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Well, American Horror Story: Freak Show definitely couldn’t have gotten worse than last week’s appalling efforts, but I was still watching through my fingers tonight, worried. (Incidentally, my fingers were covered in jalapenos and limes, for maximum burning effect.) But instead of seeing Dandy wax proudly and bare-assedly about being a god among men, we got to witness the unspeakably horrendous life story of Pepper the Pinhead. Cue the violin submersing itself in termites.
Elsa Mars Picks a Prickled Pepper
Minus a yawn-worthy team-up between Desiree and Emma Roberts that we’ll get to in a few, tonight’s episode is focused almost entirely on Pepper, from Elsa discovering her in an orphanage to her getting whisked into a certain asylum by her abhorrent tumor of a sister. (Played with expert cuntiness by Mare Winningham, last seen getting gross with her son in last year’s Coven.) Pepper didn’t know much until Elsa came along and gave her a foundation of love and support and probably flash cards with words on them.
The episode actually kicks off with the death of Salty, whose head later gets chopped off by a cigarette-lipped Stanley and granted a jar-held fate inside the Museum of Former Freak Show Performers, or whatever it’s called. The little Salty/Pepper wedding video, shot like a found-footage Benny Hill episode, was a sweet reminder that American Horror Story doesn’t always have to just revel in negativity. Though we do get to hear Elsa talk about how stupid Salty was. And then we watch Elsa somewhat unexplainably just give Pepper back to the sister that never wanted her. This was no doubt born of an email that went, “What if we brought back Lily Rabe’s character from the Asylum season and spent only the next five minutes thinking about how to get Pepper the fuck out of this show?”
Because she’s just a simple person, Pepper extracts empathy, which makes her post-Freak Show days with sister and brother-in-law all the more disturbing and downtrodden. All Pepper ever wanted was a family, so it’s just mean that her only crack at it ends with her being wrongfully blamed for the death of her freak nephew. A child whose parents were far more content spewing hate and inhaling alcohol than showing love to anything. I mean, seriously, fuck American Horror Story for putting Pepper through all this garbage, since it retroactively puts her in a different light if one were to go back and rewatch Asylum. (Does anyone do that?)
I love Lily Rabe, especially on this series, and she was relatively great in tonight’s episode. Still, Sister Mary Eunice’s presence was a definite non-necessity, and was not worth Ryan Murphy gabbing about how all of these seasons are actually connected, and that the definition of anthology has changed to “that which Ryan Murphy creates and occasionally has a Minotaur in it.” If this show hadn’t jump-fucked the shark in the past, this would have been a rocketed leap.
The Rest of This Episode
Because there is no plot movement this season without something inexplicably dumb happening, Emma Roberts botches an initially successful psychic meeting with Desiree and Angus-Jamal Warner, and then drunkenly tells Desiree everything behind her and Stanley’s grifting history. By the end of the episode, she’s taken Desiree to the freak museum (where Ma Petite and Salty are held) to prove that Stanley is evil. Emma Roberts’ motivation? Uh, sick of Stanley’s shit, I guess. Maybe the twins’ heartfelt speech and envelope full of cash got her going. What the fuck ever. Spoiler: it’s lazy writing.
Stanley goes to see Jimmy and tells him that – pardon me for thinking this was the greatest moment in the episode – Clarence Darrow’s son Donald could be his legal representation. Zounds! Now, Jimmy doesn’t have any money or anything of value, but it looks like Stanley convinced him to lop his lobster hands off for the museum’s “prize” money. And the sight of them makes Emma Roberts faint, which was her own best moment.
And through all of this that I’m becoming exponentially disgusted with, American Horror Story: Freak Show kind of blew my mind in that end scene, when 1962 Pepper found an issue of Life magazine with Elsa on the cover, saying she still owns Friday nights. That’s something I can’t explain, but in a good way, wondering how Stanley’s bald-faced lies ended up working out in Elsa’s favor. And not like, “Why the fuck was Dell even in this episode?”
Other Thoughts Floating Beneath the Big Top
Not only was Elsa’s Teutonic chanteuse history not interesting, but her makeup was of the Jack Nicholson-as-The-Joker variety.
All right, all right. When that Maharajah took three cases of Dr. Pepper as a trade for Ma Petite, I’d never been more amused by this series.
“I love many cocktails.” Hallelujah.
I can’t be the only person who expected FX to actually show us Pepper running around without clothes on after her sister mentioned it. They’re not who we thought they were.
How in the fu-huck was the sister pregnant up until a labor-able age without knowing it? I don’t care what kind of a freak the kid was, he couldn’t have made the mother feel like there was less mass in her stomach.
“Mama needs a picket and the picket better be white." Tell ‘em, tassels.
Stanley tells Elsa that he’s already made her dreams come true. I’m pretty sure we’d have heard a voiceover tell us that Elsa’s dreams were to get dicked around by a mustachioed con man. Stanley has essentially done nothing for Elsa, though I’m sure she thinks the upcoming “network meeting” will be more than it is. And she does get famous somehow.
Emma Roberts as a boy thief was, um, interesting.