Director: Alfonso Gomez-Réjon
Writer: Tim Minear
Given that American Horror Story‘s seasons are self-contained, there can be an occasional tendency to almost rail-road plot points in order to provide set-up for more ongoing feuds and relationships. This week’s second episode of Freak Show exemplified this to a tee. Several characters were not only given progression, but also found themselves overlapping with other members of the twisted tale swiftly and unwittingly, giving the beginnings of the rise of what will surely be some of the major causes for distress and disgust as things progress.
Introducing the last two major characters, Angela Bassett makes her welcome return as the hermaphrodite three-breasted woman Desiree, and with her is her husband and circus Strongman, Jimmy, played by The Shield‘s Michael Chiklis. Making themselves known quickly, its not long before they’re opposite Lange’s germanic ringleader asking for a spot on the show. A spot they’re given, with some troubling consequences. Chiklis gives a stern reminder of why his performance in The Shield is regarded as highly as it is, shoving hard against the well-trodden alpha role or Jessica Lange and the stoic, darkly heroic Even Peters. These exchanges are not only incredibly intense, but also very emotionally charged, filling every space available with at least one of the characters’ ego, giving a think, tense atmosphere every time two of the three are on-screen together. This is given extra clout when Kathy Bates’ bearded woman is revealed to have some history with the Strongman that is, in typical AHS fashion, dank and desperate.
Away from the low-end caravan life of the rejected, the other major storyline follows Twisty the Clown’s further misadventures as Frances Conroy’s worried mother asking him to party down with her son, the spoiled and loose-headed Dandy. Even in just two episodes, the cash-in on the easy money serial-killer clown has been huge. Completely terrifying as is, coupling the character with someone as unhinged as Dandy is an easy way to anchor both in what should be a dissonant pairing that instead turns into harmony when we learn how much they have in common in mindset. Switching between symmetrical shots and more slanted angles, these two on-screen is as uneasy as one would imagine and then some. Turning from fear, to queasiness, back to fear, each small window with the two face to face presents a clown car of possibilities that will no doubt keep us on edge for episodes to come.
In between these two so far lightly associated plots is the episode highlight in which Peters’ Jimmy takes the Freak Show crew to a local diner for some grub. America Horror Story has never shied from attacking head-on how and why the principle characters are rejected from society, and this is no different. Directly arguing the point against 50’s small-town America is arguably a futile task, since we aren’t in the 50’s any more. But the line ‘we’re just like you!’ is still bellowed with fervent near-desperation, and its only the second episode. This is further exacerbated when one of the camp are caught in the crossfire between Jimmy and the Strongman, a battle that will surely see more heartbreak because this is American Horror Story.
Overall, as a one-two punch, these first two episodes have set up a strong reliance on character drama as opposed to visceral horror, though there’s smatterings of that to be found through-out. It feels like the ducks are all lined up now, and we’ll be seeing constant progression in the next few episodes before characters start meeting their end. The killer clown has an accomplice, so this is going to get messy.
Tense and terrifying set up episode. 9/10