When you title an episode of American Horror Story “Blood Bath,” you know it’s definitely figurative and you worry it might be literal. Then you see that “Blood Bath” is credited to American Horror Story demon lord Ryan Murphy, and you know it’s definitely literal. And so, by the end of the eighth episode of Freak Show, Dandy Mott is taking a bath in a tub filled with blood. We could’ve guessed it would be Dandy. The bigger question: Whose blood would it be?
A lot of options, turns out. Dandy has a history, after all—and the episode begins with an origin story of Our Boy Dandy. “I always thought of him as a foreigner,” Gloria tells her psychiatrist. (His face is never shown; his voice sounded a little like Ted Levine, but all deep voices in weird contexts sound like Ted Levine.) She recalls a time when she complained about the cat digging up the azaleas. Snip snip snip, Dandy solved that azalea problem! She remembers the gardener’s son, Emil, Dandy’s first friend. Bye-bye, Emil, have fun in the godless afterlife of the Murphyverse!
There’s death in the air everywhere. The gang at Elsa’s is out searching for Ma Petite; they find her clothes, torn, as if she were carried off by some kind of wild animal. Ethel’s suspicious—but of the wrong person. She confronts Elsa, and in what felt like the longest single scene of the season, Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange threw great acting in each other’s faces. The years of love mixed with slight mistrust; the utter betrayal Ethel felt, thinking that Elsa could turn on her own.
At one point, Ethel shot Elsa in the leg—leading Elsa to complete The Story of Elsa’s Wooden Legs. Turns out that origin story involves Danny Huston as a brilliant Italian sculptor/steampunk prosthetics expert named Massimo. The last iteration of Danny Huston had a Jessica Lange fixation, too: Coven‘s poor, lovestruck, insane Axeman. Presumably we’ll see more of Huston this season, although I like the idea of the American Horror Story writers jotting down “lovestruck Italian propmaker in a one-minute flashback” and then calling Danny Huston on speed-dial.
Ethel was unswayed by the sob story. She promised to kill Elsa, and then herself. Elsa offered her one last schnapps, for the road. “Sorry you won’t be going to Hollywood, Elsa,” says Ethel. “Sorry you won’t be there with me,” says the German gal, as she grabs a knife and throws it right in her bearded friend’s eye. Exit Bates, Stage Left.
Elsa covered up her crime, with a little help from Stanley, who is turning into a minor MVP of the season, thanks to his unflappable ability to know just the precisely right thing to do in every horrifying situation. (Denis O’Hare in Freak Show is like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction meets the Music Man; he’s also the polar opposite of Denis O’Hare in every other American Horror Story.)
Stanley helps Elsa set up the crime like a noir-perfect movie set. Maggie sees the car crash. The freaks find Ethel with her head off; they decided that Ethel had tied a chain around her neck, assuring her death in the crash. Suicide! Desiree provides the motive: Wasn’t Ethel sick, after all? Wasn’t she a tough gal, who would’ve chosen her own way out?
Jimmy is out of sorts. He gives a nice speech over his mother’s coffin, telling his Ma the only words anyone ever really wants to hear: “You weren’t nobody.” And death is an event that can have strange ripples across the atmosphere. After most of the people are gone, Desiree mourns for her absent friend, but turns that mourning into something empowering. “She didn’t need a man to take care of her,” she says. “We never had it easy. None of us. Especially not us women.” Step forward, Penny the Former Candy Striper, bearing the scars of your father’s disdain. “Look what my daddy did to me!” she declares. Desiree, apropos of nothing whatsoever besides general Bassett redemptive fury, declares: “I say no more. Not in my house. Any man that would do that, he needs to pay! ‘Cause life’s this game of inches, and today’s the day we declare our independence day, today we are canceling the apocalypse, THIS IS SPARTA!!!!”
NEXT: Dandy is Dandy, Doctor!