After a Thanksgiving break, American Horror Story Freak Show returned last night. Unfortunately, it returned with my least favorite episode of the season, Blood Bath. The title suggests a gore fest; however, even though two major characters met their ends, it was a relatively bloodless episode. I even questioned the title… until the final shot of the episode where it was taken quite literally.
Episode 8 opens with Gloria Mott (Frances Conroy) at a turning point. Chatting with a psychologist, she seems poised to finally do something about her deranged son, Dandy (Finn Wittrock). Her verbal reflections are balanced with brief flashbacks. When she says, “Words had a different meaning for him, especially ‘No’,” we see images of Dandy as a child. And when the psychologist asks if there have been any recent incidents, and she replies, “Just a mother’s intuition,” we see Dora’s murder.
Escalating the tension between mother and son, Regina (Gabourey Sidibe) finally comes looking for her mother. Not believing that she’s out “buying squash” she refuses to leave until she sees her. The conflict between the Motts builds to a violent conclusion. Dandy agrees to see the psychologist if Gloria agrees to kill Regina. “If I go to the electric chair, I’m taking you to sit in my lap.” She responds by booking a trip on the Queen Mary, presumably to run away from her troubles.
“If I’m unbalanced, it’s your fault,” Dandy accuses Gloria. Here, we learn a little more about the family’s incestuous past. Gloria sighs, “I have no more love to give, you’ve tapped me out.” However, when Dandy points a gun at his own head, she cries, “I can’t go on if you kill yourself.” I wouldn’t dare spoil what happens next, but it’s pretty great.
Even though a lot happens with this subplot, more time is actually spent on others. We join the rest of the cast looking for Ma Petite in the woods. When Jimmy (Evan Peters) delivers her bloody dress to Elsa (Jessica Lange), it is assumed that she was carried away by a wild animal, “bones and all.” In one of her god-like declarations, Elsa cries, “We will mourn her. Christmas is cancelled!”
For some reason by which I don’t feel fully satisfied, Ethel (Kathy Bates) chooses this moment to confront Elsa about her lies. She’s over them, to the point of wanting to kill her. Elsa: “I’ll be judged by my actions, not my words.” Ethel: “You broke my heart in two.” When a bullet goes astray and shoots a hole in one of Elsa’s wooden legs, we (and Ethel) learn a little more about Elsa’s origins. This scene is talky and goes on and on. If it’s intended to build suspense before its violent conclusion, it fails.
If up until now we’ve been in doubt about Elsa’s intentions, we no longer are. It’s like she said about actions and words, and in episode 8 the two come together. Elsa is no longer sympathetic. In fact, I don’t know that I can forgive her for what happens to one of my favorite characters, and one of the best performances, this season. For me, though, this development speeds by. When the repercussions of events usually take episodes to unfold, this one seems resolved in one. And it’s not equal to the importance of the characters in the overall story.
In the final subplot of the episode, Desiree (Angela Bassett) finally gets some scenery to chew on, and she’s fabulous. Whipping the “freak women” into a frenzy, she leads them to Penny’s father’s house to exact revenge for what he did to his daughter. Before they go, she commands, “Put the soup on simmer… loooow flame.” As delicious as these scenes are, I’m annoyed that Madison (Emma Roberts) is suddenly the voice of reason on the show. I never pictured her as the moral conscience, but she not only talks them down, but also attempts to spread good cheer to a distraught Jimmy.
Woven into the last half of the episode, Elsa takes a “recruiting” trip to Miami. I guess when a freak leaves the show, by whatever means, one has to replace him/her. And this is a freak who’s been missing: a fat lady. Elsa encourages Barbara to join the show, “You are a hedonist, a lover of the physical world.” Well, a lover of food, that’s for sure. “Every pound of that glorious jiggle will be cheered and celebrated,” she promises her. Once she arrives, she tries to calm Jimmy by telling him what comfort he can find by nestling in her ample bosom.
Overall, episode 8 was wildly uneven, with scenes that dragged to eternity, as well as major developments that passed in the wink of an eye. On a bad day, though, I’ll still take American Horror Story over most other TV show. As any horror fan knows, bad does not mean that it’s not still entertaining. I have to wonder, as the season passes the halfway mark, and with the addition of this new character… it would not be out of character for American Horror Story Freak Show to end this year with… a fat lady singing. Yes, then it would be over.