I’ve watched every season of American Horror Story. I’m well aware that the writers often forgo logic and character development for shock value, but you have to draw a line somewhere. American Horror Story: Freak Show moved along well enough courtesy of the vibrant environment, engaging characters and highly entertaining scenarios, but the writers most certainly never even scratched the surface of the rich material they had at their disposal. However, that’s not the problem. You want to give me a show with minimal depth, but loads of entertainment value? Fine by me, but don’t jerk me around for four months and then render everything I’ve come to love absolutely meaningless.
Let’s start with the most obvious American Horror Story: Freak Show season finale pitfall, the massacre. I’ve brought this up in recaps time and time again; the writers just don’t know when to stop. There was absolutely no way they could introduce all of these characters and manage to come up with satisfying conclusions for each and every one of them. It was obvious all season long and then more so than ever when Dandy pulls the trigger and shoots Paul. Right then and there it was as if the writers were admitting, “We couldn’t make it work so we’re just going to kill them all off.”
We spend four months getting to know and like these characters and you kill the large majority of them in five minutes? The show most certainly didn’t earn that and the characters didn’t deserve it either. Eve and Legless Suzy never got the solo episodes I was hoping for, but they still felt more like family than Desiree and Elsa thanks to the natural warmth Erika Ervin and Rose Siggins brought to the characters. Freak Show spent most of the season highlighting the big name talent like Jessica Lange and Evan Peters, but I’d like to bet I would have walked away far more satisfied if Dandy came after them and folks like Paul, Penny and the supporting characters who actually made being a family a top priority all season long got to live happily ever after.
The killing spree is also a major disservice to Dandy. That character has been so expertly developed all season long, bringing him from bratty momma’s boy to thoughtful, manipulative maniac, however, “Curtain Call” does away with all of it. The Dandy from episode 12, “Show Stoppers,” never would have just given up on his investment and dream. He would have figured out some sinister way to get the freaks to play by his rules. Sure, the opening scene of “Curtain Call” is fairly tense and clearly leaves Dandy sitting on the floor back in little boy mode, but it would have been far more compelling and believable to see the freaks slowly strip away all of the confidence Dandy built up before having him resort to his old tactics.
Plus, the scene just isn’t particularly well done. I remember back when they revealed the school shooting in American Horror Story: Murder House and it worked incredibly well because, A, the show took the time to make sure it all made sense first and, B, in or out of context, it’s an especially compelling and disturbing sequence. In fact, it’s mind-blowing that Murder House was able to make us care about Tate’s victims mere minutes after introducing them and the Freak Show scene could barely get me on the edge of my seat when characters I’ve known for 12 episodes are at risk. The whole thing just felt rushed, sloppy and desperate.
Now let’s touch on Dandy’s big exit. The sequence is fine and I enjoyed the theatrics of it, but the massacre letdown sucked a good deal of fun out of it and it also felt too easy for Jimmy, Desiree and the twins to get the better of Dandy. Here’s a guy who’s racked up quite the body count all season long and even took out a whole room of women singlehandedly in “Tupperware Party Massacre” yet he falls victim to the oldest trick in the book? The only way something like that could have worked is if we got to see more of his “relationship” with Bette and Dot. Having Dot declare that her sister is a good actress isn’t enough.
However, the writers really did nail it with the tank kill. In fact, Freak Show needed more of that. Could you imagine if the freaks would have regularly come together to take out their enemies using such theatrics? I guess there’s no point in considering the possibilities now, but at least there was some fun to be had seeing Desiree, Jimmy, Bette and Dot munch on popcorn while Dandy drowned.
Lastly we’ve got Elsa. There’s something intriguing about her getting everything she ever wanted and coming to learn that it’s not good enough, but thanks to the major missteps with the character throughout the season, there was really no way to wrap up her storyline in a satisfying manner. Part of me wanted to see a dramatic fall from grace, but after Dandy’s heartbreaking shootout scene, I suspect a dismal end for Elsa simply would have been too upsetting. There’s definitely something nice about seeing Elsa reunite with the freaks in an idyllic Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities heaven, but after everything they’ve been through all season, it can’t be that easy. Her happy ending essentially renders everything that happened over the course of Freak Show meaningless. This is just yet another example of something that could have worked if the show had only earned it first.
The most conflicting part about this whole thing is that even though Freak Show essentially failed to achieve everything I was hoping for, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. This certainly wasn’t the way I wanted things to end, but “Curtain Call” kept me engaged and entertained from start to finish, and the same is true for just about every episode of every season of American Horror Story. The problem with that is, it makes it so easy for the writers to jerk viewers around. Sure, I’m disappointed with how Freak Show wrapped up, but I still adore certain characters and cannot wait until they announce what we’ve got coming in the fifth season. Does that mean it’s okay for American Horror Story to get away with poor writing and cheap thrills? No, but the point is, it can. I’m hooked and I doubt that’ll ever change, and if you’re in the same position, all we can really do is hope that the folks behind the show reassess what they’re trying to accomplish and make respecting the audience a top priority next season.
Odds and Ends:
- “Obviously nobody is coming to the show because you are boring.” – Dandy
- “You will never be one of us and you don’t own us … we quit.” – Paul
- Again, not a fan of the massacre scene, but when Jimmy and Desiree reunite, I might have shed a few tears.
- Better Ending Idea: Dandy kills Dot by separating the twins and he lives happily ever after with Bette.
- “I’ve always found babies to be so boring, but freak babies?” Awww!” – Dandy
- “You put something in my bubbly!” – Dandy
- “You may look like a motion picture dreamboat, but you are the biggest freak of them all.” – Desiree
- “I have always, always, always been cursed. First by having my dreams ripped away and now I’m cursed by having them all come true.” – Elsa
- Sure enough, the show didn’t really need Malcolm Jamal Warner.
- So glad I’ve been eagerly awaiting Edward Mordrake and Twisty’s return … for that.
- Lesson Learned from American Horror Story: Freak Show: No matter how despicable you are, you can still kill yourself and wind up living your dream.