American Horror Story season 4 episode 13 review: Curtain Call

American Horror Story Freak Show concludes with one of the season's better episodes, and - what else? - a grisly murder spree...

This review contains spoilers.

4.13 Curtain Call

The one thing you can say about this season of American Horror Story as a whole is that it doesn’t lack teeth. There have been a lot of crazy things that happened this season with plenty of graphic violence, torture, serial killers, weird sex stuff… you know, the standard American Horror Story staples, just turned up to 11 with the addition of killer clowns, human oddities, and cover songs. With the end of this season of AHS comes the end of a whole lot of characters we’ve spent time with this season in shockingly graphic, straightforward manner courtesy of one Dandy Mott.

At first, it looks like the more things change, the more they stay the same. Dandy has taken over, and he’s got deep pockets. Like Elsa, he wants to be the headliner, sing his Cole Porter songs, and enjoy his time in the spotlight, even if that spotlight is put on him incorrectly. After one too many tirades, particularly when Dandy blames Paul, Suzi, and the rest of the gang for the show’s struggles, the tables are turned, and Dandy finds himself with a carnival sans freaks, ride operators, or anything else after a mass quitting. If you think Dandy’s going to take that lying down, well… you’ve forgotten about Dandy’s gold-plated revolver and his lapses into kill-crazed psychosis.

Ad – content continues below

American Horror Story was pretty much the Finn Wittrock celebration, and he makes the most of it in his part of this episode. As the freaks pin Dandy down, spit in his face, and tell him that his money won’t buy him acceptance, it’s fun to watch his expression change. You can tell when Dandy snaps, and what follows—a methodical slaughter of everyone in the camp—is both stunning in just how matter-of-fact it is presented and impressive in how it’s shot. It’s one of the moments in this season where both the performers and the director are absolutely in sync, and it’s one of the show’s signature moments. Paul is going to talk with him about pay and bang, he’s gone. Dandy then walks through the camp, only running into problems when he reaches Amazon Eve in Desiree’s trailer. It’s shot in such a way that we’re never quite sure just who is going to die, then Dandy basically kills everyone he can find, from major characters like Paul and Suzi to the carnies we’ve seen in the background all season. Dandy leaves no stone unturned, and it’s only due to Eve’s heroics that anyone survives.

Of course, Dandy is going to get his in the end. He’s left behind a few too many loose ends, and his sentimentality towards Bette and Dot (and his desire for a three-headed freak baby) is his undoing. It’s quite fun to see that Dandy ends up with the same fate Ma Petite was teased with multiple times this season, even if some of the dialogue from writer John J. Gray is a bit on the nose. Still, it wouldn’t be AHS if it was subtle, and there’s nothing subtle about watching someone drown in Harry Houdini’s water torture tank. Still, Dandy’s wedding is appropriately unnerving, and his first and last dinner as a married man is also pretty fun.

Buecker does some great work in this episode, and his pacing is dead on throughout. Dandy’s murder spree is slow and steady, very casual. The way the episode shows passing time later, with Elsa snuffing out cigarette after cigarette in the lobby of the television studio, is also pretty clever. Her rise to fame is also handled very well. While Elsa isn’t exactly a great performer, she’s a master manipulator, and when she gets Michael Beck (David Burtka) within her clutches, she uses him to get all the way to the top. It’s completely in character, and the savagery of the dissolution of their professional marriage is fitting, given just how hard Elsa worked to get to where she is and how little concern she had for anyone other than her freaks.

Still, those freaks were her family, and in the end, family and being loved are all that really matter, even for the most successful of performers. That’s at the core of Elsa’s desire to be famous—universal love, unlimited love, rather than a close group of friends or family. And if she can’t stay on top, then at least she can take her bow as the Queen of Friday Nights on her own terms. And when those terms are a cover of David Bowie’s Heroes, so much the better.

This is the year that Ryan Murphy came out and told the world that all of his chapters of American Horror Story take place in a shared universe, and as such, this is the first season where it appeared to tie back into the rest of his body of work on FX’s weird little horror show. From the Dandy massacre mimicking Tate’s school shooting and Elsa’s happy ending mimicking the Harmon Family Ghost Christmas to Pepper’s reappearing then disappearing, worked better than I thought it would, even though the season was kind of muddled at times.

However, the show is going out on a high note, with one of the better episodes of the season, and it managed to massage a lot of the digressions and side-plots work back into the main narrative just the same. As always, I remain hopeful that next season, with the promise of a new setting and a new lead figure, will be a return to the dizzying heights of weirdness that was Asylum. It just won’t be the same without Jessica Lange, though.

Ad – content continues below

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Show Stoppers, here

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad to see that the freaks get to have a happy ending, even if that includes Elsa getting an undeserved one. However, undeserved as it was, it was very satisfying anyway. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.