The glory of American Horror Story is that it's a network show like no other. The folly of American Horror Story is when it becomes a show like any other.
After a week's break for Thanksgiving, we check in again on the cast of the Freak Show. The fallout from the death of Ma Petite permeates the early stages of the episode, culminating in a tense stand-off between Ethel and Elsa. I hate to spoil it, but someone ends up dead, and in a fight between Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange who are you really going to put your money on.
These scenes are good, don't get me wrong. Bates and Lange eat scenery for breakfast and will probably shit Emmys afterwards. The two women have played off each other magnificently since last season, and though they are burdened with ridiculous accents the magic is still there.
The question is; who cares? Aside from some fantastic flashbacks dedicated to Elsa's mutilation (With a nice cameo by Danny Huston in all his glory), the entire performance is largely inconsequential. It changes nothing. It's literally watching the murder of the week play out slowly simply because it's time to reduce the cast budget by one.
That leaves us with two stories to focus on in the second half.
The first is that of Dandy, continuing his descent into madness. Frankly, though Finn Wittrock initially started out imbuing Dandy with a Patrick Bateman-esque horror he's grown very tiresome without Twisty the Clown to play off of. Rich horror villains are always a hard sell, anyway. Charles Band's Blood Dolls is one of the few I can think of that managed to pull it off. No matter how devious or vicious Dandy gets, it's hard to get past seeing him as some privileged pain in the ass that kills for fun. It's really hard to be scared of that guy in this day and age.
If the story broke tomorrow that Charles Koch hunted poor people for sport in a wolf costume do you really think there would be that much surprise? As a social commentary it's interesting, but horror-wise it's just not shocking enough.
Which brings us to the real meat.
The women of the freak show rally to poor Penny's cause. Though she is newly disfigured, they are keenly aware of the power her father had over her when he had her drugged and tattooed as a lizard. Desiree, Suzi, and Amazon Eve therefore decide to punish this man who would treat his daughter like property.
American Horror Story: Freak Show is often cited as borrowing heavily from Tod Browning's Freaks, and for good reason. What no one ever seems to mention, though, is that aside from the controversy surrounding the film it's a really great revenge movie. It's horror for the downtrodden, power to the most unfortunate people.
If nothing else you have to love the references made to Freaks in Penny's revenge against her father. Though ultimately it fails to deliver the final thrust, it's still the most horrific part of the whole episode. In a series that is supposed to be scary, it's the only scary part.