American Horror Story: Freak Show – Test of Strength Review

What about this season of American Horror Story: Freak Show supposed to be scary? We're not entirely sure...

“I quit when they killed the clown.”

I don’t have cable this year. This is due in part to the fact that I’m a millennial, and I’ve bucked the traditional television format in favor of Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go and the ESPN app, as we, the plugged in generation, are wont to do, getting all the entertainment we need on demand for a much cheaper price. It’s also because I’m broke.

Nevertheless, when I’ve needed to review television shows like American Horror Story: Freak Show, that aren’t offered to critics in advance, I’ve had to find an inviting home with cable access to watch. So, instead of viewing a series alone in the confines of my own home with nothing but my own reactions to feed my reviews, I’ve gotten to witness others respond to this current season of AHS and use their feedback as fodder. What I’ve found is that I’m far from alone in my contempt for this latest season of American Horror Story.

The above quote came from a viewer that I watched with this week, who admitted to checking out of the current season after fan favorite, homicidal, and misunderstood Twisty the Clown was taken from us too soon. “A ghost killed the only compelling character,” is what he said to me, and I whole-heartedly agree. Twisty was the horror in this year’s AHS, the malevolent, fear-inducing presence, and he was axed in the fourth episode by a supernatural entity. What’s especially maddening is that Edward Mordrake, the spirit that took Twisty, has been the only other-worldly fantasy element in an otherwise reality grounded season, a bizarre outlier that doesn’t really fit in the same mold as the other episodes.

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With Twisty gone, and no other hell-spirits looking like they’ll appear, what about this season makes it a horror story? I guess murdering and scheming; blackmailing murderers is a type of horror too. But we can get that in an episode of CSI or even in a normal drama like House of Cards. Just because the characters are “freaks” doesn’t make them scary movie monsters. Just because a character like Dandy is a sociopath doesn’t really make him scary. The other seasons have featured grotesque ghosts, demonic possessions, aliens, zombies, and other spooks. What does Freak Show have that makes it scary?

Besides there being no real terror, the actors haven’t been much fun to watch this year either. Jessica Lange, bless her heart, is on year four of playing the same slightly tweaked, power-hungry character. I thought anthologies were supposed to change? Evan Peters looks bored; Angela Bassett hasn’t been given anything to do; newcomer Finn Wittrock seems to be the only person having any fun, which is sad, because the slapdash second season Asylum was elevated by how much enjoyment everyone looked like they were having. Freak Show seems just as much a chore to perform as it’s a chore to watch.

Tonight was another episode of filler. Well, not filler, just not much forward motion. “You know what I think? You’re stalling,” Emma Roberts said tonight, and I almost thought she was making a meta-statement about the season in general. We did get to watch Jimmy discover that Dell is his father, a low-key moment that actually was a bright spot of the episode, and we witnessed Stanley, Elsa, and Bette and Dot all get in on a little intriguing blackmail with the latter two in danger of being taken out (but of course not any time soon).  Penny was mutilated with tattoos by her father, a moment that came after I had to remind myself who the character was and why I cared about her in the first place. Oh, and poor Ma Petite met her demise, the first meaningful casualty since Twisty in a season that could use more shocks to the system like this.

Let me be direct: this is without a doubt my least favorite season of the show. I cannot find a reason to return to it each week besides the fact that I’m committed to providing these reviews. If I have to endure another off-putting, terrible cover like tonight’s Nirvana abomination, I might explode. Last year’s Coven was quite atrocious–stop kidding yourself, there were no stakes, the assumed protagonist Taissa Farmiga was sidelined after five episodes, and the whole thing was an elaborate Stevie Nicks music video with an obvious ending–but it wasn’t this bad to begin with. I’m not sure what I’m watching this year, but I know that it’s not good.

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2 out of 5