‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ Episode 2 Review: “Massacres And Matinees”

By October 16, 2014
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Last week, “American Horror Story: Freak Show” premiered to record numbers for FX. This single episode was the most watched telecast in the network’s history! And with this news, it was recently announced that the mini-series is returning for a fifth installment next year. This is great news for Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and the rest of the creative team. But dare I ask, is this good news for us?

“Massacres and Matinees” is the second episode in this year’s installment and in all honesty, it left me vastly disappointed. The episode in question was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon who has a very definitive style which is filled with the use of dutch angles, crane shots, and very wide lenses. While his style helps paint a dreamlike sense of dread that hearkens back to some of the best horror films from the ’70s, it can also be a bit distracting at times. This was one of my main issues I had with his feature-length directorial debut of The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014). But I’m not necessarily saying this is what took my enjoyment from the episode – no, I’ll blame the annoyingly silly musical number for that. What I am saying is the combination of all the elements portrayed in last night’s episode made me feel as if “American Horror Story” has finally fallen victim to self-parody. I hope not.

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The episode focused mostly on the introduction of Jimmie Darling’s long-lost father Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis), playing the stereotypical circus sideshow Strong Man. Accompanied by his wife Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett), they meet with Elsa Mars regarding possible employment opportunities at her Cabaret. A little backstory reveals Toledo is on the run for a rather cartoonish murder. The flashback sequence shows him breaking the neck of his victim for trying to cure his homosexual tendencies by canoodling with Toledo’s wife. It’s also worth noting that Desiree has an interesting talent of her own. In what may very well be an homage to Total Recall, Angela Bassett gets to sport an interesting prosthetic in the middle of her chest giving her boobs a’plenty.

Ethel immediately identifies Dell’s appearance at the carnival as nothing but bad news. Another flashback shows Jimmie Darling as a toddler and Toledo as his abusive deadbeat father. Ethel makes him promise to stay away from Lobster Boy and of course, he breaks this promise rather quickly. Elsa Mars hires the couple to assist with the Freak Show and the first order of business for Toledo is to schedule 3pm matinee shows since there is now a curfew in town. Everyone seems to agree that this is a bad idea.

After Jimmie’s motivational (?) speech last week regarding equality and fair treatment, he decides to take his crew to lunch at the local diner. It’s a moment that seems to offer its own spin on Civil Rights issues and much like that time period’s Jim Crow-themed perspective, this visit for lunch ends poorly. In an unfortunate chain of coincidental events, Dell Toledo stops just outside the restaurant in question to post up signs advertising the Freak Show. Catching sight of the gang inside, the failed attempt at a peaceful lunch date comes to a violent end as Toledo proceeds to pummel the sh*t out of his son.

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While this father and son drama is playing out through the episode, we find Elsa and crew auditioning Bette and Dot for their spotlight performance. We find out that Bette is the one that can sing and once the show is running for their first matinee performance, the song they perform is none other than Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” It’s the second episode in a row that has included an outlandish musical number. I gave last week’s performance of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” a pass because it seemed to fit, since Bowie’s music is rather timeless and the bizarre moment lent to the overall feel of what “American Horror Story” seems to be about. But now this? Yes, these are the folks behind “Glee,” but if we keep this up every week, FX should just go ahead and rename the series to “American Horror Story: Gleek Show”!

It’s during this musical number that Jimmie frames Dell for the murder of the detective featured in “Monsters Among Us.” The cops have been sniffing around the camp and this was apparently the perfect moment to plant the officer’s badge in Toledo’s trailer. The unfortunate detail here is that Darling is sloppy in his attempt as Dell Toledo witnesses the whole thing. The result is a bait and switch that leads to the arrest of the wrong culprit: The Geek – that poor young man who gets his kicks by biting the heads off of live chickens. Unfortunately, this intriguing little character’s dead body is delivered back to the Freak Show which will most definitely send Jimmie Darling down a John Rambo-style road of vengeance. At least, that’s my wish for future episodes….

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“But Aaron, what about the clown,” you ask? Dammit, fine. Let’s talk about Twisty! Of all the items explored in last night’s episode, the one story line I felt the most entertained by was that of the unlikely partnership of Dandy and Twisty. To try and cure her adult child of his seemingly incurable boredom, Gloria Mott (Frances Conroy) acquires the services of Twisty The Clown to entertain Dandy. The few scenes that have these two characters interacting are some of the most twisted and engaging moments of the entire hour. It’s the moment when Dandy realizes something is really messed up about Twisty that things take a bizarre turn. After following Twisty back to his lair and foiling the children’s plan for escape, it looks as if young Dandy Mott may have finally found a cure for his debilitating boredom.

In a series that takes place in a circus, I can appreciate the irony when I say I feel “Massacres and Matinees” was overdone and silly. My hope is that these musical numbers do not continue in future episodes. However, it is this writer’s opinion that even the most outlandish of “American Horror Story” episodes are worth a watch. There may be more and more genre programming coming to television, but there are only a select few shows that really push the envelope as much as “AHS” does. And if last week’s numbers are an indicator, then there is a huge demand for this type of crazy.

What are your thoughts on last night’s episode of “American Horror Story: Freak Show”? Did you enjoy the musical number? Set me straight in the comments below!

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Aside from throwing words onto your screen here, he has written for the likes of FEARnet, Examiner, Dread Central and MTV Movies Blog. And yes, he was Percy on VR Troopers.