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Along with plenty of freaks—who don’t want to be called that—there were a few surprising twists (opium induced orgies, fake legs, inconsistent accents) in last night’s premiere episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show. I can’t say the same for fright. That’s right; I didn’t find myself shivering in fear—yet! I did, however, come to the conclusion that I have two favorites: Frances Conroy’s Gloria Mott and the world’s tiniest woman, Jyoti Amge. Come on, guys, she’s just so adorable! (Nothing better happen to her, Ryan Murphy, you hear me?) Now onto the show.
Like with the previous installments, Freak Show benefits from the style in which it’s filmed. Every camera angle, the dark cinematography, the eerie sensational music, the drab settings, random vibrant colors—all these elements play a role to help enhance Murphy’s story. I think people who say Coven was a disappointment, fail to recognize the other creative factors in the execution of this series, and only comment on the writing. As a whole the series is riveting, and reintroduced the anthology-style narrative (Fargo, True Detective).
One thing that also continues to make American Horror Story such a fascinating tale: The acting. An Oscar winner here—Kathy Bates—and Oscar nominee there—Gabourey Sidibe—is not just for show, it’s to better transport the script and give it life. Now, I’m not saying acting accolades are the only way to measure the potency of an actor’s talent, but it certainly makes it hard to deny it. Take Bates, Delphine LaLaurie last year, who was able to give a performance that made us feel sympathy for her character, a racist Southerner with blood lust. That’s depth. Any other actress could have made LaLaurie a villainous, one-dimensional, quasi-animated goon. Having talent of Bates’ caliber, further aids the project.
So far, only a ninety minute episode in, I’m already finding myself impressed with Sarah Paulson who plays Bette and Dot, conjoined twins with deux têtes. It’s a difficult feat to balance a performance like that, one that carries double the emotional baggage. She’s two different people, who like the body her heads share, has one life to make a mark. It’s going to be a Jekyll and Hyde relationship.
Speaking of Bette and Dot, she, err, they were the epicenter of last night’s debut. Basically they are runaway killers, thanks to Bette killing their mother, scooped up by Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange), in an effort to find a headlining act that will save her dying freak show.
Part of Elsa’s crew includes, Ethel, the bearded Lady played by Bates (called it!), her lobster-hand son, Jimmy (Evan Peters), who prostitutes his claws and will refer to as Claw Hooker, Pepper (Naomi Grossman), who has yet to speak but has a male pinhead companion. The problem with their act isn’t necessarily the dying interest in live performances (think vaudeville), it’s that their act is just Elsa singing while the rest are just showcased. If I was in this circus, I would make like the Bearded Lady and drink.
“By far the most freakish thing of all tonight was your pathetic attempt at singing,” snarled Gloria (Conroy) to Elsa Mars, with extra crisp spite. Finally, Conroy plays a character that might have the upper hand to Lange’s great dame. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but Elsa doesn’t seem to have the confidence that say, Sister Jude, or Fiona Goode had. Maybe it’s because—spoiler alert!—she lost half of each leg. That was one of the (un)pleasant surprises I mentioned earlier.
Bette and Dot are pretty welcomed, especially by Claw Hooker who Bette fancies, or was it Dot, or was it both. Either way, that problematic love-fest has the potential to be amazingly entertaining. Anyway, Claw Hooker slays the investigator who is after the pair of heads and they all band together in the name of being outsiders and chop the body up in pieces; a darkly filmed sequence, but unexpectedly easy to digest. Does it mean I’m weird for being fascinated by gore? Are they a traveling circus of killers?
Okay, they might not all be killers, but Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) certainly is. He’s creepy, odd-looking, and obviously disturbed, but in terms of causing fear, all I heard were crickets. The worst part seems to be that he has yet to connect into the big picture, at least for now.
While Twisty, Elsa, Bette and Dot will be the main players, their respective stories seem a bit disjointed for now. Perhaps further down the line they will in some way be a part of a more linear story, since it is the first episode, after all. Then again, a straight narrative isn’t really this anthology’s best feature, nor does it attempt to make it so. But I’m ready to see it play out, especially if it continues to carry this pace. Quite frankly, I don’t want to theorize about where the direction of the plot. I did that last season and was completely off. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about watching and recapping AHS, is that guessing is anyone’s game; a game that we usually all lose, and Murphy wins. That’s the horror in watching.
Next Week: Angela Bassett bring her three-tittay game.
What did you think of the premiere? Do you have a favorite character? Will Dot or Bette fall for Claw Hooker? How will Pepper fare in all this? Is Elsa German? Where was Ethel’s accent from?
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