American Horror Story is moving along at a noticeably slower pace this season, but it’s actually working to the show’s benefit for the most part. There are still some heavy-handed plays to one-up previous episodes and seasons via outrageously shocking material and every so often, there are a few narrative details that don’t add up, but for the most part, the key characters are progressing well and the writers are bolstering the effect of current episodes by acknowledging and respecting what’s gone down in previous ones. Hit the jump for more in my American Horror Story: Freak Show recap.
Per usual, there’s a lot going on in “Pink Cupcakes,” but we begin with Stanley who’s busy dreaming of having his own exhibit at the Morbidity Museum. There really isn’t much foreshadowing going on, but American Horror Story has pulled similar tricks before, so the reveal of a familiar freak in the display case doesn’t come as much of a surprise. However, oddly enough, even though that gotcha moment doesn’t quite pan out, the second Stanley dream sequence actually plays extremely well.
The moment Bette takes a bite into that pink cupcake, it’s obvious Stanley is fantasizing again, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to see Dot watch her sister fade away right beside her. In fact, the scene is so distressing, for an instant, I caught myself wondering, did they really just kill her? No way! Bette and Dot as a duo still have loads of potential so perhaps it’s better off death by pink cupcake was only a Stanley fantasy, but boy would that have been an unforgettable death scene.
When Stanley isn’t dreaming about killing and collecting freaks, he’s busy making Elsa more fame hungry than ever. Elsa’s naivety became especially frustrating in “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)” when she continued her pursuit of fame even after nearly losing her life due to her selfish, delusional behavior, however, that didn’t stop me from feeling sorry for her when her “Life on Mars” act crashes and burns, and one of the most satisfying things about that reaction is that it’s so well earned. A big part of the reason that scene is so powerful is because we saw Elsa do the performance in her prime in the season premiere. You go into the song expecting the best, but then, bit-by-bit, her act is essentially torn apart until she’s booed right off the stage. She’s still not particularly high on my favorite characters list, but anyone with a heart is bound to feel for poor Elsa in the moment.
We’ve also got Angela Bassett making moves to build a bigger presence. Since her introduction, she’s merely been Dell’s shadow and little more. We did get that semi-sexy, semi-scary altercation between the two in episode 3, but then the show let it go. However, here Desiree is in the spotlight for a good chunk of the episode and while it definitely starts turning her into a very likable, multi-dimension character, it doesn’t do much for her relationship with Dell. And I don’t mean that in terms of the two breaking up, but rather because it’s so abrupt. In fact, it feels as though a scene might have been cut. If there’s a moment during which Ethel tells Desiree about Dell and Jimmy, I want to see it. The possibility that Ethel gave her all the details off camera is plausible, but because we don’t get to see Desiree react to the news, it winds up sucking the life out of her fight with Dell later in the episode.
Regardless, the events of “Pink Cupcake” still put Desiree in a good position. She’s got warmth and ambition, she wants to be part of the freak show family and the possibility of her becoming buddy-buddy with Ethel is quite appealing as well. Dell, on the other hand, is officially the show’s most unlikable character. He’s constantly losing his temper and each and every time it happens, I find myself digging for a sign of remorse. It’s been there a few times, like during his chat with Ethel by the lake or when he’s super bummed after his argument with her in his trailer, but the show isn’t making anything of it. Instead, he keeps spiraling down and down. There better be a purpose or a convincing reason for his behavior soon, otherwise I’m afraid I’ll stop holding out hope and classify him as a flat-out villain.
It seems as though the writers may have tried to earn a little compassion for Dell via his shame regarding his freak lineage and his sexuality issues, but while I do feel for him, it was more so pity than sympathy. It’s miserable to have your heart broken, but at the same time, when Andy (Matt Bomer) rejects Dell and Dell just isn’t getting it, it sparks a similar reaction to when we see Elsa stepping all over her freaks so that she can become a star herself – you want them to get real, suck it up and move on. Fortunately for Bomer, things get much more interesting when Dandy steps in.
For some reason, after Dandy proclaims he’s “perfection” and “greatness,” his next stop is a local gay bar and that’s where he approaches Andy. (Poor Andy … maybe.) Even though it’s obvious that Dandy has sinister intentions, the pre-stabbing standoff is still incredibly tense because it’s so well established that Dandy is capable of just about anything. When Dandy finally does let loose and starts digging into Andy, it’s much more than a mere show of brutality gunning for shock value. The scene is quite reminiscent of the Twisty stabbing scene from the first episode, challenging you to read between the lines and compare their methods. Whereas Twisty seemed to be driven by rage, Dandy is far more thoughtful and savors the moment.
The dynamic between Dandy and Gloria is also becoming fascinating to track. Based on her behavior in previous episodes, I assumed Gloria would baby Dandy, clean up the mess for him and be done with it. I certainly didn’t expect her to scold him for killing Dora. Seeing Gloria stand up for herself is hopefully the start of her becoming her own person rather than just Dandy’s mother. The information regarding Dandy’s lineage is also an interesting new detail. It comes in one big batch of exposition, but the conversation between Gloria and Dandy is so well written and performed, it almost has a melodic quality to it, making it effortless to digest the details.
On the other hand, then we get Gabourey Sidibe’s introduction and the writing there is just abysmal. The phone call almost feels like an afterthought, as though the writers decided they needed it last minute, threw it together and slapped it on to the end of the episode. It’s a rough start for Sidibe’s character, but the possibility of exploring her childhood experiences with Dandy is oozing with potential.
Episode Rating: B+
- Why namedrop James Martone at the Morbidity Museum if he serves no purpose? Could there be more to him?
- “Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities is about to have a terrible run of bad luck.” – Stanley
- “I would rather be boiled in oil than be on television.” Typical Elsa.
- It’s nice to see Jimmy smile! That is until Maggie ruins it all.
- Points for Ethel taking her ex’s wife to the doctor. She should be running the freak show, not Elsa!
- “Inbreeding. Becomes a right of passage to have a psychotic or two in the line.” – Gloria
- “The clown was put on Earth to show me the way, to introduce me to the sweet language of murder. But I am no clown. I am perfection. I am greatness. I am the future and the future starts tonight.” – Dandy
- Nice to see Bette and Dot finally put that telepathy to use again.
- Elsa’s got to get over her jealousy of Dot’s talent at some point, but her choice to ditch the twins by handing them over to Dandy is brilliant.
- “How can you still be alive? You’re making me feel bad!” – Dandy
- Andy has got to come back from the dead, right? Why make such a big point of his ability to withstand stab wounds and having his arm sliced off? Sure, Dandy put the remains in acid, but this is American Horror Story; anything is possible.