AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW Recap: “Massacres and Matinees”

     October 15, 2014

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The premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show had the benefit of the shock and awe that comes with introducing viewers to a new vibrant location and fresh crop of curious characters, but now that the initial thrill is long gone, the question is, can Freak Show hold up?  Thanks to the highly intriguing character layers and fascinatingly bizarre scenarios introduced in the season’s second episode, “Massacres and Matinees,” the answer is a resounding yes.  Hit the jump for more on the wealth of mind-blowing oddities in my American Horror Story: Freak Show recap.

american-horror-story-freak-show-michael-chiklis-evan-petersThis time around, a good deal of the episode focuses on Jimmy.  The guy was a rather abrasive jerk all throughout “Monsters Among Us.”  Here, however, we get some more appealing layers to the character.  The show doesn’t do a complete turnaround and force-feed the viewer schlocky scenes of Jimmy being a standup citizen, but rather, it keeps his brash demeanor firmly intact and builds the character by forcing him to deal with the consequences of his behavior.

It doesn’t seem as though the cops have any concrete reason to believe the freaks are responsible for their colleague’s disappearance, besides the fact that they’re freaks, but that doesn’t stop them from rolling up into Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities to threaten them and establish a town curfew.  It’s a strong, high-stakes predicament, but what makes the cops’ threat even more powerful is how it’s intertwined with Dell Toledo’s (Michael Chiklis) arrival and Jimmy’s situation.

Dell and his wife Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett) were off working at a show in Chicago when Dell lost his temper and left them no choice, but to relocate to one of the last remaining freak shows, Elsa’s.  Not only does Dell have an especially nasty history with Ethel, but after convincing Elsa to let him become the freak show’s head of security, he essentially makes a play to usurp her by forcing everyone into a matinee performance.  (Granted, having a matinee show does make sense from a business standpoint considering there’s a town curfew in place.)

Right there we’ve got two intriguing situations, Jimmy’s effort to cope with what he’s done while keeping his fellow freaks safe and Dell’s mission to take charge.  But even then, part of the reason the two scenarios play so well is because they’re so deeply connected.  Sensing Dell is bad news, Jimmy does his best to get rid of him, but Dell catches him in the act and forces another freak to suffer for it.  Poor Meep.  What did he ever do but bite off the heads of helpless animals?  Honestly, I found him pretty unsettling during the first episode, but when you see a seemingly helpless character with a blue feather on his head thrown into a prison cell with men who truly want to kill him, it’s heartbreaking.  Plus, I didn’t think that they’d actually kill him.

american-horror-story-freak-show-jessica-langeMeanwhile, Elsa’s busy facilitating another killing.  It’s hard not to feel for her when her performance is criticized in the first episodes and also when she comes to the realize that she just can’t compete with Dot’s singing, but I didn’t expect her to sink so low, so fast in order to get her way, especially when she took in Bette and Dot to save the business.  Jessica Lange’s got a history of portraying highly manipulative characters on this series and this proves that Elsa is no different.  And unfortunately for Bette and Dot, they’re easy targets.

Yet again, I’m saving the best for last.  Dandy didn’t have much going on in the first episode, but Finn Wittrock delivered such an unnervingly alluring performance as a momma’s boy who’s bored all the time that it was only natural to want more of him.  And boy do we get more in this episode.  Forget the fact that Dandy drinks from a crystal baby bottle and throws temper tantrums as he pleases; he befriends a murderous clown without a drop of hesitation!

This is the most brilliantly twisted play date I’ve ever experienced.  Dandy’s mother feels so bad that her son doesn’t like his escargot that she picks up a monstrous looking clown carrying a bag full of murder weapons and then puts her son in a room with him – and he likes it!  The standoff between the prim and proper young man and the completely disheveled clown is mesmerizing.  Yet again, John Carroll Lynch completely pulls the viewer in via eye contact alone and Wittrock follows suit.  Will Dandy be disgusted by his new playmate and send him into a murderous rampage?  The suspense is through the roof and the scene rocks a deeply satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion.

You’re left wondering why Twisty doesn’t kill Dandy, but you’re also not in search of concrete, black and white answers.  The decision to bash him over the head and move on says so much about the character that it’s never about needing a reason, but rather, just wanting to know more about him as a person.  And the same is true of Dandy as well.  Rather than run to mommy and demand a new playmate, Dandy follows Twisty to his hideout and comes to realize that a room full of fancy puppets and pricy toys isn’t half as fun as what Twisty’s got.  Is it just juvenile ignorance?  Is Dandy really capable of torturing and possibly killing innocent people?  Based on the dynamic between him and Twisty in “Massacres and Matinees,” that’s going to be an absolute blast to explore as the show continues.

Episode Rating: A-

american-horror-story-freak-show-character-poster-finn-wittrockOdds and Ends:

  • “My monsters cherish their privacy.” – Elsa
  • Do they really prefer the title monsters to freaks?  One doesn’t seem any better than the other.
  • Is it just me, or does Twisty seem bored after the toy store killing? Perhaps Dandy-like bored, in fact?
  • “You can’t live on sweets and cognac, Dandy.” – Gloria Mott
  • The cinematography during the standoff between Twisty and Dandy is downright beautiful.  If someone prints out the wide shot of the two standing at opposite ends of the room, I’d happily hang it on my wall.
  • We see a young Dell try to murder his baby boy, but I get the feeling there’s more to the situation, especially considering the way his expression changes when Ethel leaves his trailer.
  • “Daytime is for kiddie shows.” – Elsa
  • “Puppetry is a sad cousin to a live performance.” – Dandy
  • Dandy nails it during his play date with Twisty; “You’re silence is utterly provocative.”
  • Out of all people, Paul’s got to be the one to screw things up at the diner?  I got the impression he was one of the more professional ones of the bunch.
  • Twisty’s mouth!  Or lack thereof.
  • While talking to Jimmy, Elsa points to him and says, “you’re kind.”  Does she not consider herself a freak as well?  Do “her monsters” even know that she’s got no legs?
  • “He’s not tough.  He’s just weird.” – Jimmy (RIP Meep)

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