Emma Roberts in FOX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show”
Last night was when the dreaded words finally got uttered. Those two little words that indicate we’ve reached the same spot we always reach about midway through an AHS season.
Seriously, setting aside the required AHS serial killer plotline, where’s the horror in this story? We kept asking the same thing last season but at least we had actual witches, ghosts, zombies and patchwork monsters wandering through the scenes. At least it kind of looked like a horror story. Take away Twisty the Clown and Edward Mordrake from this tale and you’re left with a soap opera set in tents. Elsa’s dreams of fame are dying on the vine and she looks to the increasingly popular Bette and Dot as a threat. Del is a closeted gay man who overcompensates with shocking acts of violence. Jimmy wants love and also justice for his friend so he tries to sleep with his father’s wife and causes her to miscarry. A couple of grifters have blown into town, full of lies and nefarious plans. These are the stories. They’re not interesting ones. They’re just being acted out by good-to-great performers in front of eye-popping backdrops. And yes, we realize we could have written that sentence during any other AHS season (and probably have).
Sure, you’ve got a serial killer bouncing through the story – and Finn Wittrock’s scenes this episode were the only parts that saved it from being a total slog – but serial killer stories as told through the eyes of the serial killer tend to drift away from feeling like true horror. Or at least they do when the serial killer has to explain himself to an angry mommy and deal with mundanities like how to dispose of the body. There’s a reason we didn’t hear Twisty’s autobiography until just before he was removed from the story. Because once you let your serial killer character open their mouth and tell their own story, they lose their impact almost immediately.It’s a schtick that’s only worked a few times, and even then, such as in American Psycho, which this episode was clearly taking inspiration from, we’re not sure you’d call the end result a “horror story.” It’s not like Michael Myers and Freddie Krueger went around narrating their thoughts to the audience all the time. If they had, they wouldn’t have been considered very scary. For the most part, serial killer stories are scary and horrifying when you identify with the victims, not when the story asks you to identify with the killer.
As we noted, this has always been an issue with the show. There aren’t very many truly scary moments in its history. The creators opted for “horrifying” over “horror” and sometimes, that’s even worked for them. But watching Finn Wittrock in tightie whities dismember Matt Bomer in tighty whities wasn’t even all that horrifying because of the sex and camp factors layered over it. Sure, your hand flew to your mouth in that “I can’t believe they’re going there” way, but Murphy billed this scene as the most horrifying they’ve ever done and it came nowhere near the hype. That daylight scene of Twisty killing that guy on a picnic with his girlfriend was more horrifying than this. Maybe we’re being too harsh because our only thoughts throughout the entire murder scene were “Wait. The cops just left Twisty’s Bus of Horrors sitting in the woods? And Matt Bomer knows nothing about it?”
It didn’t help that we couldn’t identify with Matt Bomer in those scenes, awful as they were, because he was a barely sketched out character and Dandy has been the most defined character of this season so far. That scene would have been far more effective from a horror standpoint if Dandy had killed someone we already knew and cared about. But to introduce this Ken doll of a character and then hack him to bits a half hour later just left us … flat. We hate how jaded that makes us sound. Believe us, we’re not asking for greater levels of torture porn or gore. It just … if you are going to hack someone to bits on camera, then let’s have it mean something so we can actually feel some horror. This just felt like a setup to get two hot guys named Dandy and Andy to strip down to their panties. The queer camp factor took it away from being horrifying.
Meanwhile, back at the tents, everyone’s scheming and planning and yearning for more, in true melodrama fashion. We had brief hopes that Elsa Mars would not be yet another tragic, failed diva character for Jessica, but that looks to be the only direction they’re heading with her. The Bowie schtick is already starting to wear thin for us. That and the accent are the only things that really differentiate her from her previous characters. She’s yet another woman threatened by a younger rival. After a while, you’ve got to wonder if Jessica’s losing patience with Murphy.
Stanley has big plans for the twins, but first we have to suffer through entirely pointless fantasy sequences that feel like narrative cheats. HERE’S something horrifying for you to watch! One head dead, one head ALIVE! Psych! Just a dream! Let’s go back to a discussion of Desiree’s clitoris!
Oof. We sound really pissed, don’t we? We’re not, we swear. It’s just the usual frustration of trying to come up with a review of a show that defies any attempts to follow narrative structure or genre conventions. It’s all about the images and the acting. Which is fine, but this was the episode where neither could overcome our boredom.
Final note: Frances Conroy continues to blow everyone out of the water – and that’s saying something with a cast as talented as this. She knows exactly what notes to hit, situated at precise points between humor and horror. It’s a shame her characters are always so incidental to the main story, because we’d love to see a season of AHS tailored entirely around her talents instead of Jessica Lange’s – and we’re huge Jessica Lange fans.
Connie Britton in Naeem Khan at the 2014 CMA Awards Next Post:
Carrie Underwood in Lorena Sarbu at the 2014 CMA Awards