Before we discuss the season finale of American Horror Story: Freak Show, I must, for a moment, refer to my recap for last week’s episode Show Stoppers. Ahem:
My hope is that Dandy will stop being a crazed murderous sicko (to use his word) and be cleansed in the glory of the freak show spotlight!
Oh, who am I kidding? Considering how things have been going, he’ll kill everyone in the freak show and then himself. Because this show loves the easy way out, and they’ve proven that the easiest way out is for everyone to die. My only wish is that we get to see one more bare ass before they go.
I WAS KIDDING. I WAS BEING FACETIOUS. I WAS NOT BEING SERIOUS HERE.
Well, I got Dandy killing himself wrong, but otherwise I wasn’t too far off at all, was I? As much as I’m a little smug for being right, I really do hate that an off-handed joke about the show handling resolution poorly turned out to be the complete and utter truth. And we didn’t even get to see another butt.
True to form, new carnival owner Dandy acted like a petulant child when things weren’t going his way. Eve, Penny, Ima and Paul had only just returned from hanging Dandy’s banner on the side of the road when he flipped because they hadn’t sold any tickets yet. (Even for Dandy that’s a stretch. He may be spoiled and impatient but he’s not stupid. He knows how time works.) So he insulted the freaks for their incompetency and the freaks proceeded to punch him, pin him to the ground, spit on him, then quit.
So what does he do? What else would Dandy do? He kills them. He kills all of them. He shoots Paul. He shoots Penny. Toulouse. Suzi. Eve put up a fight, but she got a bullet from Dandy too. Just as I predicted. Five minutes of the episode was spent killing characters who had no faults except being auxiliary.
The only lives spared were his precious Tattler twins, whom he bound and gagged, and Desiree, who managed to hide long enough to escape Dandy’s golden gun. Jimmy returns from the tin shed where he was recovering and happens upon the bodies of his friends, arranged as though they were spilling out of the stage onto the dirt ground. Desiree and Jimmy find each other, and decide they need to exact revenge. But not any ole revenge, no. They’re showmen! They need to be theatrical!
After a long and well planned rouse, our remaining freak trio poisoned Dandy’s bubbly and chained him inside a water torture chamber to drown. They set the torture chamber on the stage while they sat in the house, eating popcorn in the sexiest way possible, watching him die. It was theatrical, all right. But it wasn’t at all satisfying.
Dandy was my favorite character on this show, only eclipsed by Twisty in the short time he was with us. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to feel that. I don’t think this show intended for its villains to be its best characters. I know the freaks have this rule of killing people who have killed their own, but how does it make them better than Dandy? His character wasn’t evil enough to hate; he was evil enough to LOVE. His death didn’t feel at all triumphant. It felt extraordinarily cheap. Wouldn’t it have been better to give Dandy the treatment that they gave Stanley? To destroy Dandy’s “motion picture dreamboat” looks and make him live the rest of his days as an actual freak to show him how it feels? And again, we see that death is the easiest way out. (What happened to Stanley, anyway? Is he just Meeping away in a cage for the rest of his life?)
And then there’s Elsa. The question of how she became famous was answered by a deus-ex-machina in the form of NPH’s hubby, David Burtka. He, the dashing VP of casting for a major broadcasting network. She, a displaced diva in distress. They fall in love, because Germany. Elsa becomes a showbiz queen, garnering three Emmys, three gold albums and what appears to be the first star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
HOW, I ask you? HOW?! I’ve mentioned it before, but the show built Elsa up to be entirely talentless, crumbling under the scrutiny of a live audience. I was sure that when she decided to go on television in a previous episode that it was so she didn’t have to deal with an audience’s jeers. But no! She hosts a fucking variety hour, live audience and all. Sure, there are some famous people who have their looks to propel them into success though they’re lacking in the talent department. But we’re not talking about modern-day reality television or a flash in the pan here. Elsa earned fame AND praise for her work. This, like the rest of Freak Show, makes absolutely no logical sense.
Of course, the money and fame and glory are not enough for Elsa. She is still unfulfilled. She’s being pressured to do a Halloween special, which she refuses to do because she’s an artist. She quickly recants, however, when she discovers her husband is leaving her, her recently found snuff film is going to be released, her one true love, Massimo, will be dead soon, and her freaks back in Jupiter are dead already. With nothing left to lose, Elsa says she’ll do the Halloween special.
If this season had properly set it up, what happens next would’ve been more exciting than it was. Let’s not forget that a freak performing on Halloween summons the spirit of Edward Mordrake! Here comes the green fog, with Twisty in tow, to cast Elsa in his hellish band of authentic freaks. But not before we’re treated to one more terrible musical number.
Instead of going with Mr. Mordrake, however, Elsa goes to freak show heaven. All sins are forgiven, because she is the STAR. And the show cannot go on without its STAR.
What. Complete. Bullshit.
That whole last scene was Jessica Lange’s curtain call, an homage to her time on American Horror Story, since she’s confirmed that this will be her last season with the show. She was actually supposed to be done after Coven, but Ryan Murphy’s powers of persuasion intervened. How I wish it hadn’t for her sake. Playing Fiona would’ve been the killer end to her tenure on this show. If only her last moments on AHS were her screaming “knotty pine,” instead of her bathing in magenta stage lighting, her eyes plastered with that ridiculous blue glitter eyeshadow. Elsa was pathetic, but Jessica was phenomenal.
So what can we take away from this disaster of a season? As always, the production design was outstanding. Finn Wittrock is a remarkable talent and I can’t wait to see him again. Mat Frasier (Paul) and Erika Ervin (Eve) weren’t just freak ornaments in the background; their performances were solid and gave the show depth. The CGI execution of Bette and Dot was flawless, and Sarah Paulson deserves an Emmy. Every week I relished watching the opening credit sequence, which was weirder, creepier, freakier (and just plain better) than the show itself ever was.
A fitting comment to this season was Elsa’s exclamation during the filming of that coffee commercial: “This is shite! This is shite! Pure shite! Where are the writers? Huh? Are they hiding?”
It’s laughable, isn’t it? The show isn’t smart enough to understand how meta those lines are, though I’m sure the irony didn’t escape Ms. Lange in that moment. Indeed, American Horror Story: Freak Show was pure shite. I hesitate to blame the writers, since they were acting under the misguided direction of their showrunner. Rather than a work of art, this season was like a child’s hastily drawn crayon scribbles on a white wall, like thirteen different colors swirling all around each other until the whole thing turns brown. The child revels in its creation, but all anyone else sees a mess.