In many ways, the season finale of American Horror Story Freak Show, Curtain Call, is an immediate continuation of the previous episode. It barrels through its various characters and plots until virtually none are left standing. My criticism of it seems unfair; I don’t know how I would have done it differently. Nevertheless, I was left largely unsatisfied. And the feeling is exacerbated by the fact that I’ve claimed for most of the season that it was the best one yet.
When the episode begins, Dandy (Finn Wittrock) is indeed the owner of Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities. But before the opening credits roll, we see where his ideas are going to take it. When no tickets are sold for “Dandy Mott Sings Cole Porter” and he throws a tantrum, the freaks tell him, “No one is coming to the show because you’re boring. You’ll never be one of us. We quit.” This inspires Dandy to put on a different kind of show, leading to a massacre that makes the Tupperware party look like a tea party.
Good is ultimately going to prevail in this season, though, and a handful of surviving freaks manage to finally give Dandy his due. I’m being purposely vague because in the week after an episode first airs, I’ve tried to avoid major spoilers when I write about the show. I think I’ll continue to do that here and follow-up in a week (or so) with a look at the entire season from start to finish and, in my mind, how Freak Show went from the best season of American Horror Story to the most mediocre.
For most of the second half of the episode, we make a time jump to 1960. Lo and behold, Elsa’s (Jessica Lange) dreams have come true and she is the darling of Hollywood with a successful Friday night variety show, an Emmy and a star on the Walk of Fame. She has everything she ever wanted. But guess what? She’s bored and alone. “I’ve always been cursed; first by having my dreams ripped away, then by having them all come true.”
The trials and tribulations of her life’s journey culminate in a final performance… on Halloween. Here’s something you need to remember from a couple earlier episodes of the season: the freaks never perform on Halloween. If so, they are visited by Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley), who is going to take a soul away with him. Feeling she must pay for her sins, Elsa attempts suicide by song, belting out another emotional rendition of David Bowie’s Heroes.
It would be uncharacteristic, even for a show as inconsistent as American Horror Story, for Elsa to ever get what she wants. However, to quote another rock band from the era, sometimes you find you get what you need. And that is all I can say about the episode without giving spoilers worse than these. I guess I’ll add that early in the episode, you may feel you’ve seen the last of some of your favorite characters, just as you have earlier in the season. But in a show like this, anyone can come back.
Is that a cop-out, though? Does the fact that a television shows plays loosey-goosey with its cast, characters and plots mean it’s paying the best service to the story, or does it really mean it doesn’t know where it’s headed (or how to end it)? That’s one of the questions I want to ponder when I return in a week (or so) with an objective look at the season from start to finish. Was Freak Show really the disappointment that I read many fans are claiming? Or did it stick true to its intentions?