‘Massacres and Matinees’: Recap of ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’

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Sheesh, leave it to the Strong Man to swing his dick around, amirite? Wednesday night’s episode of AHS: Freak Show introduced us to said Dick Swinger (aka Dell Toledo aka Michael Chiklis) and his lovely wife, Tri-Tittied Hottie (aka Desiree Dupree aka Angela Bassett), and no sooner do they arrive do they start to piss people off. Elsa basically only allowed him to stay because the police were sniffing around and she thought a “strong male presence” would be beneficial to the carnival compound.

Newsflash! American Horror Story doesn’t do well with strong male presences. Whenever any male asserts misogynistic power over women it typically bodes ill for them. See: Dr. Threadson, Dr. Arden, Bloodyface Jr., frat boys on a bus, etcetera etcetera etcetera. (See what I did there? Double reference. Yesss.)

… Alright well I guess you could say that being on AHS in the first place doesn’t bode well for you. But nearly every woman in this entire series is redeemable, whereas only men that are put on the same level as women and regard them with respect have any redeeming qualities.

So, of course, someone named “Strong Man” is going to be met with a lot of estrogen-fueled flack. Here he comes, taking control, telling everyone what to do, punching people, introducing MATINEES! How dare he.

To his credit, his ideas turn out to be rather good. Unlike Elsa, who uses the Freak Show only as a vehicle for her grandiose delusions and, let’s face it, doesn’t know what she’s doing, Dell has been through the carnival circuit for years and actually knows how to put on a show. He introduces the matinee as a way to get out of the town-wide curfew and look what happens! Asses are in seats! He has actual showmanship that it is enticing, as opposed to last week’s damp introduction by Ethel Darling. And much to Elsa’s and her blue eyeshadow’s chagrin, Dot has actual talent, which is amazing enough to induce a 1950’s mosh pit. But it seems that Elsa and her eyeshadow are not going to wait around for Bette and Dot to become stars, and is already planting seeds of doubt in naive Bette’s tilted head. And also leaves a knife under her pillow. Huh. Wonder how that’s gonna pan out.

With all the overtness going on under the freak show tents, the subtlety with which Twisty is handled proves again that he is the most interesting character in the season so far. The two dudes he killed at the beginning of the episode seemed to serve like an addict getting his fix of a drug. He was not gleeful with murderous rage to have chopped a couple of heads off, but more relieved and satisfied to have gotten it out of the way. And when he presented his young abductee with the wind-up robot, Twisty’s eyes yearned for acceptance. He wanted to make the child happy, he wanted to see him appreciate the toy he was given. And yet, no acceptance or appreciation. So what happens next? HERE’S A DECAPITATED HEAD, YOU LITTLE JERK. BE GRATEFUL NEXT TIME.

Lovely, bored Dandy is a close second in the most interesting character rank. His sheltered life and anything-you-want upbringing has made him numb to pretty much everything, except for the things in life that are weird or gross or wrong. He really does beg the question, is sociopathy a learned or inherited trait? I’ve literally never thought of that before, and that thought alone is probably the coolest thing this show has offered me so far.

Except for what’s under Twisty’s mask. OH MAN WAS THAT GOOD. No wonder the mask. No wonder he doesn’t speak. “Your silence is utterly provocative.” That’s no joke. (Also the best line of the episode.)

I love that Dandy’s and Twisty’s paths have crossed (albeit in a bit of a hackneyed way) and that Dandy has found a partner in murder and torture, because that seems to be the only thing that will breathe life into the dullness of his world. At least while he’s with Twisty he won’t have to drink cognac from a baby bottle.

This episode also built a platform for the themes of this season. Feminism (obvs, since that is AHS’s modus operandi), race, social injustice, LGBTQI issues. We’re set in the American South,  pre-Civil Rights Movement. Jimmy Darling monologues that they are just like everyone else, they are people too, no different from anyone. There is a group of “unconventional” people demanding service at a diner where they know they’ll be treated poorly and the proprietor asserts, “I have the right to refuse service.” The fact that they’re all white hasn’t escaped me.

As well as AHS can promote feminism, it has a hard time dealing with race. The only two black characters on the show so far are Desiree and Nora (oh, hey, Patti LaBelle! … it’s kinda weird that you’re here… right?). The one is married to a white man, which in some states is probably still illegal, and the other is playing a house maid.

I mean, I get it, a group of different-looking people demand that they be recognized as something other than sub-human by the normal, pretty, white world around them. Just, again, something resembling subtlety (maybe even tact?) could be used here.

Something that was slightly more tactful was the episode’s approach to LGBTQI themes. We have both a transgender woman and a “full-blown hermaphrodite” under the tents now. Dandy, before he resorted to taking up with the crazy clown, proclaimed that he belonged in the freak show, though he has no outwardly apparent abnormalities (besides knowing the full Cole Porter canon). And Dandy’s mommy dearest alluded to the multitude of lovely ladies she’s tried to set him up with, the mention of which he replied with a groan. The flashback to Desiree’s extramarital transgression included a relieved man stating he can finally have sex with a real woman, he can finally have a wife and kids. (I mean, turns out he won’t, thanks to Dell and his Strong Man arms. But that’s besides the point.) The point being that the show is recognizing non-heterosexual people in a show that’s not just for non-heterosexual people. While we saw some of these issues in Asylum, it’s really refreshing to broaden the spectrum this way.

Massacres and Matinees was exciting to watch and had some serious OMFGWHATISTHAT moments, so I’m feeling kinda great about this season right now. I’m excited for the annual Halloween episodes, which does seem to be introducing a supernatural element to the season. And if some other-worldly characters can give Twisty a run for his money, this show will really start to impress me.

RANDOM THOUGHTS:

– Unfortunately last night was the first Freak Show death this season. The first of many, I’m sure. Poor little Meep. All he wanted to do was keep biting the heads off live baby chicks! Jimmy Darling needs to get better at planting evidence.

– I really want Kathy Bates to have more to do. Right now she’s only functioning as a plot mover. I hope we see more of Ethel, because if not that is a total waste of her talent.

– Speaking of Ethel, that flashback was entirely unnecessary. Jimmy mentions early in the episode he never knew his father, then Ethel sees Dell’s trailer and states that he is “somebody she used to know.” Do we really need to have it spelled out for us? WHO DIDN’T PUT THAT TOGETHER?!

– Speaking of her line regarding Dell, did anyone start singing Gotye in their heads?

– Devil’s Advocate: A point had been brought up to be by MF that the way this episode dealt with race could actually be more interesting than I originally put it. He said maybe it’s more of a “fun house mirror” look at the topic of race, since Desiree is married to a white man in the 1950s and no one bats an eye. Patti LaBelle plays a maid when in reality she’s a superstar. I can get down with that theory.

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