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American Horror Story: Freak Show – Massacres and Matinees Review

Dandy The second episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show introduces us to a couple of new additions to the sideshow troupe and intensifies the friction between the town of Jupiter and its new residents. While things aren’t as harmonious as they could be within the troupe, Dandy and Twisty initiate what could be the beginning of a sick and twisted friendship. “Massacres and Matinees” is an entertaining hour of Freak Show, not without its faults. While the high camp aspect of the story is a lot of fun, and the episode mines amusing horror and suspense form Twisty and his escapades, it doesn’t do as well with the Jimmy storyline. Mired by clunky writing and shamelessly unsubtle dialogue, the storyline overstates the series’ central conflict and themes in a tiresome way. Look, we are all excited that Evan Peters gets to talk this season, and he does a great job with the material given, but his character doesn’t need to spell out his motivation at all times. Some of his dialogue is no cringe-y and obvious, that it just completely diminishes whatever impact the story might have on the audience. The show has clearly established the main thematic throughline in its premiere; it isn’t necessary for Jimmy to spout lines like, “They don’t even know us. If they just got to know us they would see we’re just like them,” constantly, endlessly reiterating the series’ main thesis. If at least half of the hackneyed dialogue was left out, the story thread would have been much more effective, because it did have its moments. The scene in the dinner, though not terribly original, was an enjoyable use of the eclectic “freaks” and a nice view into each of their personalities. And the final moments featuring Meep were surprisingly affecting and struck on an emotional level despite the overwrought drama that came before it. Much credit goes to Ben Woolf, who plays Meep, and managed to create a sympathetic character with very little material. His general affability (hard to do when your defining characteristic is that you like to bite precious animals’ heads off) and kind face endeared us to him making his visceral screams as he gets attacked absolutely gut wrenching. It is sad to see him go, despite not really getting the opportunity to get to know the character (somebody has to be first one to go). With multiple threats now encroaching on the freak show, it can be safely assumed that the troupe numbers will continue to dwindle, hopefully the supporting cast will be given more to do than just being cannon fodder throughout the season. I expressed my concern for the special cast of “freaks” the show has employed in the premiere review. Though they do add a nice dose of authenticity to the whole thing, their involvement could err on the side of exploitation, especially if they aren’t given more rounded characters to play. The way Meep was disposed of so quickly doesn’t inspire much faith in the writers’ intentions to elevate the characters from mere props to significant players in the narrative. That said, Illustrated man and Amazon Eve are shaping up to be somewhat interesting personalities the writers might explore more thoroughly in coming episodes. Dell-&-Des “Massacres and Matinees” did focus plenty of time on newcomer Del Toledo played by Michael Chiklis and right off the bat he is the worst. His addition to the sideshow injects an engaging sense of conflict to the inner workings of the troupe. He is gruff and hateful and obnoxious, yet because Chiklis is a skilled actor who instills humanity and gravitas to the characters he plays, Dell does not come off as a one-dimensional villain. There are shadings to his character that make him tolerable, even fun to watch. His contentious relationship with Jimmy is interesting enough and sure to grow complicated as the season progresses. His wife, Desiree (Angela Bassett) however, is quite underdeveloped in this hour. She certainly does make an impression when she first arrives and reveals her unique physique, and Bassett plays her with an irresistible vivaciousness, but her presence in the episode was a cruel tease that left me wanting more. Bassett is so clearly enjoying this role and is obviously willing to go to insane places, as seen in the flashbacks, that I hope they do much more with her. She is a dynamic performer who was a bit underused in Coven and it would be a shame if she were to be only featured as a supporting character that is always at the ready with a sassy remark or two. She deserves better than that. With a cast so vast it is difficult to give every player sufficient attention and material and give the characters compelling story arcs and character development. American Horror Story doesn’t always follow through with character stories; it usually gets swept up by the audaciousness of the narrative and never bothers to work in intriguing character growth. And while the insanity of the plot and the ridiculousness of the dialogue/situations have bolstered underwhelming characters in previous seasons of the show (especially Coven), it is so much more satisfying and rewarding when the writers invest in their characters. Despite all the narrative problems, and story issues Asylum had, the characters (at least the main ones: Lana, Jude, Kit) we so well drawn and given such compelling arcs that the show reached unprecedented emotional depths, making for a memorable season of television. Freak Show is only in its second episode, but is already displaying troublesome faults in its character development. Though the overall narrative seems to be taking a more contemplative pace than previous seasons, there are moments that feel rushed and underdeveloped. Meep’s sad demise came much too quickly to truly connect, and Dot’s sudden personality shift felt entirely too convenient. The stuff with the twins was fun to watch and amusing, but incredibly superficial. Though we see how Dot is seduced by the attention she gets when performing, we get no real insight into her internal experience. Surely she must be feeling somewhat conflicted by this change in perspective, given how staunchly against she was of joining the freak show. We don’t even get to see the conflict between the sisters; instead we have to hear about it in exposition form from Bette. “It’s like she’s become another person,” says an emotional Bette, it would have been nice to see that change other than their experience onstage in order to really invest in their strained relationship and really care about Elsa’s sabotage and the repercussions that might arise from it. Bette&Dot However, there are still things to celebrate about the show and this episode in particular, which brings together two monstrous characters for some gleefully disturbing fun. Dandy and Twisty make quite the frightening pair. Only Gloria Mott would spot the menacing clown and immediately hire him, off the street no less. The little bit of backstory we get for Dandy is hilarious, campy fun. His relationship with Gloria is ridiculously amusing: “You can’t live on sweets and cognac, Dandy.” And his history of violence is certainly troubling and telling. The writing really hits home the idea that he is the biggest freak of them all, despite his lack of physical deformities, but the show delivers with this character. He is another hateful and obnoxious figure that is infinitely amusing to watch, not only for the crazy things he says, (“I am turning to dust from boredom.”) but also his heightened behavior and the eerie sense of danger he embodies. He is much more fearsome than Twisty because he is so outwardly “normal.” Now that he has shown his true colors to Twisty, and us, I can’t wait to see what batshit crazy things they will get into “Massacres and Matinees” is a slightly uneven episode of American Horror Story with the campy highs of Dandy Mott’s privileged ennui and the clichéd lows of Jimmy Darling’s quest for social justice, however it does not fail to entertain and provide the over the top insanity we have come to expect. What did you think? Final Thoughts
  • Frances Conroy is the unsung hero of American Horror Story. Though Jessica Lange gets most of the critical glory and is often the leading lady of each season, Conroy has always been exceptional in the amazingly bizarre roles she plays year after year. From Moira to the angel of death to Myrtle Snow to Gloria Mott, she has flawlessly rendered these peculiar characters and made them all truly memorable and characters to look forward to.
  • “Your silence is utterly provocative.”
  • Wow, that was a truly disgusting sight under Twisty’s mask. Not exactly sure what is going on there because it was so unsettling to watch (had to look away) but it is definitely freaky.
  • “Daytime is for kiddie shows.”
  • Loved that what really pushed Elsa over the edge about Dell was where he put her on the bill. Do not give Elsa Mars the last credit. She is a star.
  • That was Patti LaBelle playing the Mott’s cook, can’t wait to see what is next for her.
  • I like the musical intervals in the show, I absolutely loved Elsa Mars' take on Bowie's "Life on Mars" last week, but it was weird to hear Fiona Apple's "Criminal" coming out of both Bette and Dot. It was fun, and I loved how Bette reacted to Dot's awesome performance with her own nervous, tentative singing, but it was still odd to hear that particular song. Maybe because it is such a seminal moment in my own musical upbringing and I have a more personal relationship with this song than with Bowie's. It was great, but bizarre.
  • Also this: CrowdSurf
  • Fun Musical Number
  • Fantastic Campy Humor
  • Gloria & Dandy Mott
  • Dandy & Twisty Forever
  • Dell = Fun Opposing Force
  • "Freak" Cliches
  • Overstating of Central Thesis
  • Weak Character Development


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