American Horror Story Season 4 Episode 1 – TV Review
Sadly, the answer to that question is “Meh. I dunno, really.”
If this was season 2, it’d be more like “Of course it is, you idiot. Are you insane?”
Time makes fools of us all.
TL;DR The freak show concept is lazy and obvious; Elsa is a cool old broad with a dream; Sarah Paulson’s two-headed twin is distracting; there’s a killer clown that isn’t that scary; Emma Roberts isn’t in this episode, so I’m pretty much moving on already.
I need more Blonde Bitch Quotient.
The plot revolves around a 1952 freak show circus run by Elsa (Lange), an ageing German showgirl with dreams of stardom. She turns her attentions to a new attraction: the two-headed Sarah Paulson, who is a suspect in their mother’s recent murder (spoiler: they did it). Elsa convinces them to join the freak show to have a sense of community. Meanwhile, Jimmy (Evan Peters) is getting a bit tired of being treated like a freak. I don’t think he realises what a freak show is. He rage-murders a nasty detective who harasses the Paulsons, and the other freaks help him cover it up. Meanwhile, the town of Jupiter, where the freak show is situated, is being rocked by a spree of murders committed by a trying-too-hard-to-be-scary clown. The clown also has a fondness for kidnapping (and scalping). Minor subplots include: Frances Conroy and her toffee-nosed son wanting to buy the Paulsons after seeing them at the freak show; Elsa singing a David Bowie song; the Paulsons having differing opinions on masturbation; Jimmy finger banging bored housewives for cash (his fingers are deformed); Kathy Bates, the bearded lady, being Jimmy’s mum and, as opposed to her son, Elsa’s greatest devotee; and Grace Gummer taking refuge from the unbelievable train wreck that was Extant to play a wayward candy striper.
Enjoy this diversion while it lasts, Grace. Because you’ve got a season 2, bitch. Somehow.
I think my greatest gripe with American Horror Story is that it’s not shocking anymore. The show relies on being a heightened, extravagant distillation of horror tropes and cliches (the murder house, the asylum, the witches. They’re all horror staples). But we’ve already had three seasons to be awed and disgusted. I’m fatigued with it.
And there is nothing inventive or scary about that clown. Wow, clowns are scary? Fucking revelation. Not.
Why I hate this episode:
I know that the past seasons, as mentioned, are very cliched and obvious in their settings. But a freak show? That’s just too much. It’s awfully desperate.
American Horror Story is once again guilty of wanting to have its melodrama cake and eat it, too. It’s a very Glee-esque problem, so I suppose we can blame Ryan Murphy for it. You can’t feed me straight, high-flying camp horror for most of the episode, then turn around with some weighty emotional issues to try and cheaply slip in some semblance of integrity. Either revel in the camp, or create a world and characters that aren’t archetypes and one-dimensional. I’ll give it a chance to make its point, but season 3 never did. Season 1 and 2 had the sense to hit the camp hard and only minimally tolerate melodrama.
And if you think I’m being overly harsh and just hating on season 4 because it’s the newest iteration, just take a look at how hard I was on the final two episodes of season 2. And season 2, save for those episodes, was wondrous, in my opinion.
Jimmy is pissing me off. His whole deal is all “I want to be treated like a normal person.” This comes to a homicidal head when he slashes the detective’s throat for calling he and the fellow freak show denizens, well, “freaks.” Dude, the tent outside your home says “Freak Show.” You’re freaks.
Jimmy is self-righteous about how the detective judged the Paulsons (and, by extension I suppose, all the freaks) guilty without even knowing them. Oh, Jimmy. The Paulsons are guilty.
He also seems to be happy enough being a freak when he’s elbow deep in housewife pussy. Hypocrite.
How did Elsa think that the Paulsons wouldn’t be found at the freak show where they’re fucking advertising her appearance? How many two-headed women does she think there are in Jupiter?
The CGI effect on the Paulsons is competent enough, but also distracting enough to spoil the suspension of disbelief.
Oh, and I’m really not kidding about that clown. What a tired idea.
But it’s not all bad:
It’s still American Horror Story. Which means it’s still the most glamorous horror show on TV (The Following is more slasher-fabulous than “glamorous.” And Hannibal? Well, it depends).
And you can’t really fault a cast that consists of Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Emma Roberts (she’s coming next episode. Hold on), Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy, and the rest. Ladies on top, girl.
Although I revile the clown, I did enjoy his attack on the lakeside couple. The girl waking up to the boy being graphically stabbed to death was very cool. And the standout horror moment of the episode.
The actual standout moment of the episode was Elsa’s Life On Mars musical number. As incongruent as it may have been. Jessica Lange is a star.
And Frances Conroy’s character may be a rich bitch, but she’s right when she blasts Elsa for her screechy singing. Not that any amount of screech could sour a Jessica Lange musical number.
Frances and her son are my favourite characters who we don’t get to spend a lot of time with. He’s all uppity and “mummy please.” In a childish, maybe incestuous kind of way. And God knows what he’d want to do with the Paulsons once he purchased them. I would like to find out.
The Paulsons turn out to have indeed killed their mother: Blue headband did it after their mum was a bitch to her. Brown headband later stabbed her/themself while Blue was sleeping. Because that’s just how psycho conjoined twins do. I can dig it.
Their differing opinions on masturbation are giggle-worthy. For the record, Blue is for it, but Brown finds it repulsive (or at least she says she does).
Interestingly, the Paulsons can read each other’s thoughts, so they can telepathically communicate. That oughtta come in handy.
And the episode uses a split screen effect to show part of a scene from the perspective of both heads. Split screen reminds me of the original Carrie movie. It’s a good thing.
Elsa admits to Ethel that she only contracted the Paulsons to draw attention to the freak show to further her own stardom, not primarily to save it from financial ruin. Aww.
Elsa also closes the episode with the reveal that she’s a double leg amputee, below the knee on each. Double aww.
Striking a blow for feminism, the girl from the lakeside couple is the one who wants sex, while her boyfriend hesitates.
The clown kidnaps the girl instead of killing her. He also kidnaps a young boy from a home invasion where he murdered the parents, and he keeps them both locked up in a swamp trailer.
Oh, and while most of his design is tired, I did like the scalp headpiece. He must smell wonderful.