‘Edward Mordrake (Part 1)’: Recap of ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’


Welcome again, American Horror Story‘s annual Halloween episodes! It is rather fitting for a show with the word “horror” in the title to make a big deal about Halloween every season. Typically these episodes are just totally batshit crazytown, in their content and also in their plot development. The way that AHS falls on the calendar, there are no more than three episodes in a season before the end of October, and because of that a season’s flow is determined by the Halloween episodes. We’ve had a few episodes to get introduced to the characters and the world, and the (usually two-part) Halloween episodes serve as a launching pad for the rest of the season. Since this is traditionally the case, these episodes are totally stuffed with content from every single plot line.

This year’s Halloween episodes center around a carnie superstition that if a freak were to perform on Halloween, they would summon the spirit of Edward Mordrake, a regular dude with a devil face on the back of his head. When he is summoned, he will take one carnie with him to hell. Interestingly enough this episode features a lot of real life “freaks,” as shown in the first scene, one of which being the episode’s namesake, Mr. Mordrake. I should say he’s at least real in that there’s one account of him known to history; whether or not he’s real or legend is up for debate.

So of course Dot doesn’t care about the superstition and insists they rehearse anyway, but before she could practice her teenage female angst (also, it officially states that she was singing “Criminal” by Fiona Apple on her songbook in the episode. I REALLY DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT.) Elsa steals her thunder with green (!!!) eyeshadow and summons Seneca Crane Edward Mordrake.

Elsa’s ballsy move came from the help of a new fortune teller in town, Maggie Esmerelda, who is about as real as Elsa’s feet. Using clues scattered throughout her tent, Esmerelda very accurately recites Elsa’s life story and changes the ending to revitalize Elsa’s drive to perform that had been taken from her ever since Bette and Dot became the show’s headliners.

Though big ole Dell did not have much to do in this episode, we still learned a whole lot about him. Mostly that he can’t get it up. Pretty much ever. I guess he must’ve once, in order to conceive Jimmy Darling, but as far as we know that may have been the only time. Desiree recited a slew of his tried and true excuses when she was trying to get it on, and Ethel made mention of it as the reason why he and Desiree got into a fight. His impotence could really be the reason he’s such a general dick. We pretty much already knew he was a big dick, but we learn a lot more about his dickness through Ethel in this episode.

In her confession to Edward Mordrake, Ethel tells that Dell became her manager and convinced her to give up the act that made her happy and began manipulating her and her bushy chinstrap. He sunk as low as to sell tickets to Ethel’s birth of Jimmy, calling it a “Live Freak Birth” then sunk eeeeven lower when he goaded the audience, “Two bits to hold the monster baby! It’s a freak!”

I mean, really. What a dick. Let’s remember that Dell isn’t really a freak, not in the way that most of these characters are. He is only the Strong Man, after all, and I’d say he’s more bulky than strong. So Dell’s MO is to latch onto “freakish” women and make his living out of exploiting their abnormalities. He did it to Ethel years ago and he’s doing it still to Desiree. Fortunately for these two ladies, they are stronger than they seem and eventually stand up to the bulky leech.

Really though, it is about time the show focused more on Ethel. Earlier in the episode she learns she has advanced cirrhosis of the liver and has less than a year to live. Naturally, her response to her doctor saying, “Never drink a drop of alcohol again.” is to get wasted. It’s hard not to blame her, though, since we’ve learned so much about her past that it seems to be hard for her to believe that she’s got much to live for. All of the crazy Dell stuff aside, her scene with the doctor is telling to what her life has been like. As she’s crying after she hears her diagnosis, she says, “I’m not crying because of what you just told me. I’m crying because you’re the first doctor ever to treat me with respect. I just can’t help but thinking my whole life would’ve gone different if I had met you sooner.”

It really is rather heartbreaking, for her character and also when you look at what she’s saying in a larger societal context. In what way have people been labeled freaks or outcast throughout the years? And in what ways have people been damaged, physically or mentally, beyond repair because of their label?

It’s quite a credit to Kathy Bates (not that she really needs any, she’s obviously incredible) that she could carry such weighty, emotional scenes, make us feel really bad for her, while STILL using that cartoonish accent. Which, let us now confirm, is officially a Baltimore accent! Or, to hear her say it, Baldymore.

There was precious little Twisty and Dandy for my taste in this episode, but I’m hoping that for that reason they’ll be going nuts in Edward Mordrake Part 2. The last image of the episode is Twisty’s crazy eyes burrowing into the audience’s collective soul. Just terrifying.

Other large plot points:

– Dot’s head is getting quite large due to her newfound fame, so much so that she’s dreaming of getting rid of Bette altogether. I love that the two of them can dream together, as they can read each other’s minds. Though the one thing that I keep thinking is that it’s straight up murder, guys. I know it’s a dream, but c’mon, Dot. Of COURSE no doctor would consent to the amputation of another living, breathing, thinking human head. That being said, we are in an AHS world, so I suppose anything is possible.

– As we were introduced to Maggie Esmerelda, we were also introduced to her puppetmaster, Stanley. They’re both con artists in the world of fake medical anomalies, and when their fetal sasquatch is called out as a fraud they decide to go for the real deal and dispatch Maggie to Florida. So I guess they’re going to start killing people to make a quick buck? Makes sense.

– So who is Mordrake going to kill? He mentions that his vile visage is looking for, “A pure freak, corrupted of flesh, befouled of soul.” If that’s not Ethel, then who is it? The most interesting development would be if it were one of our leading freaks, but it would also derail the season pretty early on if it were someone we know well. Is it going to be one of our supporting freaks? After everything we know, it may be Dell, but would we miss him if he were to go so soon?


– There were two references to television becoming the popular entertainment medium in this episode, one being The Ed Sullivan Show and the other being Dragnet.  I’m not sure if this is the show furthering the point as TV is a reason that freak shows of old are no longer popular, or if the show is trying to say something larger about television.

– While Esmerelda is reading Elsa’s “fortune,” she mentions a “Marlena” as the person that stole Elsa’s career. I’m inclined to believe this is probably Marlene Dietrich, since they’d be of similar ages and both German-American. I mean, really, guys. Is that the only reason we made Elsa German? I miss Jess’s souther drawl.

–  The best line of the episode would have been Ethel’s tragic line, “Make him get out into the world I was afraid of.” if it weren’t for Dandy’s, “HOWDY DOODY?!” He’s really got a knack for show stealing.

– Guys I really don’t think I can get down with these modern songs sung in this show. Again, Bette and Dot’s songbook said, flat out, “Criminal” by Fiona Apple. BITCH WASN’T ALIVE YET. The song Elsa sings this episode is Lana Del Rey’s song “Gods & Monsters,” which features a lyric that says, “Living like Jim Morrison.” The Doors didn’t get popular until 1967. I mean. Come on.  What are we doing here. These songs are taking me right out of it. Every time.

– So Dandy doesn’t have it in him to kill a person. At least not yet. Dora really could have been his first non-feline victim, because she really was really pushing his buttons. I have a feeling she won’t be around for that much longer, though.

– I see a love triangle (quadrangle?) brewing! Dot seemed to be none too thrilled with the new, pretty face of Esmerelda among the tents. Obvs Dot has a thing for Jimmy, and OBVS Jimmy and Esmerelda are going to get it on.

– I really want to know what’s up with Stanley’s man parts. His viking warrior exlcaimed, “Holy Christ” when he took a look at what he was packing. Is it good? Is it bad? Who knows! #wersindallefreaks.

– Butt on TV! Yay!

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