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It became very clear early on in American Horror Story: Freak Show that the season had a Jimmy Darling problem. As soon as the writers had him speechifying over a dead policeman’s body about the importance of their “freak” family and how they all need to protect one another, we knew exactly what the character was all about and what his purpose in the story was. And quickly following that, in the second episode, the character of Jimmy Darling became a tool with which the writers could espouse the heavy-handed and familiar themes of the marginalized few versus the rest of society. Instead of introducing his issues and the show’s larger thematic objectives in an organic, character-driven way (like they were able to do with Ethel) they opted to shoehorn in the whole “freak” complex in a way that felt much too forced and expected. While Evan Peters did a fine job with some of the hokey material and portrayed the idealistic and noble character as best he could, the character still felt more like a collection of ideals and tropes than an actual person.
He was the hero, the pillar or decency and goodness that could stand up against the more corrupt figures in the freak show (Elsa, Dell) but whose motivations and story were much too predictable to be particularly engaging. And with the progression of the season his role on the series did shift and begin to change, but unfortunately it became a drawback instead of an improvement. Jimmy has gone from clichéd caricature to even worse clichéd caricature as he went from the upstanding, yet murderous “freak” to a drunken mess of a person, graduating the character from occasional nuisance to downright hindrance. Not that being a total cliché is a terrible offense, the entire cast is composed of a variety of familiar character types (as is the standard for American Horror Story) but none have been so tedious as poor Jimmy.
First of all, Evan Peters’ performance has waned since the beginning of the season, the young actor can pull off being the naïve and kind idealist, but when the show calls for him to do more emotionally demanding material, he is not up to par. Additionally, his drunken acting is not effective at all. Not only do I never forget I am watching an actor perform (which I am able to do with more difficult characters on the show like Bette and Dot and Dell), it is not a particularly good performance. Are we supposed to be intimidated by Jimmy’s drunken ways? Are we supposed to buy that he intimidates the other troupe members with this behavior? I’m not, and I don’t.
Second of all, his character transformation was so sudden and underdeveloped that it creates absolutely no impact whatsoever. It lacks any drama or tension when this character, which originated as a pile of ideas and tropes to begin with, suddenly devolves into such a hackneyed mess. The story beats are too familiar and predictable that it was hard to really care for Jimmy in the first half of the series, now we are supposed to feel for him even more since his mother died? I can’t and I won’t.
Lastly, this all wouldn’t be such a big deal if the writers treated Jimmy as they do most everyone else in the cast and reduce his presence in the show every once in a while. For some reason he has been at the center of a major plotline in almost every episode. Freak Show is suffering from Jimmy Darling fatigue and we cannot take it anymore. Take a break from him! Go and explore the other, criminally underserved characters like Desiree or Paul or Bette and Dot, or literally anybody else. It is the preponderance of Jimmy material, how the writers seem to shove him down our throats that weaken the series and this episode especially. Because without all the Jimmy scenes, this would have been a pretty interesting hour, not perfect, certainly not great, but an entertaining hour nonetheless.
After missing entirely from last week’s episode, Bette and Dot are back with a truly heartbreaking and emotionally engaging arc. Having come so close to a possible separation made the twins evaluate their relationship and brought them even closer than ever. Again, the series and the writers play fast and lose with the character development, even though most of the twins’ storyline has focused on their conflict with one another and their own desires for independence and individuality, there wasn’t a lot of in depth exploration of the issues. However, this is a great example for when good acting can overcome underwritten material. Sarah Paulson has been a bright spot throughout the season and in this episode provides an incredibly real and devastating performance as the two sisters. With so many scenes of just the two of them talking to each other, and nothing else happening, it is outstanding how engaging they are. The fact that Paulson does make it easy for us watching to believe that there are really two women talking to each other and forget about all the technical work that a scene like this must involve is quite outstanding. They even manage to make Jimmy watchable for a scene, where Dot (with the help of her sister) tries to seduce the drunken fool. Believe me, Dot, you are too good for him.
Dandy’s story arc was also a compelling one and served as a fun focus for the episode, even with all the killing he does. Now, Dandy is as much a cliché as Jimmy is, but the combination of Finn Wittrock’s performance and the heavily stylized look and language of the Mott family make for a much more intriguing character. There is a wink behind everything he says and does and even though the idea of a character that revels in doing such despicable things and exploiting his privilege in such a way is not entirely original, it is executed at a much higher level than that of Jimmy’s struggle. Though I could do without some of the ostentatious dialogue, of which Wittrock does a good job with, but does become tiresome quickly, and only serves to underline the same point over and over, the rest of his narrative is very amusing. In this episode alone he gets to disgust us with a homemade two headed puppet made with Gloria’s dead body and the head of the “Avon lady whose name I don’t know”, shock us by manipulating a police officer into killing Regina, and disturb us by somehow killing half a dozen housewives and leaving them floating in a literal pool of blood. Dandy was starting to become a bit of a joke recently, always whining and bringing out his spoiled child side, but this hour asserts his threatening and powerful nature. Though I couldn’t really be mad at him for accusing and possibly framing Jimmy for his own crimes, that was a great move. He did warn Jimmy he would go after him.
“Tupperware Massacre Party” had the potential to be an entertaining and involving episode but all the focus and attention spent on exploring Jimmy Darling’s plight limits its potential considerably. The frustrating focus on Jimmy is quickly becoming one of the worst aspects of the season and is affecting the enjoyment of the series in a substantial way. Unfortunately, there are no signs that the writers are interested in pulling away focus from it. Though story threads involving the Tattler twins and Dandy offer intriguing moments for the hour, it isn’t enough to make us forget Jimmy’s inebriated ramblings.
What did you think?