"American Horror Story: Freak Show" episode 4.3, "Edward Mordrake: Part 1." Written by James Wong; Directed by Michael Uppendahl; Starring Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Kathy Bates, and Sarah Paulson.
I had to be up at the buttcrack of dawn for an appointment today, so I went to bed directly after last night's episode. And I thought maybe that would be a better approach in general - I'll be rested, have had time to ponder the previous evening's storytelling, and maybe be a bit less cynical.
I just had time to realize that, while there were in fact several impressive moments in 4.3, I still have no idea what the hell is going on. I mean, kinda, right? There's a sideshow that harbors some drama within, and then seemingly unrelated there's this piss soaked, jaw-less clown that murders people. And also spoiled rich kid. I think that by three episodes in a show should have given me a cause, rather than relying on the strengths of performances in semi-related vignettes.
Our tale opened at a Mutter-esque museum of morbidity, and we are introduced to two more characters: Stanley and Maggie are shysters who sell gafs to unsuspecting norms. In an effort to increase their profits, the two head to Jupiter, Florida. And surely hijinks shall ensue, since Maggie has inserted herself into the side show as a fortune teller. Her "audition" scene was made passable only by the fact that her audience had apparently smoked enough opium to kill a small horse, for surely the weathered and shrewd Elsa could clock a fake from across the county. But no, Elsa fell hook line and sinker for Maggie's predictions, and if you didn't see that foreshadowing like a bat signal on your screen I don't even have anything to say to you.
My first treat of the evening came after the credits. Our first official act took place in Ft. Lauderdale on Beggars' Night, and Murphy and crew payed homage to the Queen of Horror Movies, "Halloween." Whether or not you agree with that bestowing of title is a debate for another day. The AHS team started with a little "ch-ch-ch-ch" in the score, only to reveal two shots straight out of the Carpenter classic. The motif returned during many of Twisty's scenes this episode, and I happen to have loved it. No, it wasn't disguised very well but when is anything on this whirlwind of a show? I've caught many nods to classic horror throughout the show's run, but none to my memory have been as obvious as this one. For the Hallowe'en week of a show that surely owes a lot to the cliches of films past, it was appropriate.
Our next vignette sent us to Ethel receiving a grim diagnosis from a kind physician. I might have to start calling this the Kathy Bates show, as she shone more in this episode than any in her time on the show. Delphine was a great role, only because she was a horror show of a person. Ethel's only quality that shows her distance from the casual viewer is her beard - other than that she's one of us (I literally cannot stop with the cheap allusions). Her performance in this scene, and again towards the episode's finale, proves her to be one of the greatest performers working today. She killed me twice, but we'll get to the closer in a bit.
Hallelujah, Patti LaBelle doing a Woody Woodpecker impersonation was on my bucket list and I didn't even know it. I can't recall at the moment if I've seen Ms. LaBelle act before, and she's doing a marvelous job on a show full of Fancy Award Winners. I enjoy the tension in her one on one performances with Dandy, but - I am so sorry to be such a broken record - I don't see where it's going and I have yet to care. Will he murder her? Prolly. Will she murder him? Doubt it, but how awesome would it be to see her club Dandy and then lay a verbal smack down on Twisty? Actually, no, do not want, please for that not to happen. But during the duo's interaction, there was yet another "Halloween" nod that made me smile.
Back at the Freak Show, Kathy Bates stole the show in many more scenes. She had a heart to heart with Dell that made no sense at all ("Don't tell him your his father 'cause you're a giant piece of shit but also please look after him"), but educated us a little on her character's growth over the off-screen years. She also regaled Dot and Bette with the story of Edward Mordrake. He was an old timey dude with a parasitic twin who went batshit and killed a bunch of sideshow performers, and if any "freak" performs on Hallowe'en to this day, Edward and his demon twin will be summoned and not depart until they've recruited (i.e. murdered) another freak to take back to Hell. So most of the gang are satisfied with drinkin' hooch and bobbing for apples, except of course Elsa. She ministers to Dot and Bette on the qualities that make one a "real" star, and since Maggie the shyster told her she'd be visited by a man in black who likes her singing, guess what happens next? I'll refer you to my notes:
Yup. Musical number. But even the dead guy with a parasitic twin was so put off he left the tent and went for Ethel. And here's where I have a confession.
You got me, AHS. You got me good. You horrified me. There was no gore, no cheap jump-scare or screamer, you did it with good storytelling. Before his harvest, Edward's twin requires their victim to share the pain they've lived. And Ethel told a story of young hope and intelligence done wrong by a man she thought she loved. Through her story, we also learn that Dell Toledo is a monster of the highest order. Truly, 12 hours later when I think of that sequence I still hurt in the gut a little. That's A+ stuff.
The episode ended when Parasite Twin decided to pass on Ethel. Sadly we'll have to wait until next week for his choice and also probably some more bullshit singing. So I leave you now with just a few random thoughts:
- I need Angela Bassett to have a meatier role. She's glorious, and I always want to see more of her.
- Seriously, can no one smell this clown? I mean, he looks like he rolled around in a litter box and hasn't bathed since Elsa had legs. Yet he gets waaaaay into someone else's bubble and they just stand there like there isn't a poo-laden clown six inches from their person. I don't buy it.
- Not a lot of Dot and Bette this episode. We really only saw them get a talkin' to from Elsa, and a dream sequence that only told us that with which we a fully aware: Dot is mean and bitter and hates being a twin (no judgment, just fact), and Bette is a simpleton. It served only to reveal that Dot's already tried to become a solo act.
- Hm. I wonder what's in Dennis O'Hare's pants.
- I really wanted to say "to Hell with the early appointment" and watch "Halloween" to see if I had missed any references. Sadly, it is streaming nowhere and in a surprising twist of character I do not own it. Can any astute viewer out there tell me if the shot of Maggie in the phone booth was also a "Halloween" valentine?
So until next week, I bid you farewell. What do you think, shall we take bets on Mordrake's victim? Or perhaps the next musical number? The internet has been telling me that Twisty's story will be revealed in the fourth episode, so perhaps he's somehow tied to Mordrake? OH GOD please let them duet on "Puttin' on the Ritz." Oh man, I tickled myself on that one. I'm out.