Perhaps I was just in a better mood and more receptive to the show than I’d been recently, but as soon as I saw that last week’s episode of ‘American Horror Story’ was titled ‘Blood Bath’, I had a feeling that I’d enjoy it more than most this season.
I’m still not sold on making Dandy Mott the primary villain for the year. He’s too much of a cartoon character, and I liked the evil clown better (until the show misguidedly tried to redeem him). Nevertheless, this episode has some fun letting Dandy go full psycho.
We start with his mother Gloria (Frances Conroy) telling her psychiatrist all about what a “willful child” Dandy has always been. Strangely, we’re never allowed to see the psychiatrist’s face. Perhaps he’s being saved for a later reveal. His voice kind of sounds like Danny Huston, who appears in a separate storyline later in the episode, but I don’t know how the dots connect yet. Anyway, Gloria’s stories are peppered with flashbacks to little Dandy killing cats and snatching a servant’s child, but she refrains from telling the doctor about Dandy murdering their maid Dora.
The shrink insists on seeing the boy for himself. Gloria tricks him into going by telling him that the doctor wants to test what a genius he is. Of course, Dandy exhibits all the signs of being a full-bore psychopath, but he sees through his mother’s charade and refuses to go back. When Dora’s daughter Regina (Gabourey Sidibe) shows up looking for her mother, Dandy strikes a deal with his mother: He will go back to the psychiatrist so long as she murders Regina. Gloria can’t go through with it.
The doctor calls Gloria and informs her that he wants to have Dandy committed immediately. Gloria resists, and makes plans to take her son to Europe for a fresh start. Unfortunately, Dandy figures out what she’s doing and wants no part of it. He threatens to shoot himself with a pistol. When his mother begs him not to kill himself, he agrees that it would be a bad idea, so he shoots her in the head instead. Makes sense.
As we last see him, Dandy is literally bathing in blood, presumably his mother’s. I bet that’s comforting.
At the Circus
Back at Elsa’s carnival, the freaks organize a search party to look for Ma Petite. Dell plays along as if he doesn’t know what happened to her. Jimmy finds a pile of her bloody clothes, and Dell immediately suggests that she must have been attacked by wild animals. Elsa breaks down wailing.
Ethel (Kathy Bates) is not particularly impressed by Elsa’s emotional outburst, and accuses her of faking it. More than that, she believes that Elsa killed Ma Petite out of jealousy for hogging the spotlight. Elsa gets very defensive and denies the accusations. They have a big fight. Ethel pulls a gun and shoots Elsa in the leg. Elsa of course doesn’t even flinch. Ethel is shocked. She had no idea that Elsa’s legs were fake.
We segue then into black-and-white flashbacks when Elsa tells the story of the doctor (Danny Huston) who saved her and sculpted her prosthetic legs.
A drunk and despondent Ethel plans to pull a murder-suicide. Elsa convinces her to share one last drink first, which is obviously a distraction so that she can toss a throwing knife directly into Ethel’s eye, killing her.
The next morning, Maggie runs into the circus in exaggerated hysterics. She claims that she witnessed a car accident. She believes that Ethel intentionally drove her car into a tree to kill herself. Elsa breaks down crying once again, but this time it’s clear that she’s overacting.
In reality, as we learn in a flashback, Elsa and Stanley staged the scene (with Maggie’s assistance, I’m sure). To cover up the hole in her face, Stanley rigged up an elaborate scenario where Ethel supposedly tied a chain to a tree and wrapped it around her neck in order to decapitate herself as she drove. It seems extremely far-fetched, but everyone else is in too much shock to question it. Jimmy in particular is a wreck.
Elsa skips Ethel’s funeral and travels to a fat spa in Miami to recruit new talent for the circus. There she spots a morbidly obese woman named Barbara, and uses her charms to seduce her into joining the show as the new fat lady. Elsa gives her the stage name “Ima Wiggles.” Tasteful.
A Sticky Situation
Tired of the womenfolk being treated like second-class freaks, Desiree gathers up a small posse to strike back at the men who’ve mistreated them. After hearing Penny the candy-striper’s tale of abuse, the girls kidnap her father, strip him, and tar & feather him – literally tar & feather, by pouring scalding hot tar all over his body. Desiree plans to castrate and finish him off too, until Maggie hears the man’s screams and rushes in to stop them. She tells Penny that revenge is not worth going to prison over. Penny agrees to let her father live… in whatever quality of life he may have after his skin grows back.
In one episode, we’ve lost both Kathy Bates and Frances Conroy. The show still has five to go this season. Given its history of unpredictability, there’s no telling how many more major characters will get the axe before the finale – perhaps even all of them. The downside to this is that it’s hard to get attached to any of the characters, so when they go, their deaths don’t really feel meaningful. (We’ll probably see most of the actors again next season anyway.)
That said, this is a fun episode. Although I still think that ‘Freak Show’ is the series’ weakest season so far, I’m not feeling quite as down on it right now and look forward to seeing the conclusion.
As much as I love watching Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange acting off one another, I really disliked how much time was spent on the fight. It seemed overly lengthy. Also, after so much focus on Paul the Illustrated Man, it was severely disappointing to see him absolutely mute this episode. He’s a fantastic actor; I hope he gets the spotlight again and returns next season.