American Horror Story Season 4 Episode 3 – TV Review
It only took three episodes to introduce an immortal character who sets precedent for all kinds of undead and resurrection shenanigans that might follow.
Hello season 3.
TL;DR Edward Mordrake isn’t that spooky, really; Dandy continues to endear himself to Twisty; Emma Roberts finally rolls up into town; Elsa is convinced great things are on the way; flashbacks show just how low Dell sunk to make some money off poor, exploitable Ethel.
It involves childbirth and unimaginable degradation. Very American Horror Story.
So it’s Halloween in Jupiter, and there’s an old freak show superstition that forbids any freak from performing on Halloween, lest they be set upon by Edward Mordrake, an evil spirit who will come to claim the life of one of the freak show’s troupe. In his day, Edward was an aristocrat with another face on the back of his head. Institutionalisation led to freak show work, which led to homicidal rampage. Naturally, Elsa decides she’s above old fuddy duddy myths and rehearses on Halloween night, anyway. Edward shows up and appears to Ethel. Luckily for her, the Face deems her worthy of life, and the episode ends on a cliffhanger as to who his actual victim will be. Meanwhile, Emma Roberts moves into the freak show as Esmerelda, a fortune teller. She’s really a con artist working with an older, male partner in the hopes of murdering the Paulsons and selling them to a morbidity museum. Because that’s how people earned a buck back then. She uses her Mentalist powers to convince Elsa she’s legit, and Jimmy, too, seems taken with her. Probably because she’s hot, blonde, and not deformed. Meanwhile, Ethel learns she has cirrhosis of the liver and doesn’t have long to live. She appeals to Dell to look after Jimmy when she’s gone. Flashbacks show that Dell was a bad boyfriend to Ethel, and after he mismanaged her performing career, he sold tickets to the live birth of Jimmy. Ew. And Dandy goes off gallavanting with Twisty on Halloween night. Twisty adds another member to his gang of captives: a young, teen boy.
All they need is a widowed mother and we might be on our way to a Partridge Family tribute band.
I think that’s in no small part due to Emma Roberts’ arrival on the scene.
I needed my blonde bitch.
Why I hate this episode:
Edward Mordrake’s inclusion is bad. We’ve already been through the whole back-and-forth of dead-but-not-dead characters over the last three seasons. Would it be too much to ask that we could finally have characters’ deaths with some semblance of permanence? I know none of the lead cast has died yet, but knowing that an immortal hate spirit can roll around just because the plot needs it to is not a good sign. American Horror Story is a limited run. Shows like The Vampire Diaries rely on arbitrary resurrection because they’re multi-season spanning soap operas of doom. American Horror Story is done in half the time of a TVD season. Let’s hold out hope that dead will mean dead this time.
Edward Mordrake is kind of a pussy. The story goes that he tried many ways to “kill” the face on the back of his head. Bitch, just get that thing cut off. Even if it’s still “alive,” it can’t whisper to you if it hasn’t got a mouth. Or any of its face left, for that matter. Think outside the box, dude.
And he doesn’t make a very imposing Halloween death spectre. He just cordially interviews Ethel, and the Face is like “Nah, she’s cool, daddy-o.” Spooky?
Ethel wants Dell to look out for Jimmy like a father. But not to tell Jimmy or in any way imply to Jimmy that he’s his father. Choose one, Ethel.
Elsa is won over by Esmerelda pathetically easily. You’d think Elsa would have seen her fair share of shysters in her time, but apparently not. She needs to wisen up.
Jimmy is unnecessarily confrontational with an authority figure. Again.
Twisty’s behaviour grows ever more erratic. It’s clear he just behaves whatever way the plot requires him to. Ain’t nothing scary about that.
Also, Twisty can stalk through suburbia on Halloween all he wants, but he’s no Michael Myers.
Dot is bizarrely honest to Bette about wanting to have her surgically removed and killed in order for her own life to be more fulfilling. Rude. Also, Bette still has control over this body, too, Dot. She can just as easily stab you in your sleep. Have some tact.
Oh, and Edward Mordrake is just a photocopy of the Axeman. He’s a Jessica Lange love interest (one-sided, yes) and everything. Is it still stealing if you’re stealing from yourself?
But it’s not all bad:
Emma Roberts is back, bitches. Esmerelda seems a little softer around the edges than Cunt Queen Madison, but I’ll take what I can get.
Esmerelda and her partner’s (I’ll call him Mansfield, because that’s what his alias was in his opening scene) scheme is to bring a unique, large specimen to a Museum of Morbidity. They begin the episode by trying to fleece the museum with some fake animal bits. After they’re fucked off by the appraiser, the tour guide approaches them and tells them to go find something that’s real, and they’ll get a big payday. Elsa’s freak show is one of the rare few left, so Esmerelda goes in looking for a mark. When Mansfield hears about the Paulsons, he’s got his mind set on them.
Set on killing them and bottling them. Harsh, but practical. Esmerelda finds the plan a bit grisly for her taste, but isn’t pulling out yet.
The real highlight of the episode comes near the very end, when Ethel is telling Edward her tale of woe. She originally started show business as a relatively popular showgirl in a regular act that featured her as a curiousity, but not a freak. She then fell in love with a hot, young Dell, who became her manager. Her career slumped irreparably, so Dell sold tickets to her live birth of Jimmy on a roadside, out in a field. Oh, young love.
The Face finds her tale to be truthful, so Edward must search for another victim. It’s not the only good turn Ethel gets this episode: her doctor who hands down her cirrhosis diagnosis is a kind, non-judgemental sort. If only Ethel had met that kind of man she was younger. And not drank as much.
Dandy throws another epic bitch fit when he finds the Halloween costume Gloria picked him out doesn’t suit his taste. He makes his own clown costume, and then, in an homage to the original Halloween, the episode shifts into a first person shot of him donning a mask and picking up a knife.
He menaces his maid, but she’s too black and sassy, and he doesn’t have the courage to kill her. Mmm hmmmmmmmm, gurl.
Mansfield has a hot date with a male viking (prostitute?). And Mansfield has an apparently awe-inspiring penis. Maybe he should have joined the freak show, instead? Jimmy’s fingers might have some competition.
Elsa sings another song, of course, during her rehearsal. It’s a bit more pleasant to the ears than the last one. Her smugness when she sees Edward enter, thinking he’s the mystery man Esmerelda mentioned in her bogus fortune, makes it all the juicier.
Oh, and Esmerelda does a pretty fantastic job of tricking Elsa. All she sees is some sheets of music, a newspaper clipping about Marlene Dietrich, and the fact that Elsa is obviously old, bitter, unsuccessful, and alone. Her fortune reading is like a horoscope that happens to name drop your arch nemesis.