American Horror Story: Always Be Murdering
Elsa Mars, covering David Bowie before David Bowie knew he was David Bowie.
If American Horror Story were a guest you could invite to your dinner party, they would be the one who intros a personal anecdote about an abortion with a cute joke while the main course is being served. AHS aims to shock and horrify you, and this season’s “Freak Show” is their biggest reach yet. If you’ve never imagined a two-headed girl, or people of varying heights and hobbies under the same roof, or a German Jessica Lange, then you are in for a thrill, my friend.
The season premiere doesn’t waste any time getting to the gore. We’re taken to Jupiter, Florida, in the year 1952. A concerned milkman discovers a bloody corpse while trying to figure out why his high-quality milk has been left out on the porch since his last delivery. (Shout-out to the cinematographer’s hopefully intentional homage to the cherished Got Milk? campaign of the 1990’s.) The show takes on a very cartoonish feel, with Elsa Mars (Lange) swapping clothes with Penny (Grace Gummer), a teen candy striper, in order to get a closer look at what else the milkman found that day, which is recovering under heavy guard in a hospital room. We’re introduced to Dot and Bette Tattler (Sarah Paulson), telepathic twin sisters sharing one awkward tree-body. Elsa promises them Queen Bitch status if they run away with her to her circus, sniffing out their guilt in the murder of their own mother. In a flashback we see that it was Bette who went H.A.M. on their mother at dinner after being denied permission to see Singin’ in the Rain in Technicolor, letting her die in a pile of peas, and then Dot stabbing their shared body on Bette’s side of their chest. I can’t even imagine how many tense Thanksgiving dinners led up to this.
Dot and Bette Tattler, conjoined conflict.
Elsewhere in a lush park, an attractive teenage couple are about to have sex on a blanket in broad daylight, when Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) intervenes to murder the boy and terrorize the girl. If you are at all afraid of clowns, I implore you not to watch this show. Viewers are treated to a spooky montage of Twisty emerging from the shadows within suburban homes and killing unsuspecting Jupiter citizens in the middle of the night. AHS
pulls no punches with Twisty, and as the season advances he’ll likely become a fully-realized nightmare. Twisty wears white, cracked makeup, a soiled and tattered clown costume, and a horrifying mask set in a black grimace across his mouth. He looks like an illustration of Pierrot
that was left out in the rain. He also appears to be wearing the scalp of another clown but until I see his flesh-wig snatched I would prefer not to think about it. We find out later that Twisty is keeping the teenage girl from the park and a little boy from one of the suburban homes in a cage within an abandoned school bus. A natural entertainer, Twisty presents toys to his guests, but when he pops a balloon animal he loses his shit. Could the tormented appearance of this clown reflect the torment within? Only time will tell.
Ethel Darling, exceptional neckbeard.
In a diner, Elsa has a hostile encounter with Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters), who wears mittens to cover up his grotesque dick-shaped hands. When Jimmy isn’t hustling freak shows for Elsa, he’s gripping housewives under their dresses in the back rooms of Tupperware parties. Elsa is set on staying in Jupiter long-term but her show isn’t bringing in the cash to make rent on the land she and her crew are occupying. Bette and Dot are the miracle she’s been waiting for to bring the masses to her tent. At the camp we see Penny again, after a bender of opium. She accuses Elsa of drugging her, but Elsa shows her the
Portishead music video orgy on the projector that Penny was the proud star of. When Penny refuses to take any responsibility, Elsa delivers the “Americans are the REAL freaks” speech that I honestly didn’t anticipate for another 8 episodes. Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates), bearded lady and mother to Jimmy, seems to be the underrated pillar of the bunch, steadying Elsa whenever she goes too far off the rails. The freaks are a family, united in entertaining for survival. They put on a show for an extremely WASPy Gloria (Frances Conroy) and Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock), which is hijacked by Elsa, whose solo performance of “Life on Mars” is not at all approved by the main attractions. When a detective arrives in Bette and Dot’s tent to arrest them on suspicion of their mother’s murder, he is killed and dismembered by the freaks in a pep rally led by Jimmy. Twisty looks on from a distance, perhaps admiring their style. Elsa sits alone in her room, finally allowed to be the miserable human being we all suspect her to be, but with one last reveal: Her legs are gone below the knee.
In episode 2, the feds are watchin’. The disappearance of the detective in the previous episode hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the police are set on finding a body, and a reason to arrest conjoined fugitives Bette and Dot. After the rash of murders and disappearances wrought on Jupiter by Twisty, a citywide curfew has been imposed, thwarting ticket sales for the freak show. Elsa fends the heat off of her “monsters” by reciting the common knowledge that they need a warrant to search the grounds. Later at the turn up function, the freaks pop bottles and chant “KILL THAT COP.” Suddenly seized with a conscience, Jimmy decides to dig up the detectives’ remains, burn them, and scatter his ashes as if he really cared about the person he murdered.
Desiree Dupree and Dell Toledo, glamorous Chicago outlaws.
Soon after they’ve gone, Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis) and his wife Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett) roll up to the campgrounds, arriving from Chicago in search of work. Dell is a Strong Man, which just means he still lifts in his fifties. Desiree is a three-boobed “hermaphrodite” who rocks a mink stole when she isn’t showing off the extra helping of mammaries God gave her. Dell admits that they fled Chicago because he may have sort of murdered Desiree’s one-night stand, and admits to Elsa that her campgrounds are the end of the line for them. She lets them stay, which later proves to be poor judgment on her part. Ethel, beef in her eyes, confronts Dell in private, warning him to stay away from their son Jimmy, whom he almost killed as an infant for crying a lot. Meanwhile, at the Motts residence, Dandy throws a tantrum during dinner because he’s an overgrown imp who drinks cognac out of a crystal baby bottle. He storms out to eat popcorn at the freak show instead of the dinner of escargot prepared by their maid Nora (Patti LaBelle!), who tries to tell Gloria about the animal remains she found outside. Dandy desires to be a thespian
, believing that he belongs onstage at the freak show. Jimmy sends him away, and he has a Fear
-worthy meltdown. Believing she is saving the day, an oblivious Gloria picks up Twisty on the side of the road to take home for Dandy’s entertainment. He politely sits through Dandy’s limp rendition of The King and I
with puppets, then knocks the man-child unconscious and takes some of his toys. Dandy, probably sensing a kindred spirit, tracks Twisty down at his abandoned school bus, just in time to stop Twisty’s captives from escaping. Is a new romance afoot?
Dandy Mott, drunk baby.
Back at the camp, Dell has decided he is the boss because he can bench press the most weight. Against Elsa’s wishes, he posts bills around town announcing matinee freak shows. Jimmy and his costars assert their presence in Jupiter by trying to eat at the local diner, which results in white women walking away from their salisbury steaks, and a father-son brawl between Dell and Jimmy outside the diner. (I am opting not to comment on the allusion to the Civil Rights Movement in this scene.) On the main stage, Elsa is coaching Dot and Bette on their act for the show. Dot sings the vintage thirst trap “Dream A Little Dream of Me” to Jimmy, who forgets about it immediately. In the next show, Dot sings “Criminal” to a mosh pit. According to AHS, the teenager was invented in the 1950’s because no one under the age of 13 or over age 19 was interested in throwing themselves into one another. Pissed that Dell whipped him in public, Jimmy tries to pin the detective’s murder on him with a planted police badge, but “All Eyez” Dell flipped it at the last minute and pinned the crime on little Meep, the geek. Unfortunately, Meep is beaten to death by his fellow inmates at the local jail. FLORIDA, YOU GUYS. Elsa sneaks into Bette and Dot’s tent while Dot’s asleep and gives Bette some compliments about what a great job she did singing backup for Dot that night and a knife, which she may or may not use to murk the very person she’s been attached to her entire life.
Can’t wait to tune in next week!