[This is a review of 'American Horror Story: Freak Show' episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
It will come as no surprise that, with only three episodes left, American Horror Story: Freak Show has found a way to introduce two new characters and insert them into the already crowded playing field that is season 4. Such a late-season addition to the cast is not uncommon for the series, but it's difficult to recall when or if the show has ever actually benefitted from introducing more players and storylines when so many already established threads are waiting to be resolved.
But that's another staple of the series, it seems: throwing in additional and seemingly superfluous characters and storylines to buoy those that are simply treading water. It's a problem that plagued last season's Coven, as the inevitable showdown between Jessica Lange's character and her replacement meant Fiona's entire storyline was essentially a waiting game. The details are different in Freak Show (slightly), but the structure is mostly the same. And with the information provided by the magazine cover Pepper saw in 'Orphans' (given the tone and delivery of the episode, there's no reason not to it), the tension of Elsa's storyline is greatly reduced.
And perhaps that's a good thing. Aside from giving some of her employees the ultimate pink slip, Elsa hasn't been much of a driving force this season. And so, to its credit, 'Magical Thinking' at least attempts to assign some significance to Jimmy and the Tattler's storylines by involving them in major, life-altering incidents – with worsening degrees of humiliation, depending on how you look at them.
For all intents and purposes, Jimmy has been the season's protagonist. He's the plucky hero who's prone to his fair share of mistakes. All season long Jimmy's been trying his best to create some level of harmony between the people of Jupiter Florida, and the members of Elsa's freak show. And in typical AHS style, those attempts have been met with increasingly painful reminders of how unforgiving and unaccepting of certain differences the (freakish) world beyond the tents and trailers Jimmy calls home can actually be. But of all of Jimmy's mistakes, selling his hand(s) to Stanley (he was surprisingly unsurprised that Stanley helped himself to both appendages) is the hardest to reconcile in terms of character motivation, even though Meep's death is brought back up to become the impetus for that decision.
Still, there's palpable significance in the loss of the "lobster claws." Jimmy's still an outsider, but it's no longer the kind that carries the same stigma of being The Lobster Boy. And, in a way, it brings him even closer to his estranged father. Although Jimmy and Dell, made nice not long ago, a true father-son bond was fashioned only when Dell made the effort to feed his child. Without the appendages that defined him, Jimmy was at once in need of a father, which Dell seemingly happily stepped into the role of. But at the same time, it's difficult not to see Dell's acceptance of his child as the byproduct of something less than the love of one's offspring; namely, pity, or worse yet, relief that the genetic gifts he passed on were no longer an issue. All of which leads to the threat of a Dell-centric flashback that thankfully never manifests, but is still the scariest thing Freak Show has presented all season long.
The trouble is, as with most things on American Horror Story, the potentially devastating consequences of the scene are glossed over, so that Jimmy can be sprung from jail by his father and Amazon Eve, while the freak show welcomes Neil Patrick Harris as Chester – yet another deranged individual whose past crimes include the murder of multiple women.
At first, Chester's proclivities seem the result of his earnest nature, but it takes no time at all before he's revealed to have not only a metal plate in his head, possible PTSD, and a spouse who became a lesbian while he was away fighting in the war, but also an imaginary friend in the form of a ventriloquist dummy named Margery – who takes the form of Jamie Brewer. Throw in the purchase of Elsa's show and his romantic entanglement with Bette and Dot, Chester has so many things going on, he's not just an extra character thrown in at the last minute; he's an entire season's worth of storylines wrapped into one.
Only Chester's a bit derivative of the show's other deranged lunatic, Dandy, who has suddenly overcome his childish ways to become a devious mastermind capable of buying or manipulating others into doing his bidding. Perhaps this is supposed to be Dandy's arc, but the whole thing just rings false. For one, Dandy's so much more fun when he's running around, petulantly lashing out at those who deny him his latest desire. Sure, he's doing basically the same thing by influencing Chester and having Jimmy arrested, but the effect is muted by the character's sudden sophistication (which, in turn, robs Finn Wittrock of the opportunity to entertainingly oversell every emotion Dandy feels the moment he feels them). Essentially, the change in Dandy's demeanor is less a product of the character's development and more the result of him fitting into what the narrative needs in order to keep going.
And with Dell's death at he hands of Elsa, as retribution for the murder of Ma Petite, the narrative seems to be headed toward one reckoning after another. But with Dell gone, Jimmy is the only prominent character left with the potential to become a compelling tragic figure – which is saying something considering what he recently went through. The rest is just balancing the ledger.
American Horror Story: Freak Show continues next Wednesday with 'Show Stoppers' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Michele K. Short