American Horror Story: Freak Show – Edward Mordrake: Part 2 Review
The American Horror Story: Freak Show
Halloween event concludes this episode with a surprising death, the rise of a new big bad, and a cavalcade of flashbacks. The basic plot of the episode is a simple one: Mordrake continues going through the freakshow members looking for the perfect soul to add to his “coterie of freakish companions” meanwhile Twisty and Dandy’s now joined endeavors intensify considerably leading to the convergence of the two narratives. While there is a lot going on in the hour, Freak Show
maintains its deliberate story construction making for a consistent and comprehensible narrative. With a delightful mix of suspenseful moments, affecting character stories, impressive performances and plenty of off the wall, “holy shit” moments, “Edward Mordrake: Part 2” easily becomes the season’s weirdest, most bizarre episode yet, and that is a good thing. It isn’t particularly scary, but it is undeniably disturbing and haunting at times.
This is the
episode for origin stories as Mordrake goes around the freakshow basically interviewing the troupe members to see which one is the “purest” freak as if he were some kind of ghostly shrink. After a while, the whole business becomes a bit tiring (just pick a freak already, Mordrake!) but the parade of flashbacks provided by Mordrake’s inquisition is certainly intriguing to watch. Not only do we get to learn more about secondary characters like Suzy and Paul, but we also get to finally uncover two of the biggest mysteries the show had previously established. Elsa and Twisty’s flashbacks make up some of the most compelling material in the episode; each vignette artfully shot in its own distinct style and featuring captivating performances by Jessica Lange and John Carroll Lynch respectively.
It takes a skilled actor to make the monster that was Twisty into a sympathetic character, one would think it would be an impossible task, but John Carroll Lynch somehow pulls it off. Even though Twisty’s backstory is quite predictable and on the nose (he just wants to be a happy clown, guys!), the scenes come alive through Lynch’s performance. He imbues the character with enough vulnerability and innocence to make us feel for him, while still retaining some of the unhinged, threatening energy that made Twisty such a disturbing villain in those first few episodes. His demise does happen much sooner than we anticipated, which is a thrilling prospect and brings in the era of Dandy, whom we have seen is potentially a much more frightening threat than Twisty ever was and the truest “freak” of them all.
As for Elsa’s insane origin story, it is so incredibly audacious and over the top that I have to commend it. Who could have ever predicted that Jessica Lange, two-time Academy Award winner, would wind up playing a German dominatrix who gets her legs brutally amputated in a sick, messed up snuff film? I mean, that is just straight up insanity and it is all kinds of awesome. Who comes up with this madness? Let’s face it, if this was any other show, this development would probably be deemed too ‘out there’ or weird or ridiculous, but not in American Horror Story
. I don’t know any other television show that is as daring as this series, and while not every risk it takes pays off wonderfully or makes complete sense, the fact that the writers are willing to go to those places with such unabashed gusto hast to be admired. Plus, not only do they keep writing such crazy storylines but they also keep getting these amazingly gifted and acclaimed performers to act out their sick fantasies. It is truly splendid.
Lange tackles the peculiar subject matter with great commitment and completely sells the character, even her German sounds convincing enough (admittedly for a non-German speaker). The special effects to make her look younger are absolutely flawless and don’t take away from the acting taking place. Also, the scenes are seriously depraved and unsettling; the brothel setting was richly rendered in all its seedy glory and the latter “snuff film” sequence was effectively creepy and upsetting. Despite the extreme nature of this backstory, it certainly goes along with what we know of Elsa, informs the character and complicates her in an intriguing way. The strange films she makes with her “freaks” and the occasional guest don’t just recall her dreams of being a movie star, but also recall her early days in Germany, and any illusions that she might have had a desirable and glamorous life in Germany (before she joined the freakshow) is totally shattered. Elsa just became that much more interesting and compelling with this revelation, which shows how invested the writers are at developing and exploring characters this season. In the four episodes aired we have gotten significant backstories for a range of characters in the series allowing for the plot itself to take a step back and make the people the center of attention.
And even with the restrained and linear narrative style of Freak Show
, the writers are speeding up the story quite a bit, especially with this episode. Less than halfway through the season and they have already gotten rid of who we thought would be the big villain and established his possible replacements (Dandy, of course, Stanley, and Dell, perhaps?) as well as resolved the major conflict of the “freaks” vs. the town of Jupiter, at least seemingly so. Though the final moments of the episode read like a fitting reconciliation between the “freaks” and the citizens of Jupiter, Florida, we know that isn’t the case, not four episodes into the season at least. No, the seemingly happy conclusion is surely the calm before the storm. Jimmy is not at all happy with the way the police has carried their investigation and makes it known and Dell doesn’t seem too pleased with the renewed interest the town has on their sideshow attraction. There are still many storylines and characters left to explore and we can’t wait to see what is next.
What did you think?
- The producers surely used up the entire visual effects budget for those young Elsa flashbacks so we get a very limited appearance by Bette and Dot (sadface), which continues the growing tension between Elsa and the twins and leaves the story open for further development. Bette is a sweetheart as always.
- Almost no Desiree and absolutely no Gloria, this is an outrage. We need more Angela Bassett and Fances Conroy always!
- This episode does neglect some characters for the benefit of exploring the various backstories, but I don’t mind it. The stories depicted were engaging enough for the hour and deep enough to warrant the focus. As long as the characters that were pushed over get their due, then it is worth giving certain characters the backseat once in a while.