Feb 12, 2015

[TV] American Horror Story: Season 4 (Freak Show)

Over the seasons, American Horror Story seems to be missing out on the Horror bit for one reason or another. Stories continue to be a little crazy and the plot twists often feel more at home in a telenovela. And with the last season, Coven, really felt like horror was no longer a priority and all they wanted to focus on was the drama and the craziness.

American Horror Story: Freak  Show covers the fourth season of the show with a carnival freak show troupe as its main focus. I was cautiously optimistic about this season at first since circus freaks can be pretty scary plus circuses are bound to have clowns, and those can totally be scary under the right circumstances.

But in typical AHS fashion, this show went from bad to crazy soon enough and I think this season marks when the show also gives up the "Story" part of its title. It certainly wasn't all that scary apart from a few character scenes in the beginning. And by the end it felt like they didn't really know what they wanted to do with everyone.

Synopsis: American Horror Story: Freak Show is the fourth season of the FX horror anthology TV drama series. The show was created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk.

The series begins is set in 1952 Florida following the members of the country's last freak show troupes. With the rise of television and movies as sources of entertainment, folks rarely bother checking out carnival style attractions like Fraulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities. Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) owns this particular freak show and she does her best to keep the fire alive. But when Elsa learns of the conjoined twins Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson) and the stabbing of their mother, she quickly seeks them out and invites them to join the show.

Meanwhile, the town is dealing with a string of mysterious murders that we as viewers see are being committed by a serial killer dressed as a clown (John Carroll Lynch). For one reason or another the police suspect Bette and Dot and the rest of the freaks of somehow being involved in the killings. And this just reflects the town's general sentiments against the freak show and its "performers".

It is said that each season of the show has a central theme that it tries to explore, and obviously Freak Show is all about discrimination and all that jazz. As a gay man, you'd think that this could potentially be an angle that I could more readily relate to, but the way the show went about addressing this topic was pretty strange indeed. And the disposable nature of characters and their related plots really didn't help drive any sort of message home with any degree of clarity.

We see all the familiar faces in the show doing weird stuff and there just wasn't much impact to things. Jessica Lange certainly did the most that she could with her quirky little role as leader of this group of "monsters" but then you get cases like Kathy Bates as the bearded lady Ethel looking like she has no idea what she's doing in this show at all. Beyond her strange and inconsistent accent, her character ark was totally beneath the acting abilities of that woman. Even Angela Basset as the triple-breasted Desiree really didn't have much of a role, which is a shame since she was so much fun in Coven.

One of the surprisingly key plot elements in this season was the spoiled rich man-boy Dandy (Finn Wittrock), who certainly did an amazing job of portraying a character that we all want to hate. It feels like his character had no redeeming qualities apart from driving this wreck of a plot forward and to quickly clean things up at the end. And as usual, AHS really didn't know what to do with the ending.

The show still suffers from the problem of two many characters with short-lived character-level story arcs and a lot of throwaway moments. With so many individuals to try and develop over a limited number of episodes, things really get quite watered down. Just look at how late in the game magician Chester Creb (Neil Patrick Harris) is brought into the show only to quickly exit right before the big finale.

For a story about entertainers and performers, American Horror Story: Freak Show really lacked a solid story to tell and even a degree of showmanship in how it was told. We had a wide number of freaks who seem resigned to accept so much punishment and hardship despite random moments of standing up for themselves and showing how strong they are when united. Thus the show can only really get 2 sad, wasteful character deaths out of 5, especially given how sloppily the show ended.


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