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American Horror Story: Freak Show – Magical Thinking Review

"Serviceable yet Underwhelming"

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American Horror Story: Freak Show returns from a brief hiatus with another not so frightening hour. The episode doesn’t waste time in expanding on the more shocking development of the previous hour by showing how Jimmy’s lobster hands ended up in the morbidity museum and it goes on to tell the harrowing aftermath of the event. Jimmy’s situation, along with the arrival of a newcomer to the side show make up the bulk of the narrative for this serviceable, yet underwhelming episode.

Neil Patrick Harris makes his American Horror Story debut appearance as Chester, an aspiring magician with a troubling background, who catches Bette and Dot’s fancy. Harris, whose wiry frame and eager face add to the character’s peculiar nature, does a fine job playing the traumatized veteran. Chester’s anxieties are odd and disturbing and perfectly in tune to Freak Show’s atmosphere. However, the developing relationship between him and Bette and Dot (which dominates much of his story) feels entirely forced. Though not always feeling like a cohesive aspect of the series and at times rushed and underwritten, Bette and Dot’s story has been a highlight of the season. The two are rounded, complex people (by American Horror Story standards) that have gone through definable character arcs. The sisters’ journey from resentful, and disturbed siblings to the accepting and open women we see in this hour has been one of the few story arcs in the show to be fulfilled with a modicum of success. Despite the lack of screen time, it has been relatively easy to invest in their narrative and care what happens to them. So, any episode that pays a substantial amount of attention to them is a treat, even if their story isn’t particularly terrifying.

One thing that has always been a part of their narrative is their sheltered nature. The twins have spent their entire life hidden away deprived of human interaction, and from the very first moment we see them, the topic of their sexuality became a key aspect of the twin’s storyline. Their lack of experience coupled with their eagerness to connect to someone else and branch out has driven both Bette and Dot to seek out companionship in questionable ways. Their sexual and worldly inexperience underlined every one of their experiences, which created anticipation for the inevitable moment of their deflowering. The twins’ quest to lose their virginity is not a surprising development, but the way it is dealt with leaves much to be desired. There was so much build up to this moment that, even though it was weird and disturbing in a way only American Horror Story can achieve (I mean, as if conjoined twin sex wasn’t different enough. They had to throw in a PTSD sufferer with a metal plate in his head and a ventriloquist dummy) it did not live up to the expectations the set up for itself. That being said, the actors sure do their all to sell the story and hand in wonderful performances. As Chester, Harris is appropriately skittish, nervous and suspicious hinting at something slightly of and sinister under all that southern charm. And Sarah Paulson is always a delight as both Bette and Dot.

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Though the sudden joining of Chester and the twins feels somewhat off, it is what comes after their encounter, or because of it that proves more promising. Dandy is still obsessed with the twins and incensed by their attraction to Chester and his fury will no doubt inspire him to lash out in an interesting way. And the final scene Chester shares with Marjorie threatens the twins’ safety and promises more conflict for these particular players.

There were also interesting developments outside of the twins/Chester story arc involving now hand-less Jimmy getting broken out of jail by Dell and Amazon Eve. Dell gets a last opportunity to redeem himself slightly before being confronted by Desiree about Ma Petite’s death and does finally act like a father to poor Jimmy. And Elsa, once again, lays down the law by killing yet another troupe member. This time it is Dell, so I’m guessing not many people will be upset about it, but it was a very good moment.

Freak Show continues to depict chilling, and intriguing scenarios that are effective at times, but don’t really amount to much. The show does disturbing and even shocking things, but they inevitably become moments, brief instances of interest strung together by a barely there plot. They don’t always come together to create a complete narrative, let alone a horrific tale. After pushing it to the background for a couple of episodes the overarching story of the town of Jupiter (or at least the establishment of the town, i.e. the police) versus the freak show makes a definitive comeback this episode, but is that enough to bring the season together? Can the series recover in the last few hours to provide something even slightly narratively satisfying? I don’t know. At this point, I just enjoy the characters and stories I am invested in (which are still a few) and don’t pay much attention to the ones I don’t.

What did you think?

 

Final Thoughts

  • Those ventriloquists are always sketchy.
  • Nice to see American Horror Story favorite, Jamie Brewer back as Marjorie.
  • Amazon Eve is the best.
  • We need more Angela Bassett!
Rating
6.0
Pros
  • Fun Times with Bette & Dot
  • Chester is Effectively Creepy
  • Marjorie is Disturbing
Cons
  • Underwhelming Narrative
  • Not Enough Desiree
  • Do we still care about Jimmy?

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