Much like “Coven” before it, the season finale of "American Horror Story: Freak Show" arrives with an overarching sense that the entire season can’t be browbeaten into cohesion in the space of one episode. Of course it can’t, but it’s pretty fun to watch Ryan Murphy and company try.
“Freak Show” has been, for the most part, a fun season – featuring more gasps, shocks and truly OMG-WTF moments than ever before – and the fact that it spends so much time drawing connections between itself and the seasons that came before it is worth the price of admission alone.
But is it a good season? That, much like the much-debated meaning of “freak” is probably best left to the eye of the beholder.
It’s Dandy’s world now. It’s a new day at Fraulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities and Dandy is in charge now. He’s made the freaks put up new banners proclaiming himself the star of the show, but shockingly enough, audiences aren’t exactly lining up to see Dandy belt out Cole Porter tunes.
The remaining freaks are all pretty miserable, but agree that they have nowhere else to go, what with the freak show market being pretty small these days. Dandy becomes increasingly erratic and starts to blame employees for the lack of ticket sales. He calls them all boring and insists they need to spice up the show with a better class of freak. Amazon Eve punches Dandy in the face, Paul says they all quit and insists that Dandy can never be one of them because he’s a boring, normal person. This is clearly going to end well.
Elsa’s Hollywood dream comes true. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Elsa Mars is busy wearing a fabulous outfit and basically stalking the head of the WBN television network. She spends a lot of time smoking and hanging out in the network’s lobby. There’s even a montage.
One night, the catty receptionist tells Elsa she ought to think about changing her act – you know, because Marlene Dietrich did it better. Since we all know that Marlene Dietrich is Elsa’s mortal enemy, this exchange results in the receptionist getting slapped in the face. Elsa gets wrestled to the ground by security and makes a scene. But luckily, her fight with the cops draws the attention of a network executive who happens to be on his way out – Michael Beck, the junior VP of casting. (Fun fact: Beck happens to be played by David Burtka, real-life husband of previous guest star Neil Patrick Harris.) Elsa’s crying and Beck feels bad for her, and the two ultimately end up bonding over being German. It’s sort of a weird, but you get the feeling Elsa’s luck might be turning around at last.
It’s showtime. Remember when Dandy looked like he was plotting murder earlier? He gets all gussied up in stage makeup and proceeds to wander around the carnival grounds on a murderous rampage, shooting any freak he sees. He kills every single second-tier character in the cast, from Paul the Illustrated Seal to Lizard Girl to Amazon Eve and more. Surprise: Gloria’s tiny golden gun apparently has infinite ammo, given that Dandy manages to shoot something like a dozen people without once needing to stop and reload.
The main cast survives. Desiree hides in her trailer and Dandy takes the Tattler twins along when he leaves. When Jimmy returns from wherever he’s been all episode, it’s to find an eerily silent freak show, a huge pile of corpses and Desiree, the only survivor. Evan Peters ugly-cries some more because this show hates me sometimes, but at least the emotion feels earned.
The fastest revenge plan ever. Given what is an apparent choice between a bullet in the head and Dandy, Bette and Dot decide a fluffy wedding isn’t so bad. They get married and the girls sell it surprisingly well – you’d be forgiven for thinking for a second that Bette was really into Dandy after all – and they make plans for how to conduct the business of their wedding night.
The girls tell Dandy that they’ve put together a wedding feast for him with the help of the new French “cook” they’ve hired who, of course, turns out to be Desiree. They’ve drugged Dandy’s champagne with the help of Jimmy, who has also snuck into Dandy’s house because he has terrible security systems. As far as villains go, Dandy should probably be embarrassed he fell for this, but I guess the rule about love making you an idiot holds true for psycho killers as well.
Dandy passes out and when he comes to again he’s chained in Houdini’s famous water tank. He begs the twins to release him, but even Bette can’t muster any sympathy. Desiree and Jimmy make some speeches about what it means to be a freak, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before (and better) from Elsa. They turn on the water and drown Dandy in the tank, while the four of them eat popcorn and watch. They are literally popcorn.gif. This show, y’all.
Be careful what you wish for. We jump to 1960 and “The Elsa Mars Hour” is a big hit. Elsa’s getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she’s making successful records and she’s even married to that network exec Michael. But she’s miserable, bored and her husband is kind of awful (and very um … into her dominatrix past) and her fame has not made her happy.
She perks up a bit when Massimo Dolcefino shows up to see her. Elsa apologizes for basically ditching him in Jupiter several years prior and admits that all she’s ever wanted is to be loved. Massimo says that he loves her – what happened to the no-soul problem? – and Elsa wants them to run away together. Unfortunately, Massimo has some sort of aggressive cancer and a month left to live; he really just came to say goodbye. (And, not, apparently, to axe murder Elsa’s irritating husband. Darn.)
Elsa’s bad luck continues when her husband and the head of the network stop by. They inform her that a reporter has found footage from the snuff film where she lost her legs, and that they know she used to run a freak show, where all the freaks have mysteriously turned up brutally murdered. Apparently this is enough to break the morality clause in her contract, and her career is likely over. Girl, just run off with Massimo for a month.
We've come to the end. Instead, Elsa agrees to perform a Halloween special for the network as her last hurrah. Predictably, this is basically a suicide attempt, as her singing (David Bowie’s “Heroes” — yay!) summons Edward Mordrake and his squad of dead freaks, including Twisty. The green gas billows around and Elsa, who knows what’s up, tells Mordrake to go ahead and take her soul.
There’s a montage where we learn Desiree is married and had kids with her random boyfriend from a few episodes back, and Jimmy has settled down with Bette and Dot, who are pregnant. It’s a bit heavy on the Hallmark, but since everyone else is dead, it works.
Edward Mordrake stabs Elsa while simultaneously declaring that she doesn’t belong with them, and Elsa gets a sparkly cotton candy afterlife where she’s reunited with all her beloved freaks. She's headlining the show again to a packed house because “stars never pay," even if they’ve killed a few people here and there.
It’s a dangerously saccharine ending, especially for a season as bloody as this one. Yet, it’s difficult not to read this final scene as a goodbye of sorts to star Jessica Lange, who reportedly won’t return next season, and when you look at it that way, it’s a lot harder to be mad about it.
Plus, at this point, don’t we all just have to accept that Ryan Murphy has a thing for horror with a happy ending?
Early Season 5 Predictions:
• Lange will be back next year. I know I just got through writing about this ending as her swan song. And maybe it’ll be in a more limited capacity than “Freak Show." Who knows? I believe in the power of Ryan Murphy’s Lange obsession, and his total willingness to make the season into whatever she wants in order to keep her around.
• Angela Bassett will play another character that starts off awesome and dwindles down into a hot mess of pointlessness.
• Finn Wittrock will definitely be back.
• Danny Huston will axe murder someone for Lange.
• Sarah Paulson’s character will again survive the
• With “Glee” ending, at least one cast member will show up in a random one-off role.
• The setting? I’m going with Area 51. This is a completely wild (and likely very wrong) guess but there were just so many space references this season. Maybe we can investigate Pepper’s “Asylum” aliens at last.