American Horror Story
So Elsa threw a party and invited everyone she knew. We would see the biggest gift would be from freaks, and the card attached would say, “Thank you for being an egomaniacal, controlling, psycho, screech beast who will do anything to get her way — I mean, a friend. Thank you for being a friend.”
Yes, it was our Golden Girl of the freak show’s birthday, and she celebrated by wearing her finest gowns and having a receiving line where everyone in her employ was forced to bring gifts, whether they be naughty or nice. But by the end of the episode, the party was over and Elsa was left pretty much alone.
What I thought was great about this episode was that at the beginning, in a voice-over (we’re using them regularly now, so forgive me for last week when I was freaking out about Dandy having a voice-over), Elsa lays out the theme of the week: that she will sacrifice anyone or anything to get what she wants. What she wants is fame, and if it means she has to sell some Siamese twins into white slavery, sacrifice her tattooed lover, and lose all the people that she saved and created into a family, then, well, god damn it, she will do it.
It was nicely contrasted with other, less selfish people, like Esmeralda (whom I want to just keep calling Madison Montgomery, but that is so last year), who can’t kill Ma Petite to appease Stanley — or to keep her lover Edward Dildohands safe. Also, it was nice to see her think about going through with killing the world’s smallest woman (who was so cute pretending to be a butterfly) and to register the ambivalence on her face that wasn’t there when she imagined killing her the first time.
There was a number of things I liked in this episode. Ethel getting harsh on Elsa over the world’s grubbiest-looking piece of birthday cake was pretty excellent (even though I still cannot figure out what the hell happened to the rest of the damn cake). Dandy’s speech about there being a desert inside of him was a finer piece of acting from Finn Wittrock than we’ve seen all season, and it finally gave the character a bit of depth and motivation. Jessica Lange freaked out on her entire coterie of weirdos when she finally heard they thought she did something bad to the twins, and I was in heaven. There was not one piece of scenery in that tent that did not have a bite mark on it, and it was brilliant. Maybe it was the formative influence of Watcher in the Woods, but I just love watching an aging film star lose her shit on television.
And then there was Even Peters filling out a T-shirt like some kind of six-fingered love god. Why am I just noticing how hot he’s gotten? He’s not the stringy Kurt Cobain wannabe from Murder House anymore. Yeesh. I would travel down the road and back again for him.
Oh, and let us not forget my personal favorite moment, when Dandy sees the new maid giving him his food and then says that he misses Patti LaBelle. Ha! What a crazy creep. Then I was thinking it would be amazing if they substituted Patti LaBelle with Patti LuPone, and about three queens would have really thought it was funny, and we all would have gone to Marie’s Crisis afterwards and laughed and laughed and laughed and sang “Rainbow High” from Evita like it was “Lady Marmalade.”
Alright, have we sufficiently covered what I liked about this episode? Because, man, do I have some m–er f–ing bones to pick. Let’s start with the length of the episode. Why was it 73 minutes? The first several episodes were 90 minutes, then they reverted back to 60 minutes, and now here we are, at some strange middle ground. Seventy-three minutes. This is what drives me freaking batty about this show. Someone needs to impose some rules. There needs to be some sense of order around the show so that the free-wheeling disorder of the plot (which I love!) can be contained by something.
But no, if Ryan Murphy wants an extra 13 minutes, he gets it, whether we want it or not. The same thing goes with the songs. We see Elsa perform a bit of a Frank Sinatra’s (alright, Kurt Weill’s) “September Song,” which was written in the ‘30s and made popular in the ‘50s, right before this season takes place. Now, Elsa, instead of getting transmissions of David Bowie songs from some black hole in her brain, is singing contemporary songs. What is the deal here? What are the rules? Oh, wait, there are no rules! Let’s just do whatever we want. Let’s just have Patti LaBelle come back from the dead and sing “Day O” around the dining-room table in an ode to Beetlejuice. No one cares! Let’s do whatever we want.
The funny thing about those extra 13 minutes is that it doesn’t really show the right things. Why don’t we get to see Dandy fall in love with the twins? All we see is him handing his mother a plate of condoms. We don’t get to see his reaction when they arrive, how he’s treating them, what they’ve been doing together. We get nothing except an announcement that they’re in love. Didn’t the writers ever take one single creative-writing class in college where they learn that the first rule of good writing is to show, not tell?
Eventually we do get to see inside their relationship, and it was interesting, but it doesn’t create any great depth. While I am once and forever #TeamBette, she comes off as such a simpleton, admiring anyone who pays her any attention, including Dandy. Dot, on the other hand, is sporting some serious fantasies about becoming her own woman at the expense of her sister. She’s also setting herself up for some heartache when she finds out that Edward Dildohands is in love with Esmeralda, the pretty, normal-looking girl.
Speaking of things we didn’t see coming, were we ever given even one single indication that there is an illicit relationship between Elsa and Paul the Seal Boy (who actually performed at my birthday party one year and sang an Elvis song naked and, well, he sure is blessed in some departments)? We’re several episodes in, and we didn’t even get an inkling that they had a little somethin’-somethin’ going on? And poor Grace Gummer has been sidelined since her appearance in the first episode, and how were we supposed to know she and Paul had kept their naughty thing going? We couldn’t get a little indication that was happening as well? No, we just drop the story when we need something exciting to happen, and we’re supposed to take for granted that it’s been there all along. Remember, there are no rules. Do whatever you want. Go ahead, wear white after Labor Day, talk about Fight Club, let the Gremlins eat after midnight. It don’t matter.
Speaking of characters dropping in and out, where were Del and Desiree this episode? Everyone is supposed to be at Elsa’s big bash, but these two are nowhere to be seen, and no one makes any mention of it? Eve freaks out when Ma Petite isn’t in her bed, but these two badass lovers disappear and not one single person mentions it? This is like Alice in Wonderland up in here — everyone just comes and goes so quickly.
Yes, this is a transitional episode taking us from the Twisty the Clown early arc to a later arc where we’re going to see the freak show torn apart by Elsa’s need for fame and attention, everyone else’s grievances and jealousies, and Stanley’s well-endowed greed. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some consistency on our way to the bloody finale. Sure, horror isn’t the world’s greatest art form, but without structure, this is nothing more than a reason for Jessica Lange to put on fake eyelashes every week.