‘American Horror Story’ 4.04 Recap: “Tell Me About Your Darkest Hour”

With these last two episodes, I’m afraid that ‘Freak Show’ has quickly dropped down to being my least favorite season of ‘American Horror Story’ so far.

I expressed my reservations in last week’s recap about the way the season introduced a supernatural element. The second half of the ‘Edward Mordrake’ two-parter plays that out even farther, negating any possibility that the character’s appearance could have been either a delusion or a hoax. Worse, the episode makes the disastrous mistake of over-explaining the show’s most mysterious and most interesting character (Twisty the evil clown), and then offering him redemption. Whose brilliant idea was it to write out the season’s best villain only four episodes in?

The episode starts with Mordrake visiting Elsa, who mistakes him as a wealthy benefactor there to lift her out of obscurity. He quickly disabuses her of that notion and puts her in her place. Mordrake demands that she and the other freaks tell him their deepest, most shameful secrets so that he can choose one of them to become his newest companion in the netherworld. Elsa relays the story of how she worked as a dominatrix in a German sex club between World Wars, and lost her legs when a group of demented perverts drugged her and chainsawed them off for an amputation snuff film. She’s so greatly shamed by this that she turns around and begs Mordrake to choose her and put her out of her misery. Just as he’s about to do that, however, he hesitates.

Meanwhile, the teenage girl being held in the bus rushes the clown and tries to escape (again). He chases and catches up to her, but Jimmy and Esmerelda witness the event and follow him through the woods. Despite being attacked by Dandy, Jimmy manages to set all the prisoners free. Dandy runs after them. Unfortunately, Twisty grabs Jimmy, but before he’s able to do anything, Mordrake comes calling. He demands that Twisty remove his mask, exposing his mutilated mouth underneath, and tell his story. (Mordrake insists that so long as Twisty concentrates, the worlds will become clear.)

We then flash back to 1943. The simpleton but friendly clown only desires to entertain children, when he’s taunted by nasty carny dwarves who spread lies about him being a pedophile. His circus career and only joy ruined, Twisty tries to kill himself by eating a shotgun. When that fails, he’s left disfigured and demented. That’s when he hatches the idea that he needs to “save” all the children from the adults and bad people ruining their lives, which is why he runs around murdering people now. Or something like that.

Mordrake is so moved by this story that he selects Twisty to be his new companion. He stabs the clown in the chest to kill his corporeal body and then claims his spirit. Jimmy watches from the bus as they leave.

Having failed to recapture Esmerelda or any of the prisoners, Dandy returns to the bus and finds the clown’s body. He takes his mask and returns home wearing it, which gives him the courage to finally kill the maid (Patti LaBelle) he hates so much.

The next morning, Jimmy is declared a hero for saving the kids in the bus. A bunch of townies come to the circus to thank him and make peace with all the freaks. The circus may be saved. Looking to exploit this situation, the con artist Mansfield (Denis O’Hare) shows up pretending to be a Hollywood talent scout. Naturally, Elsa is immediately smitten.

I really can’t emphasize enough what a mistake it was for the show to demystify the clown or make him a tragic figure. The cartoonish Dandy is nowhere near as compelling a villain. I just don’t know what the writers were thinking. ‘Freak Show’ still has nine episodes left, and the show will need to do something really interesting to make up for this.

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