American Horror Story: Freak Show Has Given Into the Madness

This season finally embraced the series' anarchic spirit—testing viewers' patience for better or worse.

Michele K. Short/FX

At some point each season, usually early on, American Horror Story deliquesces into a soupy mess of tropes, storylines, plot twists, motives, campy body horror, and gratuitous sex and violence. The mayhem is part of the series’ magic—something diabolical puppet-master and show creator Ryan Murphy knows well.

Last week, he made two announcements that will likely magnify the chaos: One, Murphy confirmed that Twisty the Clown would reappear this season, reversing or at least exploiting a loophole in his earlier assurances that no character would return from the dead. Two, he confirmed that all seasons of American Horror Story unfold in the same universe—meaning everything is connected.

So it’s this extra burden that viewers will carry for the rest of the show, looking for “clues” and points of contact between the different AHS realms (last week I was gripped by the possibility that Dandy could be the father of Bloody Face from Asylum, but alas, the timeline doesn’t support this theory). And this burden is made heavier by the fact that, yes, the show has reached that inevitable point where it splits its strained seams and abandons any possibility of telling a vaguely normal, linear story.

Though Wednesday’s episode “Pink Cupcakes,” continued to ostensibly harp the season’s subtitle, it did little to further excavate the notion of “the freak,” the deviant, the Other. Instead, the episode took a detour into the world of motherhood, a theme revisited from Coven. Mother of Freaks Elsa Mars continues to be seduced by con-man Stanley with promises of fame. After a brief hiccup (“I would rather be boiled in oil than be on television!” Elsa sneers), her selfishness drives her to sell out Dot and Bette to Dandy’s pathetic mother (Frances Conroy).

A product of inbreeding, wealth, and his mother’s neglect, Dandy fashions himself as a kind of murderous, self-absorbed Ubermensch (his mother fittingly plants Narcissus flowers atop Dora’s grave). “This body is America—strong, violent, full of limitless potential,” Dandy thinks, as he does pushups in his oversized nursery. “The clown was put on earth to show me the way. To introduce me to the sweet language of murder … I am no clown. I am perfection.” The show portrays his mother (Frances Conroy) as wholly complicit in, and in some ways responsible for, her son’s psychopathy. “Go to your room and stay there!” she wails at him after discovering Dora’s corpse, as if he had just come home with a bad report card, or made his little sister cry.

Back at the freak show, Desiree (Angela Bassett) learns—in one of the show’s saner scenes—that she is in fact “100 percent woman,” and that her “dingaling” is just an enlarged clitoris. In other words, she learns she can be a mother. The discovery prompts her to leave the abusive Del, but not before telling him that she knows he’s Jimmy’s father and a total disgrace.

Amid the messiness of Stanley’s formaldehyde-soaked fantasies, the titular poison-filled cupcakes, and a Lobster-handed-fingering-gone-wrong, the episode tries to unravel several different threads, squeeze in some character development, milk a few tears, and smother the whole thing in blood and other bodily fluids. It also spent a few glorious moments introducing Matt Bomer (!) as a possibly self-regenerating gay prostitute and Dandy’s first post-Dora victim, as well as Gabourey Sidibe (!) as Dora’s daughter.

And as the madness deepens, continuing the season will inevitably become an exercise in masochism. I have a feeling I’ll find myself saying to the show what Dandy said, in disbelief, to a bloody Bomer: “How can you still be alive? You’re making me feel bad. Stop it.”