"American Horror Story" gets into the spooky spirit this week with the start of its annual Halloween two-parter. Over the past few years, we’ve had zombies and ghosts and Anne Frank, but this year's installment revolves around a very strange and very specific story.
The World Building Continues
Two more “AHS” regulars arrive this week: Emma Roberts and Denis O’Hare play a con artist couple selling “fake” relics to places like the American Morbidity Museum, which apparently exists. They’re caught out as frauds, but rather than having them arrested, the museum curator just complains about how the ease of free entertainment at home means times are tough for her establishment, too. She says that should the fraudsters manage to stumble upon something real, she’d pay them for it, and sends them off to see the freak show in Florida. Apparently, television really has been ruining people’s lives in literally every way possible.
Meanwhile, in Jupiter, we learn that the carnies are taking the night off. The group believes that to perform on Halloween will summon the spirit of Edward Mordrake, a Victorian-era man purported to have a second face on the back of his head that whispered to him at night and told him to do terrible things. Yiiikes.
(Though somehow, on a show that includes Twisty and Dandy, he’s only the third scariest figure on this episode.)
Mordrake’s spirit, once woken, will not be satisfied until he has dragged some other poor hapless soul off to Hell with him, because … does evil really need a reason, I guess.
And The Secrets Pile Up
It’s a hard knock life, y’all. Ethel is diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and told that she’s got anywhere from six months to a year to live. Jimmy, meanwhile, is depressed about not being able to protect Meep from getting brutally murdered in jail last week. Dot and Bette are having their own set of problems now that Dot’s had a taste of stardom.
The pair dream about separation surgery – a happy fun times romp for Dot, who assumes this would give her a perfect life with Jimmy at last, and a total nightmare for Bette, who rightly realizes that her sister pretty much wants to kill her.
Con artist Emma Roberts shows up at Fraulein Elsa’s, claiming to be a clairvoyant named Esmeralda. Jimmy is immediately smitten with her, which we all could have seen coming from a mile away since these two are dating in real life, and Taissa Farmiga isn’t part of this season.
After half an hour of denying me Jessica Lange’s presence in this episode, Jimmy takes his new lady friend to meet Elsa, insisting she’s the real deal when it comes to the whole fortune teller thing. Elsa is skeptical, until Esmeralda starts accurately deducing her life story from the objects in her tent … er, seeing the future for her.
She “sees” that some blonde woman (Marlene Dietrich) unfairly stole Elsa’s career and promises that a tall, dark stranger is going to show up any day now and make her the star she deserves to be.
She says it’s not too late, and Elsa suddenly decides that Miss Esmeralda is the most legit psychic she’s ever seen.
In other horrors, Gloria and her maid Dora — played by the one and only Patti LaBelle — have made Dandy a Halloween present, a Howdy Doody costume. Dandy, surprise, does not want to be Howdy Doody, and has a massive temper tantrum, screaming and breaking things.
Dora is nonplussed, because she is amazing, and refuses to clean up his mess. Dandy channels his rage by converting the get-up into a clown costume since, obviously, what this show really needs is more clowns.
Be Careful What You Wish For I Guess
Dandy returns to threaten Dora, this time sporting his new serial killer clown gear and brandishing a knife. Unmoved, she insists Dandy doesn’t have the guts to do anything besides mutilate neighborhood pets in their backyard. She dares him to kill her, and laughs in his face when he can’t. Dandy, ever mature, starts screaming about how much he hates her, but Dora just says she hates him too. Umm … so everyone in the Mott household is 100 percent nuts, right?
Elsa, bolstered by Esmeralda’s fake prophecy, ignores the prohibition against performing on Halloween and decides it’s the perfect time to sing a Lana Del Rey song. Apparently the cosmos doesn’t necessarily like her rendition of "Gods and Monsters" so much, since the carnival grounds fill with ominous green smoke and, whoops, Edward Mordrake arrives.
He’s not here to punish Elsa for knowing the words to Lana Del Rey though, but rather to visit Ethel, and … have a long, thoughtful conversation with her. Okaaaay. We’re treated to more of Ethel’s backstory, which is even more pathetic than you could have imagined, and, surprise, that’s because of Dell.
Dell, not only didn’t love Ethel, he also ruined her vaudeville act, got her pregnant and actually sold tickets to allow passersby to witness the “live freak birth” of his son. Dear Mr. Mordrake: If you are looking for a scumbag to remove from this show, I have a suggestion. Guess who it is. At any rate, Mordrake seems to agree that Ethel’s life has enough terrible things in it at the moment, as his demon face decrees she’s not meant for their express train to Hell. Who is then?
Esmeralda calls her best friend/boyfriend/whatever Stanley to tell him how much she hates life at the freak show, but he’s mostly just psyched to hear that there’s a real, live set of conjoined twins they can hopefully murder and sell. He’s also a bit distracted by his own man friend wearing a viking costume, who seems either really impressed or very terrified by whatever exactly is in Stanley’s pants. (Another hermaphrodite maybe? Who knows.)
Meanwhile, your worst nightmare Twisty the Clown is further ruining everyone’s piece of mind forever by freely wandering about town on his own on Halloween night, mingling with trick or treating children and stalking their families. He follows one particular family group home, before kidnapping the older son and dragging him out to his murder van out in the swamp.
Most Weirdly Hilarious Moment of the Night: Patti Labelle in a Woody Woodpecker costume is definitely going to be one of the season’s iconic images for me.
Mysteries on Mysteries on Mysteries: What’s up with the Motts’ maid anyway? (We all know Patti LaBelle is way too awesome to have a bit part without a secret, right?) Why doesn’t Dora just quit and stop working for this nightmare family? The benefits cannot be that good.
Surprise Emotion: Ethel’s revelation that Jimmy always wanted to be a soldier every year for Halloween – such a regular everyday thing that “normal” young boys do – was surprisingly touching.
Interesting Call Backs to Think About: Does anyone else get excited whenever someone mentions the word “Asylum” in any context? And didn’t Gloria Mott’s Halloween outfit look eerily similar to Frances Conroy’s Angel of Death “Asylum” ensemble? Coincidence or no? Will these two seasons connect in a concrete way this year? I’m dying to find out. But not in a Twisty the Clown sort of way.