American Horror Story: Freak Show Season 4 Review “Pink Cupcakes”

American Horror Story Season 4 Episode 5 Pink Cupcakes (11)

On the latest episode of “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” the line between fantasy and reality often became blurred, resulting in one of the more confusing episodes of the series, as it was tough to tell what was real and what wasn’t at times, in “Pink Cupcakes.” Mind you, this wasn’t a simple case of a nightmare that was identified as such, but rather a series of sequences in which newcomer-to-the-carnival-fold Stanley (Denis O’Hare) fantasized about the various ways in which he could take out some of the freaks at the show and get rich in the process. Because of this, sequences which were initially shocking, like the death of Paul, the Illustrated Seal and Bette and Dot Tattler, were actually revealed to be elaborate fake-outs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that they’re not dead yet- though I suspect they may well end up that way, particularly the Tattlers, given where they ended up- but it was a little confusing, given that a good half of the episode was misleadingly false. Given that it conversely means that little of what happened actually matters, it led to a decidedly disjointed episode that wasn’t bad, per se, but certainly a comedown after the superlative last episode.

Mind you, it wasn’t just the faux murders that were a problem. The truth is, I just don’t find main villain Dandy (Finn Wittrock) that compelling, especially in comparison to the late Twisty, his mentor of sorts. Sure, that scene in which he killed guest star Matt Bomer (“White Collar”), a male prostitute, was somewhat disturbing, to be sure, but all the stuff that preceded it, from Dandy’s inner monologue, to the extended sequence in the gay bar, were more meh-inducing than shocking.

So, Dandy was a spoiled brat whose acting dreams were dashed by his mother, and who is likely a latent homosexual? Who cares? I found the brief interlude with Andy (Bomer) and Dell (Michael Chiklis) to be more compelling than anything else in the episode, and the latter’s visit to the doctor who confirmed that Dell’s wife Desiree (Angela Bassett) was a bona fide woman, and had a miscarriage was much more intimidating and scary than the vicious attack of Dandy on Andy.

I mean, granted, it’s to be expected that “Vic Mackey” (aka Chiklis’ volatile character on “The Shield”) would be infinitely more menacing than a guy named freaking Dandy, but the fact is, the guy’s just not that interesting. About the only halfway interesting bit of business about him was the stuff involving his mother, Gloria (the indispensable Frances Conroy), who revealed his state was undoubtedly partially as result of family inbreeding, which admittedly explains a lot, and that had more to do with Gloria, and her blasé way of dealing with Dandy’s situation than anything the actual character did. Now that was chilling, you know?

In a weird way, it seemed like the show itself had become sort of blasé about everything, from the repeat of Elsa’s Bowie number to the sort of disengaged overall feeling of the Dandy sequence in general. I feel like they were going for a checked-out scenario along the lines of something in “Ms. 45,” or maybe “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” for instance, but they forgot the fact that we feel for those characters, whereas we could care less about Dandy (or, to be fair, I don’t), much less his victim, who we literally just met this episode.

Perhaps if the victim was someone we knew a little better, a la Dora, it would have had more of an impact, but even that left me a bit cold, and I liked and related to Dora way more than Andy. In some ways, I think this is indicative of the major problem at hand in this season of the show- I just don’t care about the characters as much in this season as I did in previous ones.

Sure, there are some notable exceptions- Sarah Paulson’s performance, as ever, is riveting, and, if anything, I wish we saw more of her and delved into her character that much more. It seemed like she was going to be a focal point early on, but the show seems to have gotten bored with her, to the point that it seems like they’re going to eliminate the Tattlers sooner than later, which would be a shame.

I also find Jimmy’s character to be moderately interesting, as well as Desiree, the latter of which finally got a halfway decent dramatic arc in this episode. But from there, things get quickly dubious. The always-great Jessica Lange’s character just isn’t as compelling as in previous seasons, and Kathy Bates’ Ethel is just this side of annoying. I adore Emma Roberts, but even she seems confused as to whether her character is supposed to be a good one or a bad one, as evidenced by her fluctuations between being appealing and repulsive in her actions.

I feel like, in some ways, the show was like: okay what’s a cool thing we can do? How about a creepy carnival? It’s been a while since anyone has done that, and there are some cool precedents in things like “Freaks” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” that can serve as inspirations. But then, it feels like they weren’t quite sure what to do with it entirely, not unlike the similarly disjointed second season “Asylum.” That season certainly had its moments, but overall it felt a bit meandering at times, which this season has that in common with. They picked a cool concept, but they aren’t sure what to do with it, you know?

I’m definitely not giving up on the show, mind you. It’s still more fascinating than half the stuff out there, even at its worst. What other show could make you feel sympathy for a killer clown, for God’s sake? It’s moments like that which make this show more than worthwhile. But without more to hang its ringmaster hat on, the series is all show and no tell, and that’s a problem. Hopefully, the show will boot and rally for the remaining episodes, and find a way to course-correct itself. I haven’t given up hope yet- after all, the best episode of this season was almost certainly last week’s episode, so it could still easily rebound just fine.

Until then, this was just an average episode at best, I’m afraid.

What did you think of “American Horror Story: Freak Show” this week? Were you likewise disappointed? Or do you think I’m being unnecessarily harsh on the show, for one minor misstep? What do you make of Dandy? Or Dell, for that matter? Do you have a favorite character? Or a least favorite one, for that matter? Do you have any suggestions for how the show could improve? Sound off below and see you next time!