‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’: Tears of a Clown

American Horror Story: Freak Show
“Edward Mordrake, Part 2”
October 29, 2014

Having pulled Ethel’s backstory from the tangle of her beard, Mordrake moves along to learn the other performers’ sob stories:

Legless Suzy explains that after an operation when she was two years old left her without legs, she was abandoned at a children’s hospital by her awful parents. Eventually, she became a beggar but those funtimes ended after she stabbed and killed a man because she was jealous that he had legs? Even though pretty much everyone else in the universe also has legs? I don’t know, this makes exactly no sense, but there you go.

As for Paul the Illustrated Seal: baby, he was born this way. Despite his differences, he dreamt of becoming a star and headed to Hollywood only to have the Depression hit. Depressed himself, he became the monster everyone wanted him to be, covering his body in tattoos, all but his face, because it was too handsome to mar. And to be fair, it is a good-looking mug!

Apparently, these two prove to be too self-aware for Mordrake who moves on to other potential victims. (By the way, I encourage you to watch the videos about the actors’ actual lives at the end of this post. They are stunningly moving and triumphant.)

The pinheads prove to be too innocent for Mordrake to even speak to, so he heads to Elsa’s tent. There, Elsa is still convinced that Mordrake is some sort of Svengali here to make her a star per “Esmerelda’s” “prophecy,” and proceeds to complain about her accompanists and whinging that she ees going to need ein new arrangement, ja? When she wonders if ein cat has his tongue, Mordake is like, “No, girl, I just can’t believe how delusional you are. I’m Edward Mordrake, dummy, and I’m here to take you to the other side once you’ve given us your backstory.” And with that, his dead minions yoink off her legs and Mordrake points out that she’s The Straight-Up Worst: pretending to be a “zookeeper” of freaks, when she is just like them. Now, that backstory, pls.

Vell, it vas 1932 and the Veimar Republic, and all sorts of depravity vas available. Elsa vas ein dominatrix vith zee vhips and zee boots, ja? But she vould not let her clients touch her, you see. Instead, she vould do zings like make her soldier clients sit on zee toilet seats vith zee nails, because zat ees a real zing and not just somezing from the dark pits of Ryan Murphy’s fevered imagination, ja? Anyvay, she became very, very popular und even had ein audience called zee “watchers” who vould make zee blue movies of her. However, zis ein time, zee watchers vent too far, and zey gave her zee drugs and zen put on zee pantyhoses on zeir heads and zen zey cut off her legs in zee snuff film. Zee only reason she lived ees because Soldier Nail Toilet, he had followed her, und he saved her life, but she never forgave him for eet. Zee film, eet vas passed around Europe and she vas a star, but her career, eet vas over.

Mordrake’s creepy little backhead face is all, “YEP! She’s the one, let’s go.” And Elsa agrees: “Ja! Take me! Zere ees nozink here for me, ees all over!” But just as Mordrake pulls his knife and prepares to kill her, he’s distracted by the tinkling music from a child’s toy …

While Mordrake was wandering from tent to tent, collecting exposition, Jimmy and “Esmerelda” ran out of gas on a very isolated road in the woods … the same woods where Teenage Girl, Jerk Brother and Kid are trapped in Murder Clown’s camper. But Teenage Girl, she’s got a plan. Jerk Brother will untie her and then she’ll RUN FOR THE HILLS! SMELL YA LATER, SUCKERS! Unfortunately for Teenage Girl, she doesn’t get far before Murder Clown catches her. Fortunately for Teenage Girl, Jimmy and “Esmerelda” happened to see her be dragged back into the woods by one very scary Murder Clown. Double fortunately for Teenage Girl, Jimmy has a hero complex a mile wide and decides he is going to go rescue her.

Jimmy and “Esmerelda” stalk their way towards the caravan where Jimmy, somehow in this pre-intertubes, pre-Nancy Grace age, recognizes the missing children. But, alas, before he can do anything about it, he and “Esmerelda” are conked on the head by Dandy. *CONK*

When they come to, they discover that “Esmerelda” has become the star in Dandy’s Halloween magic show, and is about to get her fool self sawn in half. Murder Clown, meanwhile, provides the soundtrack with a child’s xylophone, the sound of which is what piqued Mordrake’s interest back in Elsa’s tent. Jimmy manages to untie himself because no one on this show knows how to properly tie a knot, knock Dandy over and free “Esmerelda,” while Murder Clown pumps up the crowd …

He lives for the applause, applause, applause …

“EVERYONE SCATTER!!!” Jimmy yells, but not before Murder Clown tackles him and drags him back to the caravan. “Esmerelda” and the children manage to escape into the woods, trailed by one very cranky Dandy who just lost his best toys.

Just as Murder Clown is about to murderize Jimmy, Mordrake appears and is all “O HAI, sooooo…. let’s talk.” Mordrake has Murder Clown remove that nasty mask of his, and goes through the whole, “tell me your backstory, tiny backhead demands it” thing, assuring him that he’ll understand him jaw or no jaw.

Back in 1943, Murder Clown was a friendly traveling circus clown with much higher standards for hygiene, but not so much in the smarts department. As such, he was the target of the freaks in the circus who teased him and convinced him that the police were coming after him for being too friendly with the kids, if you know what I mean, and I know you do.

So, poor Pre-Murder Clown, he ran away from the circus, only to find that his mother was dead and he had no means to support himself. But he had an idea! Sorta! He began making toys out of garbage, and tried to sell them to the local toy store — the one where he picked up that swanky robot and a head or two — but Toy Store Owner wasn’t interested because no one wants garbage toys, come on. However, it wasn’t enough for Toy Store Owner to turn down Pre-Murder Clown’s garbage toys, he also suggested that Pre-Murder Clown was too friendly with the kids if you know what I mean, and I know you do. And so, after Pre-Murder Clown has a terrifying fit in the store, and Toy Store Owner threatens to call the cops, which sends Pre-Murder Clown running back home.

Once home, Pre-Murder Clown decides there’s nothing left to live for if no one wants his garbage toys and tries to murderize himself with a shotgun blast to the ol’ overpainted mouth. Pre-Muder Clown is as good at suicide as he is toy building, and as a result, he was left without a lower jaw and a face full of gauze which he turned into that horrific mask. Pre-Murder Clown tried hanging out at Elsa’s show for a while, but after he was shooed away by Jimmy, he decided to go freelance and entertain kids in his caravan — after murdering their boring, boring, bossy parents. The end.

Mordrake is super-impressed at how not remorseful Murder Clown is about killing all those people and is like, “Good news! You’re coming with us!” before stabbing Murder Clown to death. And then Murder Clown’s ghost joins Mordrake’s posse of dead freaks and everyone afterlives happily ever after, the end.

Meanwhile, out in the woods, “Esmerelda” sends the kids running off towards the road while distracting Dandy. But it’s not much of a chase, because Dandy soon trips over a log, allowing her to escape. So Dandy returns to Murder Clown’s campsite to find one dead murder clown. Sadface emoticon here? But then Dandy goes and ruins the mood by putting Murder Clown’s mask on, which is just so, so gross on so many levels. Just think of what that thing must smell like.

So gross.

And then the cops show up and Dandy and his new mask make a break for it.

Once on the scene, the police are all, “Oh, you’re such a hero, Jimmy, good on you for finding the bad guy!” But Jimmy is not having it because MEEP.

When Jimmy and “Esmerelda” return to the carnival, they are met by the townsfolk who are all, “HOORAY! YOU SAVED OUR KIDS! HAVE SOME BROWNIES!” And then Elsa sells the grateful townspeople tickets to the night’s show because ein opportunity should not be squandered, ja?

As they prepare for the show, Elsa informs Dot and Bette zat zey vill not be varming up for her, zey vill be zee varm up act for zee pinheads. Leider nicht leid! As Dot and Bette stomp off in a snit, in walks “Dr. Sylvester Mansfield” “Richard Spencer,” Hollywood talent scout, who couldn’t buy a ticket for tonight’s show because it was sold out. Elsa’s eyes light up, because ja, she can find him ein seat somevere, she’s sure of eet.

Finally, Dandy returns home wearing Murder Clown’s nasty mouth mask and looking for Miss Patti LaBelle. And Miss Patti LaBelle still does not have time for his nonsense, she is STILL not afraid of him, “made-in-the-shade white boy who can barely wipe” himself. Unfortunately for us all, Dandy is not playing this time around, and he slashes Miss Patti LaBelle’s throat wide open and not even her epic eyebrow game can save her.

R.I.P. MISS PATTI LABELLE.

With the untimely death of Twisty, I’m finally getting around to talking about clowns. First of all, I was not expecting Twisty’s death so early into the season. I was less surprised by Twisty’s sympathetic backstory — Ryan Murphy is only predictable for his fondness for underdogs and outcasts, and there was no way he wasn’t going to turn Twisty into a tragic-ish figure. But to kill off who will certainly be the most iconic figure of the season (maybe of the series) in the fourth episode was a bit of a surprise. Yes, yes, Murphy has said that Twisty will return by the end of the season, but he is returning with Mordrake which suggests that the two of them will only be coming back to collect another soul, not to be a major part of the story.

And so it would appear that Twisty’s entire purpose on the show was actually to be part of Dandy’s origin story; that the true monster of the series, Dandy, is able to find his own identity only after he adopts Twisty’s. Dandy “becomes” Twisty, he takes up his murderous mantle by wearing his mask. Masks are symbols of disguise and also of transformation — in shamanistic cultures, the wearer of a mask assumes the spirit of the animal depicted. Similarly, it is only after Dandy puts on Twisty’s mask, that he can truly become the murderer that he seemingly has longed to be.

What is interesting about this mask symbolism is how it also plays into clown symbolism. Clowns and fools can be found in every culture going back thousands of years. And in fact, the iconography of a painted clown face can be traced back to the ancient Greek theater: think those ubiquitous comedy and tragedy masks. The comic figures on the Greek stage would wear the exaggerated masks as well as excessive padding and mock the more serious characters on the stage. This has always been the function of clowns, to mock and satirize — particularly those in positions of power — which paradoxically serves to maintain the status quo and order. The clown, the fool serves as an inverted vision of the king or leader and as such is often used as a scapegoat for said leader. And in a broader sense, clowns represent human foolishness, human failure.

Interestingly, Twisty the clown turns out to be something of a simpleton, incapable even of fully understanding the consequences of his actions. He is a fool in both the figurative and literal sense of the word. Fools in Western culture represent the individual who lives outside of society, beyond its walls and its rules. He knows nothing of culture or possessions, he is separate from the material world, he is free.

Clearly Twisty represented a version of this character; he was isolated and cut off from every community he tried to be a part of. In fact, he is never fully accepted by anyone until after death. What is interesting is Dandy who is literally born into society, into wealth and privilege, chooses to turn his back on a proper life so as to wear the mask of “the fool.” However, unlike Twisty who was in some ways something of an innocent and had to wear that mask out of necessity, Dandy wears the mask so as to sate his own sociopathic impulses. He’s a monster in disguise.

As you might have heard, Ryan Murphy finally confirmed that the American Horror Story seasons will all be connected one way or another. There have been some interesting theories on the hows, particularly this one from Vulture — although that post leaves out the possibility that the young soldier that fell in love with Elsa and saved her in this episode might very well be Dr. Arden from Asylum, who, if you will remember, cuts off poor Chloe Sevigny’s legs. (Or, he might be one of the “watchers” who participated in making the snuff film, who knows.) Any other connections you can think of?

In that same interview, Murphy confirmed that the top hat on the coffee cup “Esmerelda” drinks from is a “big season five clue,” so now I’m not sure what to make of this. Many people are jumping to the conclusion that this means next season will be about magicians, which, combined with Dandy’s failed magic act, and Murphy’s interest in performers certainly makes it a possibility. Still, I can’t think of any clues from earlier episodes that point to magic or magicians. One astute Redditor suggested that the top hat could be in reference to a military field exercise that studied chemical and biological decontamination techniques that went by the name “Operation Top Hat.” This certainly could tie into a conspiracy or military-based theme. Or the top hat could be about Lincoln killing all those vampires back in the day. Who knows.

Finally, here are those videos about the AHS: Freak Show actors I mentioned earlier. They are both interesting and heartbreaking to watch:

 

 

American Horror Story: Freak Show aired on FX.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.

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