American Horror Story: Freak Show has been struggling to keep its overabundance of characters and their wealth of unusual predicaments together, but, oddly enough, the addition of one more actually serves the show well. Neil Patrick Harris breathes fresh, new life into the material, presenting Chester as a deeply disturbed man with a lot of personality and one heck of a psychosis to consider. The trouble is, “Magical Thinking” is the 11th episode of a 13-episode season. At this point, can Freak Show dig deep enough to justify Chester’s introduction so late in the game while also wrapping up the show in a satisfying manner for all the main players?
Meet Chester. A soldier who returned home from war with a metal plate in his head and an obsession with a puppet named Marjorie. While he was gone, his wife Lucy struck up a relationship with another woman named Alice (Angela Sarafyan) and after Alice’s husband was killed in the war, Alice moved in with them. “Magical Thinking” never pinpoints exactly when Marjorie came into the picture, but it seems as though Chester might have turned to her due to Lucy and Alice’s ongoing sexual relationship and then perhaps the metal plate in his head sparked the delusion of the dummy turning into an actual person (Jamie Brewer).
Chester is like Twisty all over again, and primarily in a good way. He’s got this innocent, childlike wonder to him that makes you believe that all he really wants to do is sell chameleons, perform magic and find someone who will include him. But then we’ve got Marjorie. What is she? Is this all in Chester’s head or can Marjorie really come to life and kill people? My money’s on the former, but this is American Horror Story so anything is possible. But either way, it’s hard not to feel for the guy, just like Twisty.
Twisty’s behavior was a direct result of how people treated him. Is it his fault that that drove him to become a mass murderer? Not entirely, but as “Edward Mordrake – Part 2” pointed out, it’s one thing to do something terrible, but it’s another if you’re unable to recognize it. Ryan Murphy said that Twisty and Edward Mordrake aren’t over, so perhaps someone will have to conjure Mordrake again to take Chester and save the freak show.
No matter what the conclusion to the Chester situation is, this is what Freak Show needed more of. Yes, it’s a fun environment with tons of bizarre and highly entertaining behavior, but that kind of stuff only sticks with you when it gives you something to think about beyond the act itself. For example, remember Penny? The horrific act of her father punishing her by tattooing her face may be engrained in your mind, but the whole scenario would have been far richer if the show took the time to touch on what that did to her psyche more. When you don’t take these scenarios that extra step further, it reduces them to mere shock value. Chester, however, is already showing signs of being something more. “Magical Thinking” shows you one thing, but then, piece-by-piece, it reveals that Chester is something else and challenges you to figure him out.
But again, we’re still left to wonder, is it too late for something like that? With just three episodes to go was it worth bringing Chester in and detracting from the key characters? If Jimmy, Elsa, Bette, Dot and the rest of the crew have to band together to take Chester down, perhaps Freak Show will wrap with a big build and all-around strong conclusion. However, if Chester’s storyline fizzles out too soon there might not be enough time for the show to regroup and solidify a clear trajectory for the final two episodes.
Big things happen to the main characters in “Magical Thinking.” Jimmy cuts off his hands, Elsa shoots Del, and the cops are out to get the freaks more so than ever, but it all feels like an afterthought in an episode that is primarily about something else. It is nice to see Del finally get what he deserves, but in the context of this episode alone, the big moment desperately needed a bigger build.
We’re basically in the same situation as we were after episode 10. “Magical Thinking” is a very entertaining episode that’s packed with promising new oddities, but it doesn’t do much for the season as whole. There’s two episodes left and yet there’s still no semblance of a finish line in site. Let’s put the goal of the freaks becoming a family and running a thriving business back in focus so we can have a group of key characters to get behind.
Episode Rating: B+
Odds and Ends:
- “Dear diary. I’ve heard Ms. Elsa say on many an occasion that her freaks are the bravest, most honest people on earth. These last nightmarish months have revealed the powerful, unexpected truth in those words. With every reason to hide themselves away, bitter and self-pitying, they do the opposite. They are, in fact, the most joyous people on earth. The reason? They believe in absolute pleasure, the very thing we’ve been taught to deny ourselves our whole lives.” – Dot
- “We are where we belong. This place, these people are our world and it is like a banquet full of delicious possibilities … but our top priority is sex.” Dot
- “Imagine that. Being a freak for being normal.” – Jimmy
- “Ms. Elsa, I am a simple man, but I have been to hell and back. You have given me and Marjorie a place, a purpose, a family.” – Chester
- “I think we should put that act together, Strong Man and Strong Woman.” – Eve
- “Magic is all about distracting an audience and what better distraction that you two?” – Chester
- “I’m sorry. She relaxes me.” – Chester
- Chester’s ledger had crickets, meals, phone calls and chameleon sales in it. How does that make him wealthy enough to buy a freak show?
- Isn’t he immediately breaking Elsa’s rule by announcing that he’s making Marjorie the headliner?
- “They should have let us join in. We should have been included.” – Marjorie