UK VOD TV review: American Horror Story Freak Show (Episode 10)
Things in jars10
Alice Slater | On 31, Dec 2014
We don’t know whether to have a little cry or shout at the telly like we’re at a sportsball match: there are only four episodes of Freak Show left.
Naturally, American Horror Story aficionados will have recognised Pepper (Natalie Grossman), the woman with microcephaly (referred to as ‘pinhead’ syndrome throughout the show), as an inmate from Season 2’s Briarcliff Manor. Those conniving creators Brad Falchuck and Ryan Murphy have made us wait 10 episodes for the show to acknowledge this self-conscious crossover, but the heart-wrenching unravelling of Pepper’s situation makes the wait worthwhile.
If we had a Lily Rabe klaxon, we’d be running through the mean streets of East London with it at full pelt. As a reoccurring cast member, Lily Rabe has been conspicuously absent from Freak Show thus far, and her inclusion as Sister Mary Eunice is an absolute delight to behold.
Microcephaly is a neurological condition that effects the growth of the brain so, due to the nature of her condition, Pepper is unable to articulate her own history. Instead, Fräulein Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) recounts the tale of their first meeting to Stanley (Denis O’Hare) in her dressing room. Her many faces are reflected in a multitude of mirrors that surround her dressing table; a signature shot for Season 4 that demonstrates the conflicting nature of Elsa.
Even the way Elsa tells the story reveals several different facets of her personality: she unflinchingly refers to Pepper as her “first monster” but moments later, in a voice laced with genuine melancholic affection, she explains that Pepper was the first person from whom she felt she received “unconditional love”. It has already been established that Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge) was closest to her heart, but the maternal love Elsa demonstrates for Pepper through the retelling of their story comes as a touching surprise. She is both matriarch and murderer, and we still don’t know which side of her fractured personality will win.
It’s rather moving to find out more about the formation of the freak show: up to this point, the focus has generally been on the individual experiences of the performers and the hardships they suffered before finding a home, an income and, for most, a family in the carnival. In Episode 10, we finally begin to understand what motivated Elsa to form her unconventional family beyond vague opportunistic dreams of fame.
Meanwhile, Maggie Esmeralda (Emma Roberts) proves herself to be a terrible fake psychic when heartbroken (and – let’s be honest – pretty stinkin’ drunk), while a guided tour of the formaldehyde chamber of horrors certainly paves the way for an explosive season finale.
American Horror Story: Freak Show is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. Seasons 1, 2 and 3 are also available.