If American Horror Story has taught us anything, it’s that the world can be cruel and unusual and there’s nothing we can do about it. The season premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show sets the stage for a harsh, but familiar, reality where life is harder the more you differ from the norm.
The world we enter in Freak Show’s season premiere is the show’s most promiscuous yet. American Horror Story continues to blur the lines with a complexion of fright and excitement that keeps luring us in.
“Dear Diary, It was a Saturday, the third of September, that the world I had known was forever doomed,” one of Sarah Paulson’s heads narrates to the tune of eerie circus music. She’s walking towards the Freak Show tent, standing tall with her eyes pierced straight ahead. This is Dot, the more cynical but realistic, of the conjoined twins.
Dot and her sister, Bette, had lived a sheltered life up until the milkman found their mother’s dead body lying on the dining room floor. As any neighborly milkman would do, rather than call the police after his discovery, he grabs a rolling pin and starts snooping around the house. He finds himself drawn to the closet at the end of the upstairs hallway. Naturally, he opens the suspicious door and screams at the horrid sight of the stabbed – but more surprisingly – conjoined twins.
One bladder, three kidneys, four lungs, two hearts and one reproductive system. Doctors had never seen anything like them before. Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) makes her debut, strutting down the hospital wing in her heels and fur coat. The freak show is going broke, but an attraction like the Siamese sisters could save the entire show.
She lights a cigarette before she asks one of the nurses for help navigating the hospital halls. The nurse explains that smoking isn’t allowed, but it’s clear Elsa doesn’t play by the rules. She suspects the little “peppermint angel” doesn’t either and seduces the nurse into taking a drag of the cigarette.
Next thing we know, Elsa is wearing the young nurse’s uniform, pushing a hospital cart in the direction of Bette and Dot’s room. Her curiosity is obvious as she approaches their bed and pulls the curtains aside to reveal the two-headed woman.
Elsa begins the recruiting process, catering to the twins’ every need. Bette is unsure of Elsa’s motives, but is naive and easily swayed. Dot, on the other hand, is convinced Elsa wants something from them and demands she leaves. The twins’ opposing personalities become more evident as they communicate with one another in their heads.
Cut to the outskirts of Jupiter, where a couple is laying on a picnic blanket, making out and minding their own business. The boyfriend runs to his car for a moment, leaving his girlfriend alone. Enter, Twisty the murderous clown.
Twisty’s ability to appear out of thin air may be creepier than his grotesque face and ear-to-ear smile. He doesn’t speak. Instead, he does a trick, offering the poor girl a bouquet of flowers as she stands there thinking her boyfriend planned the whole ordeal. But when he comes back from the car, he’s just as surprised as she is. The creepy jester knocks the couple unconscious with one of his bowling pins. When the girlfriend awakes, Twisty is stabbing the boy in the chest with scissors. She makes a dash for the woods and Twisty follows. (We’ll see more of her later)
We return to Elsa sitting in a diner. She’s flipping through a newspaper, cutting out entertainment headlines for her scrapbook. Aside from her done-up style, this collection of Elsa’s is our first glimpse of her clear obsession with stardom.
She’s distracted when she spots a member of her show sitting across the diner, flirting with the waitress. This is Jimmy Darling (Even Peters), the boy with lobster-like hands. She scolds him for risking exposure and potentially ruining the show’s stay in town, but Jimmy sees through her smoke. The way he sees it, the show is over.
We cut to a pack of housewives in a jazzy home, gossiping about the last time their husbands had pleasured them. A woman returns to the room, adjusting her cardigan as she walked with a giddy smile.
Now, it’s the next woman’s turn. She walks down the hall and into a bedroom, where Jimmy is lying on the bed. He summons her closer. She lies down and lifts up her dress, welcoming his lobster hand. The act appears mutually satisfying. Not to mention, these horny housewives pay Jimmy for his nontraditional services.
Back in the hospital, Elsa asks the twins to recall the terrible tragedy. Dot says it was a robbery gone bad. It was a moonless night, she recalls, and footsteps woke her up. There was a man, Bette says, in a black fedora. He strangled their mother with her own necklace, she continues, but Elsa knows this is a lie.
The truth? Bette fantasized about a normal life, while Dot accepted life as they knew it and their mother insisted no one know they exist. But on the night of their mother’s murder, Bette insisted on going to a show, convinced they could sit in the back and not be seen. The mother tries slapping some sense into her, but this only makes Bette feel more imprisoned. In a fit of aggression, she stabs and kills her mother.
In the meantime, Twisty is keeping the people of Jupiter in a constant fright. The radio announces that four recent murders used the same weapon, pointing to one maniac killer, whose lair we’re about to enter. Lost in the woods, in an abandoned yellow school bus covered in vines, sits Bonnie (the girlfriend from the field) and Corey (the son of a murdered Bridgewater couple) in side-by-side cages. She tells him not to worry and that his parents will find him.
Twisty retreats to the bus and winds up a toy. He places it near the cages as if trying to entertain his imprisoned guests. Bonnie tries to soften the clown, telling him he’s delicate, but he laughs and begins a trick. To no applause, he attempts to make a balloon animal, but it pops and his audience squirms. This upsets him and he bangs on the cages, further terrifying his audience. At this point, we have no idea who this clown is or why he’s running around town killing and kidnapping. But the permanent creepy smile across his face makes him look remorseless.
The twins ditch the hospital, but stop home to pack some belongings. Elsa appears in the doorway, asking them where they’re off to. She whips out the latest newspaper headline, which has Bette and Dot at the helm of this murderous tear. Despite Dot’s strong-willed nature, the twins decide to join Elsa’s family of freaks. The show needs a headliner and the twins need a safe haven.
Bette’s version of walking towards the freak show tent is much more optimistic than her sister’s. “It was the glorious third of September when I was final freed from the shadows. The future had never seemed brighter,” she says.
Dot, on the other hand, describes her surroundings as a cesspool, singling out Meep who bites off the heads of things for fun. The only glimmer of hope in Dot’s eyes is Jimmy, whose kindness ignites an instant spark in her. Little does she know, Jimmy wants out of the freak show too. He even tries convincing his mother, Ethel the bearded woman (Kathy Bates), to leave. Ethel is more interested in having Jimmy ensure the twins love their new home, so they’ll stay and attract paying customers.
As predicted, the huge new banners of the Siamese sisters attract a snooping police officer, who places Bette and Dot under arrest for the murder of their mother. But Jimmy isn’t having it and won’t let him leave with the twins in tow. The officer threatens the freaks, telling them there’s no place for them in Jupiter. Jimmy’s temper flares and using a small knife from his back pocket, he slits the officer’s throat.
The Freak Show is about to start. There’s only two people in the audience, a wealthy man-child and his mother (Frances Conroy). He’s spoiled and complaining. He wants to see freaks and he wants to see them now. Ethel presents the freaks, saving the spectacular Siamese sisters for second to last. Then, Elsa rolls in.
She glides across the stage on a cutout rocket ship, offering a karaoke-caliber performance while her freaks twirl around in the background. At the show’s end, the boy and his mother are so impressed with Bette and Dot that they want to buy them. Elsa options this to the twins, but they choose to stay with their newfound family.
After the show, Jimmy speaks to the crew. He’s fed up with being mistreated and pushes the freaks to take action. He tells the group that if they want to find a safe place they’ll have to have to take it for themselves. Those who cross them, he says, will end up like the dead officer lying in front of them. They come together and take stabs at the lifeless body. Twisty is watching from a distance.
As the premiere comes to an end, Elsa sits alone in her tent, finally able to unwind. She lifts her silky blue dress to reveal fastens near her knees. She unbuckles the snaps and places her prosthetic legs at her side. Wait…what?
ON THE NEXT AMERICAN HORROR STORY: Dell the Strong Man Toledo and his wife, Desiree Dupree, cause a stir at the freak show. Dot’s ability to sing shocks the freaks, including Elsa, who doesn’t seem too thrilled with the new star potential.