It's Elsa's birthday, and the monsters throw her a party. There's a knife involved.
Credit: Michele K. Short/FX
AMERICAN HORROR STORY, (from left): Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, 'Home Invasion', (Se

Don’t cry for Elsa, my little dahlings. She’s got such big plans, has Ms. Mars. She’s setting off for a new life, a new adventure. Television is her new mistress. She’s preparing to leave her flock of monsters behind, for a while. But first comes birthday week. And before birthday weeks comes a tall, dark stranger into her bedroom. Well, “tall,” “dark.” Turns out that it’s handsome-eyed Paul sharing her bed. The other freaks don’t suspect anything: “They think I’m putting a mint on your pillow,” he explains. (Someone please add “Putting a mint on your pillow” to UrbanDictionary, please!)

Elsa tells Paul that their dalliance isn’t anything serious. But she promises him a new life in the glamour of TV land. “When I have a normal suitor, I could pretend that you are my chauffeur,” she says. “Which, of course, you would be.” Our Paul has other plans, though. Remember way back in the premiere of Freak Show, when Penny the Candy Striper discovered the healing power of opium-assisted orgies? We all thought that Penny was just another cameo iteration of Meryl Streep’s Daughter. But now Penny’s back, and oh, how she hungers for Paul. “Why don’t we make love?” she begs. But Paul is an old-fashioned romantic. “I want you to know me. As a man,” he explains.

Problem number one: Penny lives with her father. Problem numbers two through 100: Her father is the protective type. He practically knocks the door down coming into her room. He’s worried about her, but that worry has an overtone of something deeper, weirder: You can feel how his protection is its own cage, and the cage has spikes, and the spikes are poison, and the poison isn’t the kind that doesn’t kill you. “I just want to make sure my little girl is safe,” he says. And here again, the central running conceit of American Horror Story: The scariest person onscreen is the apparently normal man, the white-straight-suburban-dad archetype. (The most normal person in Freak Show is a man with phocomelic limbs and a body covered in tattoos.)

Paul’s in a romantic mood. He knows that Penny loves her Venetian Romance perfume, so he goes to the corner store to purchase some. While he’s there, he runs into Dandy, wearing his fifth necktie of the episode. Paul and Dandy have some words. Paul suspects Dandy might be involved in the disappearance of the Tattler Sisters. He angrily leaves the store. “I’m going to take my business to Woolworth’s!” he declares. “They got ice cream!

Roundabout now is when this episode of American Horror Story basically becomes a showcase for Mat Fraser and Jessica Lange. Paul looks in on Elsa, who’s furious that he smells so much like Venetian Romance. “Who are you screwing?” she asks. “I don’t believe that’s any of your business,” he replies. “It’s all my business, you prick!!!!” she declares. Paul shoots that ire right back at her. Alone among the monsters, Paul can see the proprietress very clearly: How she uses her charges to suit her own deceitful, demonic soul.

How furious Elsa is! She shrieks at her assembled monsters. Didn’t she pull Pepper out of that orphanage? Didn’t she pull half of the freaks up off the street? Jimmy begs to know what they can do to prove their loyalty to her. Elsa gestures at the Spinning Wheel of Death she moved onto the stage. “Nobody leaves here until one of you is strapped in and proves to me your unadulterated trust and loyalty.” Paul stands up, perhaps just wanting to calm Elsa down, perhaps because there’s a touch of suicidal nihilism to Paul even when he’s got a lovely Candy Striper waiting for him in town. A poor time to trust Elsa: Paul earns a dagger in the stomach for his troubles.

Meanwhile, back at Casa Candy Striper, Penny has a showdown with Terror Dad. She’s trying to sneak out; Daddy doesn’t approve; she just doesn’t care. “I’m in love!” she says. “And I’m gonna go see him right now! I’m gonna have a life that means something. A life with some excitement. A life that’s real!” It’s becoming clear that the Freak Show is sort of a freefloating metaphor for a few different things in ’50s America, but I wonder if it’s most clearly meant to be a kind of proto-counterculture: An all-in-one combination of rock & roll, the hippie movement, Civil Rights, feminism, Gay Rights, free love, and everything else that seemed “other” to postwar America. For the moment, at least, Penny and Paul get a happy ending: The Candy Striper arrives at the Freak Show, joining her injured beau as Elsa jealously looks on.

NEXT: Meanwhile, the Motts

Dandy is dandy, thanks for asking. Sure, life could be better. Sure, he doesn’t like the new maid very much. But hindsight is 20-20, and his mother has a surprise for him. “Look under the dome!” she declares. “I bought you a present.” (ASIDE: Was “under the dome” just a random phrase? Or was it a reference to that show on CBS, the one where people are under a dome and have to try to escape from under the dome, but sometimes the dome they’re under causes things to happen under the dome? I think the show is called Below the Half-Sphere. END OF ASIDE.)

Dandy doesn’t need presents, mother. Dandy is in love. “My heart, twas lost!” he declares. “It took a woman with the vision of four eyes to find it.” Gloria doesn’t like how lovey-dovey Dandy has become with the Tattler twins. But there comes a time in every mother’s life when she must give up her son to another woman, or women, or women trapped in a woman’s body.

And oh, how Dandy loves his girls! And oh, how one of those girls loves Dandy! “The shades of gray that was my world has turned incandescent with color!” says Bette. How Dandy dotes upon his ladies. He brings them food. He brings them Caviar. Beluga. From Siberia. It’s outrageously expensive, but nothing is too good for them. They watch movies together. (I think it was The Day The Earth Stood Still.) Dot’s not buying any of it, of course. She doesn’t think much of Dandy. But her ears perk up when Ol’ Danderson mentions the surgery separating Siamese Twins. It was successful, briefly: Only one twin survived. That gets Dot thinking about her dreams of the future.

Jimmy: “Oh, Dot! I haven’t seen you in so long!”

Dot: “Hello, James. It’s Dorothy now. I go by my full name, now that half of me is gone.”

Jimmy: “I heard about the surgery. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Dot: “It’s all right. My sister’s in a better place now.”

Jimmy: “Dorothy, my darling, may I hug you?”

Dot: “Of course you can, James. Hug me, and only me.”

So Dot decides to use Dandy, for his money, for the operation. But Dandy gets suspicious. What is Dot always writing, there in her little diary? He sneaks a peek when she’s not around. And oh, readers, what tragedy! Gloria finds her son crying, crying, crying away. The diary calls him a “Man Boy,” describes him thus: “Yuck.” Gloria tries to cheer her son up. “The other one still adores you, doesn’t she?” It’s no use, though. Dandy sees his destiny now:

Those girls were a cool stream of glacier water. My heart bloomed as they nourished it. Now it’s all gone. There is nothing left but the dust and the scorpions inside of me. I was never destined to feel love. The desert knows no mercy. Anything you try to plant out there dies. I must accept this emptiness as a blessing, not a curse.

“My purpose was to bring death,” concludes Dandy. He is become Death, Destroyer of Worlds. At that moment, Jimmy shows up at the Mott household, ready to bring the Tattler sisters home. Two men, two women, three bodies: American Horror Story, folks!

Other Goings On in the Nightmare Circus:

–Emma Roberts plots to kill the adorable little lady, then doesn’t kill the adorable little lady, then decides to run away with Jimmy, then gets sternly instructed by the Nefarious Denis O’Hare that she must not run away with Jimmy. This concludes your update from the Wild World of Emma Roberts.

–”Science should never subvert the will of God,” says Bette. “Is that what you think we are? God’s will, or God’s cruel joke?” asks Dot. The Tattler Sisters are getting heavy.

–I believe this episode of American Horror Story marks the first recorded use of “William Tell” as a verb.

Follow me on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

Episode Recaps

AMERICAN HORROR STORY, (from left): Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, 'Home Invasion', (Se
American Horror Story

An anthology series that centers on different characters and locations, including a haunted house, an insane asylum, a witch coven, a freak show, and a hotel.

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