American Horror Story: Freak Show
January 22, 2015
We begin this season’s finale with Paul, Eve, Lizard Girl and the Fat Lady hanging Dandy’s new banner along the roadside, and lamenting the fact that they are now in the employ of a creepy sociopath. The fact of the matter is the sideshow world is dying, there’s no place else for them to go, and so as long as Dandy is willing to pay them, what other choice to they have?
This fatalistic attitude is tested, however, when the performers report to Dandy that not a single ticket has been bought for his all-Cole Porter revue, and Dandy has a meltdown. IT MUST BE BECAUSE THE FREAKS ARE SO BORING. THEY ARE YESTERDAY’S NEWS. LET’S SPICE IT UP: LIZARD GIRL GETS HORNS. When Dandy lunges towards Meryl Streep Jr., Paul freaks out, and Eve punches Dandy square in his crazy face. Dandy is shocked, SHOCKED! that they hurt him, and as he lies stunned on the ground, Paul explains that they’d rather starve than work for him, spitting in his face for good measure, before stomping out of the tent, laughing.
Of course, this is maybe not the best way to deal with a psychopath with a grandiose narcissism complex, and so it’s shocking, but not really, when Dandy puts on a little eyeliner and then proceeds to stroll through the carnival grounds,, shooting all the performers in the face with his ridiculous gold-plated handgun. R.I.P. Paul the Illustrated Seal. R.I.P. Lizard Girl. R.I.P. Toulouse and Legless Suzy. R.I.P. Random Carnival Workers. R.I.P. Fat Lady.
Desiree, however, hears the gun shots, and hides herself in her closet, where Dandy almost discovers her, except that Eve surprises him, swinging an axe in his general direction. Fight fight struggle fight, and Dandy eventually overcomes the Strong Woman and shoots her in the back of the head. R.I.P. Eve. But her death gives Desiree the opportunity to hide in a new location and survive Dandy’s rampage.
Dandy, having killed everyone in his path, then swings by Bette and Dot’s tent, where he has them bound and gagged, and announces that they are coming with him. Lucky them.
Later that night, Jimmy stumbles out of his hiding shed to grab a bite to eat, and discovers, to his horror, all the dead bodies which Dandy took the time to drag into the big tent? For some reason? Or maybe Desiree did it? Since she’s the only one left alive to mourn with Jimmy? Who can say.
At the Mott mansion, Dandy marries a delighted Bette with Dot serving as the maid of honor in a lavish playroom ceremony. After the ceremony concludes, Dot assures the happily married couple that she will give them their privacy on their wedding night. But Dandy hopes that she might choose to join them at some future date: he can become very nasty if his manhood is insulted. After all, “a stallion demands respect from his mares.”
But first! The Twins have planned a wedding feast, hiring a French-trained cook to serve them a fancy meal of all Dandy’s fancy favorites. Over champagne, Dandy imagines their honeymoon and the three-headed babies they are going to make, that is until he becomes woozy from all the drugs they put in his drink. And that’s when Desiree and Jimmy appear from the kitchen as the new “maid” and “butler,” to announce that Dandy will finally get what he’s always wanted: to be the star of the show.
And so Dandy awakens chained, in nothing but his tighty-whities in the Houdini Water Tank. As Dandy pleads with them to let him out of the tank, Desiree delivers a big speech about how the performers recently endured an attack by a man who put them in museum jars but that he, with his movie good looks, is the biggest freak of all. Which, OK? But shouldn’t that speech really have been reserved for Stanley? You know, the one who put them in jars? I’m not saying that Dandy doesn’t deserve this, but I think the big sassy, “FREAKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH” monologue should have been saved for someone who wasn’t so desperate to join the freaks. ANYWAY. Dandy begs for his life, before declaring that the joke is on them: he’s immortal and he can’t die. So Jimmy, Desiree and the Twins are like, “LOL, let’s put that to the test,” proceed to fill the tank with water, and then take their seat in the audience with some popcorn to watch Dandy drown to death.
As for Elsa Mars, she makes it to Hollywood, but the most “plan” she has is to show up at the network headquarters day in and day out, sit in the lobby, hope to run into Mr. Henry Gable, President of WBN, and wow him with her star presence. Instead, she finds herself in a slap fight with a receptionist that ends in a wrestling match with a security guard, which is where a young network executive,
Mr. NPH Michael Beck, finds her and saves her.
Fast forward to 1960, and Elsa earning a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her huge TV Friday night hit, “The Elsa Mars Hour” and her three gold albums celebrating her German heritage. It seems Elsa was launched into stardom through the machinations of her young husband and manager
Mr. NPH Mr. Elsa, and finally has everything she thought she ever wanted. Except she’s miserable.
She throws a tantrum during the filming of a commercial, and storms off to her dressing room, only to be followed by
Mr. NPH Mr. Elsa and a publicity lady who are full of ideas for Elsa’s upcoming Halloween special. “NEIN, I DO NOT PERFORM UN HALLOVEEN,” Elsa rages before announcing to Mr. NPH Mr. Elsa that she is going home for “ein luncheon engagement,” and making it abundantly clear that he is not invited.
At her Beverly Hills mansion, Elsa finds Italian Prosthetics Guy waiting for her beside the pool, and they catch up with one another: after Florida he went-a to Nevada where the Army wanted-a carpenters to build entire villages that they could blow-a up with their atomic bombs. As for Elsa, she finally has everthink she ever vanted, but she is bored and alone. Her only Freunde are on zee payroll, und she und her husband are in un loveless marriage. Eight years ago, her best Freunde made Elsa un birthday cake, and she made a vish to be loved. Little did she know zat everyzing she vould do after vould take her further und further away from making zat vish come true. Und that’s vhy she zinks zat zee zwei of zem should run off to Rome und eat zee pasta und grow fat und happy together, ja? But the Italian Prosthetics Guy is like, “Mi disapiace, but-a I have-a the lung cancer and I only have-a a month to live. I just came-a here to say arrivederci.” “Scheisse,” says Elsa Mars.
But Elsa’s terrible horrible no good very bad day doesn’t end there, because when
Mr. NPH Mr. Elsa comes home, he brings along with him one Mr. Henry Gable, President of the network, who has some unfortunate news: a gossip columnist has gotten her hands on the 8mm films from Elsa’s past, and the material is rather … graphic. So they are canceling her contract. Mr. NPH Mr. Elsa is most angry to learn that her legs were not, in fact, lost in a rail accident like she told him, which seems to be the least of the issues here, but it’s enough to make him announce that he’s going to pack his things.
Once he’s stomped off, Mr. Gable informs Elsa that they dug around in her past a bit, and discovered that she also ran a freak show? In Jupiter, Florida? Elsa laughs that she ran it out of an act of kindness, and Mr. Gable’s like, “Yeah, guess what, they’re all dead. There was some kind of massacre or something. Bye!” But before he can leave, Elsa announces that on second thought, she vill do zat Halloveen special after all. “Might as vell go out vit ein bang.”
And the network allows her to do it? for some reason? instead of being like, “No, you don’t understand, you’re totally fired”? And Elsa comes out in a lovely white tuxedo and proceeds to sing-talk her way through David Bowie’s “Heroes,” because I suppose we’re supposed to think she’s a hero now or something.
Meanwhile, out in the real world, Desiree and her husband Theo Huxtable, and their two adorable children happen by a television set where Desiree stops to admire Elsa’s performance. And in a suburban home somewhere, Jimmy and the Twins, now pregnant, watch the performance from their warm living room. Isn’t that very sweet.
Of course, being Halloween, Mordrake and his band of freaks are summoned by Elsa’s performance, and in a cloud of green mist they descend upon her. Elsa stops singing (making her poor director lose his mind a little) as Mordrake explains that he never forgot her black soul. She begs him to take her now, she’s zee biggest freak of zem all. Mordrake stabs her in the heart, but then is all, “You know, on second thought, you can’t be in our crew. BYEEEE.”
And so, having collapsed on stage and in front of a live television audience, Elsa awakens underneath twinkling carnival lights, and is drawn slowly back into the big tent where she is reunited with Ma Petite, Ethel and all the other murdered performers. Ethel explains to a perplexed Elsa that the sins of the living don’t add up to much here in their version of the afterlife, and that Elsa needn’t worry about her crimes. As Elsa herself used to say herself, “stars never pay.” And with that, Ethel shoos Elsa off to her dressing room to get ready: they’ve been missing their headliner. As Meep scurries past, Ma Petite applies Elsa’s eyeshadow, and Ethel gives Elsa’s grand introduction: “one of the brightest and best that ever was and ever will be.” Elsa steps up to the microphone, takes a breath, and just as Elsa’s show begins, this one comes to an end.
Alright, I’m going to try to not nitpick this too much, because the truth of the matter is as far as finales go, this could have been much worse. This season’s finale, as opposed to last season’s, felt like there was something of a plan from the very beginning of the series. The freaks were going to be murdered en masse by Dandy; the surviving freaks would get their revenge and happy endings; Elsa would finally make it to Hollywood only to realize her dream was hollow; she would summon Mordrake but be instead taken to the one place where she was ever really loved. And who can complain about a happy ending, especially for a group of characters who had such a hard go of it up to this point?
Actually, I can, and my complaint is two-fold. For starters, this felt like at least two hours worth of material crammed into one hour of programming. As much as I like NPH, and as creepy as his character was on the series, Chester’s plotline felt wedged in and an unnecessary distraction from the story as a whole. Those two episodes pulled us away from the main characters and all for what? For him to deflower the Twins and kill Maggie? That hardly seems worth it for the arc of the story. Dandy could have just as easily killed Maggie in his massacre, and aside from the sensationalism of seeing a two-headed body having sex, the whole deflowering thing was somewhat pointless.
Instead, they should have spent those last three episodes spreading out the material of the final two: the first episode could have found the performers learning the truth about Stanley and seeking their revenge on him, only to turn their murderous intentions on Elsa, forcing her to sell the carnival to Dandy. This would have allowed, for instance, time for a more plausible way for Elsa to have learned that her “monsters” were turning on her rather than just having the Twins deus ex machina the whole thing — especially since the Twins weren’t shown to be privy to the plan in the first place.
The second episode could have then focused on Dandy attempting to run the carnival only to turn it into a disaster, his murderous rampage and then the survivors’ revenge. The sequence of events just felt way too rushed in this episode. One minute Paul is lamenting that there is nowhere else for them to go and literally the next he’s spitting in Dandy’s face. There should have been more in between those two moments, and, honestly, I would have liked to have seen more of Dandy and the Twins’ time together at the Mott mansion.
Finally, the last episode could have been devoted entirely to Elsa Mars’ experience in Hollywood, including perhaps a moment or two during her success when she considers (and rejects) bringing her carnival buddies to join her. Or, even better yet, some sort of confrontation between herself and one of the survivors. Jimmy or Desiree could have made their way to Hollywood to face Elsa one last time and to inform her of what happened to her “family,” instead of being told 8 years after the fact that all her friends were murdered in a fantastically gruesome scene that she certainly would have heard about through the media. I mean, come on.
Which brings me to my second complaint: Elsa did not deserve either the kind ending that she received or the sort of wistful forgiveness the surviving performers demonstrated towards her at the end. Yes, I get that Jimmy, Desiree and the Twins understood what no one else watching her final performance did: that Elsa was committing suicide right there on television. But she killed Jimmy’s mother! She murdered and BEHEADED his mother, and he’s just going to be all, “aww, shucks,” upon seeing her in the national spotlight? METHINKS NOT. Similarly, Desiree was literally sharpening the literal knives to literally kill Elsa when Elsa made her escape, and she’s just going to be like, “I knew her when…” upon seeing her on TV? Not only did she MURDER Jimmy’s mother and Desiree’s best friend, lest I remind you, SHE SOLD THE WHOLE LOT OF THEM TO TWO DIFFERENT MURDEROUS PSYCHOPATHS: ONE OF WHOM SLICED JIMMY’S GIRLFRIEND IN HALF AND THE OTHER WHO SHOT EVERY SINGLE PERSON THEY LOVED IN THE FACE. I don’t know. I just don’t think I could personally be proud of, much less forgiving towards someone who did that to me.
And those are just the survivors we’re talking about forgiving Elsa: Jimmy, the Twins and Desiree. Why on earth does Elsa deserve to spend a cushy eternity with all of the people she killed directly, like Ethel, or indirectly in her quest for superstardom, i.e. ALL THE REST? Elsa had her sympathetic moments, and she was a more human character than, say, Fiona Goode or Constance from the first season, but I didn’t have any desire to see this woman receive a happy ending. And this is what is so frustrating: they had already built in the perfect ending for Elsa: Mordrake! Which they used, but then backed away from! SO MANY QUESTIONS: 1. Why would Mordrake bother killing her but then decide against taking her? 2. Why is she any different from Twisty? After all, they both murdered for reasons that they justified to themselves: the only difference was that Twisty was not intellectually capable of understanding why what he had done was wrong. 3. Are we really supposed to think that she deserves some sort of salvation just because she felt sad that everyone she knew was dead BECAUSE OF HER? The fact of the matter is, Elsa’s heart was as black as anyone’s, and she belonged to Mordrake just as much as Twisty.
Rant rant rant. Enough of that. Like I said, believe it or not, I thought it was ultimately a satisfying ending to an overall weak season.
So, Murphy likes to put clues for the next season in the current one, and I think it’s fairly safe to say that next season will be about some sort of secret military testing or conspiracy, otherwise known as the Operation Top Hat theory that has been floating around out there. You might have noticed in some of the earlier episodes that there were top hats sprinkled around some of the sets, including most prominently on a coffee cup:
Some folks decided that this meant the next season was going to be about a magician, but considering both the NPH story in this season and the fact that this entire season was about performers, this seems unlikely. But an enterprising theorist over on Reddit pointed out that Operation Top Hat was a super-secret U.S. Army exercise in the 50s that tested chemical and biological weapons, deliberately exposing countless personnel to toxic substances. Up until this episode I was still not entirely convinced that this was going to be the theme, seeing as it takes place in roughly the same time frame as this season and there have been hints that next season will take place in the present day (which of course doesn’t mean next season couldn’t extend back in time to the 50s and then take place mostly in the present, like the first season). But then Italian Prosthetics Guy explained in this episode that he had been in Nevada working for the military on their atomic weapons project. And at that moment the next season’s theme was sealed: American Horror Story: Military Conspiracy. Or something like that. American Horror Story: Area 51? American Horror Story: The Truth is Out There? American Horror Story: The Manchurian Candidate? As long as there aren’t song and dance numbers, I’m all in.
What did you think of the season finale, the season as a whole or the prospects for next season? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
American Horror Story: Freak Show aired on FX.
This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.