Alice Rush reviews the eleventh episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show…
After taking a midseason break Freak Show is back and, thankfully, seems to be keeping on the right track. Kind of. This week’s episode ‘Magical Thinking’ introduced an exciting new character, said goodbye to another and brought some much needed gore and horror. All great stuff, however I still have a nagging concern in the back of my mind: is it all too little too late? With the amount of characters being thrown around the shop, different narrative tangents to follow and with only three episodes left I find it hard to believe that it’s going to give the audience a satisfying sense of closure. The ends of Murder House and Asylum, whilst maybe not to everyone’s taste, at least covered all the grounds and finished what they started. It’s all very well having a great cast but if you can’t support that with strong storylines it just seems a waste. And that’s the feeling I got this week when we were introduced to Neil Patrick Harris’ character, Chester.
Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great fit for the show, and his character seems fantastic. A war veteran with a metal plate in his head, Chester spends his time as a wandering salesman, practicing magic as a hobby as well as ventriloquism with his adored puppet Marjorie. Dot and Bette take quite a shine to him as they explain to their diaries (aka the audience) that their main goal now is sex after having their hearts broken by falling in love. Elsa too seems to like him and even sells him the camp as she’s still planning to move to Hollywood, probably the longest running storyline of the season now. However, in true AHS style there’s more to him than meets the eye, and the answers lie in Marjorie who seems to have much more life than your ordinary wooden doll. His obsession with her is less than healthy, as is his own state of mind which we can only presume was damaged by the war. He talks to her and imagines her as a real person, telling him what to do. The symbol the show drills home to us in this character is that the magician himself is actually the puppet, as Chester bows to Marjorie’s every whim, and she doesn’t seem to like the twins. Not one bit.
The classic creepy doll homage is always great in a show like this, and even better that it sees AHS veteran Jamie Brewer making a return. She’s perfect for the role of a ventriloquist doll come to life; her cheekiness is balanced perfectly by her menace, meaning she can look the part of the innocent young girl but pack the punch of an evil, all knowing villain. But the star of the show is Harris who plays the messed up Chester delicately and beautifully, and though the episode feels like another tangent it’s an entertaining tangent at least.
Elsewhere in the camp Jimmy tries to deal with having his lobster claws cut off by Stanley who promised money in return. I’m sensing a tie in here with all of these Pinocchio style references: we’ve got Chester and Marjorie, Elsa’s wooden legs and her doctor who “crafted” them and now Jimmy who is in dire need of some shiny new hands. It’s satisfying when the writing pays off, as it always does in AHS, but as I said previously it all seems a bit of a waste if it can’t come to a climatic and decisive conclusion. I feel like I should hate American Horror Story more than I do for all it’s put me through as a viewer, but it’s the little touches of symbolism, metaphor and, let’s face it, art that have me forgiving it time and time again.
The end of the episode hopefully sets up the next few to be exciting and back on narrative track. The police turn up looking for Jimmy who’s been busted out of prison by Del, reigniting the “us vs them” feeling of the beginning of the series, and Elsa takes matters into her own hands when she discovers what really happened to Ma Petite. However I’m not getting my hopes up for a nail biting finale. I think Freak Show has passed the point of recovery in the sense of storyline. It’s thrown everything it could think of into the mix and the result is an overload of seemingly menial plot points drowning out what could have been a strong series. It’s a real shame, but I’m sure that my stupid self will no doubt forgive and forget yet again.