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

Show Stoppers 2

Can we get a toast to “American Horror Story: Freak Show”? After a seemingly aimless middle part of the season, it does, in fact, seem like the show is on track to go out strong, as dubious as that prospect seemed going into the brief hiatus. But, as the title would suggest, this episode was filled with “Show Stoppers,” as the body count continued, amongst other weirdness.

As the Freak Show baton was officially tossed to Chester, who got a hearty toast before being asked to leave for “freak business,” the toasting turned to Elsa and Maggie’s co-conspirator, Stanley, who was seemingly being celebrated for his role in making Elsa a bona fide star. Then a movie showing was discussed, but it was not Elsa’s usual choice- nor was it, interestingly enough, what sharp-eared listeners will recall was Sister Jude’s film of choice, “The Sign of the Cross”– but that old chestnut, “Freaks.”

Yep, a little on the nose, “AHS:FS,” but I suppose it’s at least commendable that the show shout-out what it’s been ripping off for most of its run this season right before it essentially rips off the entire ending, more or less. To that end, Stanley realizes he’s screwed and the freaks give chase after Elsa does a bit of sharp-shooting action- emphasis on the sharp- and tosses a knife into his leg, wounding him just enough for him to be easy enough to keep up with.

Cornering him under one of the wagons, we don’t see Stanley’s ultimate fate until the end, which is indeed similar to the one in the movie: the freaks have made Stanley one of their own, specifically their new “Meep.” I don’t know how anatomically possible this was- probably not at all, especially at the time- but it did make for a cool visual. Weep no more, Jimmy, there’s a new Meep in town. (Also getting her due: Lillian Hemmings (Celia Weston) – aka the Morbidity Museum tour guide that was shelling out the big bucks to Stanley for the freaks and freak parts he was providing- who ended up with her dick head in a box jar, courtesy of Desiree.)

Next, came the arrival of a familiar face: Danny Houston, as Massimo Dolcefino, who had a longtime crush on Elsa back in Germany, and who rescued her from bleeding out after her legs were sawed off and provided her with spiffy new wooden ones. He also confirms what many suspected: the leader of the snuff film brigade was none other than Dr. Hans Gruber, aka Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) from “Asylum,” the second season.

Massimo hunts down and kills all that are responsible for his beloved Elsa’s maiming, save Gruber, who shoots him and proceeds to torture him, big time, until a higher-up found out who he was and pulled him to make bookshelves for all the stolen books the Nazis absconded with. (Shades of the recent FX series, “The Strain,” which had a similar plotline.) Massimo later gets himself to the US and finds Elsa, but cannot consummate his love for her, because of Gruber’s nasty torture antics, which included a jumper cable attached to his junk. Yikes!

They remained in touch, and he’s now there to provide Jimmy with the best hands he can possibly construct under the circumstances. But there’s a twist here, as well, as Jimmy ultimately decides he wants to forgo having “normal” hands and stick with the ones he’s accustomed to: his lobster-style claws. So, Massimo fashions him him some nifty new wooden claws, instead of regular hands. It was sort of like a reverse Pinocchio, only instead of wanting to be a real boy, Jimmy wanted to remain a real freak. It’d be heartwarming if it weren’t so twisted.

Meanwhile, because of what Stanley yelled out about how Elsa was complicit in some of his crimes, specifically Ethel’s death, the freaks start plotting anew, this time to get rid of Elsa herself. Alas for them, Elsa is long gone, having been given the literal heads-up from the Tattler twins, who feel they owe her after she helped them cover up their own murder. Elsa meets with Dandy, sells him the deed to the circus out from under Chester and off she goes into the wild blue “Asylum”- eventually, at least, as she still has super-stardom to attend to first.

Speaking of the twins, they manage to avoid a deadly fate of their own when Chester tries to talk them into being a part of his act where he saws a woman in half. Of course, he has ulterior motives, as a jealous Marjorie has commanded he kill them after he blithely tosses her aside as he’s having sex with the twins. The twins balk, so Maggie steps right up- and ends up actually getting sawed in half by an unhinged Chester! This might well have been the goriest thing ever on the show, and it was pretty glorious, I must say- and icky. Another one bites the dust!

Chester then flips out even further and confronts Marjorie, ultimately stabbing her over and over in the same manner as he killed his wife and her lover. Afterwards, hilariously enough, he turns himself into the cops, handing over the “dead body” of his beloved Marjorie and surrendering. I’m guessing, as there is real blood on him, it will eventually lead the cops to another trip out to the Freak Show to see what’s going on there now. It’s always something!

We ended with Dandy settling into his new role: the ringmaster of Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities. That can’t end well, right? It’s he who discovers the new Meep, Stanley, moaning in torment backstage. Meep Meep! That’s all folks!

This was another great episode that really delivered the gory, unsettling goods, but more importantly, it also managed the neat feat of deftly tying together the overall narrative of this season to the second one. I loved the way that everything is connected, and am curious to see how Elsa morphed into a superstar before later morphing into Sister Jude. I’d have to re-watch it to be sure, but as far as I can tell, these developments make sense in light of what we do know already about where the plot is headed in that past season.

I even remember there being some inherent issues between Jude and Dr. Arden that were never quite explained, and which I just wrote off as her distaste for his methods. Now, it makes perfect sense that she’d loathe him, given what he did. The question is: did we ever see Jude’s legs at any point? Because if we did, that’s a big problem, for obvious reasons, given that she doesn’t have any, save wooden ones, and I don’t recall that being mentioned at any juncture. Regardless, it did make me want to re-watch that season ASAP.

I guess the big question is: did Ryan Murphy and company know that they were going to do this going into this season, which is likely; or did they plan on doing it before going into the second season, which seems less so? I mean, if it was a later decision they still did a good job tying everything together, but that thing with Jude’s legs could be an issue, depending on whether or not we ever saw them.

Also, wouldn’t Jude have had an adverse reaction to seeing Lana, being as how she was the spitting image of the twins? Or is this one of those deals where Jude is going to turn out to be an inmate at the Asylum who imagined everything that happened while she was there? She certainly did go off the deep end at the end of that season, if I recall correctly, but still. It will interesting to see how all of this holds up, if at all, but an “A” for effort for trying such a radical move, nonetheless.

So, does all of this rescue the season of “American Horror Story: Freak Show” as a whole? Debatable. But it is neat, and it does redeem the show just enough to keep things interesting, and make me wonder what’s going to happen in the big finale. The next question is, what other tidbits will we get, in terms of the cross-connections between the seasons? What will be the fate of the rest of the freaks? Who will be left standing? Will Dandy get his, or come out on (the big) top? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) I must say, I’m actually really looking forward to it, in light of these latest, strong new episodes. How about you? Sound off below, and see you for the big finale!