Previously, Joshua and I discussed the latest season of American Horror Story. We focused on what we thought worked. We discussed the character, the setting and the moments we enjoyed. Now, we’re going to discuss what we thought didn’t work.
I thought the idea of having a freak show as a setting was a good choice. But the writers really made this season awkward. They had a few episodes where the focus was crime and human behavior. The character Twisty was scary but a bit of a letdown when we realized he was just a serial killer. Things got worse when he was paired with Dandy. They tried a different tactic when they introduced a ghost, Edward Morodrake. If you’re going to have a supernatural theme, you need to play it out through the whole season. You can’t just pick a few episodes to include a supernatural element.
Whereas previous seasons of AHS felt cohesive and well-crafted, Freak Show meandered in a way that brought more viewer malaise than excitement. Subplots were brought up and quickly abandoned; some were definitely more interesting than others, but it made it difficult to invest emotionally in the season and many of its characters. Having episodes without Dandy or Dot & Bette in favor of a lukewarm subplot focusing on less compelling characters brought the shows momentum to a crawl, destroyed continuity, and prevented any chance for a cumulative buildup of tension through focused storytelling.
The Demise of the Characters:
It a given that characters from any show will die at some point. This show took too much freedom with this rule. It was sad when they killed off Meep. It made sense in a way. The public was outraged by the murders. They blamed Elsa and her troupe and took Meep away after he’d been framed. I couldn’t keep shaking my head in disbelief as Dandy killed most of the troupe. I understand he had a gun. But why did the writers choose to kill off most of the cast this way? It would’ve made a much better scene if they fought back.
Twisty the Clown is being hailed as the scariest evil-clown in the history of horror. I wasn’t upset when it turned out Twisty was merely a misunderstood antihero, as many so-called “villains” of our genre are actually victims themselves. His appearance at the beginning of this season was one of the most compelling and immediate hooks of the series; he was chilling and multi-facetted. Twisty brought the level of terror to a level never experienced in the history of AHS, and what do they do with his character? They write him out after 4 lousy episodes.
Favoring Some Characters:
Of course we all had our favorite characters this season. The writers seemed to have theirs as they focused on some and abandoned others. Dell seemed to be given some screen time. Michael Chiklis is one of my favorite actors so I didn’t mind. At one point, they decided to kill him off when they felt it was time. His wife Desiree, played by the amazing Angela Bassett, seemed to given screen time here and there. The con artist, Maggie and Stanley had a good backstory, but it played out too long. Stanley’s demise was fitting and terrifying. Maggie’s death was a dull moment that was added as an after-thought. Chester, played by Neil Patrick Harris, was another character that started out interesting. He carried a ventriloquist dummy that may or may not be alive. We last saw him at a police station confessing to murder. Yet we didn’t find out what happened next.
Elsa can be seen as both a strength of the season and a weakness. She was certainly complex and flawed enough to make for a compelling character study, and her conflicting passions for the troupe and her own ambitions were powerful and often tragic. And while I would definitely rank Elsa in this season’s top 10 successes, the focus on her at the exclusion of other, equally interesting characters was a mistake. The result is that Elsa’s struggles lose their power over us as the show meanders, ultimately detracting from her complicated soul.
Personally, Freak Show and Asylum were my least favorite seasons. Both made the mistake of cramming too much into one season. The loss of focus hurt the plot and the characters. Both also tried to experiment by switching with different story line elements. The writers need to pick one theme and stick with it. If they go from supernatural to the natural, it’ll hurt the flow of the season.
All in all, more than any other season (even Coven) Freak Show felt like it never really grabbed the potential creative opportunities that were available. It was a seasons of occasional highs and many dreary valleys. While there were definitely some powerful moments throughout, Freak Show doesn’t have the kick of previous seasons, especially Asylum which has become the benchmark upon which all future seasons will be measured. Better luck next year.
Readers, please weigh in. What did you think of this past season? What worked for you, what left a bad taste in your mouth? The new season will be here shortly. Do you have any suggestions or predictions for the new season? I’d like to thank Joshua for joining me and helping me discuss this great show. While this past season wasn’t the greatest, I’m still a fan of American Horror Story.
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