American Horror Story recap: Freak Show' recap: 'Test of Strength'
Strongman Dell Toledo isn't so good at being a strongman.
Attempted murder, actual murder, vitamins, foie gras, a subplot about bleached blonde hair that’s either an homage to Hitchcock or an homage to Lynch homaging Hitchcock, tattoos, father-son bonding, father-daughter non-bonding, and a Nirvana musical interlude: busy week in Freak Show land! RIP Ma Petite, hopefully you’ll be back for season 7, American Horror Story: No Exit, when everyone who’s ever died in a season of American Horror Story meets up in Hell, and it turns out that Hell in the American Horror Story universe is actually Glee. (Heaven is Popular. Purgatory is Nip/Tuck season 4.)
The episode begins with Jimmy at the Mott household, attempting to rescue Bette and Dot. Bette wants to stay with her darling Dandy, but Dot knows the score. There’s something a little strange about that handsome murder-clownboy. (I believe we saw a brief flash-forward to Dandy, attempting to saw the twins in half. Or maybe that was just a dream sequence? I’m losing track of the Freak Show timeline now.)
Jimmy brings the twins back to the freak show. He has a bone to pick with Elsa. But first, he sings “Come As You Are” by Nirvana, and if you’re wondering what it means that one of the great grunge-rock anti-anthems of the ’90s has been reconfigured by a 2014 TV show as a 1950s-era early-rock number—well, the easy answer is that the universe is collapsing in on itself. And also, Jimmy is angry at Elsa, so angry that he invented grunge rock half a century early.
Jimmy is all set to reveal to the freaks that Elsa sold the twins to Dandy and his Mom. Twist: Dot lies, saying that Miss Elsa helped the twins, that they wanted to experience a life of luxury. It comes with some conditions, keeping Elsa’s secret. They negotiate. Dot tells Bette to say that she wants to become a comedian—”Like Eve Arden.” She wants caviar for breakfast. She wants 20 percent of the box office off the top. Dot pushes that further: She wants half the box office.
Meanwhile, Strongman Dell Toledo ain’t doing so good. He hasn’t seen his boytoy in days; he doesn’t know the poor sap is already dead. Worse, the latest mischievous iteration of Denis O’Hare has spotted Dell, and wants to make him his newest sidekick in the ongoing plan to turn every freak into a museum piece. This leads O’Hare to say a whole number of double entendres. Standing in front of the hammer high striker game, O’Hare asks Dell: “You can’t actually get it up?” Later, O’Hare explains that he has a preferred gunshot method. “I like to aim for the jewels. Kind of my signature shot. The screams of a man who’s been nutshot are so specific.”
O’Hare wants the strongman to kill one of his own. Dell tries to take on Amazon Eve, chloroforming her in her sleep. It doesn’t take, not one bit; she treats Dell’s face the way the Death Star treated Alderaan. “Who’s the strong man now?” she yell-asks (yasks?) him. “Uncle! Uncle!” he declares. Strongman Dell: Not a very good Strongman. Also has this constant issue with getting drunk, getting into fights, and killing people. Once tried to kill his baby son. Has a bad relationship history. And yet, is Chiklis.
And because he is Chiklis, we can perhaps buy that Strongman Dell—heretofore generally presented as a tortured, torturing semi-sociopath with a heart of acid blood—has a soft place in his heart for Jimmy. How else to explain the adorable scene of the two men, drinking, chatting, laughing. Dell tells Jimmy he has nothing to be ashamed of, that “If anyone looks at you funny, I’ll break their skulls.” “Unless it’s a girl, right?” says Jimmy. They laugh and laugh and laugh, and then Dell almost kills Jimmy, but doesn’t. And then Jimmy tells Dell that the other freaks are thinking of ending him because of the whole “tried to attack one of our fellow freak citizens” thing.
So now Jimmy and Dell are friends, until everything changes again.
NEXT: Meet Morris
Penny the Candy Striper continues her journey this week into the dark side of the American Dream. Actually, Penny seems to be doing pretty well, until she fatefully decides to spin by her house to pick up some things. Her papa is sitting there, waiting for her. “What’re you gonna do?” asks Penny. “Kill me?” Oh, Penny. Nothing so simple. Don’t you know that your father is an electrician? And don’t you know that, in the electrician game, reputation is everything? And don’t you know that your father will do anything to protect his reputation—even ask his friend, Morris the Tattoo Artist, to swing by and cover your face in trendy Mike Tyson tattoos?
I’ve seen every episode of American Horror Story, and I’m trying hard to think of anything as out-of-nowhere crazy as Morris the Tattoo Artist. I want to know where Penny’s father met Morris. I want to know what those two guys talk about, when they’re talking. “Hey there, Morris, how’s the tattoo game?” “Great, Penny’s Dad, just great, the Smiths down the street had me come in and punish-tattoo their son. He wasn’t doing his chores!” “That’s swell, Morris, just swell. Well, I have to be on my way! I’m an electrician!”
Back at the freak show, Bette is leaning in to the whole “Eve Arden” comedienne angle. She’s bleaching her hair blonde. She’s got a whole act played out: She’s “After,” and Dot’s “Before.” “We’ll call it The Metamorphosis!” she says, referencing Kafka like a boss.
That’s when Elsa passes Dot a little note, and the Floating Head of Jessica Lange speaks to her. What does Dot want, anyhow, with all that half-the-box-office money? Dot reveals her truest desire: She wants the Floating Head of Jessica Lange to find one Dr. Oscar Sugar, the man who separated those two conjoined twins. “Convince him to perform the surgery,” begs Dot.
Everyone’s coming to Elsa with big ideas this week. Mere hours after Stanley asked Dell to furnish him with the body of one of Elsa’s unusuals, he’s going straight to Elsa herself in his guise of “Mr. Hollywood, Mayor of Television.” He idly suggests that perhaps it would be a mercy killing, to end the life of Bette and Dot. Elsa seems to like this idea. Ethel overhears them plotting. I think Ethel has overheard everything that’s happened this season.
Poor Ma Petite. One of the best parts of Freak Show departed this world for the next one, as Dell cruelly snapped her little neck. We saw Ma Petite, posthumously taking center stage in the Museum of Horrors up north. Could it be that everyone on Freak Show will wind up there by the end of the season? The body count on Freak Show has been relatively light thus far—certainly compared to the resurrection-happy Coven. Are we just being set up for a huge mass-murder of lead cast members in the back half of the season?
– The latest iteration of Emma Roberts really wants to leave the Freak Show. But Jimmy Darling doesn’t want to, because of Meep probably.
– Paul was horrified that his lady love Penny the Candy Striper has been face-tattooed. I’m guessing he will seek vengeance. I’m hoping that they decide to become the coolest couple in some neighborhood somewhere, maybe in Amsterdam.
– Desiree and Ethel go to the Doctor for the surgery. The Doctor’s daughter informs them that the Doctor killed himself, but only after he smashed his hands with a hammer. RIP, Doctor! See you in Hell, where I assume you’ll be duetting with Ma Petite and Lea Michele on an uptempo version of “Black Hole Sun.”
Follow me on Twitter: @DarrenFranich