Thursday, January 15, 2015

American Horror Story: Freak Show - “Show Stoppers” recap & review

by Melissa Parkin

Time for reckoning. The freak show troupe hosts Elsa’s going away bash, and Stanley is in attendance. Everybody appears to be in high spirits, but things take a turn for the grisly as Miss Mars asks for Chester’s departure from the main tent. Elsa declares that her final hours with her “monsters” will be spent watching 1932’s Freaks, a film in which the malicious antagonists are attacked during a storm by the knife-wielding carnival performers that they wronged. In the truest form of life imitating art, the freaks confront Stanley. They give him a large gift box, in which he discovers the decapitated head of the Museum of Morbid Curiosities’ curator inside. Elsa plunges one of her throwing knives into Stanley’s leg and tells him that his only way out is to run. He limply tries to make his escape, but the troupe corners him.

Maggie is desperate to make amends with the freak show. When morning comes, she helps re-bandage Jimmy’s wounds, but he rejects her apology and even threatens to kill her. A surprise awaits Elsa in the main tent, in the form of Massimo Dolcefino (Danny Houston), the man responsible for making Elsa’s wooden legs. He offers to create Jimmy a brand-new pair of prosthetic hands. Charity seems to be in abundance at the fairgrounds as Dandy, too, offers his services. He discloses the information of Chester’s murderous past to Dot and Bette, and despite their disbelief, the news eats away at them.

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
With Chester (Neil Patrick Harris) now running the show, he demands the twins perform his sawing-a-woman-in-half trick. When they refuse, he loses his temper. Maggie hopes to smooth things over and volunteers to substitute for Dot and Bette. Chester locks her in the box and handcuffs her ankles together against her wishing, trapping her inside. She begins to panic, telling him that she can’t safely free herself. Chester ignores her remarks as he suffers delusions of his wife, her former lover, and Marjorie all antagonizing him. He begins to saw through the box despite Maggie’s screams, and the rest of the freaks arrive too late to intervene. Chester proudly pulls the two halves of the box open, only to see all of Maggie’s inside come spilling out. The sight of her mutilated body is undoubtedly horrific, but everyone callously agrees that Maggie simply got what was coming to her.

Chester finally cracks once and for all. Marjorie continues to taunt him, and he retaliates on the doll. Savagely stabbing her, he becomes overwhelmed by grief at the realization of what he’s done. Still covered in Maggie’s blood, Chester mournfully walks into the police station, holding a large blanketed object. As Chester sobbingly declares himself fit for the electric chair, the officers in the precinct uncover the article, seeing Marjorie’s broken body.

Having overheard Stanley’s confessions that Miss Mars murdered Ethel, the troupe plots to kill Elsa. The twins know of their intentions, and the two inform Mars. She barely manages to flee the camp, finding an ally in the most unlikely of places. Come morning, Dandy Mott gleefully saunters into the fairgrounds with a signed deed by Elsa, declaring him as the new owner of the troupe. He gloriously takes center stage in the main tent, only to find his moment of revelry interrupted by a distance clucking. Dandy heads behind the curtain and comes across Stanley locked in a cage. Shockingly enough, the freaks didn't kill him. Instead, they dismembered all of Stanley’s limbs, copying the end of Freaks as his punishment. The show closes on Massimo visiting Jimmy and his new wooden hands. As a happy surprise, Jimmy puts on his personalized prosthetics, revealing fused lobster fingers.

With the season finale airing next week, “Show Stoppers” admittedly feels more like a filler episode than the precursor to the climax. Sure, retribution is served, but there is no definitive storyline. Neil Patrick Harris continues to dazzle with his portrayal as the charming, yet deeply unhinged Chester. Finn Wittrock continues to bring his A-game as Dandy Mott, and Danny Houston’s guest appearance is certainly an upside. Those things aside, the plot is a bit messy. The flashback of Dr. Gruper that further connects Freak Show with AHS’s second season Asylum is interesting, but it still reads like wadding material used to fill the runtime. Maggie’s demise is unquestionably the highlight of the episode. Its gruesome and shocking execution (pardon the pun) will leave viewers with a long-lasting unpleasant mental image. That said, Chester’s apparent exit from the show feels out of sorts. Being brought in with such emphasized back story, it’s strange that Chester would leave after a mere two episodes. Despite its magnanimous title, “Show Stoppers” fails to live up to its name. Overall, it’s a hit-and-miss, but there are still high expectations for next week’s season finale.     

American Horror Story: Freak Show – “Show Stoppers” Episode Rating:  C +


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