Are you ready for the show? The American Horror Story Freak Show that is. FX’s horror anthology starts up today and all of the regulars are back including Jessica Lange as the Impresario “Elsa Mars”, Evan Peters as the “Lobster Boy” Jimmy Darling, Sarah Paulson as the “Fearsome Twins” Bette and Dot Tatler, Kathy Bates as the “Amazing Bearded Lady” Ethel Darling, Frances Conroy as the “Socialite” Gloria Mot. The story is set in Jupiter, Florida in 1952. Elsa Mars owns the struggling show, and brings her band of curiosities to set ground and hopefully revive its popularity and fill the tents with money-spilling patrons. But there is darkness emerging from the flaps of the tents as well. After seeing the premiere, here are a few things we can tease and preview about the first episode and the season. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers.
1. Darker Tone and More Ambiguity
One of the things I enjoyed about Asylum (my favorite season so far) so much is it that it rarely showed its cards. Characters that were villainous eventually became heroes. Heroes had to do terrible things to survive and carry on. It’s been said prior to the season that Freak Show would be closer to Asylum but it is very much like that but you are assaulted with so much visually that you might not notice. Whereas Asylum was the end game where all that was misunderstood or mistreated was sent to. The Freak Show is the one fragile place where these people are either admired or accepted. Coven was so campy and Murder House was such a tip of the hat to horror films but when those seasons got derailed for an episode or two, you could really tell. The first and third seasons were so simple in their structure once the rules were laid out, especially Coven. But like Asylum, Freak Show will try to challenge you week to week. Sometimes you don’t know what to feel for a character. Sometimes you’ll be horrified and need a good break to walk away for a bit. You’ll need time to digest Freak Show as the more it sits with you, the more it blossoms.
2. Lots of Moving Parts
After seeing three seasons of American Horror Story, the premiere episode of each is filled with a lot of moving parts. This one is no different. There are lots of characters to introduce and this set is more complex than last year’s Coven, where characters were straight forward. What you saw is what you got. Don’t be surprised if the premiere of Freak Show is a lot to handle. There are character introductions, establishing motives and roles, and it’s all still unclear at the end and that’s an exciting place to be. Characters will be coming in and out as usual, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see all of the principal players yet. As for thematically, the freak show and its performers are definitely under the magnifying glass, but so are the outsiders who come to view it. Some are fascinated, others are there to break from the monotony of their day in Jupiter, but then there’s a level of judgement or worship that’s in play too. Again, it’s more complex like Asylum in that way.
The hashtag for the show is #WeAreAllFreaks and #SirWindAlleFreaks so keep that in mind as an undercurrent of the season.
3. Send in the Clown
From the new opening credits to the promos, it should come as no surprise that that clowns will be a big part of this season. If you are mildly frightened by the sight of clowns, then dig your heels in and prepare for some nightmares to haunt your sleep. You are going to be watching this season through the spaces in between your fingers as they try to shield your eyes. Another similarity to Asylum is the multiple layers that weave in and out of each other. Like the Bloody Face B story that ran simultaneously to the A story in Asylum, John Carroll Lynch is unrecognizable as an antagonist whose motives are unclear that will leave you shaking in the corner of your house.
4. Be prepared for a show
This is a freak show, with an emphasis on the “show”. So be prepared to see performances, including song and dance numbers. In the first episode, the Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates) tells another character, “We perform for our food,” and remember that Ryan Murphy is the creator of Glee. The impetus of this might have been born in Asylum when Jessica Lange led a memorable rendition of the “Name Game” in a hallucinogenic mind twister of an episode. Except it’s not just some mental fabrication, in Freak Show it is THE show, so if you love that stuff, you are in for a treat.
5. Pump Up the Volume
There’s a lot of whispering going on between characters in the first episode and Elsa Mars (Lange) speaks English with a German accent that can be hard to make out some words because she’s talking at such a low volume. I’m not sure if it was the audio mix that needs to be tinkered with but try to find that balance of James Levine’s eerily screeching score and being able to hear Lange’s soft spoken words.
6. Coming of Age
This is Ryan Murphy we’re talking about so he will always put sex as one of themes of AHS, as it is something that can be both pleasurable and horrifying depending on the nature is it’s carried out. Here we aim to see what sex with a variety of freak show performers are like. Since these are social pariahs, many of them don’t get to experience love and sex in ways that is “normal” to outsiders. For some, their oddity is something that could pique the sexual curiosity of the outsider or tent fellows. So that is going to be explored for sure in both fascinating and arousing ways.
7. Yes, you will love Jessica Lange again
As if there was any doubt. Elsa Mars is harder to instantaneously embrace than Fiona, or feared as Sister Jude, or is as divine as Constance but she’s in full glamour and is the ring leader of this freak show. She’s a survivor though, backs down to no one, and she is always in control of the scene, except when she’s not. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.
8. Jessica vs. Conroy
These two always have a relationship that’s full of friction and you can be sure to see it again in this season. It’s brief in the premiere, but I can’t wait for these two charging at each other with their horns again and again.
9. The Return of Pepper
One of the freaks of the show is played by Naomi Grossman, who reprises her role as Pepper who you might remember as one of the beloved inmates of Briarcliff Mental Institution is Asylum, which was set in the 1960’s. Well, Grossman underwent the massive transformation once again and it should be fun seeing what eventually got her landed in Briarcliff.
10. Two Sarah Paulsons for the Price of One
AHS showcases Paulson’s talent like no other show of movie and here we get double the dose as she plays the Tatler twins. While her characters typically have a duality or an internal struggle, it is personified into two separate people. There is a lot they play with when it comes to showing perspectives, framing Paulson in shot, depending on which twin is speaking or thinking or is looking.
We’d tell you more, but why ruin the fun? It’s filled with freaks, geeks, and creeps – both made up and real. One thing is made clear. Never underestimate anyone. That goes for seasons too. So the premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show is a lot to take in, but if it’s modeled after Asylum, we can’t to see it unfold further. Bring on the next act!