Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween | American Horror Story Review + Spoilers

The visage is unrelenting. I am its slave. 
Edward Mordrake [to Ethel Darling] in American Horror Story

Happy Halloween scifi fans. 'American Horror Story: Freakshow' just wrapped up Halloween with a funky two-part episode, Edward Mordrake Part 1 and 2. Thankfully 'American Horror Story' always gets talented guest stars. This week's guest star was Wes Bentley ('American Beauty' and 'Interstellar'). And if the original 'Hunger Games' film didn't convince you that Bentley could rock wacky facial hair, then 'American Horror Story' will give you no doubt. Bentley plays a ghoulishly handsome, semi-corporeal ghost, Edward Mordrake, who has been summoned to haunt the 1952 freak show of Jupiter, Florida. But Edward isn't there to just haunt, he also serves as clever segue into character development. Edward compels several of the performers (who haven't received much screen time) to tell their individual tales of woe. It's a convenient plot twist, but it works.

You must be candid. If you lie it will know. 
Edward Mordrake [to Ethel Darling]

Mordrake is based on a real person and has his own tragic past. Mordrake was once a dashing English Lord who happened to have another face on the back of his head, as "hideous as the devil," according to bearded lady Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates). Despite his deformities, Edward was a brilliant musician and poet, which made Edward's fate even more painful.
HE TRIED TO KILL IT. 
Many times and in many ways. 
Ethel Darling [telling Edward's tale]

The demon face would speak to Edward and make him do things. Edward tried to rid himself of the demon face and even attempted to drown the face by laying down in a bathtub. Eventually Edward went mad and was institutionalized. The demon face took control and helped Edward escape, where he took refuge with a freak show. Not finding relief, Edward killed every member of the troupe, then committed suicide. Now Edward has been condemned to the confines of a carnie ghost story.
And then...he'd take a bow.
Ethel Darling [telling Edward's tale]

It's in Ethel's ghost story that the Florida freak show learns that Edward Mordrake is the reason that no "freak performs on Halloween," lest they summon forth his elegant spirit. If any freak has the audacity to perform on All Hallows Eve, Mordrake will add a "pure freak, corrupted of flesh, befouled of soul" to his "coterie of freakish companions." No one knows where Edward takes his companions once the face decides whom to take.
There was no one like Edward.
Ethel Darling [telling Edward's tale]

In order to determine which freak will be taken, Edward makes them relive their darkest hours. The demon face feeds off "pain, regret, the delicious moment when hope is lost, the sweet bleeding of a broken heart." The writers really pulled out all the stops this week. The dialogue is exquisite. It's probably one of the best episodes 'American Horror Story' has had in a while. Last year's 'Coven' ran both hot and cold. 'Asylum' was just cold...and dreary.
I've been a star for decades.
Elsa Mars [to Dot and Bette]

Par for the course, Jessica Lange (Elsa Mars) plays the grand dame of the show, it's epicenter (rightfully so). The casting of Jessica Lange is the one of the few times I will admit that Ryan Murphy knows what he's doing (as far as casting is concerned). Elsa is the ringmaster of this quaint little freak show, with a woefully misplaced superiority complex. In her mind, her career has been overlooked because of fellow German actress Marlene Dietrich. Even now, when the aging entertainer finds herself in the middle of a backwater rural Florida town, running a freak show, Elsa still believes that she will be a famous film star one day. Not caring about the Halloween night superstition, Elsa performs (and nails) a Lana Del Rey song "Gods and Monsters," and Edward is summoned. Bring out the fog maker and the eerie green lights y'all, it's on. Yes, yes. I know it's a show set in the 1950s, and a character is singing a modern song, but just go with it. 'American Horror Story' has never taken itself seriously. Neither should you.

QUESTIONS MUST BE ASKED, 
as indelicate as they may be.
Edward Mordrake [to Ethel Darling]

Mordrake pays Ethel a visit first, perhaps because she told the sordid tale and has a sense of reverence for him. Edward is much less polite to his other potential victims in the second half of the story, but the scenes between Ethel and Edward are touching and sincere. One would almost believe Edward to be kind due to his treatment of Ethel, but we of course know better. By Edward's request, we get a glimpse of Ethel's former life with Dell, her ex-husband and current strongman, played by Michael Chiklis and we find out that Ethel is originally from Baltimore, which explains the weird accent Bate has been cobbling together.

I HAVE FALLEN 
and this backwater ain't the worst of it.
Ethel Darling [to Edward Mordrake]

Bates is a master of accents, if 'Delores Clairborne' and 'Misery' are any indication, so I'm not sure if she's doing incredibly well or if she's butchering it. The accent aside, Ethel's backstory is heartbreaking. We learned in the second episode that Dell tried to kill their young son, Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters), during a fit of rage. This of course prompted Ethel to leave Dell.
I'm a lady and then some. 
Desiree Dupree [to little girl]

After a 30 year separation Dell and Ethel are unhappily reunited when he and his new hermaphroditical three-breasted wife, Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett), show up looking for work at the freak show. Speaking of Angela Bassett, this is my primary complaint about the show thus far. Where is Angela? According to IMDB, she's in most of the episodes this season, so hopefully the writers will give her more to do than be Dell's eye candy. I will say that I do like the whole 'Carmen Jones' vibe she has going.



Ethel's night with Edward reveals that it was Dell who convinced her to give up her successful vaudeville act for an unsuccessful theatrical one, which subsequently landed her at the freak show. Dell isn't known for his smarts. At some point Dell and Ethel were so broke that Dell arranged for people to pay to watch Ethel give birth to and hold Jimmy, their "monster baby," who was born with ectrodactyly dysplasia otherwise known as "lobster claws." This revelation is Ethel's lowest point. She realizes that Jimmy has been exploited from the moment he was born and it's devastating. You're not sure if Ethel's sad tale of desperation and regret causes Edward to show her mercy or maybe she just isn't evil enough? Either way, Edward moves on to deeper waters and leaves Ethel alive and breathing.
HE NEEDS SOME GUIDANCE. 
Preferably from a man.
Ethel Darling to [Dell Toledo]

One of the weaker plot points this season is the introduction of Emma Roberts (Esmerelda) and Denis O'Hare as a couple of grifters. We don't get to see much of O'Hare's character, but Esmerelda shows up at the freak show for a job as a fake psychic. Evidently love triangles haven't gotten old, so the writer's have decided to throw in a love quadrangle between Jimmy, Esmerelda, and Bette/Dot (the resident Siamese twins, played by AHS veteran Sarah Paulson). I like the actors, but I wish they were given more to do and more to work with. It's early on in the season yet, so I hope the best is yet to come.
I can hear another song now. The future.
Esmerelda [to Elsa]

In the other corner of our horror story, Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) is on a rampage: killing toy store clerks, teens in lover's lanes, and kidnapping frightened children. His secret hideout is an abandoned school bus deep in the woods. His hideous mask hides a deformed jaw that makes the mask look tame. Twisty is up to no good again, stalking a little girl who is terrified of clowns. He soon follows her home to abduct her bullying big brother, adding another member to his bus brigade. One of the writer's is clearly a fan of 'Halloween' (the original 1978 version). See below for the comparison between this shot with Twisty versus Michael Myers. I posted a link a few weeks ago about how the Clown Association of America wasn't happy about Twisty the Clown. Clearly 'American Horror Story' is doing something right.

Twenty year old spoiled brat (Finn Wittrock) is having a rampage of his own. He kills small animals, scares young children, and is the killer clown's new BFF. Dandy's nemesis is none other than Patti LaBelle herself, his mother's feisty maid, Dora. His indulgent mother Gloria Mott is played by 'American Horror Story' alum (Frances Conroy). Unlike Gloria, Dora doesn't indulge or particularly like Dandy. She knows that he's dangerous, but she also fancies him a coward. She dares him to kill her when has the nerve to point a knife in her direction.

There's another 'Halloween' homage after Dandy flips out over the Howdy Doody costume that Dora makes him. Gloria may indulge Dandy's every whim, but she cannot stop the curfew hanging over Jupiter, Florida. Ever since the killer clown started his rampage, the whole town of Jupiter is house arrest. When Dandy doesn't find enough entertainment at home with Gloria and Dora, he seeks out Twisty.
Curfews are for the poor people. 
Dandy [to Gloria]

Perhaps my favorite scene in the two-part episodes was the scene between Mordrake and Elsa. Mordrake is still on the hunt for his pound of flesh when he visits Elsa's tent. Elsa mistakes Mordrake for an admirer. Mordrake plays along at first, then dresses Elsa down like no one else could. His companions strip Elsa of her dignity and remove her wooden legs.

I AM HERE TO TAKE SOMEONE 
to the other side. Perhaps you.
Edward Mordrake [to Elsa]

Edward demands to hear her darkest hour, which takes us to the underbelly of 1932 Berlin. Elsa was a struggling actress and a prostitute (and a dominatrix). Some of the Berlin scenes are a little too gruesome for my taste. It's here we learn how Elsa lost her legs. She was drugged and brutally mutilated by people she trusted. Mordrake and his demon face have finally found their freak in Elsa. Right before he kills Elsa, Mordrake hears the sound of sweet music played by Twisty the Clown. Elsa is spared. Twisty is not.



I've gone into great detail about the episodes, but something should be said about Wes Bentley's performance as Edward Mordrake. His performance was an example of subtle perfection: the delivery, the accent, the facial expressions were flawless. I've seen Bentley in several films, 'American Beauty' of course, 'The Claim,' 'The Four Feathers,' 'The Hunger Games,' but I hadn't seen him in a film in which he could show his chops. It's strange, but 'American Horror Story' allowed Bentley to really flex his acting muscles.
Don't stop now. We came for a show.
Edward Mordrake [to Twisty the Clown]

Bentley has publicly admitted that he struggled with drugs for the majority of his career. Which is kind of amazing when you think about it. I don't care about, nor do I engage in discussions about actor's personal lives, but I'm pretty impressed that Bentley could come back from that. He's been quoted as saying he used to only take roles to get him through his drug habit. Now he's getting roles in Christopher Nolan films, which is huge. I think it takes great personal strength to overcome and continue to struggle with these addictions. This is one of the reasons I admired Philip Seymour Hoffman so much. Yes, he did succumb to his struggle, but as Bentley has said, "sobriety is an ongoing process." And as my father would say, "the proof is in the pudding." Bentley shines in this series. We can only hope he returns for more ghastly fun next year.   
Perfect in it's monstrous imperfection.
Edward Mordrake

Another standout was John Carroll Lynch ('Zodiac' and 'The Americans'). Lynch as Twisty the Clown is so good that you scarcely remember he's acting...always the mark of a master. When Edward finally unmasks the the killer clown, we find out that the clown isn't as fiendish as he first appeared. Twisty was once just a simple minded circus clown who loved to entertain children. He was unjustly accused of molesting children by jealous carnie folk. Twisty never recovers from the accusation and is run out of town. When his mother dies he is relegated to living in the abandoned bus. When he cannot make a living selling junk toys, he tries to kill himself, which leaves him horrifically scarred and insane.

Remove your mask. Tell me your story.
Edward Mordrake [to Twisty the Clown]

After four episodes of silent murder, Twisty's voice is finally revealed. In Twisty's mind he was saving children. He killed the shopkeeper because he threw Twisty out of the toy store and accused him of hurting children. He killed the boy's mother because the mother was mean to Twisty in the toy store and Twisty wanted to save the boy from chores. Twisty killed the teen boy in lover's lane so he could kidnap his girlfriend to babysit the children he kidnapped, etc. Edward and the demon face are most impressed by Twisty's scarred and simple mind. Their search is over. They have found their freakish companion.

I HAVE MET MANY A CRAVEN KILLER, 
many a sniveling coward in my time,
BUT YOU HAVE CAUSED 
the demon to weep. 
Edward Mordrake [to Twisty the Clown]

10 comments:

  1. I've never watched the show, but that clown has just renewed childhood fears of clowns for generations and it is sad Angela isn't used more. She's always good.

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    1. I think Angela's time is coming. I'm hoping for more Angela scenes soon. She was a major character last year, so I think the same will hold true for this year. Ha, yes the clown was freaky!!

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  2. This show is just too creepy!! I can't watch anything w/ creepy clowns! Is that Wes Bentley? He's gorgeous, wish he's cast in more things. He looks good in period garb too.

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    1. Yes, that's Wes Bentley. And a big yes-- he was very handsome in this costume and persona! He may have found his calling.

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  3. fantastic post! I thought Bentley and Lynch were just outstanding and that 2 part episode was very, very good. I fear for the show, though. Ryan Murphy has the tendency to get distracted, spoil and flat out lie to his fans - http://insidetv.ew.com/2014/10/31/ryan-murphy-american-horror-story-connected/ - that's the recent example.

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    Replies
    1. Oh thank you! Bentley and Lynch were amazing. Yikes that article scares me. Like you, I'm convinced that Ryan Murphy totally trolls the fans via interviews. He has a tendency to seriously overexaggerate and flat out lie on occasion.

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  4. I think the worst thing about Murphy is that he actually visibly loses interest in his own shows as the time passes by - I think it's happening with AHS given how many spin offs were announced :/

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    1. I heard about the spinoff, which doesn't sound nearly as interesting. I think AHS is so unique it's going to be difficult to spin off of. Not sure why Murphy can't come up with something new. I wish he would just focus on making AHS as great as it can be for another few seasons before jumping into another series.

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  5. I think this is an excellent review and recap. It's as almost as if I watched the show!

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    Replies
    1. Oh thank you! I appreciate that! This season is very good. You should give it a try.

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