If Freak Show has had a uniting theme this season, it’s that we all have masks—all of the characters have masks they wear (willingly or not) to hide the person they truly are. Like Twisty the Clown (R.I.P Twisty!) who wore a smiling face to protect children from the jawless mash of teeth and gums that lay beneath it, everyone on Freak Show is hiding or hoping for a different public perception of who they are.
“Pink Cupcakes” does a fine job of setting up all of our character’s hopes and dreams at this moment, without feeling like that’s all it’s doing. The episode also makes it clear that this isn’t a season about freaks vs. the “normal people,” it’s really about those with humanity and those without.
It’s seeming like the new monster of Freak Show is Stanley, who, going by the name Richard Spencer, is trying to deceive the freaks into thinking he’s a talent scout from Hollywood, ready to whisk them all away to the land of dreams and their own TV shows. When Maggie asks how they’ll capture the freaks to sell to the American Morbidity Museum—jokingly suggesting poison, suffocation and drowning—Stanley is all for brainstorming murder ideas. At least Maggie realizes how awful this all is, and is already starting to distance herself from her partner.
We get to see Stanley’s horrific fantasies, where he’s captured the freaks, putting Paul the Illustrated Seal in a tank, and poisoning Bette and Dot Tattler with pink cupcakes. Through his deception, Stanley stokes the fire of hopes and dreams for the Tattlers, and for Elsa. At first, Elsa shoots down the idea of appearing on TV, saying it’s the death of art and civilization, but after bombing hard with a packed audience, she reconsiders the idea. Similarly, the Tattlers are also promised their own show by Stanley, which of course Elsa doesn’t like due to her desire to stand in the spotlight alone.
The most effective look at humanity in “Pink Cupcakes” comes from the troubled couple, Dell and Desiree. After Jimmy gets shot down by Maggie, he goes to Desiree. One thing leads to another, and the two fool around. However this ends abruptly as Desiree starts bleeding from between the legs and is immediately taken to the doctor. The doctor lets Desireee know that she is actually 100% woman, as opposed to being a hermaphrodite like the always believed herself to be, and that even though she just had a miscarriage, she is able to have children. However, this revelation makes her realize—that not only will she probably not be as desired by her husband as she once was—she also doesn’t want to continue on with him anyway.
Dell is having a similar realization, as he has fallen in love with Andy, a local male prostitute who he promises he’ll run away with one day. When Andy shoots him down, he leaves for the night with Dandy, who’s not looking for companionship but for a victim in his recent blood lust. Dandy kills Andy, though it humorously takes him far longer than he expects, making Dandy’s kill count two in two days—much to the dismay of his mother.
“Pink Cupcakes” is filled with people following their dreams regardless or how it hurts those around them. After this episode, this season could probably be called American Horror Story: You Do You. After the appearance of Edward Mordrake, the death of Twisty (for now) and the rise of both Dandy and Stanley, American Horror Story: Freak Show needed an episode to allow its characters to regroup and place them in their new surroundings and “Pink Cupcakes” does that quite well, without just feeling like a ton of set up.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.