Alright, AHS. I see you. Stepping it up, are we? Someone over on the production team of this show felt like they needed to redeem themselves after last episode‘s shit show. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of eye-rolling moments in this episode, but at least it was trying to accomplish something other than put people to sleep.
Early in the episode, a search party was sent out to find Ma Petite. They find her a dress of hers in the woods and assume that she’s dead. I don’t blame them for the assumption, especially since we know she IS dead, but why is her dress in the woods? Is it her old dress that she was wearing when Dell gave her the new pretty one before killing her? And if it was, WHY IS IT IN THE WOODS?!
ANYWAY. Elsa is devastated at the loss of her little cuddle buddy, but Ethel doesn’t buy Elsa’s pain. She even goes so far as to accuse Elsa of killing Ma Petite. And with that accusation, I realized what’s making this season of AHS so effing boring.
Most of the time characters in Freak Show have little to no motivation propelling them through a scene. If they’re lucky enough to have a legitimate reason to speak, it’s so contrived that we know exactly what is going to happen next. This is evident because of how little intrigue there has been this season, particularly since Twisty left. And that was only because Twisty DIDN’T HAVE ANY LINES.
But look at the context surrounding Ethel’s accusation. She thinks Elsa killed Ma Petite because she overheard Elsa talking to Stanley a couple of episodes back, and how they were going to ship the twins to Chicago and be done with them. For as much as Ethel has been loyal to Elsa, she also sees how Elsa is intimidated by people who attempt to steal her spotlight, so she quickly subverts anyone she deems as a threat. Also, Ethel is a total drunk.
Hey now! Look what just happened! Those three things create motivation for Ethel! And with that, the following scene is actually kind of enjoyable to watch.
Since we know that Elsa didn’t kill Ma Petite, we can take her reactions to the accusations as truth, which is great fun since she’s the most disingenuous character on this show. (Even Dandy, who is a total batshit psychopath, is at least genuine.) And what we get while watching her proclaim her innocence is that Elsa is toootally Nurse Ratched. This scene more than ever shows that she really does care about her “monsters,” even if she really doesn’t treat them well. As evident in the episode Bullseye, the slightest hint that they distrust her or her leadership and she flips out. Paul’s knife to the gut was like McMurphy’s lobotomy. Better to make an example out of one of them lest the whole structure collapses. The difference between Elsa and Ratched is that Elsa actually wants to be liked and revered, when Ratched wants to maintain the well-oiled machine of the institution. This makes Elsa more complex than I could’ve ever imagined. I could even go into parallels between Freak Show and Asylum and Cuckoo’s Nest if I wanted to! I’m positive I wouldn’t get very far but I could probably get somewhere!
And LOOK AT THAT! I don’t think there’s been a thing more insightful about this show than in that very moment. The agonizing part of it is that this should happen all the time, if not every episode. A good show allows us to think and guess and theorize, instead of this crappy paint-by-number dialogue that completes the picture for us by the time the episode is over.
So after Ethel’s accusations, there were shared tears, battling accents, a bullet through Elsa’s fake leg, and an unnecessary flashback involving The Axeman from Coven, the scene ends with a knife in Ethel’s eye. Oh so NOW Elsa’s a good shot. Sheesh.
I’d call Ethel’s death wasted if I thought she offered more than exposition (and questions like,” WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST SHAVE?! YOU WOULD HAVE HAD A REGULAR LIFE, STUPID!”) to the show. If Ethel’s scenes were at all compelling it’s because Kathy Bates commits like no one else. She won the Emmy this year for her outstanding performance in Coven, but she should win next year too, and it’d be for the same reason Jim Parsons keeps winning for The Big Bang Theory. They may as well call the award You Did a Great Job with the Complete Crap You Were Given.
Ethel’s funeral gave way to some fun feminism that had been missing from this season for a while. It is, typically, what American Horror Story does best, after all. First Emily Dickinson quotes, then monologues about how men keep women down. Then Desiree musters Eve, Suzy and Penny into punishing Penny’s father for tattooing her face and forking her tongue and giving her a reverse mohawk.
And do they punish him! They freaking tar and feather the guy! Who does that?! I mean, how do you guys know how to make tar?! Like, you really just know how to make tar? Maybe you should parlay that skill into a side business because you’re really good at it. So they ruin Desiree’s pillows and cover the poor chap in feathers while spouting why he represents all men and that’s why he needs to be stopped. Then Maggie comes in as the pretty, white voice of reason and tries to make them stop. I’m really glad Desiree threw a white privilege line at her because seriously, Maggie. You have no idea where any of these women are coming from. Get out of the trailer and cry in a corner or some shit. Jesus. Since when did Maggie become the moral compass? Pissing me off.
Of course I can never ignore the most fun portion of any Freak Show episode, which is the lovely, incomparable Dandy Mott. The first scene of Blood Bath featured Gloria talking to her psychoanalyst about how she feels that Dandy’s finally reached a critical point of psychopathy. Through her, we learn that Dandy has most likely killed as a child, and not just cats. He was a difficult child (no shit) and he’s become an even more difficult adult because of Gloria’s inaction to get him actual help. She looked passed all of Dandy’s questionable actions by justifying that he’s not sick, just “spirited.”
She tricks Dandy into seeing the psychiatrist (whose face we never see and I’m not sure why. He’s not even listed in the episode’s cast.) by telling him his genius IQ would be quantified. His awesome inkblot results (dismemberment, blood splattered onto walls) lead him to boredom, and so Dandy asks the good doctor if he thinks that people’s power can be transferred to another person by eating their flesh or bathing in their blood.
For as much as Dandy is intelligent, and he is, his narcissism often clouds his judgement. Particularly in this instance. The psychiatrist tells Gloria he thinks Dandy should be institutionalized (ANOTHER CUCKOO’S NEST ANALOGY?!) and Gloria responds by saying she’s just going to ship him off to Europe for a while. Not a good move, honey.
Dandy hears her, and proceeds to confront her on how if he’s messed up, it’s her fault, because not only does mental illness run in the family, as we know, but Dandy’s father was Gloria’s second cousin. So all of that talk about inbreeding earlier in the season wasn’t just to excuse Dandy’s father of his mental illness (of which also includes something to do with little girls. Yikes.), but it also gives a reason for Dandy’s psychopathy. Wealth cannot trump bad genes. And inbreeding.
Gloria’s inaction ultimately became her downfall. After confronting her, Dandy threatened to kill himself. And since Gloria said she would never be able to live without Dandy in the world, he eased her pain… by shooting her in the head.
So, we lost two fantastic ladies this week. But what we gained was a GREAT shot of Dandy’s bare behind… right before he took a bath in his mother’s own blood. I should be repulsed, when what I actually am is impressed at Finn Wittrock’s shapely rear.
Blood Bath. I get it.
Last episode, I thought I was totally done with this show. But as Tina Belcher would say, “Just when I think I’m out, those cheeks pull me right back in.”
– Elthel told Elsa that she’s seen her bring a full house to their feet… WHEN?!?!?! All we’ve seen of Elsa’s performances is that they’re just terrible! You can’t just tell us that and have us believe you.
– So Ethel never knew about Elsa’s leg? If they were best friends for 14 years, how did that never come up?
– The unnecessary flashback said that Axeman wanted to be a propmaker for the movies. Again with the film references! I’m not sure if they’re trying to say something on purpose or if they don’t recognize their own patterns.
– Finding Ethel’s decapitated body was the best performance Elsa’s put on so far, even if it was a bit too much. Pull it back a bit, lady.
– Elsa asks Stanley why he’s helping her conceal Ethel’s murder, and I think it’s because we’re all thinking the same thing. It’s like the writers said, “If we acknowledge it, then they can’t question it!” Wrong.
– Elsa’s charm is turned back on when she goes recruiting at the fat farm. I do just love to see Jessica Lange being a badass bitch.
– She tells her new recruit that her extra large physique will be “cheered and celebrated” at the Freak Show. We’ve seen little of the actual show in recent episodes, and even less of the Freak Show’s audience. But wouldn’t a Freak Show audience be gawking and jeering, rather than actual applause? Is this a fame allegory all along? It sounds like cheers, but what they’re actually doing is judging the hell out of you.
– Regina will not last much longer if she keeps threatening to go to the police. F’real though.
– Blood red Christmas tree was a little on the nose.
– Best lines of the episode:
Dandy – “You’re no better than the Roosevelts.”
Gloria – “How dare you say that name in this house.”