Last week’s American Horror Story: Freak Show debut was the most watched episode of the series yet, and the most watched FX program in the history of the network. It’s no surprise why; the show has gained steady word of mouth over the course of its run, and now with the chilling first two seasons on Netflix, fans can get an idea just what to expect from this wonderfully strange little freak show.
I thought the premiere last week was steady, but nothing too spectacular, partly due to Jessica Lange. Don’t get me wrong, I love Lange’s work on the first three seasons of AHS, but this year just feels like a retread over ground we’ve already travelled. Lange as Elsa Mars, the fame hungry leader of the freak show, is just as obsessed at holding onto her power and being queen of the pack as her character last season, Fiona Goode. It only becomes more abundantly clear this episode when Mars quietly seethes with envy when Bette and Dot become the star of the show. Really, the only difference is the silly German accent that Lange goes in and out of. Hopefully her German background will serve some purpose in the future; otherwise it just seems like an ill-suited flight of fancy by an actress who might be a little bored.
But besides Lange, I really enjoyed this second episode. Things seem to be moving along at a nice clip. Suddenly, we have other villains to fill out the show’s roster. Rich, insufferable Dandy was nothing more than a campy joke last week, and he remains a bit of one in this episode, with his baby bottle of cognac and his favorite catchphrase, “boring,” but pairing him with Twisty the Clown is a stroke of genius. With the scary, silent madman paired with the sociopathic, privileged whiner, the show recreates their best villain, Bloody Face from Asylum, played by Zachary Quinto, in two bodies.
The other new bad guy in town is Dell Toledo, played by Michael Chiklis, who gets right into the spirit of the show. Dell is a strongman who flees Chicago with his hermaphrodite, three-breasted wife Desiree, played with some oomph by Angela Bassett, after he kills a man. We learn that Dell and Ethel had a past together, and that Dell is most likely Jimmy’s dad. Don’t expect a heartfelt reunion though. The two bicker and fight right from the get-go when Dell immediately assumes a managerial role.
When Jimmy tries to take some of the other freaks to a diner, to prove that they’re no different than anyone else, Dell disapproves, and lays some on Jimmy’s chin to teach him a lesson. The family dysfunction is a great element that hasn’t been touched upon since Murder House on this show, and I can’t wait to see how it boils over.
I suppose the cops serve as another malevolent entity too. They harass the freak show looking for murder leads and enforce a tricky curfew that almost halts the show, before Dell moves the performance to a matinee. The cops start poking around even more after they discover that the officer that went looking for Dot and Bette last week is missing as well. Jimmy holds on to that dead man’s badge, and once Dell proves to be a nuisance, he tries to frame him by planting the badge in his trailer. When the cops are tipped off about the badge, they come to collect a culprit, but Dell is already a step ahead, and planted the badge in Meek’s tent. Poor Meek gets hulled off to jail and meets a grisly fate by the hands of other inmates, with the cops turning a blind eye.
The freaks being targeted and segregated by the rest of society has obvious parallels to the time period that this season is set in, but hearing Jimmy say over and over how they’re no different and harmless might get old fast. Hell, it gets a little tiresome in this episode, but that’s a small complaint from a largely solid episode. The lights are coming on in the big tent, and I like where we’re heading, though I’m worried about clutter. Last season similarly started with many intriguing villains in place, but they we all dispatched or fizzled out by the halfway point. Let’s hope the writers learn from Coven’s mistakes.
The Best of the Rest
- The opening kill in the toy store is a great setting for Twisty.
- Speaking of Twisty, HOLY BALLS HIS MOUTH! You thought the mask was disturbing.
- Dandy Mott, played by Finn Wittrock, is at once infuriating and hilarious. Let’s hope the shtick doesn’t get old.
- The cops are looking night and day for the murderer, yet here’s Twisty, an insanely unsettling clown, just walking the streets for Gloria to pick up. These cops must be the ancestors of Dexter’s Miami Metro team.
- Another puzzling scene: Jimmy tries to plant the badge in broad daylight, right after Dell asks where he’s going, knowing full well all he needed to do was poke his head out of the tent to catch him in the act. Don’t quit your day job, Jimmy.
- I didn’t mention this last week, but Pepper, Sister Jude’s favorite inmate from Asylum, is in this season, connecting two seasons of the series for the first time.
- The karaoke routines need to cease. I like Fiona Apple, but these modern songs really are throwing off the vibe and not working at all.