This episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show could have been better. “Edward Mordrake (Part 1)” is clearly being used as a build-up to next week’s “Edward Mordrake (Part 2).” We’ve got characters doing things that are in stark contrast to what previous episodes have established, there are loads of great scenes but few have satisfying payoffs and, overall, the first part of the coveted Halloween episode just isn’t all that scary. But does that mean I didn’t enjoy it? Absolutely not. The entertainment value of American Horror Story: Freak Show is through the roof. At this point, no logic or structural issue stands a chance against the outlandish fun that’s to be had with these characters in this setting. Hit the jump for more in my American Horror Story: Freak Show recap.
Wes Bentley’s Edward Mordrake is at the heart of this episode. It’s Halloween day and the freaks refuse to perform because of the Edward Mordrake superstition. Mordrake was once your typical scholar, poet and musician – but he also happened to have a face on the back of his head that whispered terrible things to him 24/7. His family had him committed, but he escaped and went on to join a freak show as “The Two-Faced Prince.” Ultimately, the gig didn’t work out, he snapped and killed all the freaks, and then himself. Now he’s a freak show urban legend. If you perform on Halloween, Edward Mordrake will return and collect one freak to take with him.
It’s a fun concept and Bentley sells the duel between Mordrake and the face well, but I prefer my evil myths more sinister and less theatrical. The freaks made him out to be this bloodthirsty villain, but in reality, he’s a pretty normal guy who just happens to have an extra face that tells him to do bad things. For someone in such an extreme predicament, Mordrake is a pretty kind, sensible person. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think that quality makes his interaction with Ethyl especially intriguing and suspenseful, but it does still seem like a missed opportunity to do something truly nightmarish with the character. Ditching that hokey green smoke and teasing his arrival in a more menacing manner before revealing he’s not totally evil could have had a nice effect. But, then again, let’s not forget this is “Edward Mordrake (Part 1);” this may just be a little sample to throw us off before Mordrake shows us what he’s really capable of in “Part 2,” especially because now we’re left wondering, who is he going to kill?
The structure of the episode made it pretty obvious that Mordrake wasn’t going to take Ethyl. The poor woman finds out that she’s only got six months to a year to live and then hits the bottle hard despite her sobriety and the doctor’s orders. Right there we’ve got so many questions well worth exploring; how will this affect Jimmy? Will Dell become a proper father? Will Ethyl just give up and drink away her last few months? Does she have any hope at all? Those are possible season-long plot points with some serious potential right there. There was no way the writers would give them up. And again, there’s the fact that this is “Edward Mordrake (Part 1).” How could there be an “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)” if he makes his kill in “Part 1?” Even though it was easy to predict that this would not be the end of Ethyl, her scene with Mordrake did feature some stellar performances and a highly satisfying peek at her past. Plus, I’d like to bet the encounter will inspire her to put down the booze, reevaluate the time she’s got left and use it to the fullest.
Whereas Mordrake may have a good effect on Ethyl, he essentially turns our tough cookie/fearless leader into a pathetic and selfish wannabe star. Again, there are ups and downs to the scenario. On the one hand, getting to explore a strong character’s weakness is always fun, but, on the other, did we have to tap into that weakness so early on? Elsa went from a poised, protective mother-like figure to someone encouraging one freak to kill another for her own self-gain in an instant. Can she really be that delusional to think she’s still got a chance at being famous? Based on this episode, that most certainly is the case because Elsa doesn’t even give it a second thought when Emma Roberts’ Maggie Esmerelda “predicts her future.” The whole thing turns Elsa into an especially volatile character making her curious to track, but come on; toughen up, get real and take care of your freaks!
The Dandy and Twisty segments continue to be some of the most entertaining, engaging and promising portions of the show. What is Dandy? Is he a killer or is he just a big baby prone to temper tantrums? And what is Twisty? Is he really a killer at heart or is there a reason behind what he’s become? Even though the two didn’t spend much time together this time around, thanks to their play date during the last episode, it’s natural to keep comparing one to the other, and their similar yet contrasting behavior adds so many more layers to both characters.
The standoff between Dandy and Patti LaBelle’s Dora is an episode standout. Dandy’s got a knife in his hand. He could kill her, but will he? And is she really that sure he won’t have the guts to do it? High hopes we’ll get the chance to dive into Dandy’s childhood at some point to see how their relationship progressed over the years and put them in this position. Then we’ve got Twisty who seemingly just saved a little girl from her nasty older brother. Perhaps that little girl didn’t want her brother abducted by a killer clown, but, yet again, John Carroll Lynch conveys quite a bit via eye contact and body movement, and I read his decision to tell the little girl to be quiet as, ‘It’s okay. I’ll take care of your mean big brother for you.’ You could say abducting a child is worse than almost stabbing someone, but whereas Dandy’s actions seemingly stem from pure rage, Twisty is showing more and more signs of being fueled by a completely misguided need to please and make friends.
Again, “Edward Mordrake (Part 1)” isn’t particularly refined and was a little underwhelming, especially for a Halloween episode, but it’s just too much fun to spend time in this world with these characters for that issue to detract from the pleasure of seeing everything play out.
Episode Rating: B
- “It is a fetal goat with the jaw of a cat sewn onto it.”
- Why is there still a curfew if the cops claim to have caught the killer?
- “I saw a clown! It was a really scary one!” – Little Girl (Finally! Someone acknowledges that Twisty is super scary looking!)
- “I ain’t crying because you told me I’m gonna die. I’m crying because you’re the first doctor ever to treat me with respect.” – Ethyl
- “I can’t wait to go trick-or-treating and terrify the neighborhood.” – Dandy
- “Curfews are for poor people.” – Dandy, obviously.
- Really? Dot would just slice Bette off just like that? Hopefully the writers pull the reins on that idea fast.
- Based on how that argument with Dell wraps up, Desiree has got to have something on him or an additional power that we don’t know about.
- Points to Eve and Mon Petit just for being lovable and fun.
- What’s going on with Denis O’Hare’s character down there? The way “Thor” reacts, there’s no way it’s just a typical big you-know-what situation.
- Bring on the Dot/Jimmy/Maggie love triangle!
- So, are we getting a musical number every episode?
- Those stunning wide shots of the freak show will never get old.