With three remaining episodes, American Horror Story Freak Show returned with what was essentially a standalone, Magical Thinking. I say “essentially” because even though the episode revolved almost completely around a new character, he was seamlessly integrated into the existing storylines. What show has the nerve to introduce a new character so late in the season? It angered me at first… the series should start wrapping things up at this point, not start something new. Then I realized this character was a logical catalyst for the impending conclusion.
I’m writing about the addition of Neil Patrick Harris to the cast, playing Chester, a traveling salesman with a dark secret. He’s first seen through the eyes of the Tattler twins (Sarah Paulsen), who, with the newfound realization that “they are where they belong”, and the declaration that their top priority is now sex, want to sleep with him. After all, salesmen, well… “You know what they’re famous for.” Chester has a metal plate in his head. The Tattler’s think, “Let’s hope that war wound didn’t break anything important.”
He also “does a little magic” and wants to join the company. Elsa (Jessica Lange) tells him, “We are a freak show, not a magic show.” But when she learns he’s good with numbers, she says that if he helps with the bookkeeping, perhaps he can warm up the crowd. We then meet his sidekick, Marjorie, a ventriloquist’s dummy. Marjorie is, in essence, Chester’s dark secret. Not only does she reflect his current mental state, but she’s the physical manifestation of events from his past. To say any more would ruin the horrific fun of it all.
At some point that, quite frankly, I missed, Elsa agrees to sell the freak show to Chester when she leaves for California. There is a list of caveats: he can’t fire anyone and the order of the show must remain intact, among others. He gladly agrees. When he asks if she is going to take her gorgeous antiques, she replies that they are a little feminine for him. He says, “Marjorie should have this tent.” It’s not just the looks that Elsa (and everyone else he meets) gives him that tell me I don’t think the deal is going to work out.
Meanwhile, Dandy (Finn Wittrock) learns from the private detective he hired to watch the Tattlers that they had relations with Chester. “They were supposed to be mine,” he cries. Learning all about Chester’s past, he steals Marjorie and stages a situation which, if acted upon, may take care of all his problems at once. Dandy offers the best line of the episode, if only for the irony of it, when he says about Chester, “What a sicko.” It takes one to know one, doesn’t it, Dandy?
Elsewhere in the episode, there is advancement of the existing storylines; however, the time spent on them is minimal in proportion to that spent on Chester. Magical Thinking actually begins “Two Days Ago” with Stanley (Denis O’Hare) conning Jimmy (Evan Peters) out of his hands. Not a spoiler now, I hope, the last episode ended with Jimmy awaking with bloody stumps where his lobster claws used to be. Stanley said if he sold them, he could pay for an attorney. (Remember, Jimmy was arrested for the “Tupperware Party Massacre.”)
When Del (Michael Chiklis) learns what happened to Jimmy, the two share an emotional moment. Del says he was the black sheep of their family, born with normal hands. Jimmy laughs, “Imagine that… being a freak for being normal.” Del and the strong lady later team up to ambush the ambulance returning him to prison and free Jimmy. Subsequently, the police storm the freak show yet again and Elsa asks, “So detectives, what false accusation have you prepared for us now.
It’s a chaotic conclusion for the episode as the police tear the place apart looking for Jimmy, Chester runs around screaming that his Marjorie has been abducted, and there’s a big reveal for what happened to Ma Petite. In her one appearance in this episode, Desiree (Angela Bassett) points a gun at Del and delivers another delicious line, “It was one thing with your lyin’ and cheatin’ and homo erectus nonsense, but no more bullshit. Who else did you kill? You killed one of your own.” Then…
Nope. I never want to reveal information that would spoil the pleasures of American Horror Story… at least until next week. I will say a gun is fired, but I won’t say who fired it, who (if anyone) got hit, or what line ends the episode. I will also say that, sadly, the end is near. And the events of this episode should trigger a rollercoaster ride for the next two. I hope the thrills continue to come, though, rather than slow as they threatened to do in a couple late-midseason episodes. Finales can sometimes make or break entire seasons of ongoing series.