Alice Rush reviews the tenth episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show…
This week saw the mid-season finale of Freak Show and what I would deem a return to form for the series. This week’s episode ‘Orphans’ not only tugs at the heart strings of its viewers but reintroduces a character from a past season and certifies the link in the anthology series that co-creator Ryan Murphy outlined a few months ago. Whilst I’m still undecided on how to feel about linking all of the separate seasons together, in the case of Pepper, of whom this episode heavily focuses on, it does work to an advantage, delicately stringing her tragic life together in an extremely heart wrenching way.
Utilising one of the shows best features, flashbacks, Elsa tells the tale of how Pepper was brought to the freak show. She is revealed to be the very first act Elsa finds in an orphanage after being abandoned by her sister. Flashbacks further reveal how Ma Petite and Salty also made their way into Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities but it is made clear that Elsa and Pepper have the strongest bond. However after the death of Salty in present day Elsa takes Pepper back to her sister so she can have a family once again. Unfortunately there is no happy ending for Pepper, as we know, and a flash-forward scene to 1962 sees her being committed to Briarcliff. This scene also reveals the hotly anticipated return of Lily Rabe as Sister Mary Eunice who meets with Pepper’s sister Rita and hears about how Pepper apparently mutilated and murdered her child.
There have always been question marks over whether Pepper was truly a killer but it was heart breaking to discover the truth; that she was framed by Rita’s husband as they wanted both her and the baby gone. Here the concept of linking the anthology series together really shines through as Pepper’s story comes full circle. All critical praise belongs to Naomi Grossman, whose incredibly soft yet playful portrayal of our favourite pinhead lights up the whole episode, exposing the innocence, fragility and goodness behind a character who seemed to be present in season two for purely aesthetic purposes. Being the first character to cross over seasons was always going to be a big step but Pepper proved to be the perfect fit. ‘Asylum’ showed us an intriguing and strange person and Freak Show filled in the blanks, giving us a fully rounded, beautiful character and telling us her tragic story in a phenomenally clever way. The end to her story also hinted at more to come with Elsa and her dreams of being a star. As Pepper began to tidy up the library at Briarcliff she comes across an old copy of People magazine from 1958 with Elsa on the cover. Whilst also being another tug-at-the-heart-strings-moment as the lonely Pepper strokes the cover it also suggests that Elsa’s dreams come true at some point, but for how long is still in question.
Elsewhere this week sees the revelation of a huge secret. With Jimmy locked up Maggie turns to Desiree for help in doing right by him and getting him out of jail. Bringing her to the morbidity museum she explains what Stanley is really up to, revealing the body of Ma Petite and the head of Salty. Unbeknownst to her there has also been a new addition to the museum. With no money to pay for a lawyer it turns out that Jimmy has given Stanley exactly what he wants, much to Maggie’s horror: his lobster hands. This was a nice twist to the episode as well as leaving the question of whether Jimmy survived this gory procedure. We’ll have to wait till January 7th to find out when the seasons recommences.
For me ‘Orphans’ was the best episode of Freak Show yet. As I said before I’m still not sure how I feel about the anthology series suddenly becoming a linked serial drama, however hats off to the writers for Pepper’s story. Using two seasons to convey and explore her character in reverse chronological order was an exceptionally fantastic move and has ensured that re-watches of season two will never be the same again. Part of me wants them to exploit this link more now as it could enrich past characters and storylines but a bigger part of me also wants them to leave everything where it is. Such a big chunk of the American Horror Story charm was always in its form and its ability to convey such emotional and narrative depth over a single season, and then move on to something new. Whilst it has no doubt worked here for Pepper I am wary of what other avenues and links they plan to explore in the future.