Last night saw the premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show and as per usual, the show gave us more scares and sexual overtones than we can shake a bearded Kathy Bates at. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing and in past seasons it has worked really well; however, I worry these “staples” of the series are beginning to become too heavily depended on by the writers, as I feel their narrative skills diminishing.
Don’t get me wrong. It was still a good episode, but not great. The narrative pacing was a bit slower than usual and scenes felt slightly disjointed from one another. As I was watching the premiere I honestly felt how I would imagine an audience member at a freak show would react–with unease, curiosity, confusion, regret, and a little arousing awe. Those sensations had nothing to do with the onscreen deformities I was viewing, but rather everything to do with the basic storytelling of the first episode. I couldn’t tell whether I was genuinely engaged by its talent or its spectacle. I’m not certain that ambiguity is what the shows writers were going for.
But enough critical analysis rigmarole, let’s just dive in and talk about some of the show’s moments, shall we? Spoilers, people, so don’t get those panties in a bunch if you read on and haven’t seen the episode yet.
Kathy Bates with a beard is something I never knew I wanted to see.
She’s great and her beard makes me jealous that I can’t grow facial hair nearly as well as she wears hers. Also, anyone else pick up on the lesbian vibe her character was giving off around Jessica Lange’s Elsa Mars? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; I just picked up on some vibes and wonder if that’s going to play into things down the road. Who knows though? There was so much sexual repression/tension/exploitation in the entire episode that I could have just been seeing something where there really was nothing. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But come on, she does have a beard.
On the note of sex and it being EVERYWHERE in the episode…from unsatisfied house wives literally getting a “helping hand” from Evan Peter’s “Lobster Boy”
to a drug-induced freak show gang rape (not sure how I feel about the later)…”sex” is as predominant a star of the show as Lange or Bates. That’s okay…so long as it serves a point…and I see it doing so in this season/story arc. There’s something to be said about the outward appearance of the show’s “freaks” paralleling with the inward sexuality one can associate feeling like a “freak” over in a repressive society: i.e. the unsatisfied, yet reluctant housewife, or Sarah Paulson’s siamese character wherein one of the twins talks about touching herself and the other is aghast with shame.
I can see how the show can use its sexual overtones to its advantage this season, creating a compelling examination into the psychology of sex, desire, and the body. Or it could just be that show creator, Ryan Murphy, wanted to give cable viewers little person porn, and what I can only imagine down the road will be, rapey clown sex.
Can we talk about clowns? I’ve never really understood the fear people have over them. I kind of get it now. I think what’s really scary is how hard they try to entertain; they really want to get in your face, and that scene with Smiles McGee
(that’s what I’m calling the killer clown; although I just looked it up on IMBD and he’s credited as Twisty the Clown.) in the trailer is thoroughly disturbing. I mean, he already had the kid and young girl imprisoned, and yet he still felt the need to make them balloon animals!?! Talk about your captive audience.
So those were things working for me in the episode. I also appreciated the inclusion of individuals with real life abnormal physical conditions; it was a wonderful homage to the film, Freaks, which I’m certain served as inspiration for this season.
Now, and I almost hate myself for saying this, my biggest problem with the episode, besides the aforementioned narrative flaws, was Jessica Lange. I know, right!?! I can’t even believe I’m saying it; however, I think that there was just too much of her. What I loved about the first season of American Horror Story was how it was truly an ensemble show; I fear each subsequent season is becoming less and less of an ensemble and more centered around Lange. It was quite prevalent in last year’s Coven and I worry it will be even more so this season as the first episode was almost entirely centered on her character. And honestly, I couldn’t even stand her character. The character also seemed to show a lot of similar traits and motivations as past Lange characters in AHS, most noticeably a strong desire to be “a star.”
This redundancy in her character also makes her performance slightly redundant and throwing a German accent on top of it doesn’t hide this fact. That accent was terrible and distracting. It was the scariest thing about the episode.
And Lange’s musical act? Well, it was very Baz Luhrmann-esque I thought. Watching it only intensified the feeling of confusion I had for the overall episode. Was I engaged by bold talent or bizarre spectacle? Lange’s performance here almost falls into the category of bizarre spectacle, especially with her turquoise eye shadow during the song. I don’t know if I can get behind this season if the focus lies too heavily on her…maybe if we see her and Kathy Bates bearded lady have a sordid tryst then maybe…
All in all it was a provoking first episode and I’ll certainly tune in for future ones if only out of morbid curiosity as to how they’re going to push the envelope this season. Considering the subject matter of the season is a freak show, I’m sure that kind of voyeurism can be appreciated by the show’s creators.
And I am really curious as to what the deal with Smiles McGee is. Where did he come from?Why is he keeping prisoners in his trailer? Will he ever find anyone to ride the ferris wheel with?
What did you think fellow geeks? Leave us a comment below and share your thoughts on the episode, or else I’m sending a clown to your home and telling him you want to see the inside of his “clown car.”