You’d think a previous episode titled “Blood Bath” would be the grisliest installment of this "American Horror Story" season, right? Wrong.
And remember when Twisty the nightmare clown was the scariest thing on this show? Ah, the good old days. Welcome to “Show Stoppers."
Stanley’s back. Having been M.I.A. since talking Jimmy into having his hands removed last episode, Stanley strolls into the big tent like nothing’s happened. None of the freaks react to him, and this all feels very strange until it becomes obvious that this is all about exacting vengeance.
Elsa presents Stanley with a gift box containing the head of the Morbidity Museum curator, by way of telling him they know what’s up. That is some "Godfather"-level shade, Elsa. Stanley tries to protest and then flee, but he ends up strapped to Elsa’s wheel and stabbed with a knife. She then tells him to run and sets the entire troupe after him, “Hunger Games” style, until he ends up pinned beneath a trailer, screaming.
The Jimmy Situation. Elsa calmly informs Jimmy that Dell was killed by the other freaks for what he did to Ma Petite. Jimmy blames Maggie for all the ruin around him, but Elsa insists that if she hadn’t come clean even more would be dead. She instructs Maggie to start changing Jimmy’s bandages, because she’s gotten in touch with an old friend who will be able to make him a new set of hands.
Jimmy looks mulish, but ultimately gives in, because Elsa’s back in hardcore maternal mode, where she’s kind of terrifying and kind of nice, and her affection for this (idiot) boy is palpable. It’s sort of unfortunate that “Freak Show’s” cast became so large that some of its best actors haven’t really interacted in several episodes, because Jessica Lange and Evan Peters are awesome together here, and when Elsa talks about the weight of history between the two of them, it feels legit.
Maggie, whose “cleaning” seems to involve patting alcohol along Jimmy’s arm at random, apologizes and swears she’s going to make it right for everyone. She claims she loves Jimmy and her feelings for him were never part of the lie. But a furious Jimmy is crying, and says it’s her fault his hands are in a jar. Maggie insists she’s changed and that she’s going to make things right with everybody, though she doesn’t seem to have much of a plan for how to do so.
Danny Huston to the rescue! Elsa’s “old friend” Massimo Dolcefino arrives, the steampunk carpenter who made her wooden legs. The two have an emotional reunion complete with longing stares and soft lighting, in case you didn’t get the memo that they are, like, cosmic or something. After they’re done hugging it out, they go to Jimmy, where Elsa reveals her wooden legs and explains that Massimo’s skill with prosthetics saved her life. They also explain their tragic love story for him while taking measurements, and while Lange and Huston sell the crap out of it, even if it doesn’t make much more sense than last year when he was a semi-corporal ghost trapped in her house for several decades.
Massimo went on a killing spree across Europe to punish the men who cut off Elsa’s legs, but ended up getting caught and tortured. He survived, and even made it to America to look for Elsa, but gave up on finding her when he realized he had no humanity left inside because of the war. This doesn’t really make sense, but I’m assuming it’s just meant to sound like the similarly nonsensical “you don’t have a soul” business from “Coven." Eyeroll forever.
Chester is having lady problems. Chester, Bette and Dot are busy enjoying their new physical relationship but the girls are a bit freaked out by the constant presence of creepy Marjorie the puppet. The Marjorie in Chester’s head is unhappy about this development and, as punishment, tells him that he is the person who beat his wife and her lesbian lover to death. Marjorie advises Chester that since love clearly makes him lose control, he should go ahead and just kill Bette and Dot to get them out of the way. Chester agrees.
Meanwhile, Dandy – still determined to win back Bette and Dot’s affections – visits the twins to tell them about their new boyfriend’s wife-murdering past. (Dandy calling someone a “beastly sicko” is fabulously awful fun, by the way.) Bette and Dot insist they don’t believe him, but the file he leaves behind, full of details from his private detective, seems to make them a little uneasy. And next thing you know, they’re suddenly deciding to resign as Chester’s assistant in his magic show.
This show has no limits to grossness. Naturally, Maggie chooses this moment to volunteer as Chester’s new assistant, despite the fact that he appears to be in the middle of a nervous breakdown. Poor, dumb Maggie. Chester, who is having some difficulty staying with one reality, keeps seeing his dead wife in her place and so he proceeds to literally saw Maggie in half. She screams and screams, and no one seems in any rush to return from backstage to find out what the screaming is about. She’s dead, and it’s very gross.
If you’d told me at the beginning of this season the most shocking moment would come when guest star Neil Patrick Harris sawed Emma Roberts in half and all her intestines fell out I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet here we are. Wow.
Elsa gets a warning. During the gang’s earlier confrontation with Stanley, he told the rest of the troupe Elsa killed Ethel. It turns out that everyone else believes this pretty much instantly, which is kind of sad given how much we’ve seen Elsa genuinely care for an about these people. Sure, she is actually guilty, but since Elsa is maybe the only person this season who killed someone who was actually trying to kill her first, that seems an important distinction. Context matters, people. The group decides it’s time for Elsa to die in order to secure their own futures. No gratitude in show business, I guess.
Luckily, Bette and Dot – who don’t seem that upset about the fact that their (ex?) boyfriend just sawed their coworker in half – visit Elsa in time to tell her that her beloved monsters are plotting her death. Elsa doesn’t want to believe it, but then she does, because Elsa is, of all things, a pragmatist when it counts. She’s a bit surprised that in the end it’s the twins who are trying to help her, but Dot just says that they’re even now.
It’s the beginning of a lot of endings. On her way out of town, Elsa meets with Dandy and collects an envelope full of money. Our merry band of freaks bent on revenge is thwarted when they arrive at Elsa’s tent to find her gone. They’re even more disappointed when they find out that Elsa’s final act was to sell the freak show to Dandy for $10,000, which is a perfectly hilarious twist. Dandy is 100 percent pumped, because this is literally the only thing he has ever wanted. All his Christmases are here.
Massimo, who for some reason has stuck around despite the fact that the freaks have driven his sort-of girlfriend away, presents Jimmy with his new hands. Surprise, they are wooden versions of his former lobster claws.
Chester turns himself into the police, claiming that a girl has been murdered and he’s covered with blood, but he’s holding a puppet, so who knows whether he gets arrested or shipped off to the closest mental hospital.
Dandy finds Stanley alive and in a cage, horribly disfigured and with all of his limbs missing. Dandy seems oddly excited about this, but that might just be because Stanley’s certainly a real freak now. Yikes.
Odds and Ends:
• One of the movie night suggestions is “The Sign of the Cross," the film Sister Jude shows the Briarcliff patients in “Asylum."
• More “Asylum” connections: The Nazi that tortured Massimo is Hans Gruper, otherwise known as Briarcliff’s Dr. Arthur Arden. Now at least we know where he learned to do amputations.
• Interesting that while the stories and characters of “Freak Show” and “Asylum” overlap, there’s so much dialogue and staging that’s straight out of “Coven”.
• Other things that are straight out of “Coven”: Danny Huston killing a bunch of people with an axe for Jessica Lange. Okay, we get it, you crazy kids are starcrossed.
• I’m desperately hoping the finale next week is a flashforward. I need to know how Elsa ends up on the cover of that magazine.