Film and TV

American Horror Story: Freak Show: In Small Hands

There's no doubt about it that the best thing this season has been Mat Fraser as Paul, the Illustrated Seal Boy. Part of the collection of real human identities that were cast for this landmark season, he of course brings his own unusual appearance to bear on the screen.

But he alone of the several of such actors really gets the chance to shine out as a performer. It's the perfect combination of embodying what he is with unusual skill. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm hoping that he breaks the mold for people with unusual handicaps in the world of acting much like Peter Dinklage did for little people.

There's some hope for that. For instance, Fraser features in a rare love scene for a non-fully-abled person. I can't think of another such scene in film except the old flick Monkey Shines and of course Boxing Helena. Weird how only horror seems to have the guts to go there.

Those other films are bad examples, though. In both cases they feature people handicapped through happenstance, not born as they were as Fraser was. That's one of the reasons watching him do something so simple as climb out of bed naked and dress himself, or even snuggle with a lover in her bed is shocking and inspiring. His very existence forces us to see conventional expressions of physical sexuality, tenderness, and later even cruelty through a whole new lens.

From kept pet to hopeful Romeo to would-be liberator and finally to sacrificial lamb Fraser just owns the whole Midway. If nothing else, he was worth the price of admission this week and for weeks to come.

Sadly, Freak Show seems to be stumbling otherwise. Fond as I am of Jessica Lange she is reduced to largely playing a caricature of herself in the series. While she does everything she does well, being, you know, Jessica Freakin' Lange and all, there just doesn't seem to be much reason for any of that wonderful chaos. Her plans have more holes than the Human Torch's suits, and her motivations are often sad.

More disappointing is Sarah Paulson, who is often the secret badass of the series who keeps the whole thing together. Somehow, by splitting her into two characters she's become less than she usually is. Bette and Dot talk a good game, but they haven't really commanded attention significantly in the plot since Dot busted out a stirring rendition of "Criminal".

Side note: I miss the musical numbers. As a statement on the nature of art and performance they were brilliant.

Since the death of Twisty the Clown we're left without a good villain. Dandy irritates as much as he menaces, and Denis O'Hare does not belong in the shadows where he's currently lurking. Emma Roberts is doing a fine job, of course, but in O'Hare we have a great monster of our time reduced to skulking around without any meat to chew.

"Bullseye" was a good episode, don't get me wrong. However, the second act of this freak show is off to a bit of a stumble. Hopefully they have the sense to put the reins in the hands of someone like Fraser and give us something to be afraid of again very soon.

Jef has a new story, a tale about mad robot nurses and a man of miracles called "Sleepers, Wake!" available now. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner