My 20-something daughter is also a fan of American Horror Story. (I know; I raised her well.) Today we were talking about one of the show’s annoying habits. The way she summed it up made more sense than a lot of the analysis I try to infuse into my episode recaps. She said she always feels like she’s missed something. This feeling occurs when a character (or characters) does something in an episode and, although they may appear in subsequent episodes, the results of their actions are not realized until several episodes later.
The case in point for episode 12 of Freak Show, “Show Stoppers,” is a little gift Maggie (Emma Roberts) and Desiree (Angela Bassett) give to Richard (Denis O’Hare) to expose him in front of Elsa and her monsters. After this scene, I thought, “Oh, yeah, they did go to the American Morbidity Museum a couple episodes ago. Hmmm… I wonder why they waited until now to do that. I’m sure they’ve done other things on the show since they got back.” It’s an example of how the show plays loose and free with its timeline.
So right off the bat, I had a bad attitude toward the episode, even though Richard’s story comes to a fitting end with a spin on Elsa’s knife-throwing wheel. Or does it? Perhaps one of the oddest things in a season full of oddities appears later in the episode. And it’s topped in the next scene by the episode’s concluding shot with an interesting twist in Jimmy’s (Evan Peters) saga. This is a more scattered episode, one that favors advancement of the story over focus on one particular character or plot.
Whether you like this penultimate episode of the season may depend on whether or not you like the way the show is wrapping up its multiple plots. Besides a conclusion for Richard and Jimmy, we may or may not have seen the last of Elsa (Jessica Lange), Maggie and Chester (Neil Patrick Harris). Although she turned out to play a pivotal role, Maggie was always a peripheral character for me, so I don’t care what happens to her. And Chester appeared only last week, so there’s not much emotional response for his likely fate.
But I’m more sensitive to what happens to Elsa. And I’m not sure I buy the sudden change in opinion her monsters now have toward her. Well, I guess I buy it, but I just don’t like what they decide to do about it. What eventually happens provides some irony to her story and brings her relationship with the Tattler twins (Sarah Paulsen) full circle. But who or what does that leave for the season finale? In a way, the show is saying that Elsa wasn’t really the main character. She isn’t what this entire season has really been about.
So who has it been about? The ending of this episode leads me to believe it has been Dandy (Finn Wittrock) all along. He’s certainly the one with all the power now. But he’s got to have something coming to him in the finale. If done right, it could end up being hugely satisfying. I haven’t forgotten that the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, promised us that we haven’t seen the last of Twisty the Clown. Since he’s dead, it may come in the form of a flashback to his glory days when Dandy was blossoming into a killer.
Although I’m being pretty harsh with this week’s episode, it’s largely due to my personal disappointment with some of its developments, not with its quality. The episode, like most others, had some great lines:
Elsa to Richard: “You tried to kill my dreams but they cannot be murdered.”
Jimmy to Maggie: “My hands are in a goddam jar because of you.”
Desiree: “There’s only one way to secure our future – [SPOILER] make sure Elsa doesn’t have one” and “Let’s get our girl some justice!”
Dandy: “I’m not in distress. I am in a rush.”
Yikes, out of context, those are actually some horrible lines. But context is everything with American Horror Story. They’re good lines because, with all its failings, the show has been mostly consistent with its characters. There’s added meaning when they say them. It’s unlikely that this episode or next week’s finale will change my opinion that, overall, it has been a good season. How many times have we watched a movie and said, “I really liked it… except for the ending.” I’m afraid that may be the case here. But I’m still hopeful that it won’t be.