First things first -- it's Jessica Lange's world, we all just live in it.

Lange, who's been the metaphorical ringleader of "American Horror Story" ever since the series started, is finally the literal version this time around in "Freak Show" She plays Elsa Mars, manager of Fraulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities, a freak show populated by a variety of lost souls, which has fallen on hard times in 1952.


After learning of the discovery of a pair of conjoined twins, Elsa disguises herself as a candy striper to try and convince them to join her troupe. It takes a couple of visits, but Bette and Dot basically have nowhere else to go.

Elsa, who has been doing some unsavory things to get the farmer they're renting the land from to allow her show to stay, views the telepathic twins as her salvation. Elsa's the sort of complex character that will likely take many episodes to get to know.

She's narcissistic and vain — I need to try out saying, "Oh, darling,. Stars never pay," next time I'm at a restaurant — and willing to do anything to get what she wants. For example: She acquired that candy striper outfit by drugging a nurse and ensuring her silence by having several of the freak show's residents make a sex tape with her.

There's a lot that isn't necessarily likeable about Elsa (and more than a little cartoonish), but when she gets on a roll about how the real monsters are the people outside her tents who treat her "monsters" like dirt, her impassioned fervor makes a certain amount of sense. Plus, it's surprisingly easy to forgive a lot in the face of outfits like this. Elsa's a showman, through and through, and I am here for Jessica Lange rocking a tie with a fur stole.

2. Just give Sarah Paulson all the awards now
Conjoined twins Bette and Dot have spent their lives trying to figure out how to exist together. One (Bette) is charming and inquisitive, fascinated by movies and glamour. The other (Dot) is cynical and mistrustful. The two lead a sheltered life at home with their mother, only discovered by the public at large after she was murdered. Or, as it turns out, after Bette killed her in a fit of rage over not being allowed to see "Singin' in the Rain." Whatever. The girls take up Elsa on her offer of salvation via freak show, though Dot sees the move as the end of the world and Bette sees it as a glorious shot at freedom.

3. Man, clowns are terrifying
Oh, and there's also a serial killer clown. Because of course there is. A murderous villain sporting a raggedy clown costume who casually strolls out to kill people in broad daylight is basically nightmare fuel, and that's if you didn't already have a deep-seated and lifelong fear of clowns generally. Suffice it to say: I'm never sleeping again. The montage of Twisty (as he's called by Ryan Murphy) wearing his utterly ghoulish painted-on perma-smile while he gleefully kills a bunch of people is terrifying. Seriously, Bloody Face has nothing on this guy.

Plus, for extra fun, Twisty has a habit of keeping people souvenirs in his creepy Murder Van down in the swamp. These two people appear to be loved ones of the folks he's already killed, and he apparently likes to make balloon animals for them before throwing things at their cages in rage. Yup, definitely nuttier than Bloody Face.

4. We are all freaks
The twins arrive at Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities, and we finally get a fuller picture of the people who inhabit this world. Bette is fascinated and excited, while Dot hates everything and despairs about the general state of life, because apparently this is worse than jail? Right. Anyway.

The girls meet Jimmy, a handsome young man with fused fingers that they both take a shine to, along with his mother Ethel, the bearded lady, who serves as Elsa's right hand. Ethel fills us in on her surprisingly un-dramatic backstory: Elsa rescued her from a night in the drunk tank after too much whiskey, reunited her with her son Jimmy and gave her a place on the stage again. Ethel loves Elsa. Possibly more than her actual son.

A cop shows up out of nowhere to arrest Bette and Dot, having somehow figured out that they covered up the murder of their mother, in what is possibly record time for a TV police officer. The cop calls the girls monsters, insisting a jury would have no problems convicting them. Jimmy, who's with them, doesn't like this kind of talk at all, and summons backup.

The cop, having no obvious sense of self-preservation, starts loudly calling them all freaks. So, of course, Jimmy slits his throat. The girls are stunned that this boy they just met killed a guy for them, but Jimmy says the girls are going to save the show for them all.

5. This season is such a slow burn
Time to see this fabled Cabinet of Curiosities routine: Ethel gives the tiny audience – a creepy, co-dependent mother/son duo – the standard spiel and introduces everyone, including new editions Bette and Dot. Then Elsa comes in riding on a glittery cardboard rocket ship to sing a David Bowie song and all is right with the world. (This can't be the whole act, though, can it?) After the show, the creepy, freak obsessed son attempts to actually purchase Bette and Dot, but they declare that they're not going anywhere because this show is their home now. Elsa's grinning, because her life philosophy is being validated right in front of her. Or at least until Gloria Mott insults her singing.

Everything seems … surprisingly fine. So, of course the episode closes with Jimmy, the twins and some other folks hacking up the cop's body with axes while my new worst nightmare Twisty the Clown watches ominously from the bushes nearby.

Meanwhile, Elsa is busy confessing to Ethel that despite her speeches about salvation and togetherness, she only brought the twins to the show in the hopes that someone would finally discover her and make her a star. The other surprise? For all her posturing about, Elsa's actively hiding the fact that she wears prosthetic legs.


Boom: suddenly the narcissistic, slightly cartoonish ringmistress you thought you knew gets a crazy amount of new layers. This show, y'all.

"Freak Show" already seems like a much more deliberate season than its predecessors. Remember how much craziness went down in the first ep of "Coven"? This year, we've only really met three members of the main cast by the end of episode one! Here's hoping this methodical approach continues throughout "Freak Show" and we don't end up with any of those weird hanging plot threads that never get resolved or make sense (sadly, also plentiful in "Coven").

So far, I'm feeling good about our odds.

Notes for the hardcore:


Is this "Glee"? Jessica Lange delivered a rather fabulous performance of David Bowie's "Live on Mars" at the end of this episode. I adore both Lange and Bowie, but while moment this is fairly rapturous for me, I can see why some viewers may find it out of place. There hasn't been a full musical number on "AHS" since "The Name Game" back during "Asylum." Is this the start of a new trend?

The threat of the madhouse is real. While this may not be an intentional tie-in to "Asylum," Elsa points out that the last refuge of homeless freaks is getting sent to the state madhouse. Hello, Briarcliff? Who can say.

Speaking of 'Asylum': Yes, that's Naomi Grossman from Season 2. Apparently she's still playing Pepper. How's that going to work?