Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Kathy Bates and a good deal of the American Horror Story veterans are delivering solid work, but as noted in my recap of the American Horror Story: Freak Show premiere, “Monsters Among Us,” the series newcomers and supporting cast members are stealing the spotlight with ease and episode 6, “Bullseye,” proves that they deserve it, especially Mat Fraser as Paul the Illustrated Seal. Per usual, “Bullseye” covers a lot of ground, but it’s the mini single-episode arc that Paul gets that really starts to bring all of the separate storylines together for the first time this season.
It’s about time someone figured out what Elsa’s up to. Minus the fact that he thought it was a bright idea to snatch up some guy’s leftover food while the diner staff was on high alert in the second episode, it’s been quite clear that Paul’s a smart guy and in “Bullseye,” he puts both his detective skills and admirable ethics to good use. Looks like Penny the candy striper’s (Grace Gummer) episode 1 freak show nightmare had a purpose. She’s in love with Paul and it seems as though Paul loves her right back. He’s one of the most charming characters on the Freak Show roster, so even though the romance popped up out of nowhere, the appeal of seeing him happy is enough to justify it. Plus, that relationship is what leads Paul to figure out what Dandy’s hiding and, in turn, become the first member of Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities to recognize that their head honcho isn’t as protective and trustworthy as they thought.
I didn’t think I could like Elsa any less at this point but after the events of “Bullseye,” the character has sunk even lower. I don’t care how pathetic you sound when you blow out your birthday candle and wish to be loved. You handed off your headliner to a psychopath, you just stabbed your lover in the stomach and you relegate Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge) to being a bedtime cuddle thing. Elsa’s already had a few opportunities to redeem herself and she’s squandered each and every one of them. If Ethel doesn’t usurp Elsa soon, Freak Show better just turn Elsa into a full-blown villain because the character’s becoming a total broken record and it’s making her more and more unappealing every episode.
Elsa should just stop playing games and take a cue from Dandy. He’s been an oddball and prone to temper tantrums since day one, but he’s not delusional like Elsa. Dandy’s embracing “his purpose” and his journey is much more so about figuring out the kind of person he wants to be. Sure, that person is a murderous lunatic, but thanks to the abundance of character development in earlier episodes, even though Dandy can lose his temper in a flash, all of his behavior makes sense. When he’s trying to be a model boyfriend with Bette and Dot, I bought it and I also bought it when he loses his mind because Dot won’t tell him a secret. Dandy isn’t doing something despicable and then snickering behind everyone’s back like Elsa. He just is who he is so despite his erratic behavior, he still winds up feeling like a cohesive character.
We’ve also got Stanley and Maggie trying to bag a freak to ship off to the Morbidity Museum in Philadelphia. At this point, Maggie’s behavior is stimulating enough and Denis O’Hare’s got such a commanding presence as Stanley that the pair gets by, but it’s coming to the point where Freak Show needs to start peeling back the layers of their relationship to justify their behavior. They want money, but Maggie clearly is not a murderer. What does Stanley have on her that she’d even consider meeting his demands and kill Ma Petite?
America Horror Story: Freak Show definitely needs to put an end to repetitive behavior and give a few characters some fresher material, but otherwise, “Bullseye” is one of the most satisfying episodes of the season, one because Fraser delivers a wildly engaging performance and two because all of the events of “Bullseye” actually come together. Paul’s love life leads him to Dandy which then inspires him to stand up to Elsa forcing her to show her true colors and then that compels Jimmy to investigate Bette and Dot’s disappearance. Just like that the show gets some well-earned forward momentum.
Episode Rating: A-
- “I have survived because I know one must be willing to destroy anyone, anything, even the things you love to keep the gods in check.” – Elsa
- “I liked Dora better.” – Dandy
- “There comes a time in every mother’s life when she must give up her son to another woman. I’m going to marry those girls, mother. We’re going to be together forever.” – Dandy
- It’s so refreshing to see Elsa smiling while receiving her birthday gifts. It makes me long for the motherly figure I thought she’d be at the start of the season.
- “We haven’t been beaten nor are we bound by chains, I have to wonder though what dark intentions await.” – Dot
- “From your position, Elsa looks like our guardian angel. But from where I’m sitting, I see a jealous broad near the end of the line who’d kill anyone or anything that got in the way of her one last shot at it.” – Paul
- Apparently Pepper (Naomi Grossman) and Salty’s (Christopher Neiman) sister didn’t even want them. Could Lily Rabe’s Sister Mary Eunice possibly be that sister and come back to get them during her episode 10 cameo?
- “Cake was made. No point in leaving off the frosting.” – Ethel
- “It’s like when I had Tuberculosis and you took me out to the Utah desert and there was nothing but dry open space for hundreds of miles around us. That is what it is inside of me. Those girls were a cool stream of glacier water. My heart bloomed as they nourished it. And now it’s all gone. There’s nothing left but the dust and the scorpions inside of me. I was never destined to feel love.” Bye bye, loverboy Dandy.
- “I’ll tell you one thing, if I ever found out you were lying and did wrong by those girls, I’ll kill you with my own two hands.” Go Ethel!
- It would have been nice if the wheel had more meaning and wasn’t just some random prop Elsa pulled out of storage. Her opening speech about staying off the wheel didn’t quite cut it.