In an effort to get caught up with DEADtime, and to stay caught up, we’re implementing a new way of posting reviews. Instead of compiling each week’s horror stuff, we’ll be posting them after each episode of the show airs. It’s going to work out better for everyone, because if someone’s late it doesn’t stop the rest of the episodes. For now, we’re a couple of weeks behind, but we’ll catch up to the latest episodes quickly with this new system. This will be a bulk review of American Horror Story: Freak Show, so I will mostly be treating these two episodes as if they were one.
Edward Mordrake didn’t get his freak in the previous installment of “Edward Mordrake, Part 1,” but he returns to hear the stories of those in Elsa’s camp of misfits to claim one more victim to add to his ugly face’s growing collection. If the green mist doesn’t signal something is amiss, then the odd Dorian Gray visage of Edward must at least tell Elsa something about his appearance.
Mordrake is a fun but ultimately unnecessary character. In the scheme of Freak Show‘s story, he really makes no difference to the outcome of the plot; I’ll say again that it’s similar to Papa Legba in Coven, where the man shows up to add entertainment value to the episode but otherwise remains an enigma. Mordrake is Freak Show working around the age-old problem of revealing character backstory; the show is literally forcing the characters to sit down and tell the audience how they came to be a freak.
Some could call it lazy, and I certainly wouldn’t disagree. There’s a moment in “Edward Mordrake, Part 2” where Legless Suzi tells of a time in her life when she stabbed a dancing man out of jealousy for his legs; it’s an unearned moment, the kind that works off of the stereotype that of course she would be jealous of the guy’s legs because she doesn’t have any. A disservice to the freaks it is, but at the same time the episode pays tribute to the others in the show.
Like Elsa, for example, who gets little to do in many of Freak Show‘s episodes besides pout at her old age and hope she’s the star of the show. “Edward Mordrake, Part 2” draws attention to the fact that she is missing her legs, sawed off in some tasteless snuff film that she was drugged into filming. It helps, in part, to punctuate her need for stardom later in “Pink Cupcakes.”
More than that, though, is the episode’s focus on Twisty the Clown, the real freak Mordrake is looking for. His tale is one of sadness, and, obviously, freakish; he lost his jaw trying to blow his own head off, but found a new reason to live by taking children as his playthings. Twisty had always been a bit simple, but in his head he was just being a good little clown. This is really what makes him Twisted, and sets him apart from the other freaks – that he doesn’t realize all the terrible shit he’s done means there’s really no place for him in society.
Thankfully, Freak Show ends Twisty’s run early, before he became too familiar. His presence was already losing its mysterious appeal, but now that he’s gone, it allows the show to set to work on other characters that could use some more development.
That’s what “Pink Cupcakes” takes aim at, not only with Stanley and his aim to capture the two-headed Dot and Bette for a grisly museum collection but also with Del. While Stanley’s gayness gets downplayed, Del’s comes out – he’s been seeing a male prostitute on the side, more in love with him than with Desiree.
Unfortunately, this scenario doesn’t feel authentic; despite Desiree’s appendage, Del has never really felt like a gay man trapped in a straight world no matter how much “Pink Cupcakes” tries to sell it. In fact, the episode highlights the much larger problem Freak Show has with some of its secondary characters like Del; the lack of time to focus on them, only to return to their problems later on, loses momentum. Del is one of the most sporadically characterized people in the show, often alternating between bad guy and good.
Still, some good work is done with Elsa’s failures to capture an audience. She’s so driven to become a television star after Stanley’s offer that she drives Bette and Dot to Dandy’s house, willing to sell them off as long as she can go with Stanley to Hollywood. There’s a sense that, like Coven, this competition between the three is the main crux of this season; at the same time, Freak Show has so far failed to cement what the theme really is. Is it about Elsa admitting she’s a freak, or about the freak show thriving? Is it about public acceptance of the freaks, or about Dandy’s ultimate downfall, the rich upper class shown as more unhappy than the freaks? There are so many scenarios at play that there’s no clear path for the show to start down.
Still, “Pink Cupcakes” has set up some potential areas for Freak Show to explore. Maybe it’s important for Jimmy and Maggie to be together, to show that humanity is more than their appearance. Maybe the freaks band against Stanley’s monstrous plan. Or maybe they’re forced to save Jupiter from a madman again now that Dandy’s picked up the slack. Whatever the case, there are lots of places for Freak Show to travel, so long as it gets to the cake under the pink frosting.