Like every season, American Horror Story started with a lot of potential. The conceit of following the horrors that may come along with following characters in a Freak Show actually made perfect sense. Set in a time period where acceptance was on the border of happening and still being a foreign concept.Yet, as the season began it became clear that their was no defined direction for the characters. While the season had its highs, there were considerably more lows. The biggest crime of them all was the lack of tension running through the season.
American Horror Story has traditionally succeeded at creating at least a couple characters that you liked. Actually, as the seasons progressed the balance went from a majority of likeable characters to very few likeable characters. Actually Freak Show may have the honors of having the least likeable characters. Even those who weren’t out and out bad or up to something didn’t end up garnering sympathy. Jimmy turned out to be a dick. Desiree was vindictive. Ethel was self-destructive. I mean there was Pepper who was sweet, but she wasn’t really driving or moving any of the plots further. While I can’t say that I hated Bette and Dot, I’d be lying if I said I liked them. They were more of a curiosity. Two vastly different souls forced to share and experience through one body. They were interesting and as such, they were probably the most interesting character of the show (right next to Dandy Mott of course).
Which brings me to Elsa Mars. The oh so terrible Elsa Mars. She was conniving and despicable. She was out for herself and willing to give up anyone who got in the way. Yet, she still thought herself as some sort of mother figure. The freaks were a sympathetic means to her end. Yes, she was awful selfish and wanted all the attention on her. She wanted to be loved and appreciated. Four seasons, in I knew that was exactly what I’d be getting out of Jessica Lange. She plays it well, but it seems the writers don’t want to put her in any different sort of role. They keep rehashing the same type of person with different circumstances and end goals, but it was no different than before. It actually felt like the spotlight was hogged by Elsa. It was fitting for the character, but limited other potentially interesting story lines for the other characters.
There was no coherent story throughout the season. Instead we were running through various obstacles that the characters encountered. Rather than having one season long arc with various tangents, we had smaller arcs that arose. One could assume that there was a season long arc in that Elsa Mars wanted to rise to stardom. Unfortunately, that arc doesn’t really add much for the broad cast of characters. One could consider that Stanley’s plot to kill off members of the freak show to sell to the museum was the arc. While that had an impact on the majority of the characters, it was more of one of the underlying arcs of the show. It was another hurdle that the characters needed to overcome. It was likely the most trying obstacle, but even that didn’t last the whole season. It was really a string of events for these characters. Each time they had to find away to beat odds they often didn’t even know they were up against. There was Twisty, Dandy, Edward Mordrake, murdering friends for gains, and then trying to fit in. Everything wrapped up neatly, but it never really felt like they properly tied together.
For a show called American Horror Story the horror elements were rather slim. There were some concocted scares and horrific moments in the beginning of the season, but as things went on it became less scary. There is no doubt that there’s something unsettling about the terrible things people can do to those they don’t understand, but when it comes to horror I want to be rattled. Maybe I’ve just reached a point where it takes too much to scare me, but I don’t think I have. Whether it’s ghosts or physical horror or characters being tormented, I scare like a little kid. However, American Horror Story doesn’t make me want to look through my fingers. And as I mentioned previously, part of it is due to the lack of connection to the characters. If something bad is happening to them, I don’t like or care about them enough to be scared. Instead I found what was supposed to be horrific most times as amusing.
I have to mention the songs. In the beginning of the season, I lamented the amount of songs being performed. For a while there was a song of an episode. Always being performed well out of their time. Sure, they had the potential to add deeper meaning to the story. However, more often than not, I found myself more distracted by the fact that they were singing again. A few songs a season is fine, but the grouping of the musical acts that were always played out in full grew old fast. Having finished the whole season, it became clear that they dropped the musical numbers, for the better. Which makes me think the number of musical numbers may not have come off as so grating if they had been better spaced throughout the season. It almost makes me wonder if the music sequences were edited out of future shows as the run time of the episodes also went down when they ended.
At the end of the day, American Horror Story: Freak Show ended up being my least favorite of the four seasons so far. The season felt the most distant as though it was trying to be more show than substance. The horror lacked and characters never real came to life. It was great that we got to see the show get a truly happy ending. It fit the season to end on a happy note considering all the characters were looking for happiness. That doesn’t excuse the show from failing to deliver what is in it’s title.
What to Expect Next Season?
There is no real confirmation on the next season will be , but rumors point to a space theme. Maybe we might learn more about the aliens from Asylum.
What did you think of the season?