It’s the penultimate episode of ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’, which can only mean that the plot twists and character deaths are coming at a rapid pace now.
Episode ‘Show Stoppers’ opens with a farewell feast held in Elsa’s honor. After allowing new owner Chester (Neil Patrick Harris) the chance to make a toast where he pledges to, “uphold the standards of this extravaganza,” Elsa sends him away to let the original circus crew have a moment alone together – except that they allow con man Stanley to stay. Elsa tells him that she wants to thank him for making her Hollywood dreams come true. She asks if he’s ever seen Tod Browning’s movie ‘Freaks’. When he claims that he hasn’t, the freaks around him recount the plot, which is a brutal tale of circus performers taking revenge against someone who has murdered one of their own. Stanley starts to take the hint and tries to beg off for the evening, but Elsa insists that he stay to open a present. Inside a big box is a jar with the Morbidity Museum owner’s head in it.
Well, as you can imagine, that’s about it for Stanley. Despite his protestations of innocence, Elsa taunts him by tossing knives at him on the spinning wheel, one of which hits him in the leg. Stanley blurts out that Elsa killed Ethel, but no one wants to listen to him in the moment. When he tries to make an escape, the freaks chase him in the rain, much like the climax to the ‘Freaks’ movie.
Next, Elsa visits Jimmy and tells him that his father Dell is dead. Jimmy blames Maggie (Emma Roberts), and won’t listen when she promises to make things right with everyone she’s wronged, including him.
Elsa calls in the doctor, Massimo Dolcefino (Danny Huston), who made her wooden legs and asks him to craft Jimmy new hands. Massimo tells the story of how he hunted down and killed all the torturers who took Elsa’s legs. He managed to kill them all except one, a truly deranged sicko named Hans Gruper. If the actor playing this character in flashback looks strikingly like James Cromwell, that’s because it’s his son John, who played young Dr. Arden in Season 2. Also, if you recall that season, “Hans Gruper” was Arden’s real name before he changed it. This, then, is another attempt to link ‘Freak Show’ with the ‘Asylum’ season.
The twins don’t like Marjorie the puppet watching them have sex with Chester, and ask him to move her away. Chester has to do a lot of apologizing to Marjorie afterwards for that. She demands that the twins need to go.
Dandy pops into the circus after hours and pays the twins an impromptu visit to gleefully warn them about what a messed-up psycho their new boyfriend Chester is. They don’t want to listen, but he leaves them with the file that his private detective compiled.
On his first day in charge, Chester announces changes to the performing line-up. The show will end with his magic act, in which he’ll put the twins in the sawing cabinet. The girls tell him that they don’t want to be his assistants anymore. Maggie, oblivious to the fact that anything is wrong with Chester, volunteers to take their place. Chester sees his ex-wife’s face on Maggie, and puts her in the cabinet for a run-through performance. He then saws her in half for real on stage, hacking away harder the more she screams… until she stops. When he pulls the two halves of the cabinet apart, Maggie’s guts spill out onto the floor. Chester, in the midst of a complete breakdown, runs off. The other freaks are dumbfounded by what just happened. Desiree shrugs it off, and tells them to steal her jewelry and bury the bitch.
Chester runs back to his tent, blames Marjorie for what she just made him do, and stabs her repeatedly. He’ll later turn himself into the police for killing a young girl, but of course the young girl he says he killed was Marjorie, not Maggie. That’s the last we see of Chester for this episode, but I doubt it’s the end of Neil Patrick Harris’ run on the show. The police can’t exactly convict Chester for murdering a puppet, but on the other hand he was covered in real blood, babbling like a maniac.
With time to think over what Stanley said, Desiree and the other freaks decide that they believe the part about Elsa murdering Ethel. They turn on Elsa and plan to make her pay. However, the twins tip her off first. When Elsa asks why they would help her, they say, “Now we’re even.”
The last we see of Elsa, she visits Dandy, who hands her a big wad of cash before she drives off to make a new life. (We were already told in a prior episode that she’ll achieve her dream of becoming a TV star.)
The next morning, Dandy struts into the circus with a document proclaiming him the new owner of the Cabinet of Curiosities, which he purchased from Elsa for the sum of $10,000. (Is the sale to Chester now invalidated?) Inspecting his new property, Dandy comes across a cage, in which sits Stanley, now with no arms or legs and covered in feathers like a chicken. Dandy is quite delighted by this.
In the episode’s final scenes, Massimo unveils Jimmy’s new wooden hands, which have been sculpted to look like his old claws. Jimmy tells him that they’re perfect. They don’t seem terribly functional to me, though.
Although I still have a lot of reservations about this season, I enjoyed this episode and look forward to the finale. I just wish ‘Freak Show’ hadn’t taken quite so long to warm up.