use a carny term. I’m buying what that weirdo is selling, and to me, he’s the most interesting villain figure on a show that is not short of repulsive men (Denis O’Hare’s Stanley, Michael Chiklis’s Dell) or villains. I also really like that most people, like the late Dora and the currently living Gloria, can see through Dandy’s pathetic attempts at sublimating his urges. The big question, particularly around Gloria, is just how afraid she was of her son, and I think the answer is terrified. Clearly there’s something in his bloodline that suggests madness, and Gloria outright mentions their long history of cousin-crossing as a possible explanation for Dandy’s madness, and she also emphasizes his need to find easier-to-dispose-of targets than Dora (whose daughter, a returning Gabourey Sidibe, calls to check on her).

That search for easy targets allows Dandy to pop up in the strangest places, or rather what’s going to be one of the show’s unifying places: an underground gay strip club where Stanley apparently picked up Matt Bomer and where Dell is actively cozying up to his boyfriend—while being in no big hurry to leave his wife. It’s really a great series of transitions. We follow Dandy through the bar, run into Dell and his hustler acquaintance, Dell storms off, and then Dandy moves in for the kill. Not literally, of course; he actually kills the guy after paying him $100 and bringing him back to Twisty’s trailer.

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However, even that moment is disappointing to Dandy, as the person he keeps trying to kill just refuses to die, even after bits of him are sawn off. Dandy is living his sick dream, and he’s unsatisfied. It parallels nicely to Stanley’s recurring fantasies about how he’ll secure a bunch of cool oddities (via murder) from Elsa’s show and sell them to the museum for all the big-wigs and high-rollers to gawk at. Stanley’s dreams end up being unsatisfying. Gloria’s delusions are smashed not once by dead Dora, but twice by her half-naked son stumbling home, covered in the blood of his unsatisfying failure (which ruins Dell’s vision of living the San Francisco lifestyle with Andy).

As for Elsa, Jessica Lange’s performance tonight was one of her most impressive in the show’s run, and she’s done great work for four seasons now. When Elsa takes the stage and begins to sing, only to slowly lose the crowd of underwhelmed townies, it’s the perfect blend of film-making techniques and acting. You can see Elsa fight for the crowd, then lose them anyway. As she labours and the audience grows more and more bloodthirsty, the dissolve to loud feedback and the sheer panic/heartbreak on her face as her shot at being a big television star falls apart before her eyes is just stunning work. Elsa’s backstabbing and evil, but she’s still got a heart, and Michael Uppendahl perfectly communicates that. It’s also very telling that Stanley can’t even keep up his ruse after seeing Elsa perform, which is saying something considering the con-man’s ability to lie to everyone from Maggie to Andy.

However, there’s another interesting moment in story, and that’s the humanization of Dell. Michael Chiklis hasn’t been given a great character thus far, all bluster and bombast and impotent rage (and impotence, for that matter). Yes, Dell is still a horrible person, but smashing faces and shattering fingers is the only way he can exercise control over his own life. It gives the character an instant dimension, a humanizing touch that’s been lacking this whole time, and Chiklis is great at playing big guys with some sort of damage like this. Dell’s still not likable, but Chiklis is definitely able to make him pitiable.

Between the serial killing, shattered dreams, and the standard AHS odd sex scenes, there was a lot of fun character and dialogue moments this week from Jessica Sharzer. Dandy’s inner monologue was really fun stuff, and I loved the blatant rip-off of American Psycho that was happening as Dandy honed himself into the dangerous, powerful US Steel of murder. It was blatant, and it was wonderfully amusing, if only because Dandy’s as witty as Patrick Bateman, but in a more genuine way sans Mary Harron’s irony. Finn Wittrock is awesome on this show, and if the fifth season can do one thing for me, it’s get him and Dylan McDermott in the same scenes at the same time. The TV screen cannot contain that much awesome craziness at the same time, and it would be a great way to bring Dylan back into the AHS fold.

Listening to me, planning next season before this season is over. Like Stanley, I’m counting my freaks before they’re stuffed, mounted, and put on display. Much like Bette and Dot’s horrible imaginary fate, this season has been messy and scary, in all possible ways. Whether it will come together in the end remains to be seen, but I like the elements involved and appreciate the emphasis on body horror and the politics of victimization Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are playing with.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Edward Mordrake (Part 2), 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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