The giant vacuum you felt in the internet last Thursday was, I’m sure, due to the fact that I was vacationing in sunny Florida, nursing a Kansas City Royals hangover and not posting my weekly American Horror Story recap/review. You’re in luck this week, though, as you get a double-dose of Freak Show deliciousness. The series has settled into such a groove that there’s not yet a difference in the quality of episodes; they’ve all been great so far! Therefore, I’m able to easily combine my thoughts on Edward Mordrake Part Two (episode 4) and Pink Cupcakes (episode 5) without having to distinguish one episode as being better than the other.
Edward Mordrake Part Two begins where Part One ended. Mordrake (Wes Bentley) confronts Elsa (Jessica Lange), forcing her to speak about her “misery… her true darkness.” The character of Mordrake is an excellent storytelling device, allowing the backstories of the characters to be revealed. In Elsa’s case, she was a dominatrix in 1932 Germany, trading her humility “trick by trick.” Not dark enough for Mordrake, she continues her tale, explaining how she lost her legs. “They said I made men ejaculate gold, but this one was different.” She’s speaking about the maker of a snuff film who drugs and abducts her. You’ve got to experience the rest of her gruesome story yourself; I won’t spoil it.
The other benefit of Mordrake as a storytelling device is that through his conversations with the characters, their motivations are reinforced. For example, he tells Elsa, “It’s not your talent that renders me speechless. It’s your delusional ignorance.” This refers to her blind determination to be a star. Further, when he puts her in her place, she repeats her mantra, “You don’t understand. I’m not one of you (freaks).” From the very first episode, we’ve known two things about Elsa Mars: she has delusions of grandeur and she does not believe she’s a freak. What I like about Freak Show more than other seasons of American Horror Story is the simplicity, yet consistency of the characters.
So far, the characters have remained true to themselves. However, over the course of 13 (or more) episodes, there’s also got to be some development; characters need to learn something and perhaps change. We’re seeing more of that with the killer clown subplot. Mordrake visits Twisty (John Carroll Lynch) next and we learn his backstory. What’s interesting here is that the entire episode has taken place in the dark, but Twisty’s tale, potentially the darkest one, takes place mostly in the bright light of day. It’s a noticeable contrast. His is a standard tale of rejection, but we learn what happened in 1943 and what’s behind the mask that covers his mouth.
While most of the stories of the freaks are occurring deliberately over the course of each episode, the killer clown subplot is barreling along. There’s a game-changing event (or two) at the end of Edward Mordrake Part Two, but I won’t spoil it (them) here. If you’ve read my other recaps/reviews, you’ll know one of the events is something I predicted. Not only does this event “twist” the killer clown subplot, but it turns the freaks from zeroes to heroes. That’s where Pink Cupcakes begins. The freaks prepare to perform to a sold-out house as Stanley (Denis O’Hare) arrives to realize his fantasy of collecting and selling them to the American Morbidity Museum.
Remember that the last time we saw Stanley he was playing around with a hot Viking god in his hotel room. Well, in this episode, his sexuality is confirmed. As Madison (Emma Roberts) warns him, “The only thing the folks in Jupiter hate more than freaks, are poofs.” In fact, Pink Cupcakes is a very gay episode. We learn a secret about Dell, which introduces guest star Matt Bomer. This subplot expertly weaves into Dandy’s story and spins out of the last episodes game-changing events. It’s great fun to see the characters overlap in unexpected ways. Again, the characters and their stories are fitting together like puzzle pieces in ways they have not in previous seasons.
As a result of this coalescence, we also learn more about Desiree (Angela Bassett). Apparently, she was born as a boy and began developing her breasts (all three of them) around the age of 12. “What about my ding-a-ling?” she asks the doctor. It’s an enlarged clitoris. Put this all together… We know Dell and Desiree were having problems with their sex life. We now know Dell prefers men. We now know Desiree has a penis-sized clitoris. That kind of explains why those two are together, as well as why it’s not quite working out. It all culminates in a fight between the two and Desiree packs her bags to move in with Ethel (Kathy Bates). And that’s interesting, because Dell and Ethel are Jimmy’s parents.
Speaking of Jimmy (Evan Peters), he seems to be heading for another major meltdown. Still depressed and heartbroken over the death of Meep several episodes ago, he’s reaching out for someone or something. However, he’s facing only rejection. First it’s Madison, who warns him he should leave. When he tries to kiss her, she pushes him away. “Your future’s bright. I’m just not in it.” Then, it’s an encounter with Desiree that sends her to the doctor. Although she pleads with him, “Make me feel something, Jimmy,” it may (or may not) be his lobster claws that pierce a hole in her. Poor guy (or, crustacean?) just can’t win. He’s been pushed to murder before, you know.
Pink Cupcakes has two scenes notable for the acting and dialog. First is between Stanley and Elsa. When he tells her he’s from Hollywood and wants to give her a television show, she replies, “I’d rather be boiled in oil than appear on TV. I would never participate in what I consider to be the death of art in our civilization.” (This carries extra meaning since Lange is an award-winning movie actress now appearing on cable TV.) Second is between Gloria (Frances Conroy) and Dandy (Finn Wittrock). When she confronts him about his crime, he replies, “I wanted to be an actor, Mother. None of this would have happened if you let me.”
We don’t see much of the Tattlers (Sarah Paulson) in either of these episodes. However, their significance is not ignored. They’re the main prize that Stanley seeks, as well as the main obstacle toward Elsa’s fame and fortune. Any way you look at it, the outcome does not look promising for poor Bette and Dot. In fact, that’s how Pink Cupcakes ends, with a potential game-changer for their characters. It’s a nice little mini-cliffhanger that, added to the weekly dose of solidly-realized characters, superior acting, hilarious dialog and violent scenes of horror, makes me eager for the next episode. I can’t wait for Wednesday night!