We aren’t usually ones to mourn the death of murderous clowns but we know a great horror character when we see one, so the flag is definitely flying at half-mast following the demise of our beloved Twisty (John Carroll Lynch) at the end of last week’s episode. The multifaceted nature of American Horror Story means that it isn’t unusual for the primary plotline to mutate into a new and unexpected beast halfway through the season: Twisty was just our Rosaline, but Dandy is surely the psychotic Juliet to our Romeo.
In 1952, the Hollywood studio system was in full swing and the ‘golden age’ had another illustrious decade of silver screen success ahead of it. When the seductive lure of television stardom knocks on Fräulein Elsa’s (Jessica Lange) door, she reveals herself to be a true cinephile. “Squeezing the beauty and glamour of the silver screen into that little black and white box…” she scoffs, with all her Marlene Dietrich glamour. Her scepticism over whether TV could ever outweigh the film industry is threaded with an authentic fear that it might. “Motion pictures are the expression of our souls, our inner dreams and our fantasies,” she purrs, without irony, considering her signature number – David Bowie’s Life on Mars – is all about escaping into a fantasy.
A juxtaposition of fantasy and reality lie at the crux of Episode 5: the episode opens with the formaldehyde fantasy of Stanley (Denis O’Hare) and ends with a bitter pill of reality for Elsa, as she performs a sold out performance to an apathetic audience. Gloria Mott’s (Frances Conroy) delusional ideation of motherhood is destroyed and the fundamental fantasy of identity that forms the backbone of the relationship between Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett) and Del Toledo (Michael Chiklis) is shattered.
Meanwhile, Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock) is turning into a regular little Patrick Bateman, if Patrick Bateman were an emotionally stunted mother’s boy instead of a Wall Street coke-head. Dandy is sinking into the depths of delusion: the extended American Psycho scene in which he works out in his underwear is somewhat heavy handed, but we can’t split hairs over such an insightful onslaught of interior monologue about his body, his desire and his psyche: “My body is like America: strong, violent, with limitless potential.” And: “I am no clown, I am perfection.”
Gabourey Sidibe makes a welcome appearance as Regina, the Mott family maid Dora’s (Patti LaBelle) college daughter. We’re not sure if we feel relief to finally see a Woman of Colour in Season 4 feature in a role that is neither hyper-sexualised (such as three-breasted Desiree) nor subservient (Dora, Jyoti Amge’s Ma Petite) or embarrassed that it’s taken five episodes to get there.
American Horror Story: Freak Show is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. Seasons 1, 2 and 3 are also available.