‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’: Send in the clown

American Horror Story: Freak Show
“Monsters Among Us”
October 15, 2014

It would seem the boys down at the Jupiter, FL police station aren’t quite as dumb as the carnies took them to be, and so when one of their own goes missing, they begin their investigation at the place where the detective was seen last: Elsa Mars’ Cabinet of Curiosities. However, that’s not to say that the detectives aren’t dumb enough to arrive at the carnival without search warrants in hand because they are TV cops and they have to give our characters a heads-up that they are under investigation for plot purposes. Elsa flatly refuses their demands to search the performers’ tents and trailers. Anyvay, Elsa informs them, your friend, he vas drunk vhen he vas here, ja? Dot backs her up, adding that she definitely smelled whiskey on his breath. He must have wandered off drunk after leaving the carnival; they haven’t seen him since. What are they going to do, arrest them all because their buddy is missing? The cops narrow their eyes, declare that they will be back, and inform Elsa, et al, that as long as there is some crazy murderer running around town murderizing everyone, there will be a curfew imposed. NO SHOW FOR YOU.

Meanwhile, in town, a coffee boy tries to deliver coffee to Mr. Henley of Henley’s Toy Shop — And wait, stop, pause. Before we move on, was the Coffee Boy a thing like the Milkman was a thing? Did we have coffee delivery back in the 50s? And if we did, WHY DID WE STOP? I NEED A COFFEE BOY IN MY LIFE YESTERDAY. Oh. Wait. So he’s just an employee of the toy store that went on a coffee run? Well, I’m just going to stick with my Coffee Boy fantasy, because bloggers can’t afford full-time employees to fetch them coffee. — As I was saying, Coffee Boy is just trying to make his coffee delivery, but Mr. Henley isn’t anywhere to be found. Coffee Boy wanders further into the shop where he sees a wind-up robot lurching towards him, tracking blood behind it. THAT IS NOT GOOD, COFFEE BOY. MAYHAPS YOU SHOULD JUST GET OUT OF THERE NOW, COFFEE BOY. Instead, Coffee Boy wanders further in, walking right past the filthy Murder Clown who is hiding between two giant clown mannequins that Mr. Henley keeps in the store because he likes to terrorize children. And that’s when Coffee Boy notices Mr. Henley’s severed head neatly displayed on a shelf with a bunch of Halloween decorations. But Coffee Boy only has a moment or two to admire it before he is murdered right in the throat by Murder Clown, whom Coffee Boy somehow not only didn’t see lurking in the shadows, but somehow also didn’t smell, despite looking as though he has had a neither bath nor a trip to the dry cleaners in many a Halloween.

Back at the carnival, the performers are enjoying dinner and a rousing chant of “KILL THE COPPER! KILL THE COPPER! KILL THE COPPER! KILL HIM DEAD!” which, if I were their attorney, I would advise that perhaps they should save for when they aren’t under investigation for the disappearance of a police detective. (Note: I am not an attorney.) When one of the performers offers Jimmy a celebratory cup of somethin-somethin, he swats it away and storms out of the tent in a cloud of guilt and anger.

Out in the darkness, Jimmy, Amazon Eve and Paul dig up the bits and pieces of Detective DeadGuy so as to burn and scatter them, and Jimmy worries that there is a little DeadGuy Jr. out there somewhere, wondering when his daddy will come home. Jimmy grew up without a father, he heavily foreshadows, he knows how hard it is. Jimmy is sad that it’s come to this, but maybe if the good townsfolk of Jupiter just got to know the performers, they’d see that they are just people, too, with feelings and flippers. Amazon Eve finds Detective DeadGuy’s badge, and notes that it probably won’t burn, so Jimmy takes Chekov’s police badge with the intention to dispose of it later.

 

The Awful Motts are also having dinner prepared by one Miss Patti LaBelle, which for Dandy consists of escargot and cognac in a crystal baby bottle because Ryan Murphy has no idea what the words “too much” mean. Dandy declares the snails BORING, and you just stop right there, Dandy. You do NOT step to Miss Patti LaBelle, child, she will have her bodyguard show you what boring looks like. Dandy’s mother urges him to eat something other than cognac and sweets, as its terrible for his temperament — why, she still has nightmares about that debacle with the Cushing girl. Gloria then begins nagging Dandy to date one of the nice girls that she’s introduced him to, she would like to have a grandbaby one day, after all. But Dandy declares babies BORING, and anyway, he wants to become a thespian because he is DYING OF BOREDOM HERE. IT’S ALL SO BORING.

 

And with that, Dandy stomps off to the carnival leaving a distraught Gloria to learn from Miss Patti LaBelle that cat parts — fur and teeth specifically — were found in the shed again. She just thought Miss Gloria should know, what with all the murdered people being murdered all over the place. But Gloria doesn’t want to hear it, DANDY’S JUST A BOY.

Over at the carnival, Ethel is giving the twins grief about working on their act when Michael Chiklis, The Commish, arrives with his strong man act and his wife, the incomparable Angela Bassett. The Incomparable Angela Bassett, whom we care calling Desiree this time, is underwhelmed with the carnival and its mosquito-filled environs. But The Commish insists that for their purposes, this is “the Garden of Eden.” “So said the snake,” Desiree hisses back.

The Commish and Desiree beg Elsa for jobs at the carnival: he’s a strong man with an escape act! She is a hermaphrodite with all sorts of extra accessories.

 

It seems The Commish and his lovely wife had to make a swift exit from Chicago after The Commish had a bit of an overreaction when he found his wife trying to help a young gay man change his ways with her unusual anatomy. Mistakes were made, necks were snapped, and now they need a new home, please. Elsa, she does not need ein new act, danke. But The Commish begs, and Elsa is finally like, OK, JA. VATEVER.

Meanwhile, Dandy’s mother is out driving around when she happens upon a Murder Clown ambling down the road. And so she, of course, offers Murder Clown a job to come cheer up her son, because no one in this dumb town recognizes a Murder Clown when they smell see one. Even Murder Clown is like, “I’m sorry, you’re clearly a crazy person, because I am very obviously a Murder Clown here. Also, you shouldn’t just offer strangers rides to your house, even if they aren’t so obviously a Murder Clown, that’s just common sense.”

 

Over at the carnival, Dandy arrives at the carnival where he begs Jimmy for a job, because inside, in his soul, Dandy is one of them and they’ll be saving his life. But Jimmy’s like, NOPE. BE GRATEFUL YOU’RE NORMAL. OK GOODBYE NOW. So Dandy heads back out to his car to bash his head on the steering wheel some.

When he returns home, Dandy screams at his mother to LEAVE HIM ALONE. HE HATES THIS HOUSE, HE HATES HIS LIFE, HE HATES MOTHER. But Gloria has a surprise for him — a new friend. Come, meet Murder Clown, Darling! He’s Dandy’s very own Murder Clown, and he can do with him whatever he wants. And Dandy is instantly smitten. Let the slash fic begin.

Over at the carnival, Esther the bearded lady marches into The Commish’s trailer and declares that he is NOT welcome here, and he BETTER STAY AWAY FROM LIL’ LOBSTER HANDS. It would seem that The Commish is Jimmy’s father who once tried to kill Baby Lobster Hands so as to spare him the life of a “freak.” But Mamma Ethel managed to scare Daddio off with a gun, saving Baby Lobster Hands, and putting something of a damper on their relationship. “Yeah, well, WHATEVER, I don’t care about that kid, and anyway I’m your boss now and in charge of security, so,” The Commish informs Ethel. Ethel’s beard is sad.

In the main tent, Bette is practicing her “talent:” mimicking the sound of kittens being strangled singing, but Elsa and everyone else within earshot are like JA, NOPE. VAT EES TERRIBLE. Desiree suggests that Dot and Bette shoot ping pong balls out of their pong ping to entertain the crowd, but Elsa waves off the idea. Zey don’t have to do anyzink but stand zere, and be two-headed, zey are just zee varm-up act anyvay.

But Jimmy suggests that Dot try singing, and she does, and she’s great and Elsa is all, “Zis is very no gut for me.” The Commish wanders in and announces that Dot will sound great during the 3 o’clock matinee tomorrow. Elsa argues that zey do not do zee matinees, people like zeir freak shows in zee dark, ja? But The Commish is all, HARUMPH, NO LADY IS THE BOSS OF ME BECAUSE I HAVE WAY TOO MUCH TESTOSTERONE AND ANGER COURSING THROUGH MY BLOOD, I’M GOING TO GO POST SOME BILLS FOR TOMORROW’S 3 O’CLOCK MATINEE. Elsa puts on her vitch face.

Back in Dandy’s playroom, Dandy puts on a performance of “The King and I” with marionettes for Murder Clown, before growing bored with himself. He orders Murder Clown to go find a toy and amuse him, and when Murder Clown digs through his toy box, Dandy takes the opportunity to rummaging through Murder Clown’s bag of bludgeoning clubs and other horrors. Murder Clown does not take kindly to this, and conks Dandy over the head before hurrying away. BYE, IT’S BEEN REAL. PLEASE NOT TO STALK ME. But Dandy pops back up immediately and scurries after Murder Clown because he is in lurve.

Meanwhile, Jimmy has it in his head that if he and the other performers just went to town and did normal people things, everyone will love them and they will make all of the normal friends. To this end, they go back to the Camellia Grill and try to order some meatloaf and Salisbury steak …

 

… only to have the waitress and fry cook and other patrons be all, “EWW. YUCK. FREAKS.” And that’s when The Commish, who is out posting bills, notices the group of performers inside the restaurant and is like, “I can not even with these idiots.” The Commish marches inside and reminds Jimmy that they won’t have any patrons at the carnival if the townspeople can just go down to the Camellia Grill and see the entire show for free. Which, you know, IS A GOOD POINT. The Commish then drags Jimmy outside and beats him up because he has a lot of anger issues.

In the Murder Clown bus, Teenage Girl and Small Boy make good use of their Murder Clown-free time, by Team Prisoning free a board with some exposed nails. When Murder Clown returns, he climbs into their cage with them and retrieves from his bag of bludgeoning clubs and other horrors the toy robot. LOOK GUISE, A ROBOT! LET’S BE BFFS NOW! But Murder Clown’s captives are befuddled by this gesture and just stare at him blankly, waiting for him to murderize them. Frustrated by their lack of response, Murder Clown pulls out his other gift from the toy shop: Coffee Boy’s (maybe Mr. Henley’s) head. AIIIIEEEEE! And in the screaming and the chaos, Teenage Girl takes her opportunity to whack Murder Clown upside the head with her makeshift weapon, knocking off his horrible mask to reveal his even more horrible face underneath:

OH HELL NOPE.

 

Don’t do meth, kids.

(Some quick fan speculation that I can’t take credit for: based on the fact that Twisty appears to be wearing two parts of a mask — one on the top of his head, and one over his jaw — and that we’ve seen what is under the bottom half of the mask: the ruins of his mouth, one fan is wondering if Twisty didn’t unsuccessfully attempt to commit suicide by shooting himself through his mouth, and that an exit wound will be revealed under the top half of his mask. It’s plausible! Add to that some sort of unfortunate backstory wherein Twisty lost his family, which is why he’s abducted these kids — that he is trying to rebuild what was taken from him — and the outlines of Twisty becoming a sympathetic-ish character come to light. Sympathetic-ISH.)

The children scatter, tearing off into two different directions in the woods. Unfortunately however, neither get very far: Murder Clown catches up with Boy fairly quickly, and Teenage Girl has the misfortune of running into Dandy who hoists her over his shoulder and returns her to Murder Clown’s murder bus.

Back at the carnival, Jimmy demands that Elsa get rid of The Commish, but she protests that if zee killer iz not caught soon, zey are going to need someone to protect zem. Zee townspeople are going to start lookink for someone to blame, und “his kind” are confenient scapegoats — especially when zey go into town makink zee trouble by demandink meatloaf und such. Jimmy tosses Detective DeadGuy’s badge on her table, proving that he’s already protecting them, and Elsa notes that she has been underestimatink him. At this, Jimmy shoes her the bill that The Commish has been posting all over town, listing Elsa and “The Geek” at the bottom of the poster. Elsa puts on her vitch face.

Time for the show! The Commish puts on his carnival barker hat and moustache and introduces Meep the chicken head-eater (MEEP!) before bringing Dot and Bette out so that Dot can entertain the crowd with Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” And I don’t know which is more unbelievable, that a pair of conjoined twins would sing a song that would not be recorded for another 44 years or that a crowd would feel compelled to mosh to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” In any event, Elsa watches vith increasink envy as Dot becomes zee star of zee show.

Later, the police return to the carnival, and are all, “Hi guys, we got that search warrant thanks to an anonymous tip, so we’re going to be going through your tents and fake moustaches and three-cupped bras and chickens now, k thanks!” The police head straight to The Commish’s trailer first, but to Jimmy’s surprise, they come up empty-handed. When the police widen their investigation, they discover Detective DeadGuy’s badge under Meep’s pillow and they cart him away, while The Commish sneers at his son that his little plan to frame him didn’t work after all. MEEP! MEEEEEP!

The police then throw little Meep into the hold with a bunch of other prisoners who are apparently very fond of chickens and don’t take kindly to their heads being bitten off.

Back at the carnival, Elsa sneaks into the sleeping twins’ room, and wakes Bette to “congratulate” her on zeir performance. Bette complains that the crowd loved Dot, not her, and she’s terribly embarrassed. Elsa vhispers that Dot deliberately eclipsed her, ja? And Bette confesses that she thought that she just needed an audience and she’d become a star. As for Dot, Bette is irritated that her sister has changed. Elsa assures Bette that she’s zee real star, and zat Dot, she has ein dark soul, ja? Bette mustn’t let Dot take vat is hers, ja? With that, Elsa slips a knife under Bette’s pillow because she is Ein Bad Influence.

Finally, Esther finds a drunk Jimmy on the main stage, beating himself up for Meep’s arrest. Just as Jimmy finally decides he’s going to go break Meep out of jail, a truck pulls up to the carnival and dumps a sack full of dead Meep at the entrance to the tent. NOOOOOOO!!! MEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

“AND STAY DEAD” — Gonzo and chickens everywhere. (Disney)

So I’ve been thinking a lot about twins. As noted in the previous recap, I don’t want to belabor the symbolism in this show. I’ve learned from previous seasons that there is no way to predict what this show is going to do next, and no amount of deconstructing the imagery in any particular episode will help. That caveat out of the way, Ryan Murphy had this to say in an interview with Entertainment Weekly after this episode come out:

I love the twins and I love writing for them. I think they’re about everybody’s shadow self. There’s a part of you that you don’t like, that you want to get rid of, that you want to discard, that’s not who you want to be. But then by doing so, you’re not really authentic. You’re not really who you are. I certainly related to that idea. I struggled a lot with that in my youth. So that’s to me what we’re really writing about and I think Sarah loves that as well.

Twins have long been used in storytelling as a symbol of struggle and dualities — the physical and the spiritual, female and male, light and darkness — both in the universe in general, and within the individual’s own psyche. As Murphy makes clear in the quote above, Dot and Bette clearly represent this tension, this fight for the authentic self. Of course this being a Ryan Murphy project, he works in shades of gray rather than harsh blacks and whites, so there is no “good” twin and “evil” twin. Dot is sour and pessimistic, but she is clearly something of a lonely romantic who is discovering herself and what she is capable of. In comparison, Bette is positive and dreamy, but she’s also deeply envious and a known killer who is willing to eliminate those who stand in the way of her ambitions. They are opposites, they are each the other’s “shadow self,” and yet they are one, quite literally, sharing one body and their thoughts telepathically. There is no escaping yourself and there’s no escaping that other voice in your head.

This image of duality is not just limited to our conjoined twins, however. Being a hermaphrodite, Desiree represents a unification of opposites: the male and female. The hermaphrodite, or the andogyne, is a fascinating symbol in that where twins “represent an unresolved conflict,” according to Penguin’s Dictionary of Symbols, in a number of cultures hermaphrodites represent a sort of primeval or divine wholeness. In many myths it was the physical separation of the two sexes that created problems for the first people (think Eve being created out of Adam, and then going on to create Original Sin, for instance). When the sexes are parted, both lose the power that the other contains. The hermaphrodite, in contrast, represents Oneness, completion, power.

And it’s not just Desiree who is a representation of this idea of sexual wholeness. Interestingly enough, Desiree’s husband’s earlier partner, Ethel, the bearded lady is a masculinized woman. She is a woman with a very noticeable male secondary sexual characteristic. Presumably, Murphy included these characters not just because they were common side show acts back in the day, but also because he is exploring what gender means and where those impermeable lines that differentiate male from female exist … or, as the case appears to be, don’t exist. Still, it is interesting to keep Desiree and Ethel in mind as we explore these ideas regarding duality and the individual’s struggle.

ALRIGHT. ENOUGH WITH THE SYMBOLISM BLAH BLAH. (I have other thoughts on other images on the show, but we’ll save them for later entries.) In other AHS news, some clowns are really mad at the show for portraying Twisty as such a terrifying clown, as if all clowns aren’t terrifying.

 

And here is an interesting blog called thehumanmarvels.com that chronicles the real people who performed in sideshows, including acts that are included in AHS‘s opening credits. (Sort of) spoiler alert: this site has some interesting information about a new character who will be introduced in the next episode.

Finally, in the last entry, I was wondering about the use of the name “Elsa Mars,” the song “Life on Mars” and how they tied in to the town of Jupiter, Florida. I was fixating on the Roman mythological connection, but as it turns out the choice of these names (and songs) might have a more astronomical connection. After Ryan Murphy mentioned that clues for the next season were included in last week’s episode, some fans have been wondering if that is what Mars and Jupiter were referring to, that the next season will be about aliens. In response, Ryan Murphy claimed in that same interview with Entertainment Weekly:

No. We’re not doing space. Because space is not in America. It’s American Horror Storynot Intergalactic Horror Story. But I thought the clues about people thinking it was space were clever. I always love it when people come up with these theories but it is 100 percent not space. It is land-bound and it takes place in the United States.

Of course, there’s some wiggle room in his comment. No one is suggesting that it is going to take place in outer space, but instead that it would be about some sort of extraterrestrial encounter here in America. Remember, Murphy is the same person who, when people started guessing that this season was going to be a “circus” or “carnival” theme, declared that no one had yet figured out his intentions for the season — presumably because no one guessed specifically “freak show.” And so what I am saying is, be prepared for next season: American Horror Story: Area 51.


American Horror Story: Freak Show aired on FX.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.

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