American Horror Story is back for a fourth season, this time around dubbed “Freak Show,” starring its repertoire actors in addition to some new faces.
If you’ve never seen AHS, each season has a completely different storyline but uses many of the same actors, something largely unseen in modern television.
This season is set in 1952 Jupiter, Florida and centers around Elsa Mars’ (Jessica Lange) “Cabinet of Curiosities,” one of the last remaining freak shows in America, that is struggling for success.
The first episode opens with a chilling milkman scene where we find the first dead body of the season, the mother of conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson).
There have been many spoilers floating around online about the conjoined twins as well as several photos, so the suspense the show tried to create when revealing the characters by a doctor’s assessment of four lungs and two hearts fell a little flat.
Lange brings some raw and raunchy elements to the character of Elsa, visiting the twins in the hospital to convince them to join her circus and slyly asking if anyone had ever tasted their cherry pie. She nails that delivery, and by the end of the episode we see that she’s not just the madam and a singer, but a freak in her own right.
Other characters we meet include Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters), who I feel did not get nearly enough lines and screen time in AHS: Coven. He’s called “Lobster Boy” for his crab-like misshapen hands, which he manages to put to good use for lonely housewives and a bit of extra cash.
I was thrilled to see his character ramped up sexually as well as delivering lines such as, “Don’t call us freaks!” with such vigor and energy that you lose all sense of disbelief.
But perhaps one of the most intriguing things about the episode is the crossover of a character from season two. Enter the return of Pepper, played by Naomi Grossman, from AHS: Asylum. This season is set in the 1950s, some years before we met Pepper in Asylum‘s Briarcliff Manor. It will be interesting to see how they tell her story and to see if they explain why and how she ended up in the asylum.
In addition to Pepper, we meet characters Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge), Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin) and Paul the Illustrated Seal (Mat Fraser.) Freak Show‘s creators should be applauded for choosing to use actors with real deformities and using the actor’s experiences to create new characters and subplots. It gives the viewer a look at what life was, and in many cases still is, like for people who are different and ostracized.
Kathy Bates returns to AHS as Ethel Darling, the bearded lady. Frances Conroy also makes a comeback as Gloria Mott, a wealthy woman who wants to buy the circus and tells Lange’s character that her singing sounds like “caterwauling.” In the coming episodes we will also see the return of Emma Roberts, Denis O’Hare, Angela Basset and Gabourey Sibide.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be AHS without the horror. Enter Twisty, played by John Carroll Lynch, a terrifying clown with a disturbing mask who brutally murders people with a knife to the chest or holds them hostage in a cage at his home. He seems to have a twisted desire to entertain children, trying to give balloons to the hostages he takes in the first episode. When they scream in terror, he has a terrifying meltdown and storms out.
The episode ends with Jimmy, Bette, Dot and the rest of the “monsters,” as Elsa has dubbed them, brutally murdering a police officer who tries to arrest the twins for the murder of their mother. Twisty looks on from a distance, expressionless except for the mask over his mouth, and I went to sleep with nightmares.
American Horror Story: Freak Show airs Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on FX.
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