Welcome back, American Horror Story, for another weird year.
The fourth season, Freak Show, drops us into 50s-era Jupiter, Florida, a town ripe with murder and home to “Fräulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities,” a traveling freak show that’s fallen on hard times.
The familiar faces are back, and it’s always a treat to see what roles the lovely AHS alums will play when a new season of the anthology series rears its strange head. Jessica Lange is Elsa Mars, the fame-obsessed owner of the freak show. Sarah Paulson plays conjoined sisters Bette and Dot, who are brought to the freak show by Elsa after they kill their mother. Evan Peters is the freak show’s “Lobster Boy,” whose little side-business provides certain “pleasures” to dissatisfied housewives. Frances Conroy and Finn Wittrock play the Motts, a mother and son that want to buy Bette and Dot. And there’s a bearded Kathy Bates as Ethel Darling. A bearded Kathy Bates. Bearded. Kathy Bates.
There are two main storylines at work in “Monsters Among Us.” The bulk of the episode revolves around Bette and Dot and their induction into the world of the freak show. For an American Horror Story episode, it’s curious that the introduction of Elsa and the sisters drags on. Part of me wants to be disappointed that this episode is indicative of a more methodical season, but after the breakneck speed of the past few seasons, I think I’m okay with the relaxed pace. And if Freak Show wants to spend more time focusing on its characters, perhaps when some of them inevitably die, I’ll actually care (ahem, Coven).
But if shock and gore is what you came for over characterization, you’re in luck, because Freak Show has the most horrific clown I’ve ever seen on television. Though John Carroll Lynch’s Twisty the Clown may have a penchant for kidnapping and killing innocent people on screen, there’s a dark corner of my nightmares reserved for foul things such as Twisty, and I have no doubt that he’ll be visiting me as I slumber.
The bit with the Candy Striper is an awkward blip in the trajectory of the episode, but perhaps her non-freak perspective being brought into the world of the freak show is thematic in some way. Either way, the episode’s faults (can we talk about that David Bowie musical number?) are outweighed by Freak Show‘s simplification of the AHS formulaic clusterfuck. And though there are plenty of episodes left for Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk to throw in aliens, ghosts, demons, and distorted depictions of historical figures, the more grounded horror elements of abduction, serial murder, and creepy clowns are working well.
- As always, Freak Show delivers the incredible visuals AHS fans are used to, and I must say that the use of split screen for Bette and Dot POV was a nice touch.
- The acting is superb! Special shout-out to Sarah Paulson’s skillful depiction of the twins and their polar personalities.
- I’m digging the stop-motion aesthetic to the updated intro, as well as the carnival flavor added to the show’s “theme song.”
- Next time I suspect intruders in my house, I will bravely wield my rolling pin. That’ll protect me (silly milkman).