‘Orphans’: Recap of ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’


I’m afraid we’ve gone one step forward, two huge steps back. Or three, or more, honestly. It’s hard to say. Last episode was the best of the season since Twisty left. This episode was like a sinkhole formed in the middle of the story that swallowed us all up, and now we have to climb our way out of this hole to trudge on through the last three episodes.

American Horror Story is not playing up to its own inherent strengths as a miniseries. A miniseries is television for those with short attention spans because its main allure is that it’s so short. You can watch one season at a time, no need to commit to an entire series if you don’t want to. (I binge watched Asylum on one rainy autumn day. And subsequently had some REALLY messed up dreams that night.) A 13-episode season every year allows you to tell a story about a handful of people that has a beginning, middle and end. Once that 13th episode concludes, you can toss those characters aside and start fresh. Wasn’t that the draw of this show to begin with? To take the concept of scary stories set in America and flesh them out one by one? The core idea of this show makes it new and exciting.

AHS seems to have forgotten its purpose as a miniseries. Each season is getting progressively more complicated, where we’re packing in six or seven or eight important storylines when we used to have two or three. It’s like the repertory cast has taken over the story. Since every celebrity cast in the show has to play a major role, all of their storylines are suffering for it. Each character has become important and it feels like they’re stepping on each other to get our attention. Weaving eight storylines into one short season has become tedious and sloppy. It was possible to argue this about Coven, but Freak Show has taken this to a new low. What was once new and exciting has been turned into an arduous bore.

Why do we need Pepper’s backstory? Really, why do we need it? It’s easy to know why we want it. She’s a great character who became a lovely surprise in Asylum, playing the maternal protector to an alien-inseminated Grace, and in announcing her return last summer we’ve been patiently waiting to see why she’s in Freak Show.

In a vacuum, her story is beautiful and tragic. When you bring in her parts in Asylum, there’s a level of redemption there. Naomi Grossman is wonderful as Pepper. The scene where Elsa leaves Pepper at her sister’s house is terribly heartbreaking. Pepper looks like a sad and confused little kid, knowing but not really understanding what is happening. If you don’t want to reach in through the television and hold her in your arms then you don’t have a heart, goddamnit.

But Pepper’s story is not in a vacuum. It takes up a whole episode of a season that only has twelve other parts to it. So why do we need Pepper’s backstory? We don’t. Up until this episode, she had shit all to do this season except walk across the screen fetching things for Elsa every now and then. The only reason why Pepper, and Sister Mary Eunice for that matter, were put in this season was to lure the audience into believing all the seasons of AHS are linked. (As much as I’m DYING to, I’m not going to get into the depths of my thoughts on this because that is part of a much larger conversation. Suffice it to say, I have serious problems with what’s happening here. Moving on.)

Making an entire episode center around a minor character ruins any and all momentum the season had, which, let’s face it, was minimal to begin with. They’ve packed an already dense season even tighter by fleshing out every single character under the circus tents. Small characters can have large moments in a show that lasts for 100 episodes, but definitely not 13.

Where could the season possibly go from here, with three episodes left? (It’s hard to know where it was going in the first place, really.) We’ve been forced to care about Elsa and Bette and Dot and Jimmy and Ethel and Dandy and Gloria and Desiree and Dell and Maggie and Stanley and Whatsherface with the tattoos… how could all of these stories possibly be resolved? They wasted an episode on a character with little real significance to the stories we were told to care about. I’m afraid this season has gone beyond redemption.

Ryan Murphy’s hackneyed “master plan” to keep AHS relevant has all but ruined this season. Again, that’s a story for a different time.


– Whenever Elsa drinks schnapps I just wait for the exposition.

– Ma Petite was a slave of another slave and was traded for three cases of Dr. Pepper. “Sweet irony, no?” – WHY DO YOU HAVE TO TELL US EVERYTHING ALL OF THE TIME?! CAN’T WE EVER COME TO A CONCLUSION ON OUR OWN?!?!

– Pepper and Salty get married. But. Wait. Weren’t we told they were brother and sister earlier this season? I swore we were.

– Though I find the whole Briarcliff business insufferable, the playing of focus in that first shot was a lot of fun.

– While at Briarcliff it’s hard not to think, “I WONDER WHERE SISTER JUDE IS. OH, WAIT. SHE LOOKS LIKE ELSA. WAIT. WHAT.”

– The worst is when Elsa is on the cover of Life magazine. This show has led us to believe she’s talentless and suddenly she “owns Friday night.” UGH.

– There were some more fun shots in the jail cell. The crazy dutch angles remind me of Coven, in a good way.

– Best line of the episode: “I wasn’t born on a farm but I know bullshit when I smell it and that is some BULLSHIT.”

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