American Horror Story Freakshow takes its final bow
This ‘Freakshow’ is surprisingly mundane and the only horror is in the writing.
Another season of American Horror Story has come to an end. This year’s Freakshow continues a steady decline that began last season. The show still has its quirks, its moments that makes it fun, trashy television but this year felt slightly neutered. Whether this was through the budget or just storytelling is hard to tell. The season started off promising enough with Sarah Paulson playing the two-headed Bette/ Dot and John Carroll Lynch (who I will always see as Drew Carey’s cross-dressing brother from The Drew Carey Show) as the bed-wettingly scary Twisty the Clown. This year had the potential to be something truly dark and deserving of the “horror” moniker. Even the musical number that began this season (David Bowie’s “Life on Mars”) was fun and didn’t seem as forced as last year’s weird Stevie Nicks music video. Somewhere between that enticing start and this week’s finale the show lost its way.
Where last season people said the show lacked any real consequences, once multiple characters have come back from the dead it is hard to care about what happens to them, this season seemed to over correct by killing someone every episode. The problem though was the writers never took the time to let us like any of these people before they killed them off. Generally the characters this season were by and large terrible people. Just about everyone either murdered or aided in the murder of someone over the course of the show but no one ever showed any remorse or regret over it. When those same people meet a bloody, violent death it’s hard to feel sorry for them.
A few times we’re given people to feel bad for but here again, they aren’t fleshed out, they’re two-dimensional props and we are being forced to care about them. Two examples of this were Meep “the geek” and Ma Petite, the “worlds smallest woman.” We were supposed to care about these two because they’re weak, they’re cute, and they … well we never really knew anything else about them so that’s it. The show used their characters as superficially and selfishly as a freak show would. Maybe if we had gotten some real back story or some more interaction it would be easier to care for them instead of because we’re told to do so. While we weren’t getting background on characters who were important to the plot, the writers were busy tying past seasons into this one. For the first time this year we have confirmation that all the seasons take place in the same world. One of the Nuns from Asylum came and we see how Pepper the pinhead ended up there. So now that we’ve had “Pepper Begins,” an Avengers-style crossover must be next right? But really unless there are further plans to expand on this, what was the point other than to confuse people while taking important time away that they could use to flesh out their characters?
It wasn’t just the lack of connection to characters that took away this year; the effects work was all over the place. The “twins” Dot and Bette were especially hit and miss, while having a two-headed character is going to be challenging, and to their credit many different methods were employed to achieve it, the results were mixed. Moments where they shot the heads separately juxtaposing their personalities to one another started off as clever, even entertaining, but there’s only so many scenes you can have ping ponging between shots of two heads coming from the same torso before it gets tired. Scenes that used CG and practical effects went from the completely convincing to laughably bad, more than once a shot from behind clearly showed one head bobbling on a rubbery neck.
On a more positive note there were some great visuals this season. The freak show itself came off like a Tim Burton fever dream and the opening credits sequence this season might be the creepiest yet. The aforementioned Twisty was a terrifying clown design and whenever he was on screen he stole the show. The only negative was how quickly they resolved his story. It would have been nice to have him throughout the season. Then there is Dandy the rich psycho. He was basically a murderous seersucker wearing version of Blaine from Ryan Murphy’s other show “Glee.” If any one character had to be labeled this season’s “Big Bad” it would probably be him. He got to be the creepy momma’s boy, a psychotic apprentice, as well as a spoiled brat. Outside of freak show owner Elsa Mars, Dandy is probably the character we spend the most time with and learn the most about this season. It would be surprising if Finn Wittrock, who plays Dandy, doesn’t become one of their recurring actors in future seasons after such a strong performance this year.
So many good ingredients make it such a shame that the end product was so lacking. A fantastic cast, great guest stars, plus a weird twisted setting but there just wasn’t enough focus to have things come together. As quickly as plotlines and characters were introduced another plot is wrapped up neatly and another character is killed. One week the local townsfolk hate the freaks, the next week they cheer one as a hero, but wait! The week after that they hate the freaks again. Last season might have been a little too generous on resurrections but it still had fleshed out characters who felt like real, though out there, people.
Seasons one and two of American horror Story were fantastic, season three was pretty damned good, and now season four is just ok. Hopefully next year creators Falchuk and Murphy can stop or reverse the drop in quality or else American Horror Story will end up like their other collaborations Nip/Tuck and Glee, shows that peaked early but then dragged on until they became parodies of themselves. It’s still fun to watch, which is more than can be said of a lot of shows, but where it used to be well written trashy fun it’s just plain trashy fun now. With the format of a new story and set of characters every year, a turnaround is easy to manage. Let’s just hope they can make a return to form next year.