Hannah Hunt ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
This season of American Horror Story is lacking in true horror elements. Previous seasons have taken audiences into a haunted house, an asylum and a coven of witches- all traditional elements of horror. A band of freaks in a side show is not traditionally where someone will look for this. However, a killer clown and a version of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman? Those are horrifying. But for the last two episodes, the lack of these elements (note; the clown is now deceased) has made it seem that American Horror Story truly forgot the horror part of its story. In the seventh episode of Freak Show, “Test of Strength”, the focus was switched once again to more character and story developments.
If you’re looking for vengeful and bloodthirsty ghosts or an asylum patient mutilated by a Nazi war doctor crawling across a Massachusetts playground, this episode will do nothing for you. Despite this recent restrained manner found in Freak Show, the 1950s struggling sideshow setting remains extremely engaging. It was an intriguing episode that features the blackmail of two of the main characters. Stanley (Denis O’Hare) has backed Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis) into a serious corner. Pressured by Stanley, Dell must decide which freak to bump out of Elsa’s (Jessica Lange) show. And you would hope after Dell’s attempt to harm Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin) the freaks would be on high alert. But, no such luck and a member of Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities has fallen. Unlike last week in the museum fantasy sequence, Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge) is really dead, on display and floating in a glass box. The death of Ma Petite mirrors the death of Misty Day (Lily Rabe) from Coven: a little unexpected and very much undeserved.
As horrible as the death was, there are definitely some great moments from this episode. Dell, as the “strong man” freak, proves pretty ineffective at his role. He was absolutely destroyed by Amazon Eve when he tried to go after her. A second was Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates), who has been the most consistent aspect and character of this season. She is a character that embodies the most humanity from the show and the performance (accent included) of the monologue after her doctor’s suicide is very moving. Dell and Jimmy (Evan Peters) finally come to terms with their relationship as biological father and son, this was by far the most melodramatic moment in American Horror Story history. And Penny (Grace Gummer) wakes up from a drug induced sleep to find herself turned into a freak by her angry and disapproving father. The punishment given by her father was so permanent that it is truly terrifying.
Of course, the saga of Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson) was a huge part of the story. It took an entire episode of soap opera like dramatics (not involving Dell’s murder spree) before the horror seeped back onto the screen.The tension between Bette and Dot’s conflict of interest regarding the way their life will go now that they’ve been returned from Dandy’s mansion of crazy, is growing rapidly. And it looks like something incredibly wicked is going to happen because of this. On one side, Bette has given into the lavish ideals of fame and dyes her hair blonde, claiming to be a star in the making. Dot, however, is more than happy to have nothing to do with that kind of life.
However, it is not just each other the twins have to worry about. Their ringleader, Elsa, and her own jealousy from a failed stardom is reaching a new high. And she is still lurking in the shadows behind the twins. Unexpectedly, Elsa and Dot, who is the caterpillar to Bette’s butterfly, make an alliance. Their new alliance involves plans to meet with a surgeon in Chicago who successfully separated another set of conjoined twins. From this episode, it looks like something of true horror and gruesome standards may happen to one of the twins.
The difficult part is one can never be sure who is good and who is evil when it comes to the twins. It is easy to root for Dot, who is the “plain jane” and wants a normal life unlike her newly blonde sister who craves fame and the spotlight. But it is hard to forget Bette showed the utmost loyalty to her sister when she told Dandy she must return to Elsa’s for her sister who will always come first to her. It seems Dot will not return this kind of sisterhood to her sister. From the sound of it, Dot is ready to get rid of her sister, with Elsa’s help, permanently. The twin’s story line grows more complicated with each episode as each installment has the villain and hero role swapping back and forth from one twin to the other.
Overall Episode Grade: C+