You’re not alone if you felt a little warm and fuzzy while watching parts of the fourth episode of FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show. “Edward Mordrake: Part 2” delved into the backstory of Elsa and Twisty, and I for one never thought I’d feel sympathy and compassion toward either character and yet the writers somehow managed to elicit both emotions. Twisty’s sad tale explained how a clown who dedicated his life to bringing joy to children wound up a psycho killer, while Elsa’s complex backstory showed she was a victim of sadists (it’s a wonder she’s not completely insane). While episode three was a slight letdown, episode four recovered with a tale that was surprisingly emotionally engaging.
A Detailed Recap:
Mordrake (Wes Bentley) continues to question the freaks, driven by his visage to find one more pure freak to add to his “unhappy number.” He briefly visits Legless Suzi (Rose Siggins) and Paul the Illustrated Seal (Mat Fraser), but neither is deserving of being added to his collection. Legless Suzi was left in a basket at a children’s home and ultimately ended up on the streets. Jealous, she stabbed a man in the legs. He died, and his death inspired her to perform. Paul wanted to be a performer after spending his youth in dark theaters. He arrived in America during the Depression and couldn’t find work. Ridiculed and laughed at, he decided to create a monster by tatting himself up – with the exception of his face. He left his handsome face alone.
Mordrake rules them out before moving on to Elsa. She’s expecting him and still upset that he vanished after her performance and before they could speak. She’s mistaken him for the manager Madison the fortune teller (Emma Roberts) had predicted would come and make her a star, but she quickly realizes her mistake after seeing Mordrake’s second face and learning it’s not a Halloween prank. She screams at him that she’s not a freak but he knows better and demands she tell him about her darkest hour.
Meanwhile, Jimmy and Madison are arguing over whether they should get off the road and go through the woods on foot since they’re out after curfew. Fortunately, they’re in the right place at the right time as one of Twisty’s victims who’s been tied up has managed to get loose and is running down the road in front of Jimmy and Madison. Twisty catches up to her and throws her over his shoulder, prepared to take her back to his hideout where the young boy and the teenage brother of the trick-or-treater (he was kidnapped in episode three) are tied up. Jimmy follows at a safe distance to see if he can save her, and Madison – reluctantly – goes after him.
Back at the carnival, Elsa attempts to flirt and charm Mordrake but he says he’s not a man anymore. His visage wants her misery, her truth, her darkness, and he won’t leave without it. She tells her tale of her time in Berlin in 1932, a time when any deviance you wanted you could have. Elsa was a S&M mistress, clad in black leather but with a rule that none of her clients could touch her. “No one puts on a show better than I do,” says Elsa. She began to attract clients as well as an audience who watched as she tortured men who were into twisted sexual fantasies. Elsa tells Mordrake she traded away her humanity “trick by trick” until she was nothing but a ghost. Her story ended before she discussed how she lost her legs and Mordrake demanded she continue.
Back in the woods, our would-be heroes are caught by Dandy (Finn Wittrock) before they can run for help after figuring out Twisty (John Carroll Lynch) is the serial killer the town’s been hunting. “Time for the real Halloween show to begin,” Dandy says, laughing.
At the carnival, Elsa continues with her sordid story. She believed she was starring in a porn film until she realized her drinks were drugged and that she didn’t have a co-star. She was left powerless from the drugs, but not out of it enough to not feel the pain or to erase her memories of what happened next. She was tied down and her legs were cut off while the camera rolled. The snuff film ended with the film crew leaving her for dead on the bed to bleed out. One of her clients – a soldier – saved her by rushing in the minute they left, an act Elsa will never forgiven him for. The film was passed around and she was a star, but her career was over. Elsa tells Mordrake that she had beautiful legs and now she’s ready for him to take her life. She begs him to do it when all of a sudden Mordrake hears music playing far away. It’s Dandy in the distance putting on his crazy Halloween show for Twisty’s tied-up victims.
Dandy’s on stage welcoming them to the greatest show on earth. Madison is laid out in a box and Dandy’s attempting the famous magician’s trick of sawing her in half. Jimmy somehow works his hands free and hits Dandy. Twists claps and Jimmy tells everyone to run. Twisty tackles Jimmy while everyone else escapes and as he’s just about to put a knife through his chest, Mordrake appears and says, “Don’t stop now. We came for a show.”
Madison tells the others to run while she leads Dandy away from them. He trips and screams that she’s ruined his Halloween.
Mordrake is fascinated by Twisty and tells him to remove his mask. His mouth is horribly misshapen, with his jaw barely attached to his skull. Although he has a very difficult time speaking, Mordrake tells him to do his best. Twisty recalls that in 1943 he was a special children’s clown. The kids loved him and he looked like a normal clown in a clean, white costume. But while the children loved him, the dwarves despised him. They were horribly mean to him, even convincing him that the children were accusing him of lewd behavior and had called the cops to take him to jail. Twisty was dropped on his head as a child and as a result wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed and so he believed everything the dwarves were telling him.
The dwarves drove him out of their carnival and then the rumors spread quickly around the carny circuit, forcing him to leave his work as a carny clown behind. He returned home to Jupiter to live at his now-deceased mother’s house. There, he believed he could make the kids happy by turning garbage into toys. However, the toy store proprietor laughed at his inventions and accused him of being the twisted type who does things to children. That enraged Twisty who screamed that he was a good person before heading home and putting a shotgun in his mouth. He lived, but the wound was grievous and disturbing looking. Looking at his bandaged lower face in the mirror, he drew on a smile.
The misunderstood clown couldn’t even get work at the freak show (Jimmy turned him away). Twisty tells Mordrake that all he was trying to do was save the kids from the evil, mean freaks who were stealing them away. He created a funny show for the kidnapped boy, killed his parents as they were probably mean to him, and even kidnapped a teenage girl to be his pretty babysitter. His story was pitiful and Mordrake confessed that for the first time in history his demon face had wept. Twisty’s the one Mordrake needs for his collection, stabbing him to death and adding him to his collection of dead freaks. After death, Twisty’s face is restored as he’s warmly welcomed by Mordrake’s group.
Dandy arrives back at the hideout and takes the mask off Twisty’s dead body. Putting it on, he’s now the new Twisty (watch out Jupiter!). He hears sirens getting closer and leaves before being able to do anything to Jimmy. Once the cops arrive, neither Jimmy nor Madison are able to describe the real face of the clown who escaped. Twisty’s dead but Dandy’s on the loose, and the cops are calling both Jimmy and Madison heroes for saving all the kidnap victims. Jimmy immediately tells the cops that the real hero is Meep who didn’t deserve to die in jail. Someone’s going to pay for the death of Meep, says Jimmy.
Jimmy and Madison return to the freak show where everyone is eating breakfast. Madison tells Elsa Jimmy is the hero and that he caught the killer and saved everyone. Jimmy lets the gang know that Mordrake claimed his freak.
In a surprising twist, the townspeople drive up to the carnival and Elsa thinks it’s to run them out. A man asks for Jimmy and thanks him for saving his son and their town, and everyone wants to shake his hand. The little trick-or-treater whose teenage brother was kidnapped gives Jimmy homemade brownies, and soon all the townspeople are shaking hands with the freaks, giving them homemade treats and embracing them as people. Elsa’s smiling, the freaks are smiling, the townspeople are accepting the group for who they are, and Elsa invites everyone to buy a ticket to their grand performance that night at the big top.
Inside the tent, Elsa tells the Siamese twins that there’s changes to the set list (they’ve been demoted to a warm-up act). Just as the set list is being discussed, Spalding (Denis O Hare) shows up and says he’s a talent scout. The show’s sold out but Elsa says she can find him a seat.
Dandy returns home with the clown’s toothy smile covering his lower face. He has a knife and the maid tells him Halloween is over and to take the clown outfit off. She insults him repeatedly and he slashes her across the neck. She falls to the floor, dead. He slowly smiles and then laughs quietly to himself before turning thoughtful.
The Bottom Line:
The townspeople accepting the ‘freaks’ as equals was an unexpected and jarring twist, but one that actually made sense to the overall story. With Twisty’s death and Dandy’s elevation to the role of lead psycho clown, the plot from here on out will most likely take a turn that’s less creep show/freak show and more about “freaks” who physically appear average or normal but are mentally deeply disturbed. Twisty loved children but Dandy loves no one but himself, and the death toll may escalate with him now donning the hideous smiling mask.
Once again, the acting was first-rate in this American Horror Story: Freak Show episode. Evan Peters is emerging as one of the season’s stand-outs, and Jessica Lange’s Elsa is the most interesting character she’s played over American Horror Story’s four seasons. Episode four didn’t spend much time with Sarah Paulson’s Siamese twins and Kathy Bates was completely missing from the action, but there was a lot of content packed in this second half of a two-parter and the presence of Paulson and Bates’ characters weren’t really missed.
-By Rebecca Murray
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