There comes a time every season where I feel the need to point out that the show faces a near impossibility in what it does; you simply cannot make a 13-hour horror movie. No one would watch that. At least, no one that you would want to sit next to on a bus late at night.
The first four episodes of Freak Show have been the most consistently well-crafted of the show's entire run. It's been solid and horrifying and moving all at once. It's both avoided the more over-the-top atrocity that sometimes covered weaker writing and not shied away from simple terrors that can haunt your dreams.
And there are musical numbers! It's not Repo: The Genetic Opera but then again, nothing else is.
Still, every horror film has to have a lull, and that's what we got with "Pink Cupcakes". Was it bad? No, far from it. It was, however, more like the patter of the carnival barker than the actual pay off.
There were some deeply disturbing moments. Denis O'Hare as Stanley, the corrupt procurer of freak corpses, eats every inch of scenery he's in as a monster of his caliber always does. He truly is this generation's Robert Englund, mixing a wispy frame with an iron, maniacal heart. Teamed with the conflicted but plucky Emma Roberts the two of them could almost be a show all by themselves.
The title of the episode comes from Stanley's attempt to poison Bette and Dot in order to showcase their deformities in a morbid museum. This offers us one of the most truly gruesome scenes in a show famous for pushing the envelope, but which ultimately becomes something of a cop out that confuses a viewer.
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Beyond that, the run time of "Pink Cupcakes" amounted to plot maintenance. If Freak Show has any flaw it's that it's a little origin story-heavy. This worked wonderfully in the appearance of Edward Mordrake over Halloween, but continuing it past the Halloween celebration makes you focus more on the past than what's going on now. Not that Angela Bassett can't tell a heck of a story about being brought up intersex and make you tear up. She's great whatever she does, but someone might as well just come out on stage and sang a little song called "More Exposition!"
Evan Peters comes to the rescue again, and I think this will likely be his last season on American Horror Story. From day one of season one he's turned in solid acting like a champ, but his talent is starting to outgrow the show that made him famous. Even acting in a scene with a woman whose awards have their own Wikipedia page Peters shines through with some unbeatable skill.
There's a crossroads up ahead for this season. Either we're going to see a turn for the more conventionally dramatic or we're going to get hit in the face with a fresh atrocity. For the first time in American Horror Story either one would be peachy. "Pink Cupcakes" proved that even when the show is shoring up the background it's gotten to the big top.