The fourth installment of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story anthology, Freak Show, has begun and just one episode in, my biggest fear has reared its ugly head: clowns. But regardless of how scary the killer clown is, Freak Show is already so much more than a “scary” show. It is a mirror of society, showing how harmful it can be to feel ostracized just because you are considered “different”. As Ryan Murphy told CBS News, “I have always felt like a freak, from two years of age on,” explained the openly gay Murphy. “It really is a story of prejudice. And it is a story about people who are not the norm … who just want to be appreciated and seen for who they are inside and outside.” If the first episode is any indication, Freak Show will certainly present important moral issues, especially about accepting the differences in all of us.
The Siamese Surprise
Freak Show starts out innocently enough. It is 1952 in Jupiter, Florida and a seemingly nice milk man is making a delivery to an old farm house. Only once he gets to the porch, he realizes that his last milk delivery was never brought inside and has since curdled. Of course, the milk man decides to be a good Samaritan (unlike me who would run far away) and goes inside the house to investigate. Once inside, he finds that his customer has been murdered. For some Godforsaken reason he then proceeds to investigate the rest of the house. When he hears something in the closet, he is not prepared for what he will find!
Cut to the hospital, where the milk man’s discovery is being wheeled through the halls into a heavily guarded hospital room, much to the shock/horror of the passersby. One candy striper, Penny (played by Grace Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter), is particularly disgusted by the hospital’s new patient(s). That is, until a Cruella De Vil-looking woman named Fräulein Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange), puts Penny in her place. Elsa owns a local Freak Show that she affectionately calls “Fräulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities”, and she is particularly interested in who is behind the doors. She also, somehow, convinces Penny to come live with them at the Show.
Elsa (who has disguised herself as a candy striper) makes her way into the hospital room and discovers what everyone is making such a fuss about; the mysterious patient (or patients), are Siamese twins named Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson). Immediately, Elsa wants the women for her show. However, although they share a body, and many organs, Bette and Dot have two distinct personalities. As the twins listen to Elsa’s pitch, they are able to speak telepathically to each other. Whereas Bette is more open to joining the show, in order to get out of their small town life and be a celebrity, Dot is more hesitant and reserved. She realizes what a “freak show” entails, and doesn’t trust Elsa has their best intentions at heart. But, unfortunately for them, Elsa may be their only hope… especially because she saw right through their fake story about a mysterious man killing their mother. As it turns out, they stole the story from a movie and it was actually Bette who committed the act; their mom wanted them to hide in the house for the rest of their lives and Bette finally snapped.
Using threats like “the electric chair” and “separation” against the twins, Elsa is able to convince Bette and Dot to be the new headlining act of her show. She hopes this will boost attendance. But, since the twins left the hospital before police could question them about their mother’s murder, the Freak Show may soon have to deal with unwanted attention from the authorities.
The Killer Clown
Now comes my least favorite part of the episode, the introduction of the killer clown (basically a mix between John Wayne Gacy and It). A young couple are picnicking and fooling around by Lake Okeechobee, when all of a sudden a creepy looking clown with a wickedly large smile appears out of the woods. At first, everything seems to be okay and the clown does a little magic. However, why this girl didn’t run immediately upon seeing a random clown walking toward her is BEYOND ME. Life-saving note: if a clown appears out of nowhere, he/she is coming to kill you so flee immediately. Of course, the clown ends up turning on the couple and knocks them out with his juggling clubs. When the girl wakes up, the evil clown is stabbing her boyfriend to death, but she doesn’t get so lucky; the clown abducts her. Not long after that, the clown breaks into a farm house, kills the husband and wife, and abducts their son.
The clown takes his victims back to a dilapidated bus (think the bus from Into The Wild), and puts them in cages. He starts making balloon animals, but pops them accidentally. Maybe he wasn’t the best clown and that is what set him over the edge?
Frozen‘s Elsa Isn’t The Only Elsa In Town
First Bette and Dot’s mother was murdered, now one half of the picnicking couple is dead and the other is missing. Jupiter, Florida is in an uproar, as shown through the microcosm of the local diner. It is here that we get our first glimpse into what makes Elsa tick. She has come to the diner to clip movie reviews from the newspaper. She is extremely passionate about show business and has strong opinions about everything form Hitchcock films to The Garden of Allah, or “box office poison.” This love of Hollywood and fame is what pushes her to continue with the freak show, even though it isn’t doing well financially. In fact, it is doing so poorly her landlord wants to kick everyone out in order for a Church revival to take over in the open field. Elsa uses sexual favors to get him to change his mind.
While at the diner, Elsa comes across Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters), a member of her show. He is obviously unhappy at work and is flirting with a pretty waitress. However, Elsa makes sure to remind him that she has big plans for them; she intends to make the freak show a destination attraction. Consider her Walt Disney. Elsa also makes sure to reinforce the notion that Jimmy’s deformity will probably make the waitress run for the hills, and potentially get him put in an asylum (throwback reference to Season 2). Will it though? In a flashback, we see Jimmy using his deformity, a lobster-like hand, to pleasure bored housewives. Perhaps the waitress wouldn’t mind it? Jimmy refuses to take Elsa’s bait and tells her he has accepted his fate in an asylum.
Obviously, Jimmy doesn’t like being labeled a “freak” and is ready to take his chances out in regular society. While Elsa may be the ring leader of the show, Jimmy is its heart, a figure the rest of the company rally around. In order to keep her show intact, Elsa needs to keep Jimmy happy.
Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome
The biggest star gets the biggest tent, that is the first lesson Dot and Bette learn when they enter through the gates of Elsa’s Freak Show. While Bette, the show business aficionado, takes this as a challenge, Dot sees this as another nail in her coffin. The only thing that makes her perk up about her unfortunate new life is laying eyes on the dreamy Jimmy Darling. Her adoration for Jimmy goes to an even higher level after an un-willkommen police detective comes to the tents to bring Dot and Bette in. In order to protect the women, Jimmy murders the detective and enlists the rest of the “freaks”, including the actual tallest and smallest women in the world, to help him dispose of the body. In a powerful funeral speech, Jimmy vows to kill any other person that treats them poorly… all as the creepy clown watches from a distance.
Meanwhile, Elsa, her right-hand woman Ethel Darling (the bearded woman and Jimmy’s mother), and Pepper (from American Horror Story: Asylum!) are excited that their latest show sold out. Unbeknownst to them, a rich woman named Gloria Mott (Frances Conroy) and her son purchased all of the tickets so they could watch the show alone. While the show starts off as a “Freak Show”, it soon dovetails into a showcase for Elsa’s singing (David Bowie’s “Life On Mars“). As it turns out, Elsa performed at cabarets in pre-war Berlin and is trying to use the freak show to become a star. I wonder if she ever ran into Sally Bowles?
When the show ends, the Motts approach Elsa with an offer to purchase Bette and Dot for $15,000. When she refuses, they insult her singing and say that was the most “freakish” thing they saw at the show. As the episode ends, a hurt Elsa proves she is a “freak” herself, both of her legs are prostheses.
Jessica Lange Quote Of The Episode: When the man who leases her land gets mad that she called him “Herr” instead of “Mr.”, Elsa replies, “You Americans are so sensitive! You won the war!”
Creepiest Moment: Any part involving the clown, especially when he first emerges from the woods. NOPE! (I feel like that is going to be the running theme of my recaps). Also, the fact that Elsa drugged Penny and took a video of her engaging in sexual acts as blackmail for her to never leave the show.
Note For Later: The writers made it clear that Bette and Dot do NOT share a heart, but do share a reproductive system. I imagine this will come up again soon.