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American Horror Story: Freak Show: Greatest Show on Earth

Without delving too far into hyperbole, this is without a doubt the best season of American Horror Story yet. Though it's the one I was the most worried about liking, it's managed to capture the perfect mixture of horror and regular dramatic television.

Let's start with Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch), our strange, homicidal masked killer. Somehow this show has taken a one-dimensional killer trope and turned it into the potent mix of slapstick and spine-tingling awfulness that made the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre the unique film that it was. He gets a profound amount of screen time this episode, and he uses every inch of it to amaze and disturb.

He's onto at least his fourth murder now, the latest taking place in a toy shop in a scene that will definitely haunt your nightmares. However, it's coming from that killing where things really get going. Oblivious to the fact that he looks like Hell's fast-food mascot, Gloria Mott (Frances Conroy) stops him on the side of the road and invites him home to entertain her crazed, spoiled son Dandy (Finn Wittrock).

What follows is a duel of insanity that may never, ever be topped. How weird is it that you are actually looking at a guy in a rotting clown outfit that you know for a fact has murdered and kidnapped with brutal glee and you're feeling bad for the guy because he clearly regrets having accepted a gig with an obvious nutter butter. At times, this season takes the "real monsters are inside" metaphor a little wide on the turns, but there's no denying that Dandy is far more stomach-churning than any human oddity on display.

Yet, for all the blood and the severed heads and the deeply frightening nature of everything going on, there is a disturbing normalcy to it all. The episode was masterfully written by Tim Minear so that you can really see how two such improbable villains might actually interact. It's Joke and Two-Face in The Dark Knight, but even more so.

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Oh, and a great swerve for the show and its "There must be a masked killer" trope. We finally get to see behind Twisty's grin, even if just for a second. It's a bold move in any horror vehicle, but for a show that is currently dedicated to exhibiting atrocity baldly. That's the thing about this season; it's very unafraid to go new places.

Some of those places may be turning off fans. I know that the musical numbers so far are polarizing, and yeah, they're a little strange and silly. But so are freak shows. So is horror, to be really honest. This is spectacle, and it's really awesome that a show like this can do so unashamedly and with reckless abandon. That they couple it with a solid look back at an underrated horror classic like Freaks shows that maybe, just maybe, there's a little hope for horror after all.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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