American Horror Story: Freak Show – “Edward Mordrake Part 2” Season 4 Episode 4 Review

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Freak Show seems to be a big fan of taking one step forward, and then two steps back.

Note: This will be my last review of American Horror Story for the season. Though the show remains a buzzy presence in the pop culture sphere, my weekly viewings of it have begun to feel somewhat torturous, and I don’t really know how many times I can write a version of “this is not good” before it becomes tiresome. In short, I just can’t with this show anymore.

What’s interesting about “Edward Mordrake Part 2” is that it actually solved several of the puzzles that were dragging the season down in its own murk. We now understand the relevance of Twisty the Clown, know more about why Elsa is wholeheartedly determined to become a star, and even got a better sense of how the carnies in her show came to be together. What’s more, the series’ underlying “we are all freaks” theme was allowed to progress past Evan Peters sulking about being treated differently. It’s just too bad that all of this was handled so poorly.

After visiting Ethel and deciding she isn’t “the one,” Mordrake heads into the tents of the other performers to hear their confessions. What follows is a bleak set of origin stories in which Legless Suzi and Paul the Seal Man shared how they were shunned by society and came to join the Cabinet of Curiosities. These stories were the highlight of the episode for me, as they felt pure in their intentions, and served only to further develop these minor characters. Everything else was a hot mess.

Ryan Murphy certainly seems to have a fixation with assault. Much like Madison Montgomery’s disturbing rape scene in Coven, Elsa’s background features some pretty horrific stuff. There’s BDSM torture—that toilet seat was just…no—and a drug-induced snuff film which resulted in the loss of her legs. Normally, an alarming tale such as this one would work to humanize a character, but it only adds to Elsa’s bewildering nature.

She so desperately wants to become the star that she failed to be years ago, but then immediately after finishing her story claims she’s ready to die. Then, when Mordrake decides she isn’t the one, she goes back on her mission to rise to the A-list. What exactly does she want? I’m all for characters being multifaceted, but by this point we should have at least a vague idea of her intentions. This is not the case here. The episode’s end brings back her rivalry with Dot and Bette, which, after everything else that happens, feels so unnecessary. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m seriously starting to miss Constance Langdon.

After moving on from Elsa, Mordrake visits Twisty’s van in the woods, which now includes a captive Jimmy and Esmerelda. Dandy is trying to put on a show—aka cut Esmerelda in half—but is knocked out by Jimmy at the last minute. While he’s unconscious, Twisty is suddenly able to speak full sentences and tells Mordrake his origin story. As expected, it’s rather tragic. Twisty is portrayed as an outcast among outcasts; not even the freaks in Elsa’s show wanted anything to do with him. Mordrake deems him the truest freak of all, and takes him over to the other side.

So now Twisty is dead. I suppose it was a clever trick to present him as the season’s Big Bad and then off him four episodes in, but now who’s the main villain going to be? Dandy? I’m sorry, but f*ck that. Out of all of Freak Show‘s twisted characters, he has got to be the most annoying. What exactly drives this man-child to be so inanely psychotic? I don’t know, and after watching several more of his tantrums, I really don’t care. I simultaneously feel sorry for and am proud of Patti LaBelle. Her character was treated with disdain, but at least she was able to get out before things got really bonkers—which should happen sometime next week.

I thought the episode was going to end on a positive note with the townsfolk accepting the carnies and lauding Jimmy as their new hero. No, instead Elsa uses this to try and mount her career once again, and Denis O’Hare’s conman returns to try and set up a scheme. Also, Toledo randomly comes out of his tent and stares at Jimmy even though he’s been MIA this whole episode, because, you know, the show can never stuff too many subplots into a single hour.

I’m sorry, guys. I just can’t put up with these shenanigans anymore. Not even the news that the wonderful Lily Rabe is returning can make me stay. It would be one thing if this season was ridiculous in a carefree, fun way—as was the case with Coven—but this is just ridiculous and depressing. Thanks for sticking with me through these four episodes, and god bless anyone who’s going to trudge through the rest of them. Grade: D

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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