‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ 4.01 Recap and Review: Monsters Among Us


We’re only one episode into the new season of American Horror Story: Freak Show, and it looks as if Ryan is poised to top last year’s Coven, thanks to Fraulein Elsa and her Cabinet of Curiosities.

Since the premiere was an hour and a half, you can think of this as an extended recap. A gift from me to you.

The show opens with a woman approaching the entrance of the freak show, but we can hear her thoughts and she’s certainly not excited to be there. Suddenly we flash to another time and location. There’s a milkman doing his usual duty of dropping off fresh milk, but then he notices something is amiss. Uh oh. We haven’t even made it to the opening credits yet and something’s already about to go down (you can tell by the freaky music and weird camera angles that are unique to American Horror Story). As the milkman continues to wander through the house, he finds an older woman’s dead body lying covered in blood on the kitchen floor. Now at that point, I would have had to peace out of there and go get some cops, but this milkman isn’t so easily deterred. He continues to search the house (but with a rolling pin now…cuz you know…safety) and proceeds to find something in the closet that makes him scream in fear and disbelief.

Cut to the hospital…

…where staff members are rushing whatever the milkman found at the house into an operation room. Some of the hospital staff don’t have the stomach to be able to withstand whatever monster is in the room and run out sick. The doctor and nurse that were dedicated enough to stay are in for a shock. The examination begins and the doctor recites that the creature has 3 kidneys (two on the left, one on the right), 4 lungs, 2 hearts and a shared circulatory system (and it’s about at this point that the nurse looks like she really wishes she chose another profession). We still don’t see the creature, but whatever it is, must be terrible…right?

Enter Elsa Mars looking like a regular Cruella DeVille.

Jessica Lange always knows how to make an entrance and this season is no exception. She immediately finds a candy striper to finagle (Oh look! It’s Grace Gummer who also made an appearance in Coven!). You get the sense that Elsa’s a total smooth talker from the moment she opens her mouth, and it should be interesting to see how that may get her into trouble (or out of it) throughout the season. Elsa can sense that her Peppermint Angel is a little more fast-paced than your average candy striper, so she exchanges quips with her, asks her about the “monster” that’s being housed in the hospital and gives Peppermint Angel a business card for Fraulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities and telling her that only by entering will she learn it’s secrets (yeah, that totally won’t go south at some point).

The next thing we see is Elsa, now decked out in her own candy striper uniform (and I’ll be damned if Jessica Lange isn’t working that outfit too), entering the hospital room of the “monster”. Elsa approaches its bed and pulls back the curtain to reveal…a set of sleeping, conjoined twins!

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Bette and Dot Tattler.

Now I do love the way they staged the twins’ reveal, but I must admit, the first few minutes of buildup to it was lost on me, since Sarah Paulson was the first to reveal her character earlier this year, but I can certainly appreciate what they were going for.

Elsa proceeds to wake the girls up and we can immediately tell which twin is more dominant, with Dot awakening with a strong “I don’t know you” while Bette just looks startled and confused. Elsa wastes no time trying to woo the girls, telling them that they’re pretty and fortunate to have existed. It’s clear that she came to the hospital to retrieve them for her Freak Show, but the girls…or rather one of the girls, isn’t so easily convinced.

Elsa has brought the girls a new dress to wear out of the hospital and we become privy to another interesting piece of information about the twins…Bette and Dot can communicate telepathically! The twins wonder why Elsa’s being so nice amongst themselves and as they examine her, we also get to briefly examine her through the twins’ eyes. Double vision! (Something to note: Elsa gives the girls a magazine with Betty Grable on the cover and Bette notes that she’s her favorite star…Grable died from lung cancer…some type of foreshadowing maybe?).

Ryan Murphy and company waste no time showing off the cool effects they have in store for Sarah Paulson this season. When Elsa gives Bette a cigarette and she inhales, Dot exhales the smoke. Apparently the cigarette was just some weird sort of conversational bridge because the next thing I know Elsa’s asking the twins about their sex lives and whether or not they masturbate and I’m just sitting here like:

Bette opens up to Elsa a little, letting her know that she’s tried to give herself the Big O, but that Dot doesn’t appreciate it when she gets handsy. At this point, Dot’s had enough of the conversation and kicks Elsa out of the room and I kind of don’t blame her. She was in there for all of 3 minutes before the convo turned weird!

Cut to Lake Okeechobee…

…where a young couple (Oh look! Skyler Samuels from The Nine Lives of Chloe King) are making out in the grass and preparing for some adult necking. The boyfriend runs to his car to grab something and we see a dirty, deluded looking clown appear from the bushes and slowly approach Skyler’s character (who has no name as of yet, so we’ll just call her Skylar because I’m imaginative). Now this next gif is going to show you how Skylar SHOULD have reacted to this situation:

But we all know this is American Horror Story and she didn’t do that. She stood there. She stood there and let that scary ass clown walk up to her and start performing. The performance was going as smoothly as it could with a murder clown, until her boyfriend walked back up and had the appropriate WTF response. Skylar is clearly not very smart because she thought her boyfriend hired the clown. If my boyfriend ever hired me a clown, especially a clown that looks like that, I would no longer have a boyfriend, but whatever. The clown knocks the couple out and Skylar awakens just in time to see her boyfriend being hacked to pieces. She tries to run away, but is chased down by Stabby the Murder Clown.

Cut to Jupiter, FL Diner…

…and we see Elsa at the counter cutting newspaper clips and making a big deal about how she hates basically all the actresses cast in Hollywood (presumably because she was never one of them?) until we pan over to every girl’s favorite AHS regular Evan Peters, adorably chatting it up and flirting with a waitress in a cute biker hat and mittens. Elsa also peeps the scene and walks over to Jimmy and throws massively massive amounts of shade by asking him to light her cigarette (more on that momentarily):

Jimmy is pissed that Elsa called him out and makes it clear to her that he thinks the freak show is going under and that she’s living in a dream if she thinks she can save it.

Cut to Freak Show…

…Elsa and Ma Petite (whom we are introduced to in the scene) are doing laundry until the landlord comes up and asks Elsa for the rent money. He says a revival from Georgia wants the land and they pay in advance and since Elsa’s already a month behind on payments it’s a pretty hard issue for her to argue. So instead of trying to argue, she implies that she’ll pay him in another way by inviting him to see “the inside of a star’s tent”.

I’m just kidding we already know how it turns out. Gross.

Cut back to Jupiter, FL Diner…

…and Jimmy is wondering aloud how Elsa got an extra month out of the landlord. We know. Elsa’s quick to remind Jimmy that no matter how charming he is or how deep those dimples go (ok, I added that one on my own) nothing will make a girl see past his deformities (which we still haven’t seen yet).

Next comes one of my new favorite AHS lines that’ll go down in the books for me. Elsa and Jimmy prepare to leave and when her waitress reminds her to pay her tab, Elsa replies “Oh darling. It’s on the house. Stars never pay.” Then she just sashays the hell out of the diner!!!

Cut to a quaint looking house…

…where the housewives inside appear to be having some sort of ladies party. They’re talking about their husbands and how they’ve changed since the war. Everyone seems to be lagging in the bedroom area and the reason for the party is made disturbingly clear when a woman walks out of the backroom looking a little too happy. We then follow the next housewife back to the room and hear the hostess tell her guests that she found her “new product” at the freak show. As the scared client opens the bedroom door, we see Jimmy in all of his claw-handed glory. It looks like Jimmy the Lobster Boy moonlights as a male prostitute, using his uniqueness to help horny soldiers’ wives all over Jupiter. Now you see why that shade Elsa threw was so messed up.

Cut to the hospital…

Elsa tells Bette and Dot to let her do the majority of the talking to the police, since they want to question the girls about their mothers’ death. The girls claim it was a robbery gone bad, but due to too many details from Bette, Elsa calls them out on their crap (apparently Bette’s details were pulled from the plot of Gaslight). She advises them to get their stories straight before the cops show up and she, once again, sashays the hell out of there.

Cut to a couple at home…

…as they prepare for bed, a dirty, deranged clown with a too wide grin steps out from the shadows. We already know what happens without needing to see.

Cut back to the hospital…

Bette and Dot listen to the news report of the murder we just witnessed and we hear that the clown has taken the couple’s young son hostage, and that they’re lumping the Tattler twins’ mother’s death into the pile with his other victims.

Cut to school bus in swamp…

and we see that the clown is holding Skylar and the young boy whose parents he murdered hostage in the back of the school bus he lives in. He walks in and at first begins performing for his prisoners, but becomes angry and taunts them by throwing balls at their cages.

Yeah, I’m not too sure what clown’s deal is yet, but his motivations are definitely confusing.

Cut back to the hospital…

Bette and Dot are packing to leave the hospital and try to make a run for it when Elsa comes back again. The woman is determined to have the twins in her show and you have to give it to her, she’s definitely consistent. She tells them that she knows what really happened to their mother and we see it via flashback.

Bette wanted their mother to take them to see a movie, but as usual their mom said no. She kept them locked up at the farm because of what may happen to them all if anyone found out and the scene makes Bette fly off the handle and kill their mother. Later that night when the Bette was asleep, Dot stabbed her in the chest (a conjoined twin that tries to kill the other? Welcome to AHS everybody!)

The next shot we see is the opening shot with the girls entering the Freak Show. They’re the show’s last hope of bringing in any money, but as they get settled in we learn that although Bette is excited at the new opportunity, Dot is not here for it.(Sidenote: Will the twins develop a crush on Jimmy? Did anyone else catch that look?)

Freak Show

Ethel the Bearded Lady comes in to check on the twins and see how they’re settling in. Dot won’t let Bette eat and tells Ethel the girls are no one’s trained monkeys. Ethel decides it’d be a good time to explain where Elsa found her (the drunk tank in jail) to help ease the girls’ concerns about her.

Elsewhere on the grounds, some of the other “freaks” are busy putting up Bette and Dot’s new sign and are worried the police will come looking for them so Jimmy goes to talk to Elsa and who’s chilling in the tent with her? PEPPER! (So far I’m loving all of the “freaks” way more than any of the “normal” people on the show).

Inside of the Freak Show tent, Elsa is watching a strange black and white movie and Peppermint Angel rushed in looking all disheveled and upset. She says she wants to leave and accuses Elsa and Co of drugging and raping her. Elsa says that none of the above happened and shows her the movie she was watching…it’s a movie of Peppermint Angel and the “freaks” having an orgy. Way to go Ryan! You got an orgy in during the first episode! I’m sure that was some sort of weird goal of yours, so congrats!

PA seems really confused as to what happened and frantically leaves tent. Ma Petite enters shortly after and tells Elsa that the show’s been bought out for the night.

At the Darling tent, Jimmy is telling his mother Ethel that he desperately wants to leave the dying show and get help for his fellow acts. Ethel tells him that there’s nowhere else for them to go and he storms out.

He stumbles across a detective bothering Bette and Dot about the death of their mother and calls for backup. The detective calls them all freaks (which you should NEVER do) and all of Jimmy’s pent up anger about his life in general bubbles over the surface to the tune of him slitting the detective’s throat.

Jimmy and the crew decide to cover up the murder together, and hack the body to pieces to bury but unbeknownst to them Twisty the Clown isn’t too far off, watching everything, and he doesn’t look too pleased.

Inside the tent, the pair who bought out the show have arrived and are waiting for it to start. The boy, Dandy Mott, is essentially the male version of Veruca Salt and you immediately want to punch his face, while his mother is clearly the reason he turned out this way, even giving him her seat because he demands it, although the entire tent is empty.

The show finally begins and once all of the acts are introduced, it’s Elsa’s show. She takes the stage giving her best David Bowie in some serious blue eye shadow and a blue suit and belts out…what else? “Life on Mars”. This scene is probably one of the most beautiful that I remember seeing in the series. The colors, the glitter, the costumes!

(Because I already know you want it):

After the performance, Dandy Mott and his mother, Gloria, try to buy Bette and Dot. The twins stand up for themselves and refuse the offer because the Freak Show is their home. Elsa looks pretty pleased with herself when they make the declaration…that is until Gloria Mott tells her that the freakiest thing at the show was her attempt at singing, which looks like it really stings Ms. Mars.

We finally see Elsa, alone, as she gets ready for bed. She looks so sad and small in her tent and as she continues with her nightly routine, we learn that she’s not just a collector of “freaks,” no, as she unfastens her leg braces at the knees and takes them both off…we learn that Elsa Mars is also a freak.

Things to Freak Out About:

  • How long before the police realize one of their men went to the show to question the acts and never returned?
  • What do you think happened to Elsa’s legs?
  • Did you like how they referenced Asylum when talking about where old freak show acts end up when the venue closes? Does this confirm all seasons of AHS take place in the same universe?
  • Did you catch the Freaks and Zodiac homages?
  • What the hell is Twisty the Clown’s deal? How does he choose who lives or dies?
  • Jessica Lange’s rendition of “Life on Mars?” was just as beautiful and entrancing and as it was sad. We know you want to watch it again, so here it is, thanks to Entertainment Weekly

Tune in next week for an all-new episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show at 10pm on FX and live-tweet with me at @TheJasmineAlyce weekly!

Photo Credit: FX Networks

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