The killing starts and doesn't stop. Dandy takes a bath.

By Darren Franich
Updated December 04, 2014 at 05:10 AM EST
Sam Lothridge/FX

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!

Things continue trending downward in the Mott household. The poor dead maid’s daughter has shown up, in the form of the latest iteration of Gabourey Sidibe. And like all Sidibe iterations, Regina suffers fools not so gladly, not at all. She’s suspicious; she doesn’t think her mother went out for squash, not at all.

Gloria’s just trying to keep it all together. She sends Dandy to the psychiatrist, claiming that he’s testing his genius IQ. Dandy looks at a Rorschach test. “I see a man with his arms torn off,” says our boy Dandy. “His insides are outside for all the world to see.” Another Rorschach test: “His blood is spilled all over the wall.” Dandy cottons to the Doctor’s game. He tells him a story about the natives of Papua New Guinea, who believed you could take someone’s power by eating their flesh. It’s one of those stories with a hidden meaning, and the hidden meaning is “I like how your skin looks, Sounds Like Ted Levine.”

(ASIDE: In all seriousness, I can’t immediately figure out who was playing the Doctor, so we have to assume that it’s either a familiar American Horror Story actor or—more possible, given this season’s buzzy shared-universe conceit—an actual character from an earlier American Horror Story. It couldn’t be Thredson—the guy sounded too old. Right? Thoughts? END OF ASIDE.)

Elsa is taking her mind off the whole just-killed-one-of-her-oldest-friends thing by getting back to the actual business of running the Freak Show. That means heading toward a pleasant-looking sanitorium in Miami to recruit a new act. Barbara is an Upper East Side gal, lives in a townhouse, summers in Bedford, goes to Debutante Balls, despises every minute of it. Her mother has taken to saying that she got herself knocked up; that’s less embarrassing than “being a bit fat pig.” Elsa pitches Barbara on a different kind of perspective. “You are a hedonist. A lover of the physical world,” she says. “There is a place where every pound of that glorious jiggle will be cheered, celebrated.”

She takes Barbara back to Freak Village and finds Jimmy ten sheets to the wind. One must move on, she tells young Jimmy Darling. She sets a glorious feast in front of Barbara; she insists she eat, eat, not lose one pound of her figure. She tells Jimmy that perhaps he could take comfort in that ample bosom, instead of his mother’s embrace. Jimmy runs away, in a fury, declaring that this whole world is ending.

Elsewhere in camp, Desiree and her squad have put into effect Operation Hot Father. They bring Penny’s father to the camp. They tie him up. Desiree has her say: “What you done to your little girl? That was chickenshit. We gonna make sure you look the part. And after that, I’m gonna cut your dick off with this knife and shoot you in the head.” The gators will have a fine, feathery meal this evening; no trace of this Bad Dad will be found.

In runs Killjoy Maggie, using her incredible sense of Hearing Things. “That’s your father, isn’t it?” she asks, pointing at the man covered in tar and feathers. Angela Bassett, with the line delivery of the season: “God DAMN! You really ARE a mind reader!” Maggie talks the ladies down from torture and murder; she may be a pretty little white girl, with no idea what it’s really like, but she also knows the diff between right and wrong. Or something; at this point, I’ve lost track of whether Maggie is bad trying to be good or good pretending to be bad suddenly revealed as good or what. Cards on the table: The best possible ending for that scene was Meryl Streep’s daughter throwing a knife into the skull of Julia Roberts’ niece.

Penny takes the high road. She tells her father: “I am the astounding Lizard Girl. You get to live only because I say so.”

Gloria tries to take the high road, too. Dandy threatens her, saying she has to kill Regina or join him on the electric chair. Gloria books passage for the two of them on the Queen Mary, open return. But Dandy feels betrayed. He knows the truth, he tells her; how Gloria had nothing, wanted everything; how she married her second cousin, giving birth to a child of incest; how she’s no better than the Roosevelts. Gloria begs him, pleads. “Your father wasn’t the love of my life,” she says. “You were.”

Dandy holds up a golden gun, points it at his head. “It’s time for this madness to end.”

Gloria begs him: “I can’t go on if you kill yourself.”

Dandy, deadpan: “Okay.” And then he shoots his mother in the forehead.

So “Blood Bath” ended with two motherless boys. Jimmy, awake and finding himself still unfortunately in the world he went to sleep in, sends Maggie away, and cries into Barbara’s ample bosom. Not so Dandy, taking a bath in what looked like his Mother’s blood, looking for all the world like a man at peace. And we also saw his butt, because Ryan Murphy!

Follow me on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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