American Horror Story: Freak Show Season 4 Review “Orphans”

American Horror Story Season 4 Episode 10 Orphans 03

On a surprisingly touching episode of “American Horror Story: Freak Show”– or as touching a show that starts out with a decapitation and ends with the cold-blooded murder of a baby can be, I suppose- we got a look at how the freak show came to be, the sad tale of Pepper…and a tantalizing glimpse at the future, in “Orphans.”

We started out with a tragedy, as what actually turned out to be Pepper’s husband, Salty -not twin, as I had originally presumed- met an untimely end…not to mention an ignoble final resting place, as Stanley took the opportunity to add to his own growing coterie of freaks, and lopped off his head and sent it off to the Morbidity Museum to join the rest of their collection. Nor was it the last addition of the night.

Desiree worried about what would become of Pepper after Elsa left, which would make for the third major loss in Pepper’s life, after Salty and Ma Petite, who Pepper had helped raise, much as a child. To that end, Elsa told Desiree about Pepper’s sister, Rita, and how she had abandoned her sister at an orphanage long ago, back in 1936. It was there that Elsa had discovered her, and made Pepper the first addition to her own freak show, after the “tectonic chanteuse” decided that she wanted to be the main act, not the side show amongst the Boston gypsies she had taken up with. However, she was smart enough to recognize the need for a side show herself, and so the hunt began.

Ma Petite followed soon after, which Maharaja, a visitor from the Far East, traded to Elsa for three cases of Dr. Pepper! Pepper herself- no relation- took Petite under her wing, and two became three when a sojourn to Cincinnati brought about another pinhead, Salty, and love was in the air, leading to a wedding between the two. Now the two were both gone, and poor Pepper was beside herself with grief, leading Elsa to wonder if perhaps a visit to her lone relation Rita was in order.

Albeit somewhat wary about it, Rita, who’d never had a child of her own and had always longed for one, agreed to take Pepper in, and it seemed like Pepper might get a happy ending after all. Alas, fate had other things in mind, and Rita unexpectedly gave birth in 1962- our first flash forward! – and Pepper became a surrogate mom to the child, who was born deformed, just like her. Larry, Rita’s husband, was none too thrilled about this development and murdered the child, pinning the death firmly on Pepper, and effectively killing two birds with one stone.

And where do you think Pepper ended up? Why, in the very asylum we spent the bulk of Season Two in, under the care of none other than Sister Eunice (Lily Rabe). Laying on the lies thick, telling Eunice that, as if killing a child wasn’t bad enough, she also stole her booze, slept with her husband and paraded around the house naked, Rita had no trouble interring Pepper into what amounted to another orphanage for lost souls.

We ended the tragic tale with an admittedly surprising twist I didn’t see coming: the revelation that Elsa had indeed made it big on television after all, making the cover of Life magazine, no less. I thought for sure she’d never make it out of this season alive, so that was quite the shocker. Maybe Stanley knows a guy in Hollywood after all. Go figure.

On other fronts, Desiree shot down the efforts of Dell to reignite their relationship, heavily implying that she knew what side of the bed Dell really slept on, if you know what I mean, and instead renewed her relationship with Angus, who we met on the previous episode. I’m guessing Dell isn’t going to take that well. Desiree might well end up regretting saving Dell’s life after all.

Also likely to regret her actions is Maggie, who finally drunkenly confessed to Desiree that she and Stanley were in fact con artists, going so far as to take Desiree to the Morbidity Museum to show her Stanley’s handiwork to date. However, she had another surprise waiting for her when she saw the museum’s latest addition, and I don’t mean the unfortunate Salty’s head. No, the museum had none other than Jimmy’s severed lobster hands, which he had seemingly willingly given up to Stanley, when the latter told him he could get him a fancy lawyer with the right amount of money for a retainer. The catch? You guessed it- give that man a hand! Or two. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

This was hardly a very scary episode- I’m beginning to wonder if Ryan Murphy was even going for that this year, and instead going for something a little more ambitious. I think that when all is said and done, this will be seen as a sort of emo season of the show, with less emphasis on scares and more on exploring the frailties of the human condition, especially as it applies to those less fortunate. In some ways, the show has always been about that, it’s just much more readily apparent this season, what with so many lost souls and misunderstood monsters afoot. It’s almost like Murphy’s take on “Monsters, Inc” or something.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose, and certainly a unique take on things, least of all for the oft-maligned horror genre. But still, it is called “American Horror Story” and one would think that it at least somewhat means that it should be at least a little terrifying at times. Sure, we had Twisty the clown, but his reign was short-lived, and Dandy, while intriguing as a character, is nowhere near as intimidating. He’s more like Patrick Bateman on the “Kardashians”- um, make that “American Psycho”- less scary and more darkly funny.

Unless Murphy meant for the freaks themselves to be inherently nightmare-inducing, and given his tendencies to make the “normals” more evil than the so-called freaks, I don’t get the sense that’s the case here. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s laudable that he wants us to see freaks as people too- after all, they are just that- but that doesn’t a horror show make, I’m afraid. Or rather I’m not afraid, which is sort of the problem. I mean, my mother probably could have gotten through this one, at least with a head’s up about the, um, heads up- and that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, as my mother hates the horror genre.

So, all in all, it’s still an enjoyable show, but I can already tell this season is going to be a bit of a wash, save the cool revelation that all the seasons are connected after all. I really like that revelation, and I loved the direct tie-in here with season two. But more often than not, the show is either laughable- witness the LOL-inducing Maggie back story- or tragic, a la Pepper’s. What it isn’t, is remotely scary. I suppose there are worse crimes the show could commit than being less scary than entertaining, but “horror” is right there in the title, you know? Oh well.

What do you think of the “American Horror Story” this season? Where does “Freak Show” rank on your list of favorite seasons thus far? (For the record, mine would be, in this order: season three, season one, season two and then this one.) Did you feel bad for poor Pepper? Were you surprised to find out that Elsa made it out of the season alive? Or at least to 1962? Did you like seeing Lily Rabe again, and out of frog-killing Hell? Will Desiree out Maggie as a con artist? What will the freaks do to Stanley when they find out what he’s really been up to? What will happen to Jimmy? Will Dell go off the rails again? Sound off below and see you next year for the rest of the season!