American Horror Story: Freak Show – Edward Mordrake (Part 1) – Review

Mark Rocks

Hi there, I'm Mark!If you need me, I can usually be found writing about pop music while I wait for the next Girls Aloud reunion.

It’s Halloween in the town of Jupiter, and considering the recent reports of a masked murderer on the loose and the increasingly strange things happening at Fraulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities, you would think that everyone would lay low for a couple of days.  You would of course be wrong.

This week’s episode was ‘Edward Mordrake (Part 1)’, so named after the legendary ghost who haunts any performer who dares to put on a show on Halloween.  Writer James Wong manages to introduce yet another element to the show in the form of Edward without derailing the various plots already in motion, which was a nice surprise.  This two-part episode couldn’t have come at a better time, as the issues of Elsa’s desperation for fame, Dandy’s decision to start killing people and Twisty’s STILL unexplained murder spree are dealt with sparingly, allowing them to develop at a digestible rate as opposed to the breakneck speeds this show usually moves at.

Consistency is something American Horror Story has never really concerned itself with.  Coven looked more like a series of random haunting imagery (sex in a circle of snakes, killer vaginas, tongueless butlers) than an actual television show.  The jury is still out on whether Freak Show will be able to take the best things about the crowning season Asylum and create an even better one here.  Three weeks in and the writers are still more concerned with making the show look terrifying than have it incite actual fear in the viewers, but at least ‘Edward Mordrake (Part 1)’ handled itself with a little more finesse than the initial two episodes.

Last week I suggested that the show was in danger of adding too many characters to the fray.  And true to form, this week we meet the last of our official cast with Denis O’Hare’s con artist Stanley and his assistant Maggie Esmerelda (Coven alumni Emma Roberts) making their debut.  Desperate to make a bit of money on the human abnormality black market (a niche industry, if there ever was one), the two trick Elsa into believing that Maggie is a psychic by feeding into her increasing need to gain recognition outside of her band of performers and small town ticket-holders. Jimmy has taken a shine to Maggie, and this is more than enough for Dot to take a dislike to her. Conflicts within the freak show are taking precedence over the conflicts between the townspeople and the performers for the time being, with Dot deciding she no longer wants to be attached to her sister Bette by the neck.  Sarah Paulson is really hitting a home run this season, equally convincing as the sensitive Bette and the increasingly arrogant Bette. It’s funny that the most intriguing storyline in Freak Show is the one that’s occurring within the body of one set of conjoined twins. Sarah Paulson is literally carrying the show on her own shoulders.

This episode also gave us some of the most touching scenes since Murder House, as Kathy Bates’ Ethel learns that her years of alcoholism have left her with an incurable illness, and that she will soon die as a result of it.  Scenes such as this one help to counteract the unfortunate inclusion of the supernatural ghost of Mordrake, who returns from the dead once Elsa takes to the stage to perform a (pretty awesome) cover of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Gods and Monsters’.  I was hoping Freak Show would be the first season of American Horror Story to completely avoid the inclusion of ghosts and otherworldly creatures, as these are usually the telling signs that the show is losing it’s grip, so I immediately groaned at the mention of the ghostly figure that haunts all freak show performers.  However, Mordrake’s arrival leads to Ethel’s cathartic confession about her traumatic public birth of Jimmy, so it’s difficult to get too irritated by his inclusion just yet.

As usual with the two-part American Horror Story episodes, this initial one is really more of an extended introduction to an episode of unrelenting carnage.  The concluding episode will no doubt deal with the threat of Edward Mordrake choosing one performer’s soul to take, as well as Denis O’Hare’s Stanley taking advantage of Elsa’s fragile confidence.  All of this will be intercut with scenes of Twisty staring at children, Dandy screaming and Francis Conroy’s Gloria whining about her poor son’s whereabouts. Here’s hoping Edward decides to add more than one new face to his ghostly entourage, as the show could do with cutting the cast down a bit more.

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