*** WARNING: Contains spoilers! Please do not read on unless you've seen Episode 4 of "American Horror Story: Freak Show," titled "Edward Mordrake (Part 2)." Or if you don't mind spoilers, go right ahead! ***
I'm hard-pressed to think of a another TV show that's ever mixed such random, senseless violence with moments of heart-tugging sincerity. It's legitimately insane how "American Horror Story: Freak Show" can nonchalantly show imagery of people fornicating in backlit tents while simultaneously telling a sad, wrenching story. You can run the gamut of emotions in less than five minutes -- from outright sorrow (ahh, poor Seal Boy) to straight-up disturbed (what sorts of people were you associating with, Elsa?).
Edward Mordrake and his green dry ice are still at the freak show, trawling for "the one." In a clever (yet somewhat lazy) exercise in exposition, we learn most of the other freaks' backstories. They're all heartbreaking, once you look past the ridiculousness of Mordrake and his two faces sitting there, hands on cane, listening like a shrink. I just feel like between Part 1 and Part 2 of these episodes, Mordrake became less scary and developed into more of a reset button, there to start the show's plot afresh. More on that later.
At least now we know Elsa's real backstory: she was a brutal dominatrix who couldn't get work as an actress, so she sexually tortured people for an audience. Sexy lingerie? OK. Dog collar? Yes, I can see that. The guy barking? Role-playing. But the nail-covered toilet seat? That seemed a bit ... rustically painful, no? Whatever floats your boat, I guess. In any case, Elsa gets in serious trouble and is drugged by amateur snuff filmmakers (they said she was "lucky," so I'm only assuming they killed other women), who then proceed to cut off her legs for the camera. Never would have guessed that was the cause.
Mordrake is about to kill Elsa to join his band of ghost freaks -- but we know, as "AHS" fans, that Lange isn't going anywhere in Episode 4 -- when he hears music and is drawn to Twisty's trailer. At this point, everyone's escaped, thanks to the kidnapped Jane Levy lookalike and some quick thinking by Jimmy. Then we finally, finally get to hear Twisty's backstory. (Kudos to the makeup and special-effects people here: Twisty's horrifying mouth is something to behold, especially when he talks and his tongue is lolling back and forth.)
As I wrote about a few episodes ago, "AHS" can't just tell a sob story and have us forgive Twisty. As awful as the events leading up to his attempted (and failed) suicide are, you can't just run amok in a town and kill random people. Despite his reasons, he's still a murderer, a grisly one at that, so it's difficult to feel sympathy. His story is delivered remarkably well by John Carroll Lynch, complete with clown tears. Nothing's sadder than the tears of a clown... but then Mordrake puts him out of his misery and takes him into the afterlife, and we're left momentarily killer-less.
All is well at the freak show too, when the townspeople show up with food and handshakes to thank Jimmy for saving them. Still hung up on Meep (as he should be), Jimmy is hesitant but eventually cracks a smile when
his real-life love Maggie looks at him lovingly. I hope you all saw Dot's face there. This is not going to end well for our "psychic." Two heads kill better than one. Maggie's days are numbered, that's for sure.
Peace is never long for "AHS." Back in the forest, along comes Dandy, who gleefully puts on Twisty's mask. With it, he's somehow more powerful, and he returns home to kill Nora. He slices her throat like it ain't no thang and emits a laugh that's on-par with Tim Curry's "It" clown. Can this character graduate from snivelling brat to spineless killer? I think yes, but deep down he'll always be weak. I will say there is a scarier element to Dandy's soulless journey to feel something, anything, as opposed to Twisty's psychotic delusions.
So think about it: we're armed now. We're reset. We know the backstories, we know everyone's motives, we have a new killer, the townspeople aren't the enemy (at least for now), there's camaraderie among the freaks, love is in the air. For a hot minute we'll have some unity and a fresh start, until everything gets all "AHS" on us again. I give Episode 5 about ten minutes before that happens.
Oh, Denis O'Hare shows up disguising himself as a talent scout? Change that ten minutes to zero for Episode 5.
Freak Of The Week: Twisty takes it. He's been thoroughly terrifying these past few weeks -- thanks for the disturbing ride.
- The accents. So distracting. Some lines are delivered like we're watching some bad community theatre.
- The harpsichord music playing whenever Edward Mordrake is on-camera is straight off the Halloween sounds CD you can buy at the dollar store.
- At least Twisty got his mouth back in the afterlife. Small graces.
- Again, I hope kids weren't watching tonight's episode. "Mommy, why is that person peeing into a bowl on the bed?" "Daddy, why is that man saying 'Thank you" after she made him sit on a toilet seat covered in nails?" Good luck, parents.
- Is there anything scarier than a person putting pantyhose over their head, and then covering their lips in lipstick? Oh yes, cutting your legs off after drugging you.
- No musical number tonight. I guess the showrunners figured we'd already experienced enough emotion.
- I hear Lily Rabe will be guesting this season after all. Let's just fast-forward to that episode, please and thanks.
"American Horror Story: Freak Show" airs on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. EST on FX and FX Canada.