American Horror Story: Freak Show Season 4 Review “Massacres and Matinees”

American Horror Story Season 4 Episode 2 Massacres and Matinees (10)

On the latest episode of “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” the show continued to more than live up to its surname, with the aptly-titled “Massacres and Matinees.” As the tension continued to rise in Jupiter over the rash of killings and kidnappings in town, the eyes were clearly focused on the denizens of the local carnival, and not without good reason, at least in one case: the missing Detective Bunch, who Jimmy (Evan Peters) and some of his closest friends put a premature end to, and then some, after he attempted to make trouble for Dot and Bette Tattler (Sarah Paulson). In no time, the cops descended on the carnival, sending Jimmy into paranoia overdrive, even while Elsa (Jessica Lange) sent them packing for a search warrant.

To that end, they dug up Bunch’s body- or rather, his parts- and burnt them to a crisp, save one tell-tale memento: his badge. That badge would come back to haunt Jimmy later, after he tried to deflect attention away from himself and his friends and onto gruff newcomer Dell Toledo (newcomer to the fold, Michael Chiklis, of “The Shield” fame), who, unbeknownst to Jimmy, was actually his father. Not that it should have mattered, as Toledo tried to kill him as a baby! (Between this show and “The Walking Dead” premiere, babies did not have a great week- though both managed to survive in spite of seemingly eminent threats, so there’s that.)

Turns out that Dell and Ethel (Kathy Bates) were once an item, so clearly Dell likes his ladies with a bit of a kink, as evidenced by the Bearded Lady and his current flame, Desiree (Angela Bassett, back for more insanity), a hermaphrodite with three breasts! According to him, he’s “the happiest man in the world,” so I’ll take his word for it, although his track record is a bit dubious. Witness the flashback from Chicago, in which Desiree took it upon herself to engage in the weirdest degayification method this reviewer has ever seen by a country mile. A “little something extra to finish him off,” indeed. Yikes. And I thought those camps in “But I’m a Cheerleader” were bad.

Anyway, needless to say, Elsa hired them on the spot, albeit as much for need of extra security than anything else, in light of the local heat. Alas, Dell is not much for following orders, which almost immediately caused issues, as he insisted in light of the recently-installed town curfew, that they start doing matinee shows, which did not go over great with Elsa, though not nearly as poorly as the posters Dell made did. She might have felt that the freaks should come out at night, and understandably so, but bottom billing was not something she could easily abide, so clearly changes needed to be made.

So, Jimmy planted the badge in Dell’s trailer, the cops returned with their warrant, and it seemed that they’d be rid of Dell…but not so fast. Dell got wise to Jimmy’s plant and replanted it, not in Jimmy’s digs, but under poor Meep’s bed. I say poor Meep, but the guy did bite the head of a baby chick earlier in the episode, which was just horrible to see as an animal lover- yep, even baby chicks aren’t safe on this show. Still, he certainly didn’t deserve his fate: being beaten to death by a bunch of drunk tank types and unceremoniously dumped in front of the carnival, much to Jimmy’s horror. Adieu, Meep the Geek. We hardly knew ye.

Meanwhile, just when you thought you knew where the whole killer clown (John Carroll Lynch) plotline was going, it took a hard left into the surreal, as mama Dandy, Gloria (Frances Conroy) saw said clown walking down the road, looking like the world’s most ill-advised hitchhiker pick-up ever, and naturally, sought out his employment for her spoiled brat of a son, who drinks brandy instead of milk in his particular baby bottle. One would have thought that Clowny would have made quick work of the both of them, but one would have thought wrong.

While he did end up clocking Dandy (Finn Wittrock, “The Normal Heart”) for peeping in his magic bag of tricks, by the end of the episode, the two were fast friends of a sort, when both of the clown’s kidnapees made a break for it and Dandy helped head off one of them at the pass, Bonnie (Skyler Samuels, late of “The Nine Lives of Chloe King”); while Clowny nabbed the little boy, Corey (Major Dodson, “Left Behind”). And just like that, Clowny had a serial killer’s apprentice. They grow up so fast. I still think Dandy could go at any minute, but at least they’re keeping things interesting in the meantime, right?

That was about it, this time around, but wasn’t that enough, really? If not, there was also Patti Labelle, a looooong way from “Lady Marmalade,” as the Mott’s maid, Nora; a wacked-out scene with the freaks visiting a local diner, to the horror of the locals; a look at what was underneath the clown’s mask, which gave “Yuck Mouth” an all-new meaning; and a decidedly out of left field rendition of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” by the Tattler Twins, complete with moshing and crowd-surfing- forget “Freak Show,” if they keep this up, we’ll have to start calling this “Gleek Show.” (“Glee” fans will understand what I mean.)

It’s probably way too early to make a judgment call on this season of the show so far, but it’s essentially a slightly lighter-toned version of season two, aka “Asylum,” only much more colorful. Which is to say, not as fun as last season or as relatively coherent and self-contained as season one, but maybe less scatter-brained than season two at least, what with it essentially sticking to the circus theme, rather than throwing in everything but the kitchen sink like “Asylum” did. If it wasn’t clear, that was a compliment, basically, as season two was my least favorite of the show’s run thus far. It wasn’t bad, mind you, just seriously disjointed. This isn’t that all-over-the-place, but it does seem a bit unfocused to an extent, though maybe the impending addition of Emma Roberts and Denis O’Hare’s characters will help with that next week.

That said, “Freaks” is one of my all-time favorite horror movies, and this definitely feels like a more modern extension of that, featuring a similar cast of real-life “freaks,” and things the movies could have never gotten away with back then. Indeed, “Freaks,” the movie, didn’t get away with it, basically sinking the director’s career in no time flat, even though it’s considered a cult classic now.

I find it interesting that Jimmy bristles at anyone calling his friends “freaks,” save Elsa, who doesn’t hesitate to call them just that, even while she stalwartly defends them to any outsiders. Yet, she also argues for condemning them to the darkness, as it were, while Jimmy champions for others to treat them like the actual human beings they are. I’m with Jimmy on that one, yet I really do think that Elsa cares for them- so long as she’s the real star of the show, that is. (Witness her reaction to the Tattler Twins’ roundly enjoyed performance- she wasted no time in trying to turn them against one another.)

It’s a really interesting dynamic, not in the least because they both have valid points, even if their methods and motives are sometimes questionable. It certainly makes for fascinating viewing, that’s for sure. Now if they could only head somewhere concrete with it, then we might have something. We shall see, I suppose.

What did you think of “American Horror Story: Freak Show” this week? Do you like the tone of the show so far? How about the direction it seems to be headed in? Does it even have a direction yet? Any ideas for what the show should be this season? Do you have a favorite character yet? Did you feel bad for Meep the Geek? How about Dot? Will the carnival find a way to get rid of Dell? Will cops continue to go after them? Will they continue to kill them? Place your bets on who’s next down below and see you next week for more carnival madness!