With the second episode of ‘Freak Show’, it occurs to me that this may be the first season of ‘American Horror Story’ without anything supernatural in the plot. At least so far, there’s been no sign of any ghosts or witches or aliens or anything of that sort. Naturally, that could change in the future. But for now, this season appears to be slightly more grounded in real-world things.
Relatively speaking, of course. Everything in this show is very far-fetched and exaggerated by design.
Episode ‘Massacres and Matinees’ sees the return of Michael Chiklis to the network that made him a television icon. He plays Dell Toledo, a circus strongman who arrives in town looking to join Fraulein Elsa’s little troupe – whether they want him or not. Dell has a three-breasted, hermaphrodite wife named Desiree (Angela Bassett) and a very short temper. He also has a history with bearded lady Ethel (Kathy Bates) and is in fact Jimmy’s father, though Jimmy doesn’t know that and Dell has no intention of ever bonding with his bastard child.
If he has no other redeeming qualities (and it appears that he doesn’t), Dell is a very persistent guy. He convinces Elsa to provisionally hire him as a barker for the circus. He considers this an invitation to take over the place.
With a murder spree going on and a detective missing, the police in Jupiter have imposed a curfew on the town. This is obviously bad for business at the freak show. Dell suggests that they run matinee shows during the day. Elsa and the others think that’s a bad idea, because a freak show needs the allure and mystery of night. Dell doesn’t care what anyone else wants, and goes around town putting up signs for the matinees.
Even though he did in fact kill the detective, Jimmy believes that he and the other freaks are being persecuted just because they’re different. He thinks the best way to resolve this is to march into town with a bunch of the freaks and have lunch at a diner, to show the townspeople that the carnies are regular folk too, just like them. Well, that plan backfires when the normals at the diner are terrified by the freaks. Then Dell storms in, orders them all back to the circus, and gives Jimmy a beating. If you give people the show for free, he yells, they won’t want to pay for it later. Frankly, he does have a point there.
As the new headline attraction, conjoined twins Bette and Dot are billed as the “Siamese Sisters.” Unfortunately, Bette (the one who actually wants to be a star) is a lousy singer and has no other profitable talents. Dot, however, busts out a performance of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” that gets the matinee crowd riled up into a mosh pit. (For Fiona Apple, really?) Bette becomes terribly jealous of her sister hogging the spotlight, and Elsa uses this to play the girls against one another for reasons that aren’t yet clear.
Desperate to get rid of Dell, Jimmy plants the dead detective’s badge in his trailer and tips off the cops. Dell, however, is a step ahead of him and has already moved the badge to the bunk of the wimpy chicken-biting geek named Meep. The cops haul him off to jail, and later return to dump his dead body at the entrance to the big top.
Separate from these events is a parallel storyline about the evil serial killing clown. (Officially, his name is credited as Twisty the Clown, and he’s played by John Carroll Lynch from ‘The Drew Carey Show’, not that you can tell what’s under that makeup.)
Rich weirdo Dandy Mott is very, very bored with everything. He tells his mommy that he wants to be a thespian, and tries to run off to join the circus. When Jimmy turns him away, he returns home to sulk, only to find that mommy has a surprise for him. She’s hired Dandy his very own clown to cheer him up! She spotted the clown wandering down the road and apparently wasn’t at all put off by his terrifying appearance or state of dishevelment.
After a few minutes of putting up with his playing, the clown hits Dandy over the head and leaves. Dandy follows him into the woods to the dilapidated bus where he’s holding the girl and child hostage. The girl tries to escape, but Dandy stops her and brings her back to the clown. What fun times they’ll have together!
Honestly, I’m not really buying into Michael Chiklis’ character (I have a hard time seeing him as anyone other than Vic Mackey), and wasn’t much impressed with Sarah Paulson’s singing. Those quibbles aside, this is another fun episode with some truly weird and disturbing stuff. For a brief moment, we get to see under the clown’s smile mask, and it appears that his jaw is missing and half his face is rotted. I look forward to the explanation for that, among other things.