Six episodes into Freak Show, and it’s clear that American Horror Story’s latest season is the first to balance a lot of narratives, while keeping them all on equally compelling footing. In past seasons, AHS had a tendency to start a lot of stories, rarely following up on them, until the show had to tie everything up in the final episodes. But with Freak Show, AHS is still introducing new plots, but keeps us up to date on the old ones, making each just as interesting as the last. Every episode of AHS has had a lot going on, but this season is handling all of the insanity well.
“Bullseye” starts with Elsa on her birthday, speaking to how she controls her own fate, saying that instead of spinning on the wheel of luck, you must be willing to destroy everything you love to have the life you want. The way that Elsa has controlled her own fate is by lying to her “family,” the freaks she has saved, and then manipulated. She blindly promises everyone she’ll come back for them when she moves to Hollywood and, after giving the Tattler twins to the Mott family, she tells everyone that they surely must’ve run away from the freak show. When something doesn’t go the way she plans, it must be destroyed. So when she discovers that her lover Paul is seeing someone else, she demands that everyone prove their trust to her by putting Paul on the spinning wheel while she throws knives at him. Of course she conveniently hits Paul in the gut with a knife, then tells everyone that a doctor is on the way, but the doctor never comes.
The power of Elsa’s manipulation has made her even more of a monster than Dandy at this point. Her ability to show such love to her family, then treat them like tools to get to her own happiness is still surprising, every time it happens. There’s love for these people, but when they don’t do exactly what she wants, she must strike them down for her own preservation.
In that way Elsa and Dandy are incredibly similar. At the end of “Bullseye,” Elsa wishes for someone to love her, even though the freaks clearly do love her. Meanwhile, Dandy believes he has found love with the Tattler sisters, then discovers that Dot is using Dandy to earn money so that she can afford the surgery to separate her from Bette. Upon learning of this deception, Dandy monologues about the emptiness inside of him, now that he realizes he was never destined to love, but his purpose is to bring death instead. Both Elsa and Dandy DO have unconditional love offered to them, but it’s not love on their terms, so it is irrelevant.
“Bullseye,” also shows Maggie unexpectedly feeling love for the freaks, deciding to not murder Ma Petite, and attempting to run away with Jimmy, before being told by Stanley that they need to get Jimmy to the oddities museum. “Bullseye,” is all about people receiving love, but not in the way they want it. For example, Jimmy wants Maggie to love him, but considering she’s trying to help him escape from being murdered, it’s probably not the type of love he’s looking for. Paul—who is excellent this episode—loves Penny, but due to Elsa clearly starting to fall for him, he cannot love Penny the way he wants to. These characters feel like they don’t deserve love or can’t receive it from others, however, they all have love. It’s just not in the way they expect it.
American Horror Story
has often felt like a spinning bullseye, with the show throwing knives at it, seeing what would stick. But in Freak Show, all the knives are sticking, with each just as compelling as the last. There’s so much going on, but so far it’s all fascinating, with each story tying into the others in really interesting ways. Unexpectedly, this season is hitting the bullseye at every throw.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.