Welcome to another episode of ‘Soap Opera: Freak Show,’ in which we’ve (hopefully) reached peak melodrama. Although Jessica Lange’s Elsa subdues herself somewhat in “Test of Strength,” allowing for more theatrical performances from the father/son bonding of Michael Chiklis’ Dell and Evan Peters’ Jimmy, there’s still way too much heightened drama and not enough of that horror that the show’s title promises. And where’s all the bonkers weirdness that we’ve come to love from Ryan Murphy and Co.? This season has worked itself into a woefully boring rut.
American Horror Story
We seem to have officially hit our lull in this season of 'American Horror Story' -- every year there comes a point when the melodrama takes over for an episode or two, when the horror takes a backseat to the scenery chewing. This week Jessica Lange goes full-on Joan Crawford in her role of Elsa Mars, and that's not really a bad thing (hello 'Mommie Dearest'!), but the familial dynamics overtake the macabre wackiness and the end result is a bit tedious.
Every season of television needs a central conflict around which it revolves, around which some other, smaller conflicts float, tethered to its orbit, but always drawn into the grand design. 'American Horror Story' is the obnoxious, rebellious teenage series. It doesn't play by these rules and conventions, sometimes to its detriment. Conflicts and villains are introduced and swept away; those players whom we think major are offed in the first few episodes, and big bads emerge and converge in seemingly senseless fashion. Who are the true villains of 'Freak Show'? It's a question that perhaps the show is still trying to answer.
With the recent announcement that Lily Rabe will be reprising her season 2 'Asylum' role as Sister Mary Eunice in season 4's 'Freak Show,' joining fellow 'Asylum' alum Naomi Grossman's Pepper, fans have begun to wonder just how much of the world of 'American Horror Story' is connected. Is it just the two seasons that are specifically connected, or are all of the seasons woven together somehow? Creator Ryan Murphy has finally spoken up to confirm that yes, all of this is connected, so feel free to grab some balls of yarn and start your own complex 'American Horror Story' cork boards.
The first few episodes of 'Freak Show' have largely placed the lesser-known supporting characters on the periphery, perhaps to the show's detriment, as the Curiosities in Fraulein Elsa's Cabinet appear to offer much of interest. The ghastly Edward Mordrake gets it, as does Elsa, on some level; if only the people of Jupiter, Florida would give them a chance, they would see it -- how compelling and relatable they truly are. Every bit as deserving at a chance in the spotlight as Kathy Bates' Ethel or Sarah Paulson's Dot and Bette. "Edward Mordrake, Part 2" begins by giving at least a couple of them a chance to shine. It's not much, but it's a step in the right direction.
'American Horror Story: Freak Show' has proven a curiosity unto itself, not only by today's addition of Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, but by the return of Naomi Grossman's 'Asylum' character Pepper. Now, the future Briarcliff inmate will have some 'Freak Show' company later on it seems, as Lily Rabe has been confirmed to reprise her 'Asylum' role as Sister Mary Eunice!
We normally toss a few grains of salt onto showrunners and stars chatting about potential collaborations, but in the case of 'American Horror Story: Freak Show''s Ryan Murphy and Neil Patrick Harris, chatting seems to have paid off! The former 'HIMYM' star, 2015 Oscars host and NBC variety leader will officially guest on the 'Freak Show' later this season, bringing with him husband David Burtka.
The second episode of 'Freak Show' placed us in some worrisome and familiar territory, pitting freak against freak as Dell was introduced to the mix, but tonight's third episode goes a little ways to course-correcting the season (for now, at least). In the first of the two-part Halloween episode, we meet the titular "Edward Mordrake," the boogeyman among the freaks, for even those we're most afraid of have someone that terrifies them. (Well, there's Twisty, but still.)
Condensed down to its regular hour-long runtime, this week's second episode of 'Freak Show' still manages to offer wacky wonders and oddball delights, but the introduction of Michael Chiklis as strongman Dell Toledo presents a new conflict for our cast of characters -- and with that conflict comes a familiar problem for 'American Horror Story,' giving this particular bit of plotting a rushed feeling. And while the overbearing Dell may strong-arm his way into having everyone thinking he's top dog, his three-breasted wife Desiree seems way more interesting.
'American Horror Story' isn't quite the juggernaut for FX that 'The Walking Dead' marks for AMC, though this should come as no surprise. Following the fourth season 'Freak Show''s record-breaking debut last week, FX has officially granted a fifth season to Ryan Murphy's horror-thriller, bringing us another all-new 'American Horror Story' in October 2015.