I’ve read some favorable reviews “Blood Bath” and some disparaging ones, and I have to say, when “Blood Bath” ended I said out loud, “That wasn’t so bad.” “Blood Bath” was definitely one of those filler episodes that focuses on the primary characters “inner turmoil” or whatever and culminates in several deaths of minor characters. That being said, there were some good parts, although I wouldn’t say they were good so much as they were “tolerable”. I had a revelation last night; American Horror Story is successful in that it can begin a scene that makes you lean forward a bit in your seat and pay full attention until the show cuts to commercials. But as far as keeping you at the edge of your seat the entire episode, let alone series, through, AHS usually fails.
Let’s start with the good.
Ethel and Jimmy
Ethel confronts Elsa in this episode and in a very unlike AHS manner, their previous confrontation has come to a head and Elsa murders Ethel by throwing a knife into her eye-socket.
(Before I go any further, let’s note that Ethel’s death at the beginning of the episode is very similar to Gloria’s death at the end.)
This culmination of threats and antagonism between the two reaches a nice plateau here, and it’s a riot seeing Elsa and Stanley stage Ethel’s death, and even the subsequent funeral, with Elsa dramatically sobbing on her knees, is canny to the core. Jimmy’s reaction and grieving process is particularly notable. Evan Peters is killing it this season with his character, and I have to admit that every time Jimmy enters the scene he draws my attention and I am also completely invested in his character’s angst. He takes to the bottle like any carni would having lost his poor mum, and even though I am somewhat tired of he and Esmerelda’s somewhat phony and cheesy relationship, I loved the scene when he’s drunk and tells her off when she’s only trying to help him. I really felt her pain in that scene; having the person you love hit the bottle and then refuse to get his act together to run away with you. I don’t know. Maybe I’m in a romantic mood this holiday season.
ANYWAY. The point is, finally someone has died. RIP Ethel! You will be missed. And I actually feel Kathy Bates leaving has marked some sad transitory moment of my life now. *wipes tear away from eye* American Horror Story Season 4 is coming to a close…
Elsa kills Ethel, we know that, but what precipitated this was Elsa’s distress at knowing Ma Petite is dead. Ethel claims Elsa has crocodiles tears, but who knows? Maybe her grieving is sincere and maybe it’s not. Was Ma Petite simply Elsa’s trustful servant, or was she her friend?
Regardless, we learn more about Elsa’s back story, namely, how her amputated legs were tended to by an artisan prosthetist in Germany, who crafted her the best and most beautiful legs. Whatever. It’s pointless and this flashback leads to nothing.
But it does seem rather sinister that Elsa helped Stanley severe Ethel’s head off by tying it to a chain and running her car off the road. Now that’s just disrespectful to the dead! Even if she did kill her.
Later, Elsa visits a wellness spa and finds an immensely overweight woman whom Elsa recruits to join the freak show.
One comment about the freak show: does it not seem like these people never work? I mean, how is the show continuing? Other than sporadically singing on stage, the freaks don’t do anything and no one seems to visit! When I first started watching this season, I was under the impression that there would be new characters visiting the show and we would essentially get a back stage pass to an old-school carnival. That hasn’t happened. All we get is characters walking around moping and doing nothing.
Anyway, Elsa brings the large woman (Barbara) back to the carnival and tells Jimmy that he can be sad over his mother’s death but putting his face into her breasts or something while she eats. It’s fucking weird and crazy. However, later Jimmy actually does drunkenly cry into her breasts, so I guess that worked out after all. This new character is interesting and I’m genuinely curious to see where the show is taking this…
Dandy and Gloria
Dandy gets the most characterization at Mott Manor, and a surprise visit by Regina (Gabourey Sidibe) to inquire about the disappearance of her mother brings unexpected stress to the screwed up psycho family. Gloria tells Regina that her mother is just out looking at squash at the farmer’s market or something.
Later, Dandy is in a shrink’s office looking at Rorshach’s inkblots and, of course, claiming that each one looks like bloody murder. He gets pretty pissed off that his mother tricked him into going there in the first place, and they have this big confrontation during which, Gloria reveals that she married her own cousin in order to ensure that she was wealthy, and Dandy threatens to shoot himself in the head (DO IT) but then he shoots and kills… wait for it…. Gloria instead. The End.
Except at the end, he is taking a bath in her blood. You know, just to add a little punch to the whole matricide thing.
By far the best part of the “Blood Bath” episode is when Penny and Co. (I claim dibs on nomenclature) kidnap her father, tie him to a chair, tar and feather him, and proceed to almost cut his penis off with a kitchen knife before Maggie interrupts them with her whole, “this isn’t who you guys really are” morals stuff. The point is that “Blood Bath” had some weak sauce, but it also had some juicy beef. As mentioned before, it was clearly a transition episode.
So let’s talk about “Tupperware Party Massacre”…
Tupperware Party Massacre
Dandy has been unleashed. Now that Gloria’s dead and out of the way, Dandy is reveling in his new found freedom and identity as a serial killer. Yay for him. He even gets a fortune reading from Maggie, which makes him even more certain that all will be well and his future only holds rainbows and slaughter and merriment ahead. Nothing can get in his way, except maybe Jimmy, who accosts him drunkenly claiming he knows Dandy had something to do with the clown murders. Jimmy falls down like a damn fool and Dandy swears revenge for taking the twins away from him.
This marks the point in the series that I’d like to call “the shift”. Things start getting more suspenseful and tense around this episode, and the show seems to finally be building to some inevitable and watchable conclusions. If I had to try and find similarities in our characters’ actions, I would say that in this episode at least, they are guilt and grief.
For instance, Dell tries to hang himself over his guilt from killing Ma Petite but is saved by Desiree, of all people. And let’s take Jimmy. His character is consistent now with his grief over his mother’s death getting the best of him. He’s getting worse and his descent into alcoholism nearly kills him. His inability to, uh, “perform” on the housewives is clever, a twisted take on male performance, and it is executed well and also emotionally wrenching. Who knows what would have happened to Jimmy if his mother’s ghost (or hallucination) hadn’t appeared to him and convinced him to get his shit together.
Not that things get any better for Jimmy. He gets blamed for viciously killing the housewives after Dandy kills them all (and Regina, too; a very short role for Gabourey Sadibe) and is arrested at the end of the episode. This is the first “cliff-hanger” in the season that actually got me eager to see more.
“Orphans” takes a departure from Dandy and serial killing to delve into emotional nuances and development of the characters. “Orphans” is like the sweet, sad love song of the series, and frankly, I was grateful for it.
It starts off on a dour note, with Penny’s husband Salty dying in his sleep. Penny is incredibly grief stricken and Desiree reads to her, which prompts Dell to comment that Desiree will make a wonderful mother. This is kind of sweet! Penny has a tantrum and we feel really, truly bad for her. And it only gets worse from there.
Desiree has a discussion with Elsa and learns about the freak show’s origins. Elsa’s first “recruit” for her show was Penny. And it’s not what you expect; she doesn’t manipulate Penny and use her, she actually loves her and adopts her from an orphanage the same way she would a child. Penny is like a child, too, and she has this motherly instinct. Thankfully, in this flashback a wealthy Indian man visits the show with his “pet”, Ma Petite. Elsa manages to buy Ma Petite with several cases of Dr. Pepper (a nice, ironic touch) and now Penny has a daughter-figure to care for. Elsa also gets Penny a husband, Salty. So basically Elsa has done everything for Penny, and this plot line doesn’t come off as forced, but more like a genuine surprise.
Alas, this being American Horror Story, the good times can not last forever. Elsa is forced (I guess) to leave Penny in the hands with her former sister, an alcoholic, so that she can achieve fame. The scene when Elsa must say goodbye to Penny is very sad, and touching.
Things get weird, even for American Horror Story. We kind of jump into the future, 1962 to be exact, and Penny is sent to Briarcliff, the setting for AHS Asylum. We find out that after Elsa left, Penny’s alcoholic sister had a baby, which came out deformed, and she and her husband hated it so much, that they viciously murdered and mutilated it and blamed it on Penny, who was then taken away to the asylum.
Lily Rabe, reprising her role as the administrative nun, takes Penny under her wing and puts her in charge of the library, where Penny sees a Life Magazine cover featuring Elsa, who is now a famous TV actress. The episode ends with Penny placing her hand to her cheek, as Elsa told her to do if she ever was lonely and missing her.
Guys, this was so sad! And unexpected. It was definitely the best episode yet, which is funny because it was the least “scary” episode and wasn’t trying to be grisly or shocking.
Other great moments of this episode include Desiree making a pot-roast and finding out the true past intentions of Esmerelda i.e Maggie. In one absolutely shocking scene, we discover that Jimmy has sold his lobster hands to Stanley to stay out of jail. His hands are now in a glass case.
With only two more episodes left, it’s a pleasure to see AHS Freak Show ending doing what it has always done best: presenting interconnected drama and tragedy that relates to us on a realistic level. AHS‘s best tools are its actors; therefore, when the show uses its actors appropriately by allowing them to truly bring out the inner turmoil of their characters, that’s when the show truly gets interesting. I must say that overall this season is the least horror-esque than the others, and it really does feel like it deviated away from its entire purpose of being a horror anthology series. This isn’t the worst thing though. And besides, we still have two more episodes to see what gory and f—-ed developments are in store for our poor, broken monsters.