American Horror Story is over for another season and, although this may have been Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s most disjointed offering yet, it at least gave us some interesting characters–albeit from the worst Freak Show in the history of Freak Shows. From a strongman to a strong-woman, to a clown with no jaw, there was much to enjoy about the many different, er, talents on offer this season. As usual, Jessica Lange killed it, but was she overshadowed by her ridiculous German accent? Or did a new starlet step in to steal the spotlight? Read on to find out how the AHS Freak Show Freaks ranked in terms of freakishness and long-lasting likeability:
It’s difficult to be the most over-the-top, camp performer on American Horror Story but somehow Angela Bassett managed to be just that as three-boobed hermaphrodite Desiree, whose accent got more Southern depending on what day it was, and who used every opportunity imaginable to remind everyone of her three tits. Weirdly enough, she wasn’t the first to perish and survived long enough to get married and have kids with a gentleman of good standing. She’s really popular online, but it’s not entirely clear why as Evan Peters also featured this season.
Speaking of Peters, his real-life squeeze Emma Roberts (with whom he has precisely zero chemistry onscreen) returned to the fray in Freak Show (following her stint as Madison on Coven) as scheming con artist Maggie, AKA Esmerelda the rubbish fortune teller. When she’s first introduced to us, in a disgraceful mousy wig, she seems to be a no-nonsense, uniformly ambitious sort who’s only out for herself. Naturally, by series end, she’s got a heart of gold and not only loves Jimmy (Peters’ deformed yet still luscious heartthrob) but all of the other Freaks too, rendering her inclusion totally pointless. However her death, at the hands of a hallucinating Chester, was pretty amazing.
Way to make Evan Peters not sexy, Ryan Murphy. Seriously though, the hunk who we’d all collectively fallen in love with as a militant teenage ghost in Murder House, and even a Frankenstein’s monster in Coven, was relegated to getting bored housewives off with his so-called “lobster hands” in the least arousing sequences ever broadcast on television. For shame, Murphy. For shame. He also wore a leather hat that somebody, somewhere thought was a good idea and for which that person should be shot.
After making a splash as a burn victim/ghost haunting Dylan Mc Dermott in Murder House, and opposite the great Stevie Nicks in Coven, Denis O’Hare got a full, fleshed-out character this season in the form of murderous schemer, and closeted homosexual, Stanley. There were various hints that Stanley was packing something powerful in his pants, and was therefore a Freak in his own right, but this wasn’t properly explored so one could reasonably assume it was only included for shock value, as is Murphy’s wont. He eventually suffered at the hands of the Freaks, who turned him into one of them and left him for dead, much to the delight of Dandy.
As a gay man, Murphy tends to include at least one homosexual-themed storyline twist per season, which is perfectly reasonable. On Freak Show, we had two, neither of which were handled with any grace whatsoever. Dell’s arc was the more interesting of the two as not only was he a strongman, and therefore supposed to be seen as tough and manly, but he was also secretly Jimmy’s father. This led to some tear-jerking moments, but in the end he suffered for being a wife-beating asshole. Dell was kind of a contradiction, but given the space to grow we might have cared about him a bit more.
If you were wondering what happened to Wes Bentley, it turns out he was growing some wicked sideburns and practising for a stint with the London Dungeons. That is, if his performance as Edward Mordrake is anything to go by. Emerging from a cloud of green smoke, like an evil St. Patrick on the hunt for some snakes, Mordrake, we are told via a significant amount of boring exposition, appears on Halloween to punish those who dare to perform on the most spooky night of the year. Apparently, he’s based on a real person, which just makes Bentley’s bizarrely-toned, pantomime performance even weirder.
When news hit that the great Neil Patrick Harris would be appearing on AHS this season, fans were understandably chomping at the bit to get a look at his character–and the first images (one of which is featured below) didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, NPH’s Chester didn’t show up until the tenth episode and his angle (he was a disturbed murderer/ventriloquist/magician, who deflowered the twins) was cliche-ridden and dull. Still, he provided one of the goriest moments of the show, when he sawed Maggie in half, spilling her guts everywhere in the process.
I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of Pepper in general, even if her storyline this season tied the worlds of Asylum and Freak Show together somewhat (and provided a nice dose of Lily Rabe, who is always welcome). However, there was a certain amount of pathos in her final exchange with Elsa and, if nothing else, she’s the most likeable of this bunch of Freaks and she got a hint of back-story, along with a kind-of storyline arc this season too. It’s better than just being part of the scenery, I guess?
Sarah Paulson has been blessed with lots of great roles on American Horror Story (her stint on Asylum, opposite Zachary Quinto’s sadistic murderer, being a particular standout) but this season she, technically, got two as conjoined twins Bette and Dot. The SFX may have been a bit ropey at times, but Paulson managed to create two separate and distinct personalities for the sisters, giving them opposing love interests (along with one shared), real-life obstacles to contend with, a nemesis in the form of Dandy and, perhaps most crucially, a believably fraught relationship with each other.
Twisty The Clown
Twisty, played by Zodiac‘s super-creepy John Carroll Lynch, is the most-referenced star of the season, and for good reason. A terrifying, relentless, unstoppable serial killer, he’s the stuff of nightmares and he looks proper scary, too. Unfortunately, he didn’t last very long and was taken away by none other than Edward Mordrake (how humiliating) before he could have some real fun with wannabe killer Dandy. Twisty’s back-story was one of the only genuinely moving moments of Freak Show and it’s a real shame he wasn’t kept around for longer.
Kathy Bates almost stole the show from Jessica Lange on Coven, and she returned for more of the same this season as bearded lady, and Elsa’s only real friend, Ethel, who eventually fell victim to her cutthroat personality. Ethel’s troubled relationship with her son, Jimmy, and his real father, Dell, was a moving, well-handled and nicely realistic plot thread this season. Her final appearance (in Heaven/Hell with Elsa) was slightly misjudged, but Bates is a legend and even with a beard, and an over-the-top accent, she more than held her own opposite the unstoppable Lange.
Let’s face it, Jessica Lange is the queen of American Horror Story, and rightly so. Since season one (in which she barely even occupied a three-dimensional character, yet still made an impact) she’s been stealing the spotlight from her younger cohorts and, in Freak Show, she became the star, quite literally, as Elsa Mars. A German ex-pat who had settled in the US following a harrowing experience on a snuff film, Mars was part dictator, part wannabe Hollywood star, part fragile, closeted Freak (her legs had been sawn off, in said film, against her will). While she believed she was making a better life for her beloved monsters, they knew better and tried to kill her just as she escaped to make a name for herself. Sadly, poor Elsa wasn’t even taken away by Mordrake, she lives forever in the Big Freak Show In The Sky (whatever the hell that means).
Somewhat shockingly, Jessica Lange was eclipsed this season as a new star took over in the form of (relatively) young actor Finn Wittrock, who debuted as the villainous, hilarious and super-rich Dandy. After pairing up with Twisty, and realising his true calling in life as a murderer, Dandy delighted in butchering anyone in his path. He took a bath in his mother’s blood, stabbed his babysitter and, for his final act of vengeance, killed every Freak left standing after purchasing the Show from the departing Elsa. Dandy eventually perished in a Houdini water tank trick, which was kind of disappointing given how he was otherwise unbeatable. It makes sense as Freak justice (as much as it can, in a Ryan Murphy show), but still, he’s too amazing to die and will hopefully pop up again next time around.
Others: Amazon Eve, Ma Petite, etc.
There were some other Freaks on show this season, some of whom were interesting enough, but in typical Freak Show fashion, they were seen and not heard and were given pittance in terms of character arcs. As a result, they won’t be judged.