American Horror Story: Freak Show continues to boast stellar content, but the further along we get in the season, the more evident it becomes that the writers are having a tough time putting all the pieces together. “Blood Bath” certainly has loads of standout moments, but they play very well on their own, not in the context of the episode or the season and that severely reduces the forward momentum of the show. This isn’t a devastating problem for “Blood Bath” itself by any means, but with only five episodes to go, it’s time to connect the dots, firm up the direction of the season narrative and ensure we’re building towards a big and satisfying finish.
Clearly they dubbed this episode “Blood Bath” for a reason. I actually bought Elsa’s grief over Ma Petite, but Ethel wasn’t having it, and who could blame her? She did overhear Elsa conspiring with Stanley to get rid of the twins and Elsa also stabbed poor Paul on the wheel. After all that, it’s only natural for Ethel to assume that Elsa’s responsible for Ma Petite’s demise as well. While we do get two outstanding performances out of Ethel’s false claim, their conversation is a bit all over the place.
One moment they’re talking about Elsa’s dream to be a star at the expense of her monsters, then it’s on to discussing Ethel’s 14 years of friendship/servitude, then we get an Elsa flashback and finally a duel. The back and forth between debating their work life, their everyday friendship and how one effected the other works well, but it still isn’t the kind of stuff you can cram into an eight-minute conversation. Elsa and Ethel’s relationship was one of the richest components of the show and it feels like a major missed opportunity to have cut it off so abruptly.
Plus, it also doesn’t help that Ethel was a very likable person. We just lost Ma Petite and the morale at Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities has hit an all time low. Did we really need to lose the warmest character on the show right now? Somewhat similar to Ma Petite, Ethel’s death wasn’t an exhilarating, jaw-dropping moment. It was just sad, and I don’t watch this show just to feel sad. Maybe my reaction does speak to the fact that Ethel was a successful character who I came to care about, but we’re a little short on kind, noble characters right now so seeing her take a knife to the head doesn’t come with the added jolt most American Horror Story deaths have.
Perhaps I missed a beat with this one, but does Desiree think Dell drove Ethel to kill herself? If so, I guess it is a logical reason for Desiree to rally the troops and do something to defend the ladies of the freak show, but even then, a detail like that needs to be much more prominent to justify such drastic actions. Angela Bassett does deliver a powerful speech at the funeral, but that’s not enough for her to turn to the dark side and threaten to kill a man, even after what he did to Penny.
American Horror Story: Freak Show is in desperate need of some honorable characters. No, there aren’t many completely upright leads in any of the American Horror Story seasons, but personally, I’ve always found that to be a minor turnoff and I’m feeling the effects of that more so than ever during Freak Show. At the start, we were introduced to this group of outsiders that didn’t want to start any trouble. They just wanted to run a decent business and be happy together, a pursuit that’s easy to get behind. They did finally make some headway with the residents of Jupiter and got them to come to the show, but for what? The freak vs. non-freak battle is long gone and at this point, no one but Maggie seems to be fighting for good. We’re already deeply invested in the main players at the freak show so they are able to withstand this dramatic shift, but it’s making their actions and the season as a whole tougher to track. This is why Dandy is currently one of the show’s most effective characters.
Freak Show offers up a solid sense of who Dandy is right from the start and sticks to it, but while having him experience an arc of sorts. In “Blood Bath” he’s as vicious as ever, but he’s also getting smarter. He still has his temper tantrum, but in this episode, it isn’t just because he doesn’t get his way. He uses the fit to manipulate his mother and that’s why Gloria’s death packs a far more powerful punch than Ethel’s, even though Ethel’s the character we’ve come to care about. That’s what Freak Show needs more of in order for these extreme scenarios to make a lasting impression – characters keeping in line with their established personalities while moving forward.
American Horror Story: Freak Show continues to do an excellent job putting the viewer in this world, but right now, I just feel like I’m wading in it. I thoroughly enjoy being there, but I also don’t feel like I’m going anywhere.
Episode Rating: B
- Danny Huston is totally Massimo and the voice of the psychiatrist, right?
- Best Shot of the Episode: Going from Elsa crying in the foreground to putting the focus on an angry Ethel in the background.
- “Apparently I have lost two old friends tonight.” – Elsa
- “Oh Ethel, I am just like the rest of my children. I love you because I understand you. You think you know me? You don’t know me at all.” – Elsa
- “I will never be beautiful again.” – Ethel “But your legs will be beautiful.” – Massimo
- Is another Jessica Lange/Danny Huston romance on the way?
- “I see a man with his arms torn off. His insides are outside for all the world to see … Oh, that one’s easy. A man is stabbing a woman to death. Her blood is smeared all over the wall. It’s going to be a very messy cleanup. I’m bored … What’s my score? Mother said you wanted to test my genius IQ.” – Dandy
- “Do you think I’m sick mother?” – Dandy “Of course not. You’re spirited.” – Gloria
- Welcome to the show, Ima Wiggles (Chrissy Metz)!
- “Your father wasn’t the love of my life. You were.” – Gloria
- “I love all of you Dandy, even the madness.” – Gloria