Last week’s episode, “Edward Mordrake Part I”, was notable for introducing two new characters: Maggie, a get-rich-quick con-artist attempting to procure a freak to sell to a museum of oddities, and Edward Mordrake, a ghost/former freak haunting Elsa’s carnival. We learned that Ethel is dying of cirrhosis of the liver and only has 6 months to live. Despite doctor’s orders she hits the bottle and tells Bette and Dot about the urban legend that freak-shows shouldn’t perform on Halloween night because a certain dead Englishman named Edward Mordrake, a two-face, will curse everyone. Last week’s episode ended on a sort of cliff hanger, with Mordrake evoking painful memories from Ethel and claiming he was looking for a new freak to release and bring to the after-life with him.
As expected, last night’s episode continued with Mordrake visiting the freaks and learning of their pasts. We learned the past of several freaks, and got to know how Twisty became Twisty. At the same time, the “friendship” grows between Maggie and Jimmy, and Jimmy still swears revenge for the death of his little friend Meep, getting all up in the cop’s face. However last night’s “Halloween” episode was over-hyped and fell completely flat by the end. Characters appeared one dimensional and there were few genuine scares or twists to speak of. Talk about anti-climactic. Where shall we begin…?
Edward Mordrake is an awesome urban legend, and the flashbacks of Mondrake with the freakish, whispering face on the back of his head were creepyas hell. Wes Bentley plays him amazingly, quite dapper and austere. One of the final scenes in episode 3, when Mordrake visits the dying Ethel, was well-executed with powerful acting, as Ethel relayed her story about Dell taking advantage of her when she was young. The scenes about the birth of her son Jimmy were heart-wrenching, and Mordrake’s haunting presence was a perfect plot catalyst for Ethel’s tragic story. It was extremely disturbing how his evil face whispered to him all the damn time, and I loved how Bentley plays off Edward’s annoyance and revulsion at his own dichotomous nature. In general, the writing this season seemed to have improved from last year’s. The dialogue gave the characters more depth and complexity.
That was last week. Last night’s episode left much to be desired. Mordrake haunted the other freaks and somehow encouraged them to also reveal their painful pasts to him. These segments were all fine. But when he visited Elsa the entire flashback of her working as a sadist in a Nazi sex house came off forced and phony. I didn’t feel anything for the character, even as Lange vented and cried. The issue wasn’t that I wasn’t sympathetic to her incredulous story of having her legs cut off by a chain-saw for a snuff film… the issue was that I simply did not care. It was annoying that the show tried to shock us for the sheer objective of being shocking; in the end the entire subplot was completely dull and pointless.
Speaking of Elsa, during last night’s episode we were reminded quite randomly and briefly that Elsa has beef with Bette and Dot, essentially jealous of their performances, which is something we had forgotten since last week. This just goes to show how roundabout and unfocused the series is becoming.
Maggie and Jimmy
Last week, Maggie and her accomplice Stanley appeared to be one in the same. They were both happy to travel to Florida and capture a freak to bring back and sell to a failing museum of horrors attraction. (A reoccurring theme is the downfall of freak shows and a cultural change in American in general, I guess). Having learned that a museum pays handsomely for the discarded remains and cadavers of freaks, Maggie disguised herself as Esmeralda, a clairvoyant fortune teller, and asked Elsa for a job. But soon Esmeralda warmed up to Jimmy, even defending him while bullying a cop, and they rode off together into the night all 1950’s hottie-style. A love story between the two was certainly on the horizon, and we saw Maggie reluctantly following through with Stanley’s plan after she understood that it meant killing Bette and Dot. (We also learned that Stanley was gay and has a rather problematic and most likely shocking abnormality going on with his privates.)
I was rather surprised when Maggie was able to trick Elsa through her impressive performance telling Elsa’s future. I had thought Elsa was too cunning to fall for it but apparently Maggie was able to hit the nail on the head of Elsa’s past, as well as give her hope. Unlike Lange’s other characters on AHS, Elsa doesn’t always seem to be the sharpest tool in the shed.
More recently, Maggie is used as a foil to Jimmy such as when he tracked down Twisty the Clown into the woods and they were both captured and almost killed. Jimmy becomes a hero after Twisty dies when Mordrake takes his soul. Now the town’s people of Jupiter consider Jimmy a hero, even though he didn’t kill Twisty himself. They visit the carnival with snacks thanking the freaks and it seems like everything from here on out will be just hunky dory (NOT).
Bette and Dot appear randomly and seem pretty jealous of Maggie, because they have a crush on Jimmy, again reminding us of a plot point that we had forgotten two episodes ago.
Ethel and Dell
Last week, Ethel’s impending death dominated this show. After her doctor tells her that she only has six months to live, she is grateful for his kindness and treating her with respect, solemnly saying how her life would have worked out better if she had known him earlier. Through Ethel we learn more about Dell, particularly how he’s a total sell-out and will trade in his carni friends in order to make a buck. This was the case when Ethel was giving birth to Jimmy and Dell charged people to see the “birth of a freak”. AHS did a good job not so much exploiting this for campiness but actually allowing Ethel to feel remorse and guilt in allowing the heartless Dell to exploit her child.
This week, Ethel was completely absent from the show, furthering the feeling of disjointedness and randomness.
Dandy and Twisty
Twisty’s personal story, as told to Mordrake, was one the episode’s most poignant subplots. We find out that Twisty was once a mentally-ill/good-hearted clown who loved performing clown things for the kiddies. However, a couple of cruel circus dwarves tormented him and spread rumors that he was a pedophile, ruining his life and future clown-dreams (if he had any) of bringing happiness to children . Twisty tried to kill himself with a shotgun, which ruined the bottom half of his face, and then he went on a killing spree in order to kidnap some kiddies so he could perform for them in his backwoods trailer, because that’s what makes kids really happy. He even kidnapped a babysitter for them, which seems like an after-thought, something the writers added later after realizing they had to explain why the clown would kidnap a beautiful young woman as well.
Mordrake considers Twisty to be so dark and sinister and unapologetic for his actions that he is “the one”, so Mordrake touches and kills him, bringing him to the other-side with all the other dead ghost-freaks.
Does this mean Twisty is gone forever? Perhaps. In fact, hopefully, since if Twisty comes back to life it would mean Freakshow is just like Coven, with characters rising from the dead every which way and with no provocation or reason to do so.
Thankfully, if Twisty really is gone forever, it wouldn’t mean no more clowns this season. Dandy has single-handedly taken Twisty’s place, donning a clown suit and Twisty’s bottom face mask, killing his maid and grinning with a satisfied look of “I’ve-finally-discovered-myself” elation. This was all very predictable, so no surprises there.
This is the period of AHS when the show begins to lose track of any semblance of a plot and nosedives into nonsensical exploitative territory. I don’t know why it has to be this way. How hard is it to keep a simple narrative afloat and build suspense? Just because you throw a bunch of gruesome, gross stuff at the wall doesn’t mean it’s all going to stick. Horror is only scary if you build toward it, and the audience is only invested if the characters seem genuine and real, not like voodoo dolls that you stick pins into for the hell of it. But similar to what happened during last year’s Coven, I refuse to lose hope so quickly. AHS, it’s not too late to turn it all around! Make us care about the characters, and we will be with you the rest of the journey.