This review contains spoilers.
4.9 Tupperware Party Massacre
As American Horror Story gains traction and propels itself towards a season finale like an out-of-control carnival ride, it feels as though there’s a certain loss of poise. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that our hero, Jimmy, is an aimless drunk who is distracted by grief and the gigantic bosoms of the side show’s new fat lady. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that Stanley and Elsa’s complicated plot to capture and decapitate the twins continues to run into complications. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the show’s biggest villain, Dandy, is so wildly entertaining that it’s distracting from the rest of the show.
After opening up with Twisty as the focus, the show has become the Dandy Mott Murder Hour, and Dandy is making the most of his opportunity to captivate—then slay—the audience. Finn Wittrock, with his matinee idol face and his Flintstones name, is really putting on a clinic when it comes to chewing the scenery, and with every crazy bit of dialogue, Dandy becomes that much more appealing. He’s absolutely deranged, and Wittrock plays it perfectly. In an entertaining, if inconsistent season, he’s the only steady source of both horror and comedy. In a scene he can go from goofy to terrifying (particularly while naked and planning a blood bath), and it’s impressive that the character resonates so much when lots of other promising characters have struggled to find purchase.
From the very beginning of the episode, when Dandy gets an appealingly vague fortune from Maggie before threatening to destroy Jimmy’s universe after being confronted by the drunken Lobster Boy. Jimmy has finally somehow put it together that Dandy was the other clown, even if Maggie hasn’t quite done it yet, and he lets him know in no uncertain, slurred terms that he’s wise to who and what Dandy is. Dandy, since he’s a mad man, doesn’t care. When Regina confronts Dandy about her late, missing mother, not only does Dandy not bother to lie about it, he actually lets Regina know that he’s killed a few other people since cutting Patty Labelle’s throat. Since it’s Dandy, and he’s basically the god figure he thinks he is at this point, even letting Regina go doesn’t come back to interfere with Dandy’s killing spree; she comes back with a cop and Dandy, despite ranting and raving and again admitting to murder, gets the cop to turn his back on the active crime and eliminate the last person who might have a shot at reigning in Dandy’s insanity.
Traditionally, when American Horror Story indulges in elements of civil rights, it’s a bit ham-fisted, albeit coming from what seems to be a good place to an outsider. Still, if there’s ever a depiction of everything wrong with 1950’s America, it’s when that police officer turns his gun on Regina and eliminates Dandy’s problem for him. It’s a shocking turn of events to be sure; even now, we’re trained by a lifetime of TV to see cops as good guys down to stop evil, and yet… this police officer didn’t just refrain from stopping evil, he’s outright aiding it. Money talks, and Florida’s not a hotbed of racial tolerance even today.
It’s pretty clear that Brad Falchuk had a field day writing this episode, because Dandy gets some absolutely cracking lines, and Stanley gets more than his fair share of crazy stuff to say in response to, say, Dell trying to sneak away from camp in a scene that goes from kind of amusing to very repulsive at the drop of a fly (great work Denis O’Hare). The more emotionally resonant moments, like the hallucinatory return of Ethel in a couple of different scenes, also work pretty well thanks, but it’s Bette and Dot’s scenes that provoke and promote the most feelings out of the viewing audience, thanks to Sarah Paulson’s tremendous talent and some good dialogue. Bette sacrifices her wants for Dot’s happiness, only to find the gesture rebuffed by the intended target for reasons that will hopefully become clear soon enough.
The material is carried by the actors this week, rather than the director. Aside from some great staging—the pool party is hilarious, as is naked Finn Wittrock’s extended conversation with Regina—the only real flash comes during Dell’s suicide attempt. There’s some little tricks with focus and music, some frantic camera movements to reinforce the struggle of life versus death, and so-on, but the episode feels a little bland in spite of the subject matter. Director Loni Peristere leans mostly on surprising character returns and some cognitive dissonance for shock, rather than getting to or too creative with the camera.
At this point, you’re either in or you’re out on AHS: Freak Show. In spite of occasional troubles, I’m still wholeheartedly sold on show’s willingness to kill everyone, be crazy, and bring back Lily Rabe. There may not be a direction, and it feels as though the freaks have all been pushed to one side for Dandy’s Adventures in Murderland, but it’s been entertaining enough in its characteristically twisted way, so I’m not complaining. Still, we’re owed at least one good Pepper scene, a few more overt homages to Tod Browning’s Freaks, and maybe an emasculated Stanley before we lower the curtain on this season.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Blood Bath, here.
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