The first thing I have to say about the third episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show is that my burning question was answered. It does seem that each week will feature a musical performance. (At least, the first three weeks have.) Yea! I can see the merchandising extravaganza now: AHS music videos, compilation soundtracks and Grammy awards. The song in Edward Mordrake (Part 1) was another modern tune in the 1952 setting performed by Elsa (Jessica Lange), Lana Del Rey’s “Gods & Monsters”. It’s out of time, perhaps, but certainly not out of place.
The episode opens in the American Morbidity Museum where we meet another two characters for this season, Stanley Manfield (Denis O’Hare) and Maggie Esmerelda (Emma Roberts). They are con artists trying to sell manufactured oddities as freak specimens. The curator of the museum (Celia Weston) offers them a big pay day if they can bring her something authentic. So they head to Florida to infiltrate the freak show, Esmerelda as a fortune teller who, appealing to Elsa’s desire to be in the spotlight, tells her a distinguished man is coming who will make her a star.
With nearly a dozen characters now, each with interesting stories, Freak Show is nearing capacity. I thought we weren’t even going to see Elsa, Dell (Michael Chiklis) and Desiree (Angela Bassett) until they finally made an appearance well over halfway into the episode. This was one of my fears at the beginning of the season; however, the writers are doing a great job of integrating all the characters and giving them at least a little screen time every week. Desiree fares worst here, though, appearing in only one scene.
It’s a good one, though. Getting all sexy in their trailer, Dell apparently can’t perform. Desiree tells him, “I get more satisfaction from a doorknob.” This causes an argument that Ethel (Kathy Bates) overhears. She asks him if he had “a fight with triple tits?” This actually begins a reflective conversation between Dell and Ethel, though. She asks him what he thinks their problem was when they were a couple. He replies, “You had a beard, for starts.” She then tells him she’s dying, a fact that we learned early in the episode.
In many ways, this is Ethel’s episode. Bates is doing amazing work this season. Speaking with a unique accent that I can best describe as part New England, part Amish, she visits a doctor who tells her she has cirrhosis and has only six months to a year to live. Crying in his office, she tells him it’s not because she’s dying, it’s because “you’re the first doctor to treat me with respect.” Through the course of the episode, she comes to terms with the diagnosis, which ties into the other main story: the superstition of not performing on Halloween due to the legend of Edward Mordrake.
Mordrake (Wes Bentley), a freak himself with “another face on the back of his head” was committed to an asylum but escaped and, as Ethel explains “ended up where we all do, at the freak show. One might he snapped and murdered every freak in the troupe.” By performing the musical number described above, Elsa summons Mordrake, who is expected to take one of the freaks with him to the afterlife. He appears to Ethel to ask her a series of questions. She must be candid in her responses. If she lies, “it” (the face on the back of his head) will know.
At her most vulnerable, Ethel relates how, when pregnant with Jimmy, Dell sold tickets to his birth. Standing up against a tree, legs spread, Jimmy is born. Dell snatches him up and offers to let anyone with two bits hold a real freak. This is Ethel’s most shameful moment. She says that Jimmy has known exploitation from his very first breath. Seemingly touched, Mordrake does not take Ethel. Since this is part one of a two part episode, I wonder if he will return to take someone else next week. But more importantly, I wonder if she’s now miraculously healed. We’ll have to see…
This episode is filled, as most are, with wonderful moments. First, trick or treating in West Palm Beach, a little girl spots the killer clown (whom we’ll now call “Twisty the Clown”). Scared of clowns anyway, her mother responds, “I’ll never understand her; I find clowns delightful.” Second, in the Mott household, Dora (Patti LaBelle) imitates Woddy Woodpecker and Dandy throws a tantrum, destroying his Howdy Doody costume and making one of his own… a clown. Third, Stanley tells Maggie he’ll “be there after I take care of my business.” This business is apparently a hot guy dressed as a Viking god in a hotel room. When he removes Stanley’s pants, he sees something that causes him to gasp. I figure he’s either very well-endowed or is some kind of freak himself.
The Tattler twins don’t have a lot of screen time in this episode, but Bette reveals she wants to work hard, save her money and get an operation to separate the two. Dot tells her that one of them will die. Bette acknowledges that fact, but points out that one of them will also have a chance at happiness. There’s a growing divide between the two, what with Elsa turning Dot against her sister. I’m perhaps most interested to see what comes of this storyline. I’m suspecting it can’t end well.
Finally, in the best scene of an episode filled with good scenes, there’s a nod to John Carpenter’s Halloween as, from a point of view show, Dandy grabs his clown mask, puts it on and threatens to kill his mother with a butter knife. I don’t know about you, but I find Dandy more terrifying than Twisty the Clown. He’s real. And he’s real crazy. I predict he’ll tire of Twisty, get rid of him somewhere along the way and end up being the real villain of the season.
Edward Mordrake (Part One) was the Halloween episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show. Filled with tricks, it is overall a treat. So far, the series is still on the road to giving us the best season yet. I look forward more than ever to watching it each week, and I must not be the only one who feels that way. It’s setting ratings records for FX and has been renewed for a fifth season. If you ask me, The Walking Dead is so yesterday. American Horror Story is today.