American Horror Story: Show Stoppers
January 14, 2015 8:05 PM - Season 4, Episode 12 - Subscribe

Dandy gives the Twins troubling information about Chester. Maggie vows to prove her loyalty to Jimmy. The Freaks enforce their harsh code of justice.
posted by kittens for breakfast (13 comments total)
Man, there was sure some "Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal" going on there tonight, I thought. The freaks turned on Elsa awful fast, almost as if there were only one episode left in the season and the writers realized they had to wrap this thing up already. But there was also some really good stuff with Chester's long-deserved grisly fate, the awesome return of Danny Huston, and Jamie Brewer just chewing the hell out of some scenery and having a great old time. On the whole, I think this year has been a stew of blown opportunities and fuck-yeah moments alike, and this chapter was no exception, if a bit heavier on the latter. (The show's decision to basically wipe its ass with Maggie struck me as odd and pointless, over in the blown opportunities column.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:22 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was sure cut up about what happened to Maggie. -- No, really, I've always had a nightmare fear about a magician really sawing a woman in half and pulling the boxes apart.
The reaction of the freaks was very dismissive, I thought. She had done wrong, but she'd also helped them out a good deal. She didn't have that coming.
NPH was masterful, though.
The Freaks homage finally went over the top in this one, and as much as I like that movie, I don't know how I feel about that. Still, I was pleased about how I knew exactly what had happened to Stanley. That, he had coming.

I think ends are being tied up too hastily, but I suppose there's only so much they can get done in a season.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:54 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

On the whole, I think this year has been a stew of blown opportunities and fuck-yeah moments alike

That seems right to me.

While watching this episode I kept thinking that the season won't be able to stick the landing. It's not the disaster that Coven was, but it seems like it's heading in a direction that will disappoint. The main problem, I think, is that the writers abandoned a lot of the promise that was really exciting in the first few episodes: the supernatural ghoulies, the war with the townies, the out-of-time musical montages. (BTW, what was up with that shot of Elsa dressed up as a sad clown in the first Life on Mars montage? That seemed to be a flashback but it was never addressed again.)

Instead of sticking to those themes and tropes, the writers made a soap opera. When the performers were chasing Stanley in the pre-credits sequence, I kept thinking: "this is shot as if it were a horror movie, but it's not scary at all, because these characters are not monsters. They're just a bunch of people with various disabilities." The season has too much respect for the people it wants to call freaks. I don't think the writers wanted to dehumanize anyone. That's very admirable, but I don't think that they fully realized that they would then have to replace them with another source of horror.

Dandy was carrying the whole show in this respect. Twisty got killed early on; they never brought back Edward Mordrake; Elsa and Dell and Stanley were threats but they were not horrifying or scary. All the other AHS seasons had some really unsettling monsters throughout, and this season lacks them. They could have solved the problem by upping the supernatural quotient or by making the townsfolk the real monsters of the show (Grace Gummer's dad disfiguring his daughter was great; they needed more characters like him.)

That being said, the final shot of each of the final two scenes of this episode were surprising and wonderful. Stanley's comeuppance was perfect and stomach-turning, and I didn't see the wooden lobster claws coming.

I hope that the writers have all along been planning to have Dandy buy the freak show. I hope this isn't something that they pulled out of their butts at the last minute. It seems like a goal they could have been building toward.
posted by painquale at 2:24 AM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seeing Elsa on the cover of a 1958 issue of Life back in "Orphans" deflates what should have been some of the tension in this episode, too. I wasn't worried for Elsa's safety since we knew she survives at least to 1958 and does make it onto television. Beautiful moment for Pepper, but it works against the show here.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:48 AM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

At this point I'm quite fascinated by the way the show is starting to disintegrate.

Maggie gets the Misty Day treatment - the show has no particular use for her anymore (not that they ever especially did) and then she gets killed out of nowhere in a meaningless death. This is especially headscratching because Dandy tried to do the same thing to her and she very nearly died so you'd think she might maybe have some reservations about once again jumping into the old "sawing a woman in half" trick.

Especially because the twins learned that he had murdered two women and blamed it on a puppet, but this only translates into them saying they won't get into the box for him. They don't bother to indicate why, and they don't say a damn thing when Maggie inexplicably hops on in. Which is pretty weird, really, because just the previous night they cared enough about Elsa to save her life! This being the same Elsa who sold them to Dandy and tried to turn them against each other. Apparently their reservations about Chester and their newfound altruistic streak didn't incline them to say anything when Maggie, who helped root out a murderous con man among the freaks, got into the box, or to mention to the other freaks that they had a really good reason for not hopping in.

Then she dies, and the overall freak opinion is that she was a terrible bitch. Yeah, I guess they'd hate her enough to shit-talk her while her body is still warm, but they were still totally cool with having her hang around the camp while she'd still been alive. What?

The show has also been killing off characters left and right, and no one much seems to care. I'd say that someone should tell Ryan Murphy that killing a random character is not the same as advancing the plot, but I'd be afraid he'd stop doing it.

Overall I think the appeal in a season of AHS is not whether or not it's going to be a trainwreck, but what form the trainwreck will take. This season's trainwreck is a formless, plotless, directionless soap opera where nothing that happens is in the service of anything else.

The wooden lobster claws were a nice touch. I did enjoy that.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:46 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, echoing what other people have said: many great moments, many more eye rolling moments, and a disappointing lack of momentum in the last few episodes. The start of the season was intentionally stupid and fun. The second half has felt a lot less intentional and a lot less fun.
posted by codacorolla at 6:15 PM on January 15, 2015

The Nazi doctor that tortured Elsa's prosthesis beau was the same doctor from Asylum no? Hans Gruber I think?
posted by ian1977 at 10:31 AM on January 16, 2015

Yes, and played here by John Cromwell, son of James Cromwell, who played Dr. Gruber (a.k.a. Dr. Arden) in Asylum.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:10 AM on January 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

So what's season 5 going to be? Have any theories?

The top hat on the coffee cups is supposed to be a clue. Some people say Operation Top Hat. Other people say it will have something to do with magicians. Aesthetically I think a season on magicians is too close to freak show.
posted by ian1977 at 11:31 AM on January 16, 2015

AHS after season one, the let's what we can get away with season, is pretty much an endless parade of aborted possibilities, but possibly one of the worst is the comedic potential of Angela Bassett, who killed it in Coven with just a a look or an "amen." I'm not saying she wasn't funny this season, I'm saying it was nowhere near what could have been, much like the show.
posted by provoliminal at 5:03 PM on January 16, 2015

It was insane when Chester goes bananas, saws one of them in half in demented violence, then Eve and the others decide "Elsa is next." WTF? The unhinged guy killing people right in front of our for no reason is next. Sneaky plotting lady who sometimes kills can wait until after him.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:29 AM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I guess I'm in the minority here. I feel like the season has finally gelled over the past three episodes. It's shaping up to be a winner.

It's still a big old mess, but every single season has been a mess, and every season has tried too hard. And while I agree with everyone about all the wasted opportunities, I get that impression from everything Ryan Murphy has done.

We also got our first iconic moment of the season - NPH's magic act was the first time in Freak Show where I was genuinely horrified. It was awesome.
posted by kanewai at 11:37 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's still a big old mess, but every single season has been a mess, and every season has tried too hard. And while I agree with everyone about all the wasted opportunities, I get that impression from everything Ryan Murphy has done.

Heh. I was just thinking a few days ago about Glee and American Horror Story: Both Murphy/Falchuk shows, but obviously very different tonally. Yet what they have in common seems to be the "throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks" method of plotting.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:00 PM on January 20, 2015

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