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“I would rather be boiled alive than be on television.” Well luckily for you Jessica Lange, by starring in American Horror Story: Freak Show, you could easily do both.
As I’m sure you’ve gathered from my previous reviews, my feelings about the fourth season of American Horror Story have been somewhat mixed. It’s getting increasingly difficult to predict whether each week will bring any real horror, or whether it will simply be another forty minutes of beautiful but ridiculous scenes that seem to bear no resemblance to a developing plot. This week’s fifth episode, ‘Pink Cupcakes’ was probably the best offering thus far, but considering the previous entries, it would be foolish to get excited about the rest of the season as a result. Instead, let’s just enjoy this episode for what it is: a brief and sometimes thrilling installment of what has become a real mess of a season.
Let’s start with Lange, and the increasingly insecure Elsa Mars. While it seems as though the freak show Fraulein has been doing little more than drunkenly stumbling around for the last four weeks, her diminishing self-confidence took centre stage this week, and she became all the more engaging for it. While her ‘Life on Mars’ number was a delightfully ridiculous sequence in the opening episode, ‘Pink Cupcakes’ showed it in the harsh light of reality, bringing Elsa’s delusions into the spotlight and turning her into a laughing stock. The idea that Lange’s driving motivation this season is her character’s desire to be famous is undoubtedly disappointing (she’s capable of so much more), but she’s pulling it off with enough humanity to save it from being boring. Plus this plot allows for Elsa to become more uncomfortable with Bette and Dot, and any sort of conflict between heavyweights like Lange and Sarah Paulson is always a pleasure to watch.
Elsewhere in the Cabinet of Curiosities, Maggie Esmerelda has developed a conscience amidst her plot to murder and sell half of the stars to a museum. Her attempt to convince Jimmy to flee the freak show ultimately fails, but I have a feeling she’s going to be instrumental in the show’s finale, either by saving the performers from becoming artefacts or by helping Stanley in his mission to get wealthy off the human abnormality black market (I still maintain this is not, and never was, a ‘thing’). Try as I may, I just can’t dislike Emma Roberts. Even though her acting can rarely be described as anything more than a toddler performing her first play for her relatives at Christmas, she is endlessly watchable, and I’m happy to see that the character of Maggie has much more depth and mystery than any of the standard ‘spoiled rich girl’ roles she has been playing non stop for the last five years.
We’ve also discovered why Dell is so angry all the time. He’s in the closet! And has pretty flawless taste in men, judging by his affair with human Ken doll Matt Bomer. Once he discovers that his hermaphrodite wife is actually not a hermaphrodite at all, he understandably gets a little angry. This plot is one of the least intriguing to watch, and the big reveal of Dell as a gay man was less shocking than intended, but it will be interesting to watch his rivalry with son Jimmy develop now that we know his secret.
Still, the very best thing about this week’s episode didn’t happen anywhere near the titular freak show. As I mentioned last week, Finn Wittrock is quickly becoming the brightest star in this season, and ‘Pink Cupcakes’ just solidified my belief. Rather than get berated or, y’know, handed over to the police by his mother for murdering his maid last week, Dandy is reassured by Gloria that his ‘condition’ is merely a side effect of his wealthy lineage, and thus begins his quest to become the most glorious specimen of craziness the world has ever seen. Dandy is the only truly unpredictable element of a show that isn’t as daring as it thinks it is, and the dark humour that has been so noticeably absent from this season was delivered in buckets this week by Wittrock and Conroy, both when they buried their maid and when Dandy excitedly tells the audience the rules to being a successful killer.
A couple of episodes ago, I openly hoped that Freak Show would lose a couple of supporting characters, only for this to occur the following week. If my psychic abilities to change the course of this show are as strong as they clearly seem to be, I’m going to lay out my wishes for next week right now; I hope next week’s episode is set entirely in Dandy and Gloria’s mansion, and that they are visited by Elsa Mars, Maggie Esmerelda and Bette and Dot. Also, another musical number. Maybe a group rendition of Lady Marmalade. Make it happen, universe.
Until next week, I’ll be practicing my acting expressions in the mirror and contemplating the Dandy hairstyle as a potential image reinvention. See you then!