American Horror Story: Freak Show Review: “Blood Bath”

(Episode 4.08)

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<i>American Horror Story: Freak Show</i> Review: &#8220;Blood Bath&#8221;

Around this point every season, American Horror Story becomes aware of just how full its cast is, and decides the show needs to spill some blood, and whittle down the numbers. Freak Show didn’t really need to do this, considering the group mentality works far better for this season than it has in the past, but this time around “Blood Bath” is used as a way to push our characters forward, to their final act.

But as the Christmas trees are put up and the lights are coming out, it’s also time for American Horror Story to get ready for the holidays and talk about family. Or rather, which family members it wants to kill off. On AHS, Halloween might seem like the most horrific holiday of the year, but it’s really all that red of Christmas that spells unexpected disaster for this show.

Most important here is the pieced-together family Elsa has created for herself. Ma Petite’s death has been discovered and explained away as the result of her being dragged away by an animal. It’s accepted by everyone but Ethel, who’s been waiting for that last straw to confront Elsa. It’s in Elsa and Ethel’s argument where Elsa proclaims herself to be the savior of her freaks, along with Elsa’s reveal that she also had her own savior that makes this the episode’s strongest scene.

But as Elsa goes on to say, the cycle of life will continue, without any of them. So when Elsa kills Ethel when threatened, Elsa not only covers up Ethel’s death, but replaces her with a new freak. As we’re coming to the last few episodes of Freak Show, I’d say this is the first true glimpse we’ve had at how dark Elsa is willing to get for her career. Even though Elsa is slightly upset about losing her best friend, the slightest push from co-conspirator Stanley puts her priorities back in place. And even though we’ve known she fancies herself a star, never before have we seen just her so blatantly describe herself as a savior. But these delusions of grandeur have been set up all season to be what eventually destroys her.

The most obvious of murders, though, is Dandy finally killing his mother, especially around the time she starts questioning his actions. We see that Dandy has always had a darkness to him, killing animals, and even “losing” one of his only friends. Dandy was always headed down this road, he just needed the push from Twisty to get him to this point. Gloria Mott loved her son too much to do what needed to be done, but with the arrival of Regina Ross searching for her recently killed mother, it’s easy to imagine Gabourey Sidibe putting up with much of Dandy’s crap.

Finally, the least important attempted murder is also symbolically the most essential, with the tar and feathering of Penny’s father. Penny understandably wants retribution for her father’s actions, so she gathers the lady freaks, and they kidnap him, and threaten to kill him in a pretty gruesome way. But when Penny chooses to forego murdering her own father, she makes herself better than how people see her. For these so-called “freaks,” we’ve seen the public treat them as such, and there is no hope, no future, no ambition. They can do whatever, and it doesn’t matter. But thanks to the last-minute intervention of Maggie, they realize that they are their actions, not the way they look. We’ve seen these “freaks” do some awful things—especially Dandy—but like Jimmy, or even at times Ethel, the actions create the person, not the outward appearance.

I’m very fascinated to see where Freak Show goes from here. With “Blood Bath,” it killed off two of its best actresses, with Kathy Bates and Frances Conroy. In past seasons, the show has killed these two off, but brought them back in strange ways that were pretty awful. But due to the realism we’ve seen this season, dead is now dead. As we wrap up the final third of this incredibly strong season, fingers are crossed that AHS can keep up the quality for once, and stick the landing at the point where it usually just falters.

Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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