I was so excited when I first heard about Freak Show. The introduction promised all manner of sins – sex, lust, death – and the carny image indicates people with an insouciant disregard for social etiquette and a lavishly sinful lifestyle. After the disturbing yet compelling darkness of season 2 and the gruesome history/kick-ass girl power of season 3 I had high expectations for this show but found myself largely disappointed. Just like the stage curtain hides what’s really behind it, the story we were initially presented with turned out to be much less glamorous than originally expected. Over-the-top and horrifying, yes, but not so much shocking as it was depressing. I learned to become unattached to characters. I mean, Ma Petite? Why would you do that?!
The whole season was just a jumble of undefined plot lines that started without finishing or finished without coherence. There was no central story binding everything together – the only consistent element of Freak Show was lush cinematography and the needless killing of ALL OF THE CHARACTERS. So I suppose the finale was in keeping with that theme – this did not, however, a good finale make.
Dandy decides to buy the freak show from Elsa, who screws off to Hollywood. They don’t like him (wonder why), so he kills them. All of them. Except Jimmy, who apparently has been hiding in the barn for a week for no reason. Desiree, who proved very good at hiding, managed to survive with the twins. The episode redeemed itself slightly when Bette was totally badass and married Dandy so she and Dot could drug him at dinner and shoot him with his own pistol, and with the help of Jimmy and Desiree, cart him off to the freak show for his execution. What followed was, in my opinion, the best scene of the entire series: the old escape artist’s water tank stands alone in the spotlight with Dandy shackled inside it. He was a sort of Houdini in escaping justice for so long – not any more. He finally gets the audience and headline show he’d always wanted, with Desiree, Jimmy and the twins raptly watching him die. The popcorn was a great touch. Angela Bassett can be a little over-the-top at times but I loved her in this scene, she delivered the perfect amount of sassy hatred.
Buuuut everything gets ruined again by Elsa’s stint in Hollywood. For some reason, depsite the fact she’s been booed off stage, she has now become a TV star for…singing bad anachronistic David Bowie songs? I don’t get it. She then decides to kill herself by performing on Halloween so that Mordrake would come for her. Don’t even get me started on the travesty that was Mordrake – firstly, green smoke? What is this, Wicked? And how fake did that second face look? They did a bang-up job of transforming Naomi Grossman, in reality a beautiful woman, into Pepper, so you’d think they could invest in something that didn’t look so obviously like a plastic mask…I could go on, but needless to say I wasn’t overenthusiastic about his reappearance.
It was a fitting death for Elsa, I think, if a little melodramatic, but I’m not sure how I felt about her being sent to carny heaven after all her crimes (one of which being her abysmal German accent. Would it have been so hard to make her American?). Although Elsa was such a self-serving and cruel character, Jessica Lange brings that irresistible charm to all her characters so it was hard to truly hate her, but I still think she deserved to pay for what she did. Ethel forgives her for murdering her? What even? No. The whole ‘heaven’ thing just seemed like a cheap apology from the writers – oops sorry we killed everyone but here they have a happy afterlife so that makes it OK, right? Well, no, not really, we still had to sit through an entire season of hazy plot lines and pointless killing. And it was just a rip-off of the ending from Season 1.
The whole series was, overall, a story of normal people being mean to abnormal people and getting away with it. Although Spencer and Dandy were punished, we still had to watch all our favourite – no, wait, just make that ALL OF THE CHARACTERS die first, and the corrupt cops, the horrible residents of Jupiter, Pepper’s parents and Elsa just kept going on. While it was nice to see Jimmy, Bette and Dot find happiness with each other, it didn’t really serve to make up for a series where so many people died you stopped caring about any of them. I just hope that whatever they make next will bring back that provocative shock factor that Brad Falchuck and Ryan Murphy usually pull off so brilliantly.
American Horror Story: Freak Show aired on FOX UK.