American Horror Story: Freak Show: “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)”

(Episode 4.04)

TV Reviews american horror story
American Horror Story: Freak Show: “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)”

The most fascinating aspect of Freak Show by far is how American Horror Story is learning from its past mistakes. Instead of throwing crazy ideas into the mix and seeing if they’ll work, Freak Show is doing a phenomenal job of tying its ambitions in with its characters. What’s even more impressive is that Freak Show actually has characters with character. As I’ve said before, past seasons have had characters with just a handful of defining characteristics, whereas now we have characters with depth, intricacies and troubles. No matter how monstrous they may act or appear, they still remain human—something that could not be said about the prior three seasons.

“Edward Mordrake, Part 2” is an impressive display of how American Horror Story can show restraint and focus. At this point, Edward Mordrake is little more than just a way for Freak Show to have its characters sit around and tell their darkest moments and deepest shames. It’s a simple way for these characters to give their monologues and to see who they are with little tact, but somehow it doesn’t seem egregious. It’s actually impressive how well these individual stories work and evolve the show into a series about characters, rather than weird shit happening.

Edward Mordrake floats through the Freak Show like a billow of smoke, going from performer to performer, trying to discover who will join his own ghostly freak show. In his search, we get to see the pasts of our characters, even ones I never personally expected to get a backstory. We see the past of Paul and Suzi first, both of whom had to find a way to survive through the Depression. Paul became the freak people saw when they looked at him by covering his body in tattoos, yet kept his face untouched since—if it was on a normal body—he could’ve ruled the world. Suzi’s story explains the loss of her legs, her youth in an orphanage, and then begging, and ultimately stabbing a man in the legs while he danced since he didn’t deserve them. Both stories are of regret for a life they will never lead, and the depression and self-hatred that their paths set them on.

The clear choice for Mordrake’s freak show should be Elsa. As Mordrake puts it, Elsa has a “delusional ignorance,” even trying to seduce her way with Mordrake after realizing that she is the undead man with two faces. Elsa’s backstory is amongst some of the darkest of American Horror Story’s imagery. Elsa was a prostitute in 1932 Berlin, never allowing her customers to touch her, but was known for her creative levels of depravity, such as making her customer sit on a toilet seat with rusty nails sticking out of it. Elsa was so successful that she even had a group of watchers that would never say anything, but would pay to watch these horrors to take place. For some reason, Elsa’s story is even more horrifying to me because of The Watchers. I’m thinking it would be a waste if this was the last we ever saw of them.

But Elsa’s real horror comes from how she lost her legs—being drugged and put into a snuff film where her legs were cut off by a chainsaw. What’s most depressing about her story is that this film was circulated to the point where she became a star. It was the darkest moment in her life that made her a star, yet she continues to seek stardom. It’s a sad addiction that Elsa has and Mordrake almost takes her, if it wasn’t for another show being put on for Halloween right down the street.

Twisty and Dandy’s own show has taken on two new participants, upon finding Jimmy and Maggie. Twisty and Dandy put on their own show, which prompts Mordrake to stop going after Elsa and move on to the next show. Now, huge problems can occur when creating a gigantic villain, and humanizing them and tell their backstory. Just look at the awful Hannibal Rising or Texas Chainsaw 3D, which told the history of Hannibal Lecter and Leatherface, respectively, only to take the fear factor right out of the villains.

So telling the story of Twisty is a risky undertaking, especially since he seems like the show’s primary villain. Twisty’s story is also quite tragic, becoming a clown after being dropped on his head by his alcoholic mother, only to be scared away by the freaks at his circus and outcast due to rumors that he liked to touch children. Twisty’s misguided goal was to remind kids that they once loved him, even if that means killing parents for their undivided attention. Twisty’s story is heartbreaking. And since Twisty believes his actions are well-intentioned, he shows no remorse for them, so Mordrake takes him instead of Elsa.

With the murder of Twisty at Mordrake’s hand, a new, even more terrifying villain rises up with Dandy. When Dandy puts on Twisty’s mask, there’s glee—not from the excitement of making children happy, but in the murderous rampages that Twisty thought to be essential. Dandy is far more dangerous than Twisty, with his idea to murder for fun. Twisty was confused, Dandy is determined. He even kills his first victim, his maid Dora, played by Patti LaBelle. It’s shocking that LaBelle was murdered without ever singing a note on the show, and she was especially awesome for not putting up with any of Dandy’s childish crap. Fingers crossed she’s not completely gone.

But the way “Edward Mordrake, Part 2” ends might be the most interesting moment of all. With Jimmy having helped rescue Twisty and Dandy’s captives, the town sees Jimmy and the Freak Show as heroes, as they come to give their thanks, sell out their next show, and treat them like the human beings they are.

American Horror Story has a way of setting up ideas that seem like they’ll be part of the entire season’s arc, but discards these for potentially better ideas. It seemed like Twisty the Clown and the battle between the freaks and the townspeople would last throughout the season, yet what has sprung out of that is far more compelling. Dandy is a true menace with bad intentions, and the town now accepts the members of the Freak Show. By also setting up the pasts of many characters, the show has less of a likelihood of throwing in crazy ideas for the sake of crazy ideas.

As we grow with the characters and learn more about them, you can also see American Horror Story growing as well. By this point, every other season would’ve screwed up big time in some way, but Freak Show is truly evolving the series in incredible ways.

Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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