American Horror Story: Freak Show Episode 2 Recap: Smooth Criminal

Photo: Michele K. Short/FX

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Oh, I get it. So this is a thing now. This year, we’re doing a “songs from the future performed at a freak show in 1951” theme. See, it only took until episode two, when our favorite two-headed warbler Bette and Dot launched into a very faithful version of “Criminal” by Fiona Apple (featuring the Mosh Pit from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Video). It was a pretty good cover of the song, I gotta say, but it’s hard to mess up “Criminal.” It’s sort of like the pizza of the karaoke world: Even when it’s bad, it is still reading Prozac Nation in your room and listening to Throwing Muses over and over and over again and hating your mother and dying, just dying, to get out of this town forever.

Things are getting a little complicated for Bette and Dot. They needed an act other than just standing onstage two heads and shoulders above everyone else. Their options were (a) shooting ping-pong balls out of their one vagina or (b) singing ‘90s alternative-radio classics. They chose b. (Tune in next week for “You Oughta Know.”) But it wasn’t Bette, the one with the Hollywood aspirations who can sing. No, it was her sister Dot who channeled her love for Edward Dildohands and unleashed the voice of a meadowlark and the jealousy of both her sister and Elsa Mars, who still considers the twins the opening act to her headliner. For the record, I am still #TeamBette, and when she stabs her sister with that knife Elsa gave her, things are gonna get real creepy.

This terrible twosome wasn’t the star of this episode, however. That honor probably belongs to Del Toledo, the “strong male presence” that Elsa hires as her new strongman and barker. You know that Michael Chiklis won’t be a regular in this anthology series because he lacks the dedication to daffy accents that all the other members hold so dear. Couldn’t he at least do a high-pitched squeal or a Daffy Duck lisp or whatever it is that comes out of the throat of the Tilly sisters? Del’s arrival immediately provides tons of tension considering he is bearded Ethel’s ex and her son Edward Dildohands's father.

The nail in his coffin, however, was when he put Elsa at the bottom of bill. Her finding out was the best scene in the entire episode. First of all, Elsa’s tent is some sort of crazy gay paradise. It’s a cross between a Chanel store dressing room, Elaine Stritch’s apartment at the Carlyle, the genie bottle from I Dream of Jeannie, and a sex club for Berlin twinks. I would never leave. The All About Eve way she said “He has to go” after seeing her name at the bottom of a poster was priceless.

Naturally, her plan with Eddy D-dohands backfires when the police show up and, instead of finding evidence that Del killed that copper, they find his bloody badge in Meep the Geek’s bedroll. Poor Meep, the Groot of American Horror Story. We barely knew him.

My creative-writing professor in grad school (I have an MFA in poetry, which is why I know a thing or two about freak shows) said that all poems are about the act of writing poems. I think that all American Horror Story plots are about the making of American Horror Story. The “strong male presence” of Del Toledo is really about what would happen if Ryan Murphy listened to some network suit about trying to make his show a little bit more macho. AHS is all about past-their-prime actresses chewing the scenery and wailing about designer fashion. Evan Peters, essentially a Bel Ami model who only does solo videos, is the only straight male member of the ensemble. This show needs some butching up, but when it happens, the patriarchy invades and tries to destroy everything that we’ve come to love.

This is especially true because Del winds up at the freak show because he murdered a gay guy who was sleeping with his three-tittied wife. There is something weird about gayness going on with this season. There was that whole thing about gays trying to cure themselves, and then, well, there is Dandy. Dandy is clearly meant to be a repressed homosexual. He is, after all, a man obsessed with The King and I (maybe why he loves Siamese twins?), knows the entire Cole Porter songbook, and uses the word transcendent, which is something that is usually only used to describe Patti LuPone doing Sondheim covers and Claude Montana runway shows of the '80s. That is why Dandy sees himself as a freak and sympathizes with Elsa’s cohort, because he doesn’t fit in, even though no one can see it.

At first I was miffed that Dandy is this sort of villain (thought nothing is villainous about thinking that babies are the most boring thing ever?) because the gay is always the bad guy. But I got over it. It's his rejection from society — just like the rest of the freaks getting tossed out of the diner — that warps him and makes him evil, not the gayness itself. The criminal here is intolerance. Ryan Murphy may have done a lot of awful things, but he has exposed more Americans to the wonders of homosexuality than all the drama teachers in all the high schools in all the world.

Still, Dandy does have some of the awful old stereotypes, like an overbearing mother and a certain feyness that goes unexplained. But at least his mother is willing to play June Allyson paper dolls with him. What we don’t know is whether she made him like that with dotage or if she is just such a good mother that she accepts her son no matter what.

The strangest parallel was between Dandy and his new best friend Twisty the Clown. What I don’t understand about Twisty is just why he does his killing. He just goes around willy-nilly murdering people, but then, when Dandy’s mother picks him up, he doesn’t stab her. I can understand why he only hits Dandy over the head instead of killing him because maybe he sees a kindred spirit, but there is no logic behind who gets killed and who doesn’t — at least, that we know of.  

Something struck me when he murdered the toy-store employee. The cap of that truly terrifying scene (when Twisty was mixed in with the other clown mannequins, somehow he was the least terrifying thing on the screen) was Twisty stabbing the guy in the throat. He does it so easily that the look in his eyes doesn’t read terror or malice, it reads boredom. Maybe he is just like Dandy. They’re both freaks who can’t exist in the real world without being hated, so they resort to more insane means to have some sort of human connection. Maybe their boredom is just loneliness? After all, Twisty brought back a toy for the little boy and seemed to want to make him happy. Maybe he and Dandy finding each other will be the best thing to happen to both of them, except, you know, minus all the killing.

Just what is up with Twisty’s mouth? We got a glimpse of what is behind that smile, and it looks like his face is full of worms? Is that even biologically possible? Is he really just a creation from The Nightmare Before Christmas that came to life? Is that what really happens if you don’t brush and floss twice a day? Is that what happens when you eat way too much of the strange chemical concoction known as Pop Chips? I don’t know.

That is the only real unsolved question about Twisty. In previous seasons, there has been some sort of central mystery surrounding the identity of the baddie propelling the action (Who is the man in the gimp suit? Who is Bloody Face? Who is the Supreme?), but there isn’t one of those this year. So far, the action seems very straightforward. Sure, we might wonder where Twisty came from and why his mouth is full of worms, but he just seems to be another freak. We know who Twisty is. He’s a man who dresses up in too-bright costumes, wears a janky wig, could stand to lose a few pounds, and has a small but very captive audience. Oh my God, Twisty the Clown is Tyler Perry!

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