‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ Review: “Bullseye”
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.
"Bullseye" is, at times, a bit boring and on the nose, even for a Ryan Murphy affair. The 'Mommie Dearest' homage brings a little bit of that garish pizazz, what with all the feathers and Murphy's sideshow spin on 'Game of Thrones,' putting Elsa in her own throne of power, as her performers lay gifts at her feet, and she becomes something of a Joffrey. It's kind of a cute mash-up and gives Lange plenty to chew on as the performers are sad that the twins are gone and Jimmy begins to investigate their whereabouts. As previously noted, he's becoming the hero of the season.
But what makes the episode and the trajectory of the season so agitating is the way that Elsa has become this season's monster, especially now that Twisty has died, and with Dell and Desiree sitting this week out. We've seen Lange play the complex lead before. We've been asked to identify with this character and her machinations in every season since the beginning, so when she eventually puts Paul the Illustrated Seal in the spinning wheel to throw knives at him in order to prove his loyalty -- and she predictably misses with a too-obvious grin on her face -- it's just all so expected.
Lange is great, but what would make this season greater is focusing more on the evil Dandy, or the complexities of Dell, or Stanley, who is perpetually sidelined. The moment with Esmerelda this week, when she decides not to kill Ma Petite by drowning her in formaldehyde, is a great one, and sets up an interesting chain of events to come -- although I'm unsure about the love story between Esmerelda and Jimmy, as it feels a bit too contrived.
Fraser's performance as Paul is another thing that keeps the episode from floundering too much. His moments with Elsa and at the drug store punctuate the hour with much-needed humanity. So much of "Bullseye" is about manufacturing an ideal living situation or creating a false family: Elsa secretly brings Paul into her bed at night to tend to her sexual needs, though she would never make him her lover in any official capacity because of what he looks like. At night, she snuggles with Ma Petite for comfort, as if the little woman is the child she never had. She uses these people for comfort, and they allow it because they have nowhere else to go; perhaps having their own loneliness soothed by this opportunist is a small price to pay.
Similarly, Dandy is struggling to create his own ideal with the Tattler twins. Naive Bette is charmed by the false front he puts on to win them over, while the pessimistic Dot tolerates their captivity in the hopes that she can use his wealth to have Bette surgically removed. But that's not good enough for Dandy, who desires love from both of them -- real love, not the kind of love you purchase, and if Dot keeps shoving him away, it's only a matter of time before his murderous tendencies surface again.
I'm not sure that pairing Dot and Bette up with Dandy and Gloria Mott is a wise decision -- the dynamics aren't really clicking, and Dandy's petulance is beginning to wear thin. The Patrick Bateman side of Dandy from last week's episode was more delightful and entertaining. When he gives in to his sinister urges, he's more fun to watch. This lovelorn, spoiled Dandy is just kind of a drag.
We've reached the midpoint, and "Bullseye" represents that familiar lull in every season of 'American Horror Story,' where the drama gets a little too big and the horror dissipates. And while these episodes are often great for the actors, they have a tendency to be boring for us as viewers. Hopefully next week revives that wacky terror because 'AHS' is at its best when it's absolutely bonkers. Even when it's messy, it's a fun, weird, and scary mess, and that's what makes it worth watching.
- So the nurse is back, and she's in love with Paul, and her dad is Lee Tergesen, aka Terry from 'Wayne's World.' I think if Paul just went up to him and said, "I love you, man," it would solve everything.
- "Are you going to escort them to cotillion?" Frances Conroy's line delivery in every episode is superb.
- I don't know why you would shop anywhere else when Woolworth's has ice cream.
- So when does Gabourey Sidibe show up?
- Hey guys, remember Twisty?