It’s times like these that we’re glad we don’t give grades in our reviews.
Over eight hours later, and we’re still trying to come to terms with this episode. Not that it was hard to parse or so disturbing that we couldn’t handle it; just that, as per usual for AHS, it’s a very difficult episode to review in the conventional manner. We suppose we should be grateful it’s taken this long to get to this point. In seasons past, it felt like we were throwing our hands up in frustration by the second episode. It’s to this season’s credit that the storytelling has managed to remain so straightforward for so long. Although we wouldn’t say that the show has gone off the rails or anything. It still seems to be telling its tale in a fairly linear manner, even if it’s got a lot going on and bounces all over the place. For the most part, ironically, Freak Show is the most conventional season of American Horror Story yet.
And it’s not like nothing happened this episode. Two major and several minor developments took place. Twisty the clown was shuffled off this mortal coil to spend eternity haunting our dreams, Dandy took on the mantle (literally) of a serial killer, and Jimmy Darling got turned into, of all things, a hero to the town. It was an episode filled with stories; an episode that in many ways was all about storytelling. And yet, it’s hard for us to see this as a well-told tale or even a chapter in a larger tale. That’s not how Ryan Murphy always works and it sure as hell isn’t how this show works.
If you came for shocking or gross imagery, than this is the episode for you, with everything ranging from Weimar-era toilet BDSM to snuff films to post-suicide-attempt clown faces. It was all pretty horrifying and totally fun to watch in an oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-they’re-going-THERE kind way. But were these horror stories per se, or were they just a series of gruesome and depressing freak autobiographies shot like a ’90s music video?
Do you feel like you got your money’s worth (so to speak) out of these last two episodes, which were billed as a two-parter? Because nothing about it felt any different from any other random AHS episode. We suppose we were figuring on a two-part Halloween episode of this show to deliver something more akin to … we don’t know … an actual horror story. It seems like, in the light of day, when it comes to discussing this episode, all we have are images; from Twisty’s ravaged face to an FX-laden Jessica Lange doing her best Madonna circa 1992 impersonation, to Wes Bentley standing amid a swirling green fog and doing his very best James Mason/Christopher Lee/Vincent Price mashup impersonation. And don’t get us wrong, they were great, powerful, disgusting images. As an hour of television, this was all highly entertaining. As a story, or even part of a story, it just kinda … sat there.
We suppose part of our problem here is that, oddly enough, the end of the episode almost felt like the end of the story, with the scary killer vanquished and the tortured protagonist getting a kiss from a pretty girl and applause from the townspeople. And we suppose part of our ambivalence also comes from the fact that of the two psychos in this story, Dandy is the less interesting one. With Twisty gone, we don’t find a Dandy the Serial Killer storyline to be particularly scary or tantalizing. This being AHS, we should never make any assumptions about where it’s going. We’re more than willing to entertain the idea that this will all turn out to be a wild ride no one could have predicted, but we’re less than a half-dozen episodes into the season and we feel like there’s not a lot left to tell.
In other news, kudos must be given to Wes Bentley, who really nailed his character in an incredibly entertaining way. None of this would have worked without someone who knew what to do with the material. Rather than go big and campy, he want small and campy, which made for a pleasant surprise and a truly creepy (though benevolent, for the most part) character. With the effortless way he combined darkness, Victorian propriety, and romanticism, we’re dying to see him cast in a Sandman movie now. We’re sorry to see John Carroll Lynch go, but he sure as hell made an impression and it took a certain type of skilled actor to make a character so monstrous and so sympathetic at the same time. And of course Jessica continues to impress the hell out of us. We had to laugh, because how do you direct an actress to tell a story like that in an emotionally truthful way without going completely over the top? You don’t. You just sit back and let a master do her work.
So, was it fun? Yes. Was it scary? Only a little. Did it work as a story or a chapter in a larger story? Only marginally. Is this still a better-written season so far than the previous three? Pretty much.
And finally: Evil little people are the worst, amirite?
[Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/FX]
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