AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW Review 1.07 “Test Of Strength”
“Take off the gloves. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. If anyone looks at you funny, I’ll break their skulls.”
“Unless it’s a girl.”
Okay, this makes two episodes in a row in which American Horror Story forgot the horror part of its story. There's still some good character stuff happening, and I'm always going to be engaged by the 1952 carnival setting, but I want wacko-bananas bloodlust, and we're just not getting it this season.
Of course, "Test of Strength" ended with the murder of a beloved character, but I'm not particularly comforted by that, either. This week we learn that the kind surgeon whose hands Dell mangled killed himself after his vocation was robbed from him, and now Dell's responsible for the death of Ma Petite, as well. American Horror Story: Freak Show is so short on kind, compelling characters; Ma Petite and Dr. Bonham stood out because they were good people with no selfish agendas, and the show is worse off for their deaths. Particularly since Dell is responsible for both and yet isn't presented as our real villain. In fact, his near murder of Jimmy resulted in nothing more than a melodramatic reconciliation between father and son, complete with Jimmy sobbing "You're my dad!!!" and a warm embrace. I mean, it's nice, but it's not doing much for the show, especially because we know Dell will be back to acting like an asshole in no time.
On that front, thank goodness for Kathy Bates as Ethel, because her gentle morality and excellent culinary skills are becoming the cornerstone of this season for me. She's such a strong, loving presence on the show, and she adds a lot even without having much of anything to do since her big episode. And of course we have Jimmy, but for the first time on American Horror Story, Evan Peters' generic niceness just isn't doing it for me. He won't run away with Maggie Esmerelda for reasons that are utterly unclear; Dot and Bette have made it explicit that they don't want him to rescue them, and it's not like he actually got rid of Dell the way he intended. He's a nice boy, but pretty useless, and with his mom doing such a good job as the moral center of the freak show, I don't particularly see the point of Jimmy. His emo version of "Come As You Are" didn't do much to convince me, either.
His relationship with Esmerelda feels like a hollow version of Paul's with Penny - Penny, who risked everything and gave up her life of normalcy to be with Paul the Illustrated Seal, only to have her father mutilate her face and tongue in retribution. Penny's not all that interesting, but Paul certainly is, and he is heartbroken with guilt when he sees what Penny's father did to her because of her relationship with Paul. Their relationship now takes on a more immediate urgency; thank goodness Paul survived Elsa's assassination attempt, or Penny would have no one to turn to after her father's cruelty.
And that leaves Bette and Dot, who continuously sway between good and evil on either side. Bette is now a glamorous blonde, the butterfly to Dot's caterpillar, but she showed true loyalty when she told a glowering Dandy, "I’m sorry, but I choose my sister. Always." It's a kindness Dot will not repay, as she plots to excise Bette from her person in a manner that I can't imagine will result in Bette's continued survival. These two are growing ever-more interesting, and their storyline has been twisty enough to leave no clue as to where it's going next.
I never tire of watching Dell trying to menace women only to get his ass handed to him again and again. Amazon Eve is my hero: "Who's the strong man now?!"
Frances Conroy continues to be the dark horse of line delivery on this show: "A daily regiment of vitamins and fois gras brought the pink back to their pallor."
It was quite moving to learn of Ma Petite's real name: Mahadavi Patel. Jyoti Amge's performance will be missed.