American Horror Story Recap: Shallow Graves

Photo: FX

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American Horror Story
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The opening scene of this episode was perhaps one of the finest we’ve seen all season and should go down in the American Horror Story canon as one of the show's most remarkable scenes. It had everything: Jessica Lange chewing some scenery, Denis O’Hare running for his life from a pack of rabid freaks, the dismembered head of a dead lady wrapped up in a shimmery gold box. The only thing that was missing was one of Kathy Bates’s accents. But seriously, that shot of Grace Gummer crawling her tattooed face through a rainy Florida night is going to haunt my dreams.

After learning in the last episode that Stanley was a killer, she gets everyone together to put an end to him for good. Yes, it was an excellent scene — and the reveal later that they disfigured him and turned him into Meep II: The Revenge was even better — but didn’t it all seem a little rushed? We’ve been waiting for the better part of the season for Stanley to finally get his due, and now it happens in the tease before the credits?

That’s what has been so strange about this episode, and this season in general. It speeds through things — Elsa’s past with her Italian doctor, Jimmy coming to hate Maggie (a.k.a. Esmeralda) and then learning of her death, the introduction of Chester and then his immediate confession to the police. It’s like there wasn’t enough time to get to everything (which explains offing Twisty way too early), but thinking about the season as a whole, we would have been better served if it had delved deeper into even half of its plots.

Anyway, another great part of this episode was that we got another connection between Freak Show and Asylum, learning that Hans Gruper (not to be confused with Hans Gruber, the villain from Die Hard) is the man who took Elsa’s legs in a snuff film. Of course, you may remember that he's also Dr. Arden from Asylum, during which he does all sorts of nasty experiments on the patients at Briarcliff.

But the arrival of Elsa’s Italian doctor friend seemed like a bit of a stretch in order to get that information into the show. Why were we burdened with his backstory? We don’t even know the guy; he’s probably going to disappear again into the smoky backlit cloud he came out of, anyway. Why do we care? And if he never found Elsa after moving to America, how did she know how to contact him to make Jimmy his new set of hands? None of it makes sense!

For some reason, watching Maggie change the bandages on Jimmy’s stumps was just about the grossest thing we’ve ever seen on this series. I couldn’t watch it at all, just like I can’t stand to see just how they make burgers out of the pink slime at McDonald’s. Some things I’d rather be blissfully unaware of. But Jimmy hates Maggie now that he knows she sold out the freaks to Stanley. That romance sure went sour quickly. I loved that, given the choice between having a normal life with wooden hands and being a freak, Jimmy chooses to be a freak, asking the Italian doctor to make him a whole new set of claws. If there’s one thing we've learned this season, it’s that being a freak is something that lies deep down inside, whether it's reflected outwardly or not.

Speaking of which, big-old-normal-looking freak Dandy told Bette and Dot that big-old-normal-looking freak Chester killed his wife. Oh, Chester. Chester was such a great idea for a character, and he was so well-played by Neil Patrick Harris. But, like all the other villains this season, he was too good for this world. It’s like Freak Show has been trying on different villains and discarding them just as quickly, like Buffalo Bill trying on the suits he makes out of skin from dead women.

What even happened to Chester? He freaks the heck out thinking he killed his doll Marjorie … and then turns himself into the police. But really, he just kills Maggie. This really annoyed me. Of all the things that were rushed through in this episode, this was the one that really got me. After Maggie dies, Desiree says, “She had it coming. Let’s steal her jewelry and bury the bitch.” Yes, a funny line, but did she have it coming? Maybe, but not like this.

This is one of my (many) problems with Freak Show: that no one faces any sort of serious consequences for their actions, and when consequences do come, they are totally random. Maggie needed to face some justice, but instead she gets sawed in half by some crazy guy just because she happened to be close to the stage and volunteer for no reason (except maybe that she's desperate for redemption). Her death isn't the result of something she did or motivated by some other set of events. It just comes down to a random draw. Ryan Murphy is going to spend 12 episodes making me care about someone who is then killed all willy-nilly so they could spill some human guts out of a magic box? A cool image, but worth the sacrifice of the story? No.

The thing about the freaks killing Elsa also seemed horrendously speedy, too; the arc starting with the mention that she killed Ethel and ending with them looking for her in her dressing room seemed crazy swift and unearned. She has been treating these people poorly for decades, and now they go from helping her get rid of Stanley to lynching her in the span of time it takes Jimmy to take a piss. (Well, admittedly, that takes a long time now, but you get my point.)

So, how have we left things? Elsa resells the freak show to Dandy. (Is that even legal, when she already sold it to Chester? The deed doesn’t revert back to her the second he enters a police station, and even then, does she even know he's at the police station?) Jimmy has lobster claws again. The twins are still around. Stanley is Meeping it up backstage. Maggie and Ethel and Ma Petite and Del and Twisty and Patti LaBelle and Precious are all dead. What is left to care about? Not one thing. Next week is the season finale, and I don’t care one lick about any of the people that are left or about what might happen to them. I have to say it — I can’t wait until the curtain goes down on this freak show.

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