American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: The Hair of Her Chinny-Chin-Chin

Photo: FX

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American Horror Story
Episode Title
Edward Mordrake, Part 1
Editor’s Rating

I never quite understood why American Horror Story needs a Halloween episode. Isn’t that sort of like Barbara Walters doing a special about people who refuse to retire or Guy Fieri doing a miniseries about bad dye jobs and quadruple-bypass surgeries? But here we are, due to the season when it airs, with a two-part Halloween special. It’s like one of those Halloween Spirit pop-up stores in your neighborhood that only sells costumes having a special Halloween sale. Can’t we just get It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and like eight of Roseanne’s Halloween episodes and call it a day?

Don’t get me wrong, that trick-or-treating scene being done in the daylight was far more creepy than one held at night. There’s something about seeing costumed children during the day that chills me to my very bones. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of one of our great collective nightmares: theater camp.

This episode, however, really belonged to Ethel. First we find out that she has cirrhosis of the liver, a side-effect caused by her constantly poisoning her body with the most noxious accent ever heard on television. Having the worst accent on American Horror Story is a hard honor to earn. It’s like trying to figure out the shrillest Taylor Swift song.

Ethel then tells us the terrifying tale of Edward Mordrake, a carny superstition that if any freak performs on Halloween, his spirit will arrive and take away one of the souls from the camp. As soon as we hear the story, we know that this two-faced man is going to show up. It’s sort of like inviting Patti LaBelle to be on your show and then not letting her sing.

When Elsa performs on Halloween (I was “eh” about the Lana Del Rey song, an emotion the singer is infinitely familiar with), possibly thinking that Mr. Mordrake is going to be the man who makes her famous, and conjuring him intentionally, the spirit does float into the camp in a green mist. When he arrives in Ethel’s trailer — which looks sort of like a Gothic church reconstructed in a train car — we think for sure she’s going to be a goner. We hear her entire backstory, complete with actors playing younger versions of her and Del and somehow looking a little bit like the Muppet Babies. We learn how she met Del the strongman, how he charged people to see her give birth to Edward Dildohands, and how she’s ready to die knowing that she exploited her baby since the moment he was born.

Something about her sentiment seemed a little disingenuous to me. Considering she’s been exploiting her own freakishness for attention and financial gain for most of her adult life, why would she be concerned about making money being a freak? She is also the same woman who took a cut of her son’s profits when he used those Dildohands on the harried housewives of Jupiter, Florida. If she is so concerned about exploiting her son, why has she done it his entire life?

Anyway, Wes Bentley, with a Planet of the Apes mask spirit-gummed to the back of his head so that he can watch plastic bags float around in the wind, allows Ethel to live for some reason that is never quite explained. I assume he will move on to another member of our encampment to find a new soul to take. Who could it be?

Edward Mordrake wasn’t the only visitor this week. We also met Dr. Mansfield and his ward Esmerelda, a pair of con artists who are looking to exploit the secondary market for dead-freak body parts, because obviously, this is something that hucksters in the ‘50s would figure out. It’s sort of a genius plan, where Esmerelda poses as a fortune teller, reads Elsa well enough to know she wants noting more than to be famous (or maybe set Marlene Dietrich on fire while she sleeps), tell her that a man will arrive to help her achieve her goals, and then invite Dr. Mansfield to show up and take control of the whole operation. But is all that fuss worth the 5K they’re going to get by selling freak parts to shady museums? Probably not.

Dr. Mansfield seems to be an interesting fellow, a gay dude with a taste for Viking-god hookers and something wacko going on below the belt. Does he just have the world’s biggest schlong, or does he have, I don’t know, an actual sword where his penis should be? If he really is hung like a unicorn, he certainly wouldn’t need to pay guys that sexy to go down on him — every size queen on the Eastern seaboard would be banging on his door like he is in possession of the last tube of lube in the bathhouse. He’d get more action than Harry Styles at a cougar convention.

Just as Dr. Mansfield has a huge endowment, it seems like Del Toledo’s piece isn’t working at all, the poor guy. If our characters can go into the future to pick up pop ballads to sing, can’t one of them score some Viagra from a Mexican pharmacy for our poor Del? Maybe this season is setting up to be a struggle for control of the freak show between Dr. Mansfield and Del — one with a dong of death, and the other with a useless noodle.

That seems to be the problem with this season so far: There is nothing to unify it and push the action forward. In season one, there was the family unit propelling everything; in season two, there was a killer loose in the asylum; in season three, we were searching for the next supreme. But what holds this season together? Sure, they’re all in the same freak show, but what are we supposed to care about? Where is this going? Twisty the Clown is real creepy, but he just keeps killing and snatching random people. There’s no escalation of his crime or danger to the characters we care about. Every avenue that seems to promise it will bring everything together turns out to be a dead end. Maybe everything is just moving too slowly. Wait, what is wrong with me? Did I just say that Ryan Murphy wasn’t moving fast enough? Am I ill? Did someone put something in my yellow-flavored Gatorade? Did those three Cadbury Scream Eggs I just ate go bad and turn into hallucinogenic mushrooms or something?

Speaking of Patti LaBelle, I was starting to think that her considerable talents were being wasted on this show, walking into a dining room carrying assorted trays of weird meats. Finally, finally, we got the moment we’ve been waiting for, when she calls out Dandy on his sadistic bluff and tells him that she is not afraid of him at all. And if the only song she sings is her half-assed attempt at a Woody Woodpecker, then I’m going to be pissed.

As for Dandy, I’m getting a little bored with his whole story line. There seems to be no arc for him. He’s just this spoiled, closeted gay guy who whines and cries and throws temper tantrums. Now he wants to be just like Twisty the Clown, which we all saw coming. That is kind of interesting, I guess, but again, where is all this going? The questions I have don’t seem like mysteries, but holes in the plot so big that they look a bit like Twisty’s worm-filled mouth.

As for Twisty, I think I have once again figured out who he is. Well, he hasn’t had a lot of work for quite some time, he’s well known for hanging out with suspected homosexuals, and it appears he’s wearing someone else’s face. Twisty is Renée Zellweger!

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