A ventriloquist arrives at the freak show, bringing fresh horror and surprising arousal. Also, more people die.
American Horror Story Freak Show
Credit: Michele K. Short/FX
AMERICAN HORROR STORY, (from left): Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, 'Home Invasion', (Se
  • TV Show
  • FX

Poor Jimmy Darling. He can’t afford a lawyer. Good thing he has a pal like Mister Spencer. Mister Spencer knows a person. “This person is willing to pay a lot of money for memorabilia connected to your… business.” But ol’ Jimmy ain’t got nothin’, Mister Spencer! “You have your hands,” he explains. “They could bring in enough money to hire a good lawyer.” Jimmy wouldn’t need to lose both hands; just the left one would do. Mister Spencer slips him a grotesque-looking liquid. “Drink this,” he says. “I’ll take care of the rest.”

I’m convinced that this season of American Horror Story only really makes sense if you admit that the latest iteration of Denis O’Hare is Jedi mind tricking everyone. Sure, Jimmy’s worried about the cops killing him in his cell—but it still seems like he goes along with the whole “cut off a hand to pay for a lawyer” gambit a little too easily. (ASIDE: On American Horror Story: Coven, Evan Peters played a Frankfratboy named “Kyle Spencer.” Stanley introduced himself to the freaks as “Richard Spencer.” Coincidence? Nothing’s a coincidence anymore. Pepper is the Boo of American Horror Story. END OF ASIDE.)

Just minutes later, Jimmy’s vomiting into the toilet; just minutes after that, Mister Spencer’s got him inside a fake ambulance driven by the handsomest undercover himbo in all of Florida; and just a few hours later, Jimmy’s in the hospital. He checks his left hand: That one’s gone. He checks his right one: Yep, that’s gone, too. Goodbye, lobster claws. Farewell, opposable thumbs. So long, sweet leather gloves, I won’t be needing you anymore!

Back at the freak show, things are finally going well for Bette and Dot. Those two sweet gals had their shared heart broken; Bette by doofy Dandy, Dot by janky Jimmy. But the ladies have each other. And they’re leaning in to the free-love hedonism of the carnival life. “Our top priority is sex,” they announce. Despite all of Bette’s furtive meanderings, she’s never heard of an orgasm. The girls need to find someone to fix that. Will it be dapper Toulouse? No, it willn’t.

But sooth! A new arrival in the land of misfit toys. His name is Chester, and he’s peddling some wares. The man has a penchant for lizards; they calm his nerves. He was on Normandy Beach; he was injured; he has a metal plate in his head, so watch out for thunderstorms. Chester has a dream, does Chester. He has a little magic act. And he has Marjorie, a delightful little ventriloquist doll. Chester treats her like she’s a nagging sitcom wife; she acts more like Mrs. Bates with less self-awareness.

Elsa has no use for magic. But she notices that Chester is good with numbers. And so, in possibly the worst business decision since whatever she decided five minutes ago, Elsa hires Chester to help out with the book-keeping and warm up the crowd. Afterward, Marjorie really lays into Chester for letting Elsa hire him for a song. Good thing Chester’s already caught the eyes of Bette and Dot—even if, when he looks at them, he sees two faces that are decidedly not Sarah Paulson.

At the hospital, Dell is shocked to discover that his beloved-as-of-last-week son has lost both of his hands. Jimmy explains the whole sell-my-hands-to-get-money-for-the-lawyer plan, which actually makes even less sense when you hear it from a man with bloody stumps where his hands used to be. “He promised me he was only gonna take one of them,” says Jimmy, with a tone of voice that suggests he is beginning to suspect that Mister Spencer might not be such a swell guy after all.

Dell tries to play it cool. They have great prosthetics today! He knew a guy at Guadalcanal, a chef at Asbury Park, who lost both of his hands. (ASIDE: If you’re keeping track, that’s a reference to the big battle from Saving Private Ryan and a reference to the big battle from The Thin Red Line, in back-to-back scenes; also, Jimmy’s loss of both hands recalls the moving performance by real-life veteran Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives. I’m sure that means nothing, but maybe it means that next year’s American Horror Story will be set during World War II? Or maybe it means that the next season will feature Neil Patrick Harris as Steven Spielberg and Emma Roberts as Terrence Malick? END OF ASIDE.)

Dell assures his son that the chef from Asbury Park has incredible new hook hands. He can chop; he can slice; “All that normal cook shit.” The two boys decide that they’re going to buy the freak show, and Dell talks about his father, and generally they do a really good job of quickly moving on from the fact that Jimmy doesn’t have hands anymore. Just another day in the life, I guess. You wake up one day: Car won’t start. You wake up the next day: No hands!

NEXT: A Genuine Sawing Box

But Dell is hopping mad when he gets back to the freak show. Eve is helping Elsa pack up all her gowns for that trip out West that’s happening any second now. (Question: When is Elsa moving to California? Answer: Right after Regionals.) Dell promises to kill Spencer. “Why?” asks everyone. “Jimmy cut off his hands to pay for an attorney,” says Dell, in a tone of voice that suggests that this is not necessarily the craziest thing that has ever happened in the universe. Elsa is horrified, but is mainly horrified that Jimmy will soon be back in jail. Eve promises to help Dell rescue Jimmy. Their support is really sweet. I can’t help but feel like no one is reacting to the whole “Jimmy Has No Hands Anymore” newsflash with the appropriate horror.

Case in point: You might think that news about Jimmy would spread through the camp like wildfire. Like, if the most popular man in your society of outcasts was in prison, and then you overheard that he cut off both his hands, you might spread that news around to your fellow outcasts, if only in passing. But people have moved on. Dot’s moved on. She’s moved on to Chester. And Chester’s already figured out his new act: A Genuine Golden’s Sawing Box. He conscripts the twins as his assistant, to distract the audience. “Because we’re freaks?” they ask. “Because you’re beautiful!” he clarifies. That’s nice.

Not so nice: Whenever Chester looks at the girls, he gets flashbacks to his Old Life. See Chester, in his army outfit even though the war’s four years over. See Chester, Marjorie on his hand. See Chester, seeing his wife in bed with another woman. His wife begs him to join: “Alice says it’s okay, as long as you don’t touch her!” Alice doesn’t think much of Chester the Molester, clearly. Alice wants to show him a magic trick: “I’m going to make these two fingers disappear.”

So fair to say that Chester has some issues, and fair to say those issues come to the fore when the local pair of conjoined twins put on their best dress and come to him in the evening with two pairs of bedroom eyes. Chester is initially reluctant. When he gets worked up SCREEEEEE his head aches SCREEEEEEE. He puts on Marjorie; she relaxes me. Dot: “Whatever you need.” And that’s when a bare-butted Neil Patrick Harris had sex with a two-headed Sarah Paulson, which is just not something you’re ever going to see on Agents of SHIELD.

Marjorie’s not feeling too happy about any of this, though, especially not when Chester tires putting her in a crate. I was going to say that Marjorie’s voice sounded familiar, until Marjorie suddenly appeared in human form in one of Chester’s delusions—although whether she’s a delusion or a reality is impossible to say in the Season of Demon Bentley. “Marjorie” is in fact the latest iteration of Jamie Brewer, who played the doomed Addie in Murder House and the doomed Nan in Coven. It would appear that, this time around, Jamie Brewer is the one doing the dooming: In a flashback, Chester watched as Marjorie killed his wife and his wife’s lover with what appeared to be a hammer. Is this a Child’s Play situation? Or is Chester crazy? Can’t it be both?

Oh also, Elsa sold the Cabinet of Curiosities to Chester for a thousand dollars. “I can spot a good business deal in the dark with a blindfold on,” says Elsa, perhaps inadvertently describing the writing process for this season of American Horror Story. Elsa insists that the transition will be smooth: No one fired, all the acts remain the same, absolutely no mention whatsoever of the fact that Jimmy used to have two hands and now has zero, count that zero, hands. Chester mentions idly that he will give Marjorie Elsa’s tent, which causes Elsa to give him some side-eye. So, if you’re keeping track: Jimmy lost both his hands? Meh. You want to give a puppet a human home? BWWWAAHHHHHH?

I’ll take the Jessica Lange Side-Eye any day, though. And I also love Elsa’s weariness when the cops show up for the umpteenth time. See, Dell and Eve executed a brilliant escape plan worthy of Escape from Alcatraz or The Great Escape or Escape to Witch Mountain. Eve threw a rock through the windshield of the prison truck! And then Dell killed everybody! I love it when a plan comes together.

The cops assume that someone at the freak show did it, because the cops have functioning brains. They turn over the camp and don’t find anything, because the cops apparently have even less eyes than Jimmy has hands. Chester is on a search, too. Marjorie is missing! He runs into Dandy, who is planning something. Dandy tells him Marjorie is in the big tent. She is—and she tells Chester that he has to saw the twins in half. Is this Dandy’s plan? Has he used the power of suggestion on Chester? Will the twins finally get their wish… but only after they don’t want that wish to come true anymore?

Hey, Emma Roberts is back! And she’s got something to show Elsa: Ma Petite, in her watery coffin. In Dell’s trailer, he finds Desiree. He explains that he’s been trying to set things right. Hey, why don’t they have a baby! Desiree’s not taking it anymore. “You killed one of your own,” she says. Dell admits it. He killed Ma Petite. “I smothered her,” he says, right before a bullet comes colliding through his big dumb brain. The bullet was fired by Elsa. Exit Chiklis.

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.

  • TV Show
  • 9
  • Ryan Murphy
  • FX
stream service