Alice Rush reviews the sixth episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show…
This week’s episode ‘Bullseye’ sees Freak Show start to lose its way. What started out as a promising series with a strong central narrative and interesting characters is quickly descending into a convoluted and confusing patchwork of separate stories. A few episodes ago I noted that Freak Show seemed to be getting the balances right between character and story, supernatural and reality, but after this week’s episode that statement doesn’t sit so well anymore.
Set against the backdrop of Elsa’s birthday ‘Bullseye’ sees the camp having their love of and loyalty to Elsa tested. The twins have gone AWOL, Elsa is busy deluding herself that she will see Hollywood and tensions at the camp are running high. Paul gets a much bigger part this episode as he is revealed to be Elsa’s lover. It seems a bit late in the series to drop this in but what’s American Horror Story without curveball? He doesn’t seem too happy with her, however, as he accuses her of having played a part in the twins disappearance. Giving a minor character a much larger role seemingly out of the blue for an episode usually only points to one thing, and that’s a sudden death. Cue Paul and Elsa embarking on a classic circus knife throwing bit which, as we can predict, doesn’t end well for our favourite tattooed seal boy.
Elsewhere on the camp Maggie is torn between carrying out Stanley’s wishes of kidnapping and killing the members of the freak show and protecting those she has begun to care about. It’s a believable, and predicable, enough storyline for her as refuses to kill Ma Petite and even asks Jimmy to run away with her. The latter I find a bit confusing, as only last week she was recoiling from his touch. It seems that this series is starting to look even more like Coven in the sense that character motive and reasoning is becoming very blurred. Paul suddenly becoming a main character, Maggie suddenly being in love with Jimmy and many characters not being seen at all this week, Freak Show is becoming a bit too messy.
The slick and well thought out narrative arcs that characterised the first two seasons are yet again replaced with an over emphasis on artistic direction and symbolism. In this episode alone Elsa, Bette and Dot are given long inner monologues in which they poetically express their frustrations, and indeed a lot of the dialogue across the whole season is descending into almost novel-like depths of description. A few touches of this is what makes American Horror Story stand out from other programmes however it’s becoming overkill and, quite frankly, self-indulgent.
Once again the only character that really excited me this week was Dandy who fell madly in love with Bette and Dot. Scenes of him buying them gifts and taking them to the movies meant we were taken on an almost fast-forward version of a romantic comedy film and we saw a side to him we had never seen before. Then came the heartbreak as he realised Dot in particular was only using his affections for her personal gain. Everything with Dandy is so deliciously over the top but in a way that fits his character and environment. The scenes within his house and especially the scenes with his mother are perfectly stylised in a way that just feels forced when applied to the camp setting. The joy of the beginning of the series was finding the abnormal in the ‘normal’ but the highly artistic and poetic aspect of Dandy’s storyline is beginning to seep into the rest of the show, muddling the internal and external conflict and instead resulting in a jumbled pile of characters, half referenced storylines and confusing themes.
It’s a shame that Freak Show seems to be taking this turn as it really did start out with a lot of promise. It’s not too late to bring it back and really shock the audience, however. The possibilities of Stanley’s character and his encounters with the freak show is an exciting narrative plot point as well as the predicted revelation of Jimmy’s real parentage. I just hope it doesn’t become a matter of too little, too late.