We’ve toured the Murder House, we’ve checked into the Asylum, and we’ve had a magical time with the Coven. Now, the tent is officially open for the Freak Show. I was super amped up for this season of FX’s American Horror Story not only because last season was the best season yet (in my humble opinion), but because I find the idea of a freak show particularly interesting—maybe due to my affinity for HBO’s short-lived Carnivàle, which has a somewhat similar vibe. So how did the premiere episode fare? Here are the particulars:
What I liked:
- The opening sequence. It is the freakiest and most interesting opening yet. AHS always has eye-catching openings, but after a few episodes, I normally stop paying attention. But this weird stop-motion sequence is one that you just can’t tear your eyes away from…
- The atmosphere. It’s not just the freak show stuff—which, yes, is very, very cool—but also the fact that it’s set in the ‘50s. After seeing this episode and the ‘60s/’70s setting of Asylum, I have to admit that Ryan Murphy has a way with period pieces.
- Jessica Lange as ringleader Elsa Mars. I am a huge fangirl for Lange because of AHS, and she doesn’t disappoint with character. Elsa’s got sass, style, and a heck of a commanding presence. Also, Murphy manages to sneak in an opportunity for Lange to sing again, and it is even more magical than Asylum’s “The Name Game.” (Hint: DAVID FREAKING BOWIE)
- All the other amazing actors/characters. Murphy and co. definitely know how to pick ‘em, and they also know how to place their veteran actors in just the right roles. Evan Peters as charming “Lobster Boy” Jimmy. Kathy Bates as his kind, simple mother, Ethel, the Bearded Woman. Sarah Paulson as both Bette and Dot, a very complicated two-headed woman. Plus, we’ve got the world’s smallest woman (Jyoti Amge), a 6’8” Amazon (Erika Irvin), a woman missing the lower half of her body (Rose Siggins), and so many more. Plus, Asylum’s Pepper (Naomi Grossman), and she has a buddy!
- TWISTY THE CLOWN. John Carroll Lynch barely has to do a thing to make this character terrifying because HE IS AWFUL. Which, of course, I mean in the best possible way. That mask…I mean wow. So scary. Bravo, Freak Show. Bravo.
What I didn’t like:
- Sometimes it seems like AHS is trying too hard to shock us. I can think of one scene in particular involving Jimmy and a certain…erm…we’ll say service that he offers. Stuff like this just feels a little forced.
- Though Bates’ character seems like she’s gonna be great, her accent kind of drove me crazy in this first episode. Is she supposed to be Canadian? Or just from somewhere up north? I can’t place it, but it’s weird and a little distracting.
- I’ve already expressed my love for Jessica Lange and all that she does, but I will say this: why can’t she ever play a different kind of character? Don’t get me wrong—she’s great at the sharp-tongued, scheming, aging woman desperate for youth and/or fame, but she’s been playing that for four seasons now. I hope she gets to break this mold a bit.
- TWISTY THE F#*!ING CLOWN. I know I listed him as a good thing because for horror lovers, he really is a wonderfully terrifying creation. But he might permanently scar people who are severely scared of clowns. He’s that awful.
The Potential: If this season is as interesting and creepy and weird as the first episode, then this could be American Horror Story at its finest. So far, I love pretty much everything about it, and there are already several interesting threads. I’m very eager to see what comes next. Keep it up, Ryan Murphy, you wonderful, twisted man.
My Grade: A