I think I’m still a little traumatized from the events of the last episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show. You leave an episode feeling a bit like you’ve been roughed up and maybe touched in a bad way. But here we go again. Let’s get right to the recap, OK?
The episode starts with period music and a long pan of the fair-grounds where the freak show is set up. Presumably in addition to the Freak Show more wholesome fare like carnival games, food and rides are on hand, but the only person I’ve seen using that stuff so far was Twisty riding the Merry-Go-Round and believe me, there was nothing wholesome about that.
It comes to rest in the Freak’s mess tent. The Freaks are happily listening to “Sloppy Drunk,” by Walter Brown and Jay McShann’s Quartet, on the radio, which means Jupiter must have had a pretty damn hip radio station by 1952 Florida standards. Lobster Boy Jimmy comes by and kills the buzz to tune to a convenient exposition-filled news report. He can’t work the knobs with his claws so he tunes the radio by fumbling with the large dial needle, which is a nice subtle touch.
So the four unsolved murders and all the disappearances have been noticed and people are staying home and keeping their kids out of school. Yes, they have noticed that the Jupiter police detective Jimmy murdered is missing, too. In fact, cops are roaring toward the freak show with sirens blaring.
Two cops confront the freaks and are directed to Elsa’s tent. Elsa won’t let the cops search without a warrant and offers a ticket to the show, but is told there won’t be a show because the cops are very sensibly setting up a curfew until the killer is caught.
“You are going to ruin my business!” Elsa says.
“Every dark cloud has a silver lining,” one of the cops says.
Conjoined twins Dot and Bette, who are fugitives Jimmy killed to protect, enter the tent while Elsa talks to the cops. The cops want statements on the murder of Bette and Dot’s mother and of course to find out where their missing detective is, but Elsa says they already gave their statement. To the detective that Jimmy killed. And she starts to spin a cover story about how the detective was drunk when he showed up as well as trying to plant the seed that the murder Bette committed had the trademarks of Twisty’s murders.
Incredibly, the cops just leave after making a threat to “expect to get to know us.”
A young man brings coffee to his boss Mr. Hanley at a toy store in Jupiter. Mr. Hanley does not answer when he calls, and the employee notices a broken drum on the floor. Then a creepy windup robot is sent toward him. It tracks blood and gore on its little robot feet. The young man myopically follows the track back to its source and walks within a foot of Twisty “hiding” in a display of clown mannequins.
Hiding is a very generous term, of course, because the mannequins look like clowns and Twisty looks like a soot-covered, hideously deformed fiend from hell with a huge mask over his lower face displaying a sinister, deeply deranged parody of a human smile. If a convention of this show is going to be that, like last episode, Twisty can blend in as a regular clown, then the people of Jupiter should be so inured to the nightmarish I doubt they’d bother with a freak show.
The guy finds where the blood ends, which is Mr. Hanley’s head arranged with toy pumpkins on a shelf. You can actually catch a glimpse of it on the shelf as soon as he comes in the store, although it looks like it might be a lifelike mask then. Anyway, while he’s looking Twisty stabs him in the back of the throat with his scissors and they come out the front. Twisty seems bored, just going through the motions on this murder.
The freaks are having dinner in their tent. One freak, who is lady with whose body ends mid-torso, slides down the long table on a skateboard and offers Jimmy at the end a drink as the other freaks chant. “Kill the copper!” They are very pleased with themselves for killing, dismembering, and hiding the body of the detective in the last episode. But Jimmy isn’t happy.
He gets angry, lashes out and screams “SHUT … UP!”
The next scene Jimmy and some other freaks digging up the cop’s dismembered body. Jimmy says he’s never killed anyone before. He feels bad about killing the cop and wonders if he has a family and kids.
“I know what it’s like to grow up without a father,” Jimmy says.
His plan is to burn the putrid body body parts and scatter the ashes to make sure the cop is never found. He tries to apologize for causing, but the other freaks won’t have it and are supportive of Jimmy.
The freaks hate being called “freaks” by the way. This is what set Jimmy off and the others share his dislike of the term.
“If they just got to know us they would see we’re just like them. No better, no worse, just regular people,” Jimmy says.
Evie, whose “freakishness,” as far as I can tell, is that she’s a trans woman in 1952, finds the cop’s badge in the dirt. Jimmy says he’ll take care of it.
Dandy, the spoiled rich kid who bought out the freak show in the last episode and literally tried to buy Dot and Bette as human chattel, is having dinner with his enabling mom, Gloria. After a few awkward moments where Dandy plucks at a fork in an irritating way his mom rings a bell and a servant brings escargot to the table. Dandy is instantly bored with it.
We see Dandy literally still sucks from a crystal baby bottle, although he does put cognac in it. Dandy’s mom references a rape or other dark thing Dandy has done to a woman, which Dandy childishly denies although Gloria says he only got away with it because of Gloira’s connections with the police chief.
Dandy says all women are smelly cows, that the babies his mom wants for him are boring, and that he wants to be a “thespian” but his mom stands in the way. His mom says she’s just protecting him from a life of “degradation and opprobrium,” but Dandy says he’s “turning to dust from boredom.” He goes to leave, saying he’ll probably go to St. Petersburg where they have good caramel corn instead of the cardboard at the freak show.
He storms off despite his mother’s pleas that “something ghastly always happens when you run off in a mood.”
The servant re-enters with bad news. She found parts of a cat behind the toolshed, and she hints Dandy might have something to do with the disappearances of the people. Gloria denies it.
“He’s just bored,” she says.
Bearded Lady Ethel finds Dot and Bette sitting in the sun and tells them to get up and work on their act. Dot is a bitch about it, but Bette genuinely wants to perform.
At this moment a car pulls up pulling a trailer that says “Strong Man.” It’s Dell Toledo, the strong man, and his wife Desiree Dupree, who has an, um, unique act we’ll get into later.
The pair have responded ton ad Elsa posted months ago asking for new talent. They’ve left their old circus because the owners didn’t respect Desiree and had her opening for animal acts. That’s what Dell says, anyway.
Then we get a flashback to what actually happened. Dell accosts two homosexuals outside his tent. The homosexuals say they are waiting on their friend, who thinks he can “change his stripes.” This involves paying for sex with Desiree and it seems to be working, although there’s a reason to be skeptical of this because Desiree has some “extra business” that makes her a bit different than the hometown cuties. But it’s going okay until Dell enters in a jealous rage and snaps the guy’s neck like a candy cane.
Elsa is not fooled. She says she’s heard tales of strong men with a temper and murder, but Desiree says “There ain’t no murder if there ain’t no body” and that the Chicago police won’t follow them to Florida for some “dead poof.”
“They’re lower than us freaks,” Desiree says.
That’s her cue to show Elsa what makes her a freak, which is “three titties, proper girl parts and a ding-a-ling.”
Elsa, who is a pervert, is impressed. She asks Dell what it makes him and he says “The happiest man on Earth.”
But Elsa says money is tight and tries to turn them down, but Dell begs, saying he’ll take any terms because Jupiter is their last stop. Elsa asks to look at his hands, which are worn and calloused, and comes around to the idea of a “strong male presence,” or more honestly an enforcer to provide some muscle.
There is a bizarre scene of Dandy’s mom driving her car down the road, she’s doing about 5 MPH at most and the closeup of the driving looks faked on set, like in an old movie. She sees Twisty walking. Like the other people in the show, she doesn’t notice anything wrong with the demon clown’s visage and tries to hire him for a private party to cheer up Dandy.
Dandy is at the freak show, talking to Jimmy and effusively praising the caramel corn. Jimmy says he knows Dandy has a “thing for the twins,” but Dandy says he wants to join the show and believes it’s where he belongs. Jimmy says unless he has a pony legs or a “double ding dong” it’s not so much and tells him he wouldn’t last one day there.
Dandy says that, inside, he is a freak and begs for a chance, saying it would be “saving my life.” Jimmy just gets mad and tells him to go home to his mansion on the hill and “thank God for all you got.”
In the next shot Dandy is bashing his head into the steering wheel of his expensive sports car, screaming “I hate you” over and over. Then he returns home. Gloria is overjoyed but he rejects her and says he hates her. She lets this roll off her back and introduces Dandy to “his very own clown,” you-know-who.
Twisty is standing in a room filled with expensive children’s toys and games. Dandy is fascinated, not scared, and walks right up to him.
At the freak show Ethel watches Desiree leave her trailer and hit the shower tent. She uses that opportunity to go inside to see Dell.
The two have history, and Dell calls her “Honest Abe.” Ethel hates him. She tells him he’s not welcome there and to stay away from Jimmy. Although it’s clear Jimmy is Dell’s son, he just says “Jimmy who?”
We get a flashback to Dell drinking and then picking up Jimmy from his crib. He calls Jimmy a mistake, says he’s going to save him a lot of pain and starts to strangle him, but Ethel pulls a gun and runs him off.
Back in the present Ethel tells Dell if he says one word to Jimmy, her freaks will tear him “limb from limb.”
He says he doesn’t care about Jimmy or Ethel and tells her that Elsa put him in charge of security for the whole place, which shocks and outrages her.
Dot and Bette are rehearsing. Bette tries to sing “When I’m Calling You” in exactly the way a beautiful bird doesn’t. She’s murdering it more viciously than she did her mother. Eventually they give up on singing. Elsa, her egotistical desire to be a star driving everything, says Bette and Dot aren’t the headliners, but her “warmup act.”
“It doesn’t matter if they’re good. They have two heads,” Elsa says.
Desiree suggests Bette and Dot do an act she saw in Mexico, shooting ping pong balls out of their vagina. Jimmy just asks if Dot has talent. He ropes Dot into participating by playing on her crush on him. She sings “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and it’s heartbreakingly perfect and beautiful. Elsa almost has a stroke from the jealousy.
Dell suggests they get around the curfew with a matinee, but Elsa insists darkness is a vital part of the freakshow experience.
“Daytime is for kiddie shows,” she says.
Dell has anger issues, and when anyone disagrees with him he seems ready to murder them. Jimmy asks him to calm down and puts a hand on his shoulder and he recoils in disgust. He directly disobeys Elsa and says he’s going to post bills in town saying the curtain goes up at three.
Dandy is playing with his clown by putting on a marionette version of The King and I where he’s the King and Twisty is Anna, but when Twisty just stares he says he likes “real puppets, like you” and demands “amuse me, clown.”
Dandy opens a toybox and tells Twisty to find a toy and show him what kind of clown you truly are. While Twisty is excitedly pawing the toybox he drops his clown bag and Dandy rummages through it, tossing away the murder scissors and stopping on something wrapped in cloth. Twisty notices and bops him on the head with a juggling pin. Oddly, Twisty runs away and lets Dandy live, but Dandy seems to follow him into the woods.
Jimmy comes back to the town diner to talk to the cute waitress who was digging him in the first episode. This time, however, he isn’t covering his claws with leather mitts and he brought the other freaks to eat. It’s part of Jimmy’s charm offensive to let the town know that the freaks are people too.
It does not go well. The freaks sidle up the bar and make an exaggerated show of manners, placing napkins on their laps and using forks. One guy leaves, and a women asks the freaks to leave because they’re upsetting her daughter, but Jimmy just suggests taking her to the show.
During the meal, Jimmy notices Dell outside posting bills.
The freaks try, but their manners ain’t so hot. Paul The Illustrated Seal, who has tattoos and short, deformed arms, just eats the leftovers the guy who stormed out abandoned. Pinhead Pepper gets way too excited about meatloaf and starts chanting it.
Dell comes in and is pissed. He tells the freaks they eat at the camp. The waitress tries to take Paul’s garbage and he snaps at her, so Dell grabs his neck to force him to apologize. Jimmy defends Paul, and Dell dumps the plate in front of Jimmy.
The manager of the diner now starts screaming about his right to refuse service, and Dell tells the “stupid freaks” it’s times to go.
“Stop calling us freaks! We’re people!” Jimmy yells.
This causes Dell to put hands on Jimmy, drag him out, and beat the living bejeezus out of him on the sidewalk as the freaks watch.
Twisty’s two captives in his Bus O’ Fun in the woods, Bonnie and the young boy Twisty captured in the first episode, are trying to escape. The cage is too strong, but Bonnie pulls off a board to use as a weapon. Outside, Dandy has followed Twisty all the way to the fun bus.
Twisty unlocks and enters the cage and stares at his captives, then presents them with the toy robot he stole. They’re not impressed so he pulls out the wrapped package Dandy was fascinated by and removes out the head of the toy store employee. Bonnie pulls out the board and clocks him with it and the captives try to make their escape.
The blow knocked off Twisty’s mouth mask. What’s under there makes you wish he’d put it back on, no small trick. It looks like his entire lower jaw was eaten away, and inside is gore, a searching tongue and few jagged teeth.
Bonnie runs right into Dandy, who grabs her and returns her to Twisty as a screaming, wriggling gift. Twisty has caught the boy, and Dandy says “You’ll have to do a much better job of confinement if we’re going to have any fun” as they load them back into the bus.
Back at the freak show, Jimmy, face battered, tells Elsa Dell can’t stay there. Elsa defends Dell and says she’d decided to give the matinees a try. She suggests Dell will protect the freaks when the townspeople look for scapegoats for the murders, and it’s “good to have a man of strength among them.”
“You’ve already got one,” Jimmy says, and shows her the badge of the cop he murdered to protect the twins.
Elsa admits she’s underestimated Jimmy. Jimmy shows her his coup de grace, which is that Dell put her on the bottom of the bill with Meep The Geek and she quickly says “He’s got to go.”
At the matinee Dell is acting as the Barker. We get to see Meep’s act, which involves dressing in a chicken suit and biting the head off a chick. Then Dell introduces the “Siamese Sisters” as the show’s “Brand New Headliners.” Elsa, in her blue Marlene Dietrich suit, is watching from the audience.
With the freak’s accompanying her on classical instruments, Dot sings Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” which I’ll note came out in 1996, 44 years after this story is set. Just like Elsa’s rendition of “Life on Mars” last weak it’s a great, thumping modern arrangement that makes no pretense of being retro.
Dot is stock still but sings it beautifully. Some of the young guys mosh down front like it’s Lollapallooza. Bette joins in with backup vocals. A little person crowdsurfs. You wonder if maybe someone slipped acid in your drink. And there’s one shot of Elsa, filled with jealousy. During the performance Jimmy walks out and, when challenged by Dell, tells him he’s just going to pee.
The next day the camp is invaded by cops with a warrant, both the two detectives from before and a precinct’s worth of uniformed officers. The cops say they got an anonymous tip that the cop Jimmy killed was murdered there.
And they ask to see Dell Toledo’s tent. Jimmy and Elsa are framing him with the badge Jimmy kept, but for some reason they don’t find it. Dell asks Jimmy why he looks so smug, he’s onto them. The cops commence destroying the camp to look for evidence.
“Tragic isn’t, when a plan breaks down?” Dell asks Jimmy. There’s a flashback that shows Dell saw Jimmy plant the evidence. He moved it to Meep’s trailer, and Meep is dragged out, still in his chicken suit, and arrested. Elsa sells Meep out, just saying “I’m shocked, officer.”
There’s a pathetic scenes as poor Meep is driven away and taken to prison. The cops don’t really believe he did it, but they figure after a night in the tank Meep will name names. Problem with that is Meep can’t talk, just make noises. He’s stuffed in a holding cell with dozens of toughs who are indignant about Twisty’s crimes and suggest they’re going to start by ripping off Meep’s fingers the way Twisty did the toy store employee’s. All he can say is “Meeeeeeep!”
Bette awakes with Elsa’s face about two inches from hers. She says she wants to congratulate Bette, but Bette says she knows it was Dot the people loved.
Elsa works Bette, playing on her jealousy, turning her against her sister.
“You are the star,” Elsa says, and suggests Dot has a dark soul and is trying to take stardom from Bette.
“You mustn’t allow it,” she says, and leaves a sharp letter opener beside Bette’s pillow.
Jimmy is dog drunk in the main tent. Ethel comes out to get him. She says this is the first drink Jimmy has ever had. Jimmy, who bemoans that the other freaks are drunks, was an example to the others, Ethel says.
“I can’t help the others,” Jimmy says.
He’s embarrassed and angry about Meep. He says he wants Dell gone. Ethel tries to warn him away.
A drunk Jimmy tries to stagger off. Ethel tries to stop him but he says he’s not going for Dell, he’s going for Meep, who can’t survive a night in jail.
“I have to tell them everything,” he says.
But before can even get out of the tent confess a truck pulls up to the front of the freak show and tosses out a small bundle. Jimmy opens it. Meep’s mutilated body is inside, and Jimmy screams and cries. End of episode.
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