American Horror Story: Freak Show
January 7, 2015
The Twins, having reconciled, put away any notions of separating and returned to their roots (literally in Bette’s case), now turn their attentions to other, more pressing matters: losing their V-card. They consider their options and the options available at the carnival come up short (literally in Toulouse’s case).
But, lucky for them, the carnival has a visitor in the form of one Neil Patrick Harris, traveling chameleon salesman, which is too a thing, shut up. NPH explains that after the war the doctors told him to find a hobby to help him relax, so chameleon-breeding it was. When one of the performers asks what brought him and his lizards all the way from Georgia, he explains that when he heard about their carnival he had to see it for himself, he didn’t think there were any real freak shows left. In fact, he himself has an act, he’s a magician. And with a flap of a handkerchief and a wave of some flowers, the Twins are smitten.
However, Elsa is less taken with NPH’s act, and in the privacy of her dressing tent, she assures him zat zee carnival does not have room for ein magician. But he’s a ventriloquist, too! NPH explains, before pulling out his horrifying dummy, Marjorie. However, Elsa is as freaked out by dummies as I am, and is like, AW HELL NEIN. So NPH suggests that maybe, at the very least she’d be cool with letting him sell his chameleons to her customers? He’d share the profits? And to prove that he was making money with this obvious lizard scam, he hands over his ledger. Elsa sees dolla dolla bills, and is like, “Du know, on second thought, vee could use ein new warm-up act …” And NPH is overjoyed. “You hear that, Marjorie? We can stay!” Marjorie has no thoughts on the matter.
As NPH gets made-up for his debut performance, “Marjorie” finally pipes up with her feelings about their new home, mostly her displeasure at not being listed on the bill. Paul the Illustrated Seal overhears this conversation, and is all, “The hell?”
Later, NPH swings by the Twin’s caravan to offer them a jewelry box with a pair of dancing ballerinas inside, and informs them that he found a classic magician’s sawing box in the carnival’s storage unit. The Twins are like, “Nope! We’re over the whole getting cut in half thing, thanks.” But NPH explains that it is a classic illusion, explaining that SPOILER ALERT! the assistant pulls her legs up into the top half of the box, thereby ruining magic for AHS’s audience forever. Thanks a lot, NPH. Anyways, what he’s here for is to ask them to be his assistant, on account of their being so distracting. The Twins, hurt, ask what makes them so distracting, their freakishness? And NPH is genuinely taken aback: no, they are distractingly beautiful. When he first laid eyes on them earlier it was like seeing old friends, like coming home.
In fact, when he first laid eyes on them in the big tent, this is what he saw:
Why THOSE aren’t the Twins!
As we learn in a flashback, they are R: Mrs. NPH and L: Mrs. NPH’s Girlfriend. NPH and Marjorie are invited to watch Mrs. NPH and Mrs. NPH Girlfriend have the sexytimes together. Least sexy ménage à trois ever!
Back in the present, NPH “saws” the contortionist “in half” with an assist from the Twins, to a delighted crowd and one shady dude in the back who sneaks out before Elsa can start with the David Bowie.
The Twins have seen enough, and decide that they are going to give it up to NPH. To this end, they get all dolled up in their silkiest drawers, hose themselves down with smelliest perfume and head over to NPH’s caravan (wait, where’d he get a caravan? did he just take over Meep’s or Pepper’s or Ma Petite’s?) where they are like, SO LET’S DO THIS THING. But after they kiss him, he gets a high-pitched ringing in his ears and proceeds to freak out. The Twins massage his shoulders, helping to calm him down, and NPH is like, “Wait, so let me get this straight, you want me to join in? I get to participate?” And the Twins assure him that, in fact, his participation is pretty crucial here. In fact, they understand that many male fantasies involve two women at the same time. “NOT HIS,” replies Marjorie.
… Back to the sexytimes flashback with Mrs. NPH and Mrs. NPH’s girlfriend. Mrs. NPH invites NPH to ditch the dummy and join them, but Mrs. NPH’s girlfriend has certain requirements: no touching her, no eye contact with her, and no dumb dummies. NPH declines the invitation to go do some magic in the garage, thanks.
When we return to the present, the maddening tone returns and NPH worries that the Twins really don’t want him for this. So they bring him closer, letting him touch them, kissing him. But before the sexytimes can continue, he grabs Marjorie because “she relaxes” him. “Whatever it takes,” the Twins say because who are they to turn down NPH’s creepy fetishes, right? They’ve got two heads, the more the merrier.
After, NPH packs Marjorie away in her box, which she DOES NOT LIKE, NPH. YOU CAN’T HIDE HER AWAY, NPH. SHE’LL TELL EVERYTHING, NPH.
… in flashback, NPH goes to retrieve Marjorie from her box, only to find it empty. Mrs. NPH’s Girlfriend admits to hiding her and is like, “Get over it, weirdo.” And that’s when Marjorie takes the form of Jamie Brewer (a.k.a. Nan, a.k.a. Addie) who’s all, “OOH, GURL, SHE DID NOT JUST SAY THAT TO YOU. You know what you should do? You should kill errrybody.”
Back in the present, NPH is confronted by Paul who is super unhappy with him. Seems Paul and the rest of the performers had been saving up to buy the carnival from Elsa, but she received a better offer from another buyer: NPH. It seems zat ven Elsa looked at zee NPH’s books, she realized zat he was quite zee businessmench, und she sold zee whole carnival to him for zee $1000, on zee condition that no one is to be fired, und the acts stay in zee proper order, ja? Ja! And the deal is struck. NPH asks if she’s willing to sell her furniture, and Elsa is like, “Uh, ja? But isn’t it ein little feminine?” NPH agrees that it is, but since Marjorie will be taking over this tent, it will work out. Elsa is like, “Vatever, verrückt, just give me my marks.”
When NPH goes back to his caravan to tell Marjorie the good news: hey, guess what, she’s not in the box. He really needs to put a lock on that thing.
It seems the shady guy in the tent earlier was a detective Dandy hired to spy on the Twins, and he delivered pictures of the Twins and NPH (and Marjorie) having the sexytimes to our resident psychopath. Dandy is displeased. It would seem Dandy’s detective also discovered that Mrs. NPH and Mrs. NPH’s Girlfriend began having an affair when their husbands were off at war. When NPH came home, three became a crowd, and the lady bodies were found in the bedroom, with NPH screaming that Marjorie did it. He’s been on the lam ever since.
And so, as NPH runs around the carnival grounds looking for Marjorie, he runs into Dandy who is like, “OH HAI, Are you looking for Marjorie? Because I ran into her, and she said she was running away after what you did with the Twins. Also, she said something about Mrs. NPH and her friend? That’s she’s going to tell what happened?”
In flashback, a stunned NPH enters the blood-soaked bedroom and …
… discovers Marjorie bludgeoning Mrs. NPH’s Girlfriend with a hammer, complaining that “they should have let us join in.” YIKES.
Back in the present, NPH protests to Dandy that he tried to stop her, and begs Dandy not to turn Marjorie in. Dandy promises that he wouldn’t dare take Marjorie away from NPH, and points him in the direction of the big tent. There, NPH finds Marjorie on the stage with a couple of totally reasonable demands: 1. top billing in the show and 2. NPH needs to saw the Twins in half. That’s not so much to ask, right?
As for Jimmy and his lobster claws, we go back a couple of days earlier with “Richard’s” visit with Jimmy in jail: to pay for Clarence Darrow Jr. all “Richard” needs is a lobster hand. Just the one! He has a collector lined up who would pay good cash money for a claw. Jimmy is like, NOPE, and so “Richard” is all, “MEEP,” before slipping Jimmy a small bottle of some sort of nausea-inducing poison. Jimmy drinks the solution, begins vomiting and “Richard” alerts a cop, demanding that he let Jimmy out of the cell so he can get Jimmy to the hospital. And this works? The officer just releases Jimmy and allows “Richard” to take Jimmy to the hospital in his own ambulance? This almost makes too much sense.
IN ANY EVENT, Jimmy wakes up in the hospital, chained to a bed, missing both hands and refused pain meds by an angry nurse whose buddy was killed at the Tupperware Party.
The Commish visits Jimmy in the hospital and is REALLY NOT COOL when he learns that “Richard” was behind the amputation. He feeds Jimmy his dinner, and the two decide that they should buy the carnival from Elsa. The Commish then tells Jimmy about growing up as the black sheep in the family, what with his normal 10 fingers, and how his father terrified him as a child. So when Jimmy came out with claws, The Commish ran for the hills. /daddyissues
The Commish storms back to the carnival and tells Elsa what “Richard” did to Jimmy. Elsa instructs The Commish to get Jimmy out of prison, he’ll never be able to defend himself without hands. And as The Commish stomps back out again, Eve offers her assistance — they’ll finally put on that Strong Man/Strong Woman act together.
And so, the police officers pick Jimmy up from the hospital to transport him back to jail. On the drive back, however, they come upon Eve, who hurls a giant rock through their windshield, causing the van to run off the road. After the crash, The Commish attacks one officer with a tire iron, and is shot in the shoulder by the other. Not that it slows The Commish down at all, who proceeds to kill Officer McShooty with that tire iron to the face. And with that, The Commish and Eve release Jimmy from the back of the police van. Hooray? I guess?
The cops are quick to react, swarming over the carnival in search of The Commish and Jimmy, and Elsa is like, “Vatever. Do vat ju will. I go und drink zee Schanpps. Auf wiedersehen.”
Later, Elsa is hanging out in her tent when “Esmerelda” appears, explaining that she needs to show Elsa something: Ma Petite in a jar. That she somehow smuggled out of a museum and then transported all the way from Philadelphia to Florida. Very probable!
After the cops have done their business, The Commish returns to his caravan to find Desiree pointing a gun at him, and demanding that he confess what he did. The Commish admits that he’s killed a few cops, but they had it coming. Desiree is like, “Nope, I’m talking about you killing one of your own.” The Commish bursts into tears, and admits he smothered Ma Petite to death because he was being blackmailed. With that, while standing behind him, Elsa shoots The Commish in the head. “Zat is all Ich needed to hear, ja.”
So, when I was 6 years old, a movie was released whose trailer was so terrifying I would hide behind whatever furniture was available every time it came on television, which, if memory serves, was ALL THE DAMN TIME.
Horrifying, right? I just rewatched that for the first time in who even knows how long thinking, “Oh, it won’t be that bad, I was just a little thing and probably blew it out of proportion in my imagination.” NOPE. JUST AS BAD AS I REMEMBERED. BURN IT. BURN IT WITH FIRE.
But what is interesting is that while searching for that nightmare machine, I found this other trailer that tells a little bit more of Magic’s story:
Anthony Hopkins is a magician who adds a ventriloquist routine to his act. He becomes successful but also unhinged and the dummy begins telling him to kill people, which he does. Sound familiar? I’m not saying that Ryan Murphy and his team ripped off a 35-year-old movie … OH WAIT, YES I AM. THEY RIPPED IT OFF WHOLESALE.
And maybe that’s what irritates me the most about this episode: ventriloquists’ dummies terrify me, even today, they drive me behind the biggest couch I can find. And yet NPH’s story was still not particularly scary. I sort of understand the decision to use Jamie Brewer as the personification of Marjorie. It helped flesh out — literally so — NPH’s hallucinations, and having an inanimate doll attacking people with a hammer would have been … silly. But the reason dummies are so creepy is that human-but-not-human effect: an inanimate object that looks human and moves and acts like a human … sort of, but not quite. It resembles the “uncanny valley” effect, where the more humanlike robots or computer graphics look, the more repulsive we find them. The dummy is creepy precisely because it is not human. And so, by using a human actor in that role, it became less creepy. It just wasn’t scary.
Actually, no, on second thought, the thing that most irritates me about this episode is as of the end of this episode, we are only two episodes away from the end of this season, and you guys are going to introduce a major new character now? Are you sure? (Not to mention the improbable twist that Elsa would sell her carnival to him over her “beloved monsters.”) LOOK, I understand, NPH is a big get, and I’d jump at the chance to work with him, too. And I also understand that NPH is a busy guy, between Broadway and hosting every awards ceremony and being the perfect husband and father, and he probably only had time to film one or two episodes. But you can’t expect the audience this late in the game to care about a new character, especially when the characters you have already established have been shoved to the back burners to do so.
Of course, complaining about that suggests that there are characters that we actually still care about, and with the expulsion of Pepper, I’m just not sure who that would be anymore. I suppose you could argue that the Twins are the “heroes” of the series. It’s their journey that brought us to the carnival in the first place, it’s their transition from the world of the known — their farm — into the unknown — the carnival, that drove the plot. And it’s not just about the Twins physical journey, but their psychological maturity as well, as they struggled to move from being opposing forces into an integrated whole.
And yet, the Twins have been overshadowed by other characters and stories by a writing staff that doesn’t seem to be able to pay attention to anything for more than five minutes. The truth is, while the Twins may very well be the ostensible heroes of the season, I don’t really care about them one way or another. They are, frankly, boring. And the same could be said about Jimmy and about “Esmerelda” and even about Elsa Mars. The only character who is interesting anymore is Dandy, and honestly, at this point, I’m ready for him to just get on with it and kill everyone left at the carnival so as to put us all out of our suffering.
American Horror Story: Freak Show aired on FX.
This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.