Jupiter, Florida has this weird murder problem. Townspeople keep on dying—usually covered in blood, sometimes missing certain key body parts that are often required for basic motor functions like thinking and breathing. A local detective has been missing for two days. In response, the cops have set up a curfew. In response, the cops are out for blood. Some detectives swing by Elsa Mars’ tent to announce that every single freak in Freak City was on the local Watch list. They’re easy targets, our beloved non-normals—especially in Jupiter, in the ’50s, where most people are normal types with normal haircuts and normal clothes.
We saw one such normo picking up some coffee from the local diner. The diner’s just about empty; people are scared of leaving their homes. The young man in the bright red vest swings back to store where he works. He has Mr. Hanley’s coffee. Unfortunately, Mr. Hanley does not have a head. This is revealed gradually, by way of a wind-up robot tracking blood across the floor. Not long after noticing that Mr. Hanley’s head has left his body, the young man in the bright red vest suddenly develops a rare case of Dagger-Through-The-Throat-itis. It’s the Scary Clown, of course—looking sad and almost drowsy, like a guy who just looked up at the clock thinking it was 5 p.m. and then realized it wasn’t even noon.
The second episode of “Freak Show” was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, whose sensibility is garish and loopy but also precise and formalist, like Wes Anderson directing a snuff film. In that sense, our first look at the Mott Household is straight-up Meth Gomez-Rejon. Dandy and his loving mama Gloria sit on opposite ends of a long, empty table. Gloria’s hair melds perfectly with the curtains—who even knew there could be Strawberry Blonde curtains? Dandy is bored. Bored of his mom. Bored of the food. Bored of this whole scene, man. “Snails? How boring!” he declares. Dandy tries to take a sip of some grown-up juice—and this is when we learn that, when Dandy drinks his cognac, he drinks out of a specially-designed glass with a baby-bottle teat.
“You can’t live on sweets and cognac, Dandy,” says his mother. “It’s bad for the temperament. I’m still having nightmares about the debacle with the Cushing girl—”
“She was just miffed because I said she reminded me of the pregnant hippo we saw on safari!” screams Dandy.
This was an old argument, you could tell. Gloria is feeling a bit lonely just now. Oughtn’t Dandy have a wife by now? “What about a grandbaby?” she floats. “It’d be such fun for us!”
“Never!” says Dandy. “Babies are more boring than anything.” Not for our Dandy, the typical family life. He has dreams. He wants to be a thespian. Gloria is predictably horrified. “You come from a long line of such fine people. Generation after generation of refinement.” (Idea for next season: American Horror Story: Generation After Generation Of Refinement, following a single family line throughout American history from the colonies through today. In each episode, Sarah Paulson plays a different member of the family, with a different accent, throughout the entire sweep of that family member’s life. At the 2016 Emmys, Paulson loses the Best Actress in a Miniseries/Movie Emmy to Maggie Smith for Dame Maggie’s delightful turn as hardscrabble centenarian nurse Constance Pimsley in the hit British wartime miniseries Pimsley of East Chelmsford.)
Dandy doesn’t want refinement. Dandy wants to go to St. Petersburg, where they have real caramel corn. He races off in a mood—never a good sign.
Also not a good sign: Anyone arriving at the Elsa Mars Circus of Subplots. And yet here, driving down the lane, comes Michael Chiklis and Angela Bassett. First-timer AHS player Chiklis is playing a Strongman with the excellent name Dell Toledo. Bassett’s newest variation is named Desiree Dupree. She’s quite a gal, that Desiree. Is gal the right word? Our Double D has a secret or three. She’s got a trio of breasts, see, just like the happy-go-lucky mutant hooker in Total Recall or that gal from Florida who either has three breasts or pretended to have three breasts, and it’s impossible to know which truth is weirder. But that’s not all there is to Desiree. “Proper girl parts and a ding-a-ling,” she explains. “I’m a full-blown hermaphrodite. Put that on your banner.” 10 million viewers, gang!
What does that make Dell? “The happiest man on Earth,” he says happily. Desiree and Dell might have a strange relationship. Desiree might occasionally have sex with other fellas; Dell might occasionally twist those other fellas’ heads around a couple times. They can’t ever go back to Chicago, that much is clear. And if Elsa doesn’t welcome them in, they’ll have nowhere else to go. “You’re our last stop,” says the suddenly eloquent Dell. “The world of carnie folk is small. We’re a vanishing breed.”
Over in the Big Tent, someone else wants to join the show. Dandy assures Jimmy that the Circus was where he truly belonged. “I’ve been ruminating on my life and what I want. This is the perfect place for me.” Jimmy is skeptical. Jimmy can’t imagine why a normo like Dandy would want to join up with the fleet of weirdos. “You got dreams of the lights. It’s nothing like you’d imagine. You wouldn’t last one day here.” (Bookmark this line for later, if and when it becomes clear that Freak Show is less about Jupiter, Florida and more about Hollywood, California) But doesn’t Jimmy understand? Dandy belongs here. “What you’re looking at, that’s not who I am inside,” explains Dandy. “I’m one of you!”
Banished. Exiled. Dandy bashes his head against the wheel of his car a couple dozen times. How he loathes this sorrowful life! Oh, to be one with the freaks! There’s a recurring idea in every iteration of American Horror Story that the strangest people are the ones who present as the most normal, and vice versa—that there is something insidious about beauty, something humane about ugliness. We get a direct exploration of this dichotomy when Dandy returns home. Mother Gloria promises him something he’s always wanted. What could that be? Dandy hates it here. Hates this house. Hates his life. But Gloria got him a new friend! He walks into the play room—and there, standing at the other end of the Gomez-Rejon™ Brand Perfectly Symmetrical Croquet Set, is the Scary Clown.
NEXT: Your Very Own Clown