The arrival of a Strongman threatens to upset the balance of power inside the freak show, while Dandy makes friends with the Killer Clown.
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
“If it ain’t old Honest Abe herself!” is how Dell greets Ethel, the Bearded Variation of Kathy Bates. Ethel and Dell have a history. Specifically, they have a child: lobster-handed Jimmy. And once upon a time, Young Dell tried to kill young Jimmy, when the lad was just a baby. It was a mercy killing—drunk Dell saving his freak son from a lot of pain. Ethel demands that Dell stay away from her boy. Dell laughs. Is this how she wants to address her new boss? Seems that Elsa has hired the Strongman to run security for her whole operation. “You are aware,” says Dell, “There’s a vicious killer abroad in the land.” So, to recap: Dell Toledo is a lumbering strongman who kills people at the drop of the hat, but also a savvy operator able to talk his way into high-status positions in societies in which he’s only recently arrived. This shouldn’t make sense, but it does, because Chiklis.
Meanwhile, there’s a problem brewing with the Sisters Tattler. Bette can’t sing—and Bette’s the performer, supposedly. This is an issue. They’re the headliners, right? “Hardly that,” insisted Elsa. “They are… my warm-up act. It doesn’t matter that they’re good. They have two heads.” But the Tattler sisters don’t want to just stand up there, being stared at. They’re performers, not reality TV stars. Jimmy has an idea: Maybe Dot, straitlaced unfunky Dot, could try singing? Dot’s a tough gal, but when Jimmy looks her way, she melts a little. She tries out “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and the heavens sing back.
Good thing: They have a show coming up. Having arrived all of two minutes ago, Dell announces that there will be a 3:00 matinee show starting tomorrow. Elsa doesn’t like the idea. “People don’t come to see freaks in the heat of the day,” she explains. Daytime is for kiddie shows. “Listen to the lady, Dell. She’s your boss now.” That sends Dell into a rage: “No lady is the boss of me!” So, to recap: Dell is a lumbering murderous strongman who’s also a savvy smooth operator, and he’s deeply in love with his hermaphrodite wife but he’s maybe a misogynist who doesn’t believe women should hold positions of authority. #BecauseChiklis
Back at Casa Mott, Dandy and the Clown are trying to play some games. Dandy tries to impress the clown with a puppet performance of The King and I. (Serious question: Is Finn Wittrock-as-Dandy just walking away with this season, or what?) The clown isn’t impressed. Dandy’s not impressed, either. “Your silence is utterly provocative,” he says. “But you’ll have to earn your keep, Clown!” While the clown wasn’t looking, Dandy digs around inside his bag of tricks. Whatever he sees freaks him out and leads the clown to knock him senseless… but not kill him.
Dandy follows the clown into the forest, all the way back to the mysterious old bus where the clown is keeping Randy Housewife and Davy Crockett as prisoners. The clown tries to amuse them with his wind-up robot. They aren’t amused. The clown looks… sad? At this point, his lady prisoner knocks the clown down. (She also knocks his mask off, revealing a horrifyingly gigantic gangrenous hole where his mouth should be.) She runs one way, the boy in the Crockett cap runs another. Dandy grabs the girl… and brings her back to the prison. “Clown! Clown! Look what I have for you!” he exclaims. So it seems that, for now, Dandy and Clown have formed a horrifyingly demonic duo.
Back in town, Jimmy had this great idea to basically invent sit-ins years before the Civil Rights movement, bringing his favorite freaks into the local diner. The diner patrons don’t like the look of them, of course. Dell the Strongman doesn’t like seeing them in there, either. “You give these folks a free show, who’s gonna wanna buy tickets?” he asks, before beating his son over the head a couple times. Poor Jimmy; he just wants everyone to realize that freaks are people, too. (Last week he seemed like the Magneto, violently charting a new course for Freak-kind; now he seems like he’s also the Professor X, attempting a kinder-gentler philosophy of engagement. Multifarious are the variations of Evan Peters.)
Jimmy tries to make his case to Elsa. Get rid of Dell, he says, he’ll tear this troupe apart. Elsa doesn’t listen to him… until she notices that the matinee posters Dell is posting have her listed on the bottom, next to The Geek. Before she can take action, it’s time for the matinee show. Dell has donned his Mr. Monopoly mustache, and he’s introducing the new song-and-dance act from the Land of Siam. And this is when Sarah Paulson’s right head sings “Criminal,” by Fiona Apple, roughly a quarter of a century before Fiona Apple was ever born. And this is when a mosh pit broke out inside of the Freak Show, roughly 30 years before the term “mosh” came into common usage. (Things that the Freak Show invented this week, according to American Horror Story: Nonviolent protest and Fiona Apple.)
The gal/s is/are a sensation. But that only makes the cops hungrier for blood. They show up, with a warrant to search the premises. They plan to turn Dell’s trailer upside-down—and a look from Elsa to Jimmy confirms some kind of sting operation. But the cops don’t find anything… until they go to The Geek’s trailer and find the badge of their missing detective. They bring the poor little man to jail, while Dell tells Jimmy in no uncertain terms that you don’t mess with the strongman. So, to recap: Dell Toledo arrived at the Freak Show, basically took over the Freak Show, and then threw one of the main performers in the Freak Show under the bus almost immediately. #BecauseChiklis
In the bed where the Tattlers lay their heads down, Dot is fast asleep, and poor Bette is troubled. Perfect time for Elsa Mars to show up and unleash all her jealousy—and focalize it through poor Bette. She tells Bette that Dot only gets her confidence by feeding on her sister’s self-doubt. She tells Bette that Dot deliberately eclipsed her. She gives Bette something sharp. It’s unclear why, precisely, Elsa wants to kill the headline act that she only last week went to great lengths to secure. (A few people noticed what appeared to be a second Jessica Lange during last week’s David Bowie musical number—which could imply some kind of Prestige twist with Elsa, although I figured it was just a hallucination of some kind. “Figuring something is just a hallucination” is a classic AHS recapper fail.)
Jimmy gets dead drunk, moaning the general state of affairs here in Freak City. Things are only going to get worse, of course: The cops toss the body of The Geek on their doorstep, and Jimmy’s cries end the episode. What’d you think of the second episode of Freak Show? Email me your thoughts at email@example.com, or tweet me @DarrenFranich.
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