‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ 4×5: Jack the Ripper Was a Windsor

Lobster boy gets a date on American Horror Story. (FX)
Lobster boy gets a date on American Horror Story. (FX)

Now that American Horror Story is in its mid-season unfurling period, the pace has slowed down a notch. Not that this is a bad thing, necessarily: although last week I made the case that AHS‘s halfway slump is a fatal issue on the show, I think “Pink Cupcakes” provides a respectable counterpoint. Look at all these fun characters of whom we have yet to plumb the psychological depths! Step right up and take a gander at all the side characters in this side show, like Desiree Dupree, who, it turns out, is not even a hermaphrodite! Or her husband Dell, the strong man who is to absolutely no one’s surprise a closeted homosexual! (Although how closeted can you be when your lovers include a bearded lady and a woman with a ding-a-ling?) Or how about Dandy’s mom, Gloria Mott, a Vanderbilt by way of Mrs. Bates? Or her son Dandy, the missing link between Charles Atlas and Patrick Bateman?

All these freaks, free with the price of admission!

With Twisty the Clown out of commission, these secondary characters have the room to finally take center stage; a crucial development for an ensemble show that in previous seasons has faltered in trying to find ways for the headliners to be involved in every plot development. Finally, Freak Show feels like a whole world, not just a stage on which Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates can have scenery-chewing contests.

The theme of this week’s episode, after all the blood-pumping adrenaline of Halloween, was predictably Falchuk-esque (Brad also directed the episode this week): it turns out that gay people feel like freaks, too! Or, as Maggie (Emma Roberts) tells Stanley Spencer, “The only thing people hate more than freaks are poofs.” And now that Neptune is freak-friendly, being gay is an even graver sin than being born with lobster claws for hands.

Yet for all the 1950s heteronormative fear mongering, no one in Jupiter seems particularly in the closet. There’s even a thumping gay scene that gets a preview of Bryan Ferry’s “Slave to Love” approximately 35 years before the track drops, and where we meet Dell’s secret lover, Andy (Matt Bomer). Andy is a hooker who takes his work seriously: when Dell shows up to wax about love and “hot shit Fort Lauderdale galleries” where Andy’s sketching talent could be on display, Andy firmly reminds him that this is his place of business. (Missed opportunity for the line: “I don’t come down to your job and scare the peasants!”)

Dell’s storyline charges like a speeding train into his wife’s when a desolate Desiree turns to Jimmy for comfort only to freak out when she starts to hemorrhage from her lady-parts. Ethyl takes her to the kindly doctor (who is also a surgeon because THANKS OBAMACARE), she discovers it wasn’t Jimmy’s pincers that caused her to bleed out, but rather a miscarriage. Also? She’s not a hermaphrodite, she just has an excess of hormones. And a clitoris long enough to be confused with a penis, which, the doctor assures her, can be corrected with a little cosmetic surgery. (He doesn’t mention what they plan on doing about that third breast; guess that’s not as big of an issue?) Desiree reveals her true gender to Dell as she packs up her bags to leave his sorry ass for a life as a regular lady—she’s also found out that Jimmy is his son, which still doesn’t explain why she’s as mad at him as she is—causing Dell to Hulk out and pay a little visit to the doctor/surgeon/world’s best grandpa. If he can’t be normal, dammit, than no one will! What does he think, that Desiree will be so distraught with Dr. Broken Hands that she’ll stay with her gay husband forever. As opposed to, you know, finding another doctor?

Over on the nice side of town, Gloria Mott doesn’t buy that her maid Patti Labelle died from some random break-in. She knows it was her son, Dandy, because psychosis is just a funny “rite of passage” rich families deal with in exchange for their inbreeding. “These mental perversions are the afflictions of the extremely affluent,” she tells him as they bury the body in the backyard. “Jack the Ripper was a Windsor for god’s sake!” God, I love Gloria.

Dandy argues that he doesn’t want to be a murderer…he wants to be an actor! That declaration truly horrifies mommy dearest, and he goes into his room to sulk/train. Seriously, that kid is about to audition for the role of Rocky (of the Horror Picture show variety). His tighty-whities, his grease-up bod, his campy statements of self–“I will be the US Steel of murder!”—would make for high comedy if it wasn’t so creepy. The way the camera spirals dizzily around Dandy’s toned physique is a compelling reminder that there’s nothing more American than a buff brat getting away with murder. Especially if he comes from “good stock” and has a knack for reinvention. Despite only having one slay to his name, Dandy’s interior monologue is already boasting about how Twisty’s purpose on Earth was to show him the way, and how he, Dandy, is the future, “and the future starts tonight!”

Speaking of the future, how about that little commentary about the state of television, courtesy of Fraulein Mars and Spencer? Mars thinks TV is the basest form of expression, yes, even lower than a freak show, and it can never usurp film’s place in the culture because “motion pictures are the expressions of our souls, our inner fantasies.” TV is just that little box that sells you dishwashing detergent. (Maybe she should go speak to Nucky Thompson?) Of course her tune changes the moment Mars steps on stage for a packed-house encore of “Life on Mars,” only to have the audience jeer her performance. Fine, fine, she’ll settle for her own variety hour!

But Spencer has eyes on a bigger prize than Elsa: he absconds with Dot and Bette in his car for a picnic to woo them with caviar dreams and pink cupcakes while Mars fumes outside a tent. Too bad he’s not actually handing out network deals, and those cupcakes are laced with strychnine so he can sell their bodies to a morbid museum. In an odd thematic device, we see the death of Bette after she eats a cupcake as Dot agonizes and begs Spencer for help before he suffocates her. But wait! Turns out Bette hasn’t bitten into the poison desert yet before Dot stops her, meaning that this show has either become the Chose Your Own Adventure of TV narratives, or Dot may be a little bit of a precog.

Dandy goes to the gay club and takes Andy back to Twisty’s RV of terror. But murder isn’t as easy as he remembers; even after losing limbs, Andy is still breathing, causing Dandy to exclaim “You’re making me feel bad!” I like this scene because not only does it finally show us that Dandy’s effete affect has nothing to do with being secretly gay, but that murder isn’t as fun and glamorous as it seems. It’s messy work, and while Dandy might have the heart of a cold-stone killer, he doesn’t necessarily have the stomach.

Our last shot is Mars dropping Bette and Dot off at Gloria’s…essentially selling them into slavery because they were upstaging her. We’d be worried for their safety in Dandy’s hands if we weren’t so thoroughly convinced that Dandy and Elsa are two sides of the same coin: those girls will be fine as long as they’re willing to play sidekicks to the star of the Dandy Mott Hour. ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ 4×5: Jack the Ripper Was a Windsor