Thursday, October 9, 2014

American Horror Story: Freak Show - “Monsters Among Us” recap and review

by Melissa Parkin

Send in the clowns . . . but proceed with caution. FX’s anthology series American Horror Story premiered last night with its mesmerizing fourth season installment, Freak Show. Containing the most enviable cast on television, AHS continues to captivate fans, as it dives back into the haunting atmosphere of season two’s Asylum, while keeping Coven’s acute exploration of living life as a blatant outcast.

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As of late, the unbearable heat and humidity are the least of Jupiter, Florida’s problems. Local milkman, Phil Palmer, stumbles across the murdered body of Eudora Tattler, during his delivery route. He then discovers an injured pair of conjoined twins, Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson), hiding upstairs. Upon being brought to the emergency room, the duo are immediately deemed monsters by appalled hospital personnel. When word gets around town, freak show manager and performer Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) meets with the twins and expresses her fondness for the pair. Though Bette takes an immediate liking to the German headliner, her sister only expresses contempt towards Elsa, knowing that she has an ulterior motive.

Meanwhile, a young couple canoodle close to Lake Okeechobee during an afternoon picnic. The boy puts his girlfriend’s sexual advances on hold as he excuses himself to go quickly fetch something from his truck nearby. Twisty, a grisly-faced clown, emerges from the brush and approaches the girl (Skyler Samuels). Upon the boyfriend’s return, Twisty shows them a short series of tricks before using his juggling batons to bludgeon them both in the head. Eventually awakening from the blow, the girl opens her eyes to see the clown repeatedly knifing her boyfriend in the torso with a pair of scissors. In horror, she tries to run away, but her disorientation gets the best of her. Twisty pursues her.

The clown further terrorizes Florida residents as he sneaks inside a family’s house, murdering the father and mother and taking their son captive. Now, imprisoned in cages within an old abandoned bus, the son is with the girl from the lake. Twisty enters the vehicle, fails during his attempted circus performance, and frightens them in a fit of rage.

Elsa Mars notices one of her company’s performers, Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters), at the local diner as he chats up the waitress. She disrupts their flirtation and he dismisses Elsa, telling her that their freak show is over. Later at a Tupperware party, Jimmy uses his unique ability of Syndactyly, in which his fingers are fused together, to please each of the ladies in a private bedroom.

Mars returns to the hospital to visit the twins and tell them that she knows the truth about what happened at their quaint farmhouse: Bette killed their mother, and Dot stabbed her sister in consequence as punishment. Despite Dot’s resentment, Elsa persuades the girls to join her at the Freak Show. At the fairgrounds, the two are introduced to the different acts, including Jimmy as the “Lobster Boy.”

Later on, a detective arrives at the Freak Show, handcuffing Dot and Bette. Jimmy witnesses the incident and confronts the man. The police officer tells him that he knows all about the twins’ cover-up story for their mother’s murder. Things escalate, and when the detective calls the carnies in attendance “freaks,” Jimmy slits his throat via razorblade.

Following the most disturbingly striking title sequence in television, Freak Show illuminates the small screen with stunning cinematography, breathtaking special effects, and wonderfully colorful characters. As per usual, despite the immensely talented cast, Evan Peters still manages to steal every scene he is in. Jimmy’s greaser good looks and natural charisma make for an immediate appeal. But Peters’ ability to create such an arresting contrast in character, with his fiery turn to wrath, remains unparalleled. John Carroll Lynch’s chillingly perfect portrayal of the lurid clown, Twisty, with his profoundly soiled costume, watered-down clown makeup, and grotesque Cheshire cat smile, makes Heath Ledger’s Joker look cuddle-worthy in comparison. The fact that Twisty doesn’t even utter a single word ups the sinister and will undoubtedly cause sleepless nights for some viewers. Continually pushing the envelope, American Horror Story: Freak Show’s shock value, switchback plots, and use of taboo topics gives its fans exactly what they crave.

American Horror Story: Freak Show premiere episode rating: A
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