AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW Review - 1.02 “Massacres And Matinees”

Angela Bassett and Michael Chiklis join the carnie crew, and I'm happy about exactly one of them. 

"This might as well be the Garden of Eden." 

"So says the snake."

One of the things I loved best about last week's premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show is that, unlike Coven, most everyone in the carnie troupe appeared to care about one another and support each other. Coven worked for me when the witches banned together against an outside force, but that happened so rarely, and their dynamic was marred by so much infighting, that I found myself writing off the whole lot of them. 

American Horror Story has always been the story of outsiders, and that's what I love about it. But it so rarely meets its potential - the heights it reached in Season 2, as the inhabitants of Asylum defended each other against external prejudice and oppression. American Horror Story truly becomes about something when it shows that outsiders can be their own sort of infrastructure, beyond the strictures of a disapproving society. Like Tate and Violet making sense of their senseless existence, or Kit and Lana teaming up to break their way out of Briarcliff. 

In "Monsters Among Us," last week's premiere, I had hopes that Freak Show would tell that same story. Jimmy (and it always seems to be Evan Peters' character, doesn't it?) is so tenderly protective of the group, and they all appear to blossom under his attention. I loved the relationship between Dot and Bette - while somewhat contentious, as their personalities are so different, I felt a closeness there, beyond the obvious physical proximity they're forced to share. Dot, while so much more cynical and mistrusting than Bette, seemed preservative of Bette's sweet naivete. (Gah, I hope I have that right. There's a chance I'm going to be confusing them for the first few eps of the season.)

Imagine my dismay, then, when Michael Chiklis arrives to fuck everything up this week. 

I was originally thrilled at the idea of Michael Chiklis as the troupe's strong man - a jovial, doltish sort, I thought. And when he and Angela Bassett's three-breasted, hermaphroditic Desiree show up, seemingly deeply in love, well, I was delighted with that, too. As Desiree details her physical singularities to Elsa Mars, Elsa asks the strong man, "And what does that make you?" Dell replies, "The happiest man on earth," and I thought, "How lovely!" 

Moments later Dell's being allowed to tear the troupe to pieces from inside out - bossing Elsa around, diminishing her role in the show, terrorizing the freaks. Conflict is necessary for drama, of course, but American Horror Story has never been short on conflict, and with the law against them and the town terrified of them, did they really need a giant bully throwing them out of the diner when they're just hoping to share a nice meal? Give Pepper her meatloaf, dammit! And god, poor Meep - though I guess the chickens can breathe a little easier now. 

By the same token, I was disappointed in Elsa's envy of Dot - and the way she preyed on Bette's own insecurity about her lack of talent. Some discord and infighting must eventually infect the group, of course, but to introduce it so early feels like a blueprint for the same mistakes of last season. Elsa got what she wanted out of Bette and Dot - a damned good show - and now she's doing her best to ruin them, just one week later. It's maddening!

But I'm loving the new unlikely alliance that's developed between Dandy and Twisty, a murderous clown who seems as unsettled by that petulant mama's boy as we are. I have a feeling they're going to be the sleeper 'ship of the season, although I'm still rooting for Dot and Jimmy - I just love the way her face opens up whenever he looks in her direction. 

Last notes:

The credits continue to wow me each week. Best of the series, right here.

Dandy's crystal cognac baby bottle is a hell of a thing. It's probably weird to be jealous of a baby bottle, but there you go. 

I'm in love with Ma Petite, played by World's Tiniest Woman Jyoti Amge. She has such a warm and winning smile, such a knowing way about her!

As always, I'm ready for about twenty times more Angela Bassett than we're currently getting. Good god, that woman's got presence. Less Dell, more Desiree, please. Although I do foresee some interest in the eventual reveal to Jimmy that Dell is his daddy. 

Fiona Apple was not a strong musical choice this week. It just didn't work - though not through any fault of Sarah Paulson, who killed it. 

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