‘Test of Strength’: Recap of ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’


God this episode was dull. Sure, things happened. One thing in particular that, to my surprise, I actually had a mild emotional reaction to. But honestly, there has to be a trope for “present time exposition.” Because that’s all that this episode was. If exposition is a lazy way to tell what happened in the past, present-time-exposition is just plain lazy storytelling. How do we move the plot along? We’ll just put in a bunch of boring scenes so we can build to something slightly shocking. That does not compelling television make.

First, we pick up where the last episode left off with Jimmy entering Dandy’s house to fetch the twins. Bette wants to stay being Stockholm Syndromed. Dot wants to go with Jimmy. They obviously can’t be separated, so let’s show the audience that Bette is loyal to her sister when we know for sure Dot is not. Then they leave. And Dandy is pissed. But he was pissed at the end of the last episode, wasn’t he? Didn’t he have a revelatory moment before Jimmy showed up?  He’s not showing it because that’s not what this scene is about. But but but. THIS SHOW HAS THE WORST SHORT TERM MEMORY.

Next, this week in Totally Unnecessary Musical Numbers, we present Jimmy Darling as Kurt Cobain. Seven episodes in and I’m still not sure what we’re gaining from these lame attempts at being postmodern, when the songs they perform are hardly different from their original recording. (According to MF, some of them are the exact same musical track.) Honestly, if I wanted to listen to Nirvana and Fiona Apple I’d hit up Spotify for a 90s mix.

Over the musical number, Dell is looking for Matt Bomer (I know his character had a name, but that lame cameo isn’t worth acknowledging with a name) who was dismembered several episodes back, and he bashes the gay bar owner’s head into the counter. The next developments are my favorite present-time-exposition moments of the episode: Stanley is at the gay bar and sees Dell. Stanley needs a freak to sell and since Maggie won’t kill a freak for him, he blackmails Dell into doing it. Because it’s so shameful to be gay, isn’t it, Dell? Jesus.

We all see where this is going, don’t we? This episode is like another Mordrake: someone has to die!

Since Dell is a strong man and strong men are mostly over compensating for a lack of intelligence, Dell tries to kill Amazon Eve.

REALLY, DELL. REALLY. She’s only a FOOT TALLER THAN YOU. How did you expect to subdue someone that rivals your physical presence, Dell? Oh, and only choose the hardest freak to transport, why don’t you! HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO MOVE HER INCONSPICUOUSLY?! DOES THE FREAK MUSEUM EVEN HAVE A TANK THAT BIG?! GOD YOU’RE STUPID.

I am glad that Eve had more to do this episode than play an instrument and loom in the background, even if what they gave her to do was a meandering piece of present-time-exposition. And I’ll award her with the best line of the episode. Throwing Dell out of her trailer and proclaiming “Who’s the strong man now?” was a great moment.

Ready for some more present-time-exposition? Jimmy was instructed by the women to throw Dell out, and instead of doing it then and there, Dell goes, “Let’s not talk here. Let’s get a drink.” This plot is moving so smoooothly! Dell gets Jimmy drunk and Jimmy confesses to Dell that he knew he was his father all along!

To that scene’s credit, Even Peters worked with what he had and that was one of his best moments this season. There’s just something about watching a man of his physical beauty break down. Is it me wanting to watch pretty people be sad? Maybe. But this moment reminds me of what’s always been the highlight to this show, in any season, when I feel like the show offers nothing. What it does offer is some great actors the chance to dig down deep and uncover some dark things.

After Jimmy’s confession, Dell softens temporarily. He finally claims Jimmy as his son, which gives way to the second best line of the show from Elsa, “Congratulations. It must take real courage to finally claim your progeny after 24 years.” L. O. to the freaking L. ELSA. Dell’s softness quickly hardens, however, when he remembers that he needs to keep his gayness a secret and Stanley is still blackmailing him. 

And, OF COURSE, he goes for the person we were all thinking of. The person that almost died in THE VERY LAST EPISODE for this EXACT. SAME. PURPOSE. Ma Petite, you really should’ve put a lock on your tent so weirdos trying to kill you couldn’t get in when you were sleeping. Because here comes Dell, with a pretty dress for Ma Petite. She tries it on, gives him a hug of gratitude, and with hardly any effort on his part, he kills her.

Well shit. Fly away, little butterfly! The levels of the wide shots just got a little bit flatter.

But really, who didn’t expect that? We literally just saw her demise LAST WEEK. The sheer laziness of this show is just astounding to me.

I wish writers, directors, producers, showrunners, of any show, would understand that the act of a character killing another character is just not interesting anymore. Maybe it was once before it happened in every other movie and TV show and video game. But we need more than that now, and the more comes in the context. Characters dying CAN be fun and dynamic and effective, but if their death is not set up to make us feel one way or the other about them dying, then the death is meaningless.

Was it a bummer to see Ma Petite go? Of course it was. She was one of the characters on the show that was pure and genuinely good. Does her death come as a shock? Am I deeply saddened by the loss? Of COURSE NOT. They can’t preview her death the episode before her actual death and expect us to be moved.

This episode was a waste of time. It would be utterly meaningless if the laziness of the present-time-exposition didn’t suggest to me that they had to get these plot lines out of the way to set up something happening later on. Hopefully something great will be waiting for us, because I’m beginning to think this entire season is meaningless.


– The peak into Amazon Eve’s trailer was enlightening. Apparently she has several dozen pairs of shoes and yet she wears THE SAME THING every week. UGH.

– So much of this show is based on Stanley trying to make money by selling a dead freak to this freak museum. I’m still not buying it.  His motives are so weak, it’s no wonder this show is suffering for it.

– What’s happening with Bette and Dot feels like what happened with Zoe last season. The beginning of the season felt like the story would focus on them, and then the show begins straying from the path and you realize, hey! It was never about them at all!

– That being said, I liked the makeover scene. I’m a sucker for a good makeover. And Bette got a great makeover yo!

– Oh yeah, Penny’s back again. Her sadistic father tattooed her whole face and forked her tongue. Welp, we got a new freak to replace the one that just died, I guess!


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