Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars (top) and Chrissy Metz as Ima on "American Horror Story: Freak Show."
Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars (top) and Chrissy Metz as Ima on "American Horror Story: Freak Show." (Sam Lothridge / FX)

When an episode is titled "Blood Bath," you kind of expect a lot. You don't necessarily expect it to be literal, though.

Oh, wait. This is "American Horror Story."


Parenting is hard. Gloria goes to see a shrink because she needs to talk out her feelings over the whole problem of her son being a psychotic murderer. She shares that Dandy's always been a bit odd and scary, having tortured and killed animals and possibly the gardener's son he was friends with in his clearly misspent youth. The shrink, who is kept out of frame, thinks it's probably time Dandy gets committed, and urges Gloria to come up with a lie in order to get her son in to see him.

Pseudo-parenting is also hard. The freak show mobilizes to search for Ma Petite. Jimmy discovers her bloody dress in the woods and assumes an animal attacked her, instead of Dell, who is actually guilty of smothering her and should probably die as soon as possible. Elsa is heartbroken at the loss of her special favorite, but Ethel, who has apparently decided to openly hate her former BFF, doesn't believe her grief. In fact, she accuses her of faking emotions for the benefit of the other members of their troupe, insisting that she'd do anything to remain the most popular act in the show.

Ethel launches into a boring rant about how she's known Elsa for 14 years and heard all her stories about what her life could have been like or once was, and how she knows her better than she knows herself ... blah blah.

"Who am I, if not your savior?" asks Elsa, before wondering how Ethel could accuse her of being a murderer and then literally flipping a table, because Jessica Lange wants another Emmy.

This all leads to Ethel pulling a gun from somewhere and shooting Elsa in the leg. It, hilariously, manages to leave an actual hole by way of informing Ethel that Elsa's a freak just like the rest of them. Elsa tells the story of how she got prosthetic legs, and Ethel's shocked she never told her any of this ever. Man, Ethel must be terrible at noticing things. She also still plans to shoot Elsa, and then herself. So much for sympathy.

Elsa says they should have a Schnapps for the road then, since she's about to die and all. Ethel, who is an idiot, falls for this, even mentioning that the two of them have never shared a drink, so she probably deserves the throwing knife in the eye that Elsa has pulled from somewhere and hurled in her direction. Bye, Ethel. You were no Madame LaLaurie.

Out with the old, in with the new. Elsa goes to Stanley for help with the Ethel problem, and they cook up an elaborate scheme involving her driving a car into a tree and getting decapitated (to cover up the whole stabbed-through-the-eye issue). Elsa's not doing great emotionally, and wants to know why he's willing to help her cover up a murder. But Stanley's pretty nonplussed about the whole situation. He says it's how Hollywood works, and since she's his client, this is the kind of thing that happens. Elsa maybe oversells her public grief about Ethel's death a bit, but since Dell and Desiree have already confirmed that she had a terminal illness, the suicide excuse seems to stick.

Elsa then heads to Miami to recruit at what seems to be a Fat Camp for Lost Souls, and meets an enormous woman named Barbara. Wearing another amazing outfit, Elsa manages to convince her to check out the freak show and its world where she'll just be automatically accepted for being herself. She even eats a Baby Ruth in front of her. It's masterful, and even more so now than when she did the same routine to Bette and Dot before, because you know how much is happening behind the scenes. This woman, you guys. I adore her.

Meanwhile, back at the Motts. Gloria's day continues to get worse when she arrives home to find that Regina (played by "Coven" alum Gabourey Sidibe), the daughter of dead maid Dora, has arrived in search of her mother. Gloria makes up an elaborate story about how Dora's off on an errand and who ever knows when she might come back. Regina says she'll wait. Gloria is a terrible liar.

Somehow, in the midst of this, Gloria gets Dandy to see her psychiatrist. He looks at some Rorschach drawings and basically interprets all of them as violent murders or bloody tableaus of bodies with missing limbs. He also asks questions about whether it's possible to absorb another's powers by eating their flesh, so that's completely normal. He is not pleased that Gloria tricked him into seeing a shrink. He offers his mother a deal; he says he'll go back to the shrink for a full month if she kills Regina. After all, she's already threatened to go to the cops if her mother doesn't return the next day.

Gloria can't do that, and dies for her trouble on top of it. She is murdered at the hand of her own son, after he accuses her of being responsible for his madness because Gloria knowingly married her pedophile cousin for money. Afterward, he takes a bath in his mother's blood and even for a show that has several years' worth of seriously disturbing imagery to its credit, it's pretty shocking.

I think I miss Twisty.

It's time for that storyline no one cares about. Since every "AHS" season has to have at least one storyline that is completely uninteresting and shoehorned alongside the main narrative, we should be grateful that this one seems to get a minimum of screentime. Yes, we're back to Penny, Paul the Illustrated Seal's (still not dead, by the way but how?) girlfriend who was violated with face tattoos.

The gang assembles for Ethel's funeral. Jimmy gives an emotional eulogy, which highlights Ethel's ability to fix things and tell dirty jokes. Evan Peters is forced to cry again, which is horrifying as usual, but it's blessedly brief. Desiree, Amazon Eve and a couple carnival girls get emotional at Ethel's grave, and bond with Penny about how women are regularly oppressed by the patriarchy and lament what her father did to her face. The ladies decide it's time to get some revenge.


They not only kidnap Penny's father, but tar and feather him with the intent to shoot and mutilate his body before throwing it in the swamp for the gators. Yikes. Luckily, Maggie hears the screams and rushes to give them all a pep talk about life and how they don't really want to be murderers and carry that around, do they? Penny decides to let her father go with a warning. It's weird, this characterization of Maggie. If she's such a great person, how'd she get mixed up with Stanley?

Odds and Ends:

• Gloria's doctor's notes had mention of a Dr. Winters — with the previously established connections between "Freak Show" and "Asylum" — has to mean something, right? Anybody remember what Lana's parents did?


• Favorite line: "I wanted to be rid of them. Put them on a bus to Tampa. Although, for me, death would be preferable to Tampa."

• Elsa's Italian doctor was played by Danny Huston, who played the Axe Man in "Coven," who wasobsessed with Jessica Lange's Fiona. Isn't it interesting how many relationships seem to be obviously repeating now that Ryan Murphy's admitted the seasons are all connected?

• Any guesses on the identity of Gloria's psychiatrist? The show went out of its way to keep this person hidden from the audience, which implies it must be someone we know.

• Well, I complained about cast bloat last time. Be careful what you wish for, kids.