Ever since Freak Show premiered, I’ve stated that this is probably the best season of American Horror Story, a series that usually starts off strong at the beginning of each season, only to waste its last few episodes trying to tie everything up. Early on, I said the biggest problem that will befall Freak Show is the conclusion. If it could avoid rushing the ending, and stick to a plan for the entire season, it could actually be the first truly great season of American Horror Story. Well, on the penultimate episode, we get an episode that showcases the biggest problems of AHS, and starts to undo all the goodwill it created throughout the season.
“Show Stoppers” plays like its trying to rush through the motions, right from the opening scene. The freaks have discovered Stanley’s true nature and plan on getting revenge for him murdering their own, and now betraying Elsa. At the beginning of the season, AHS made obvious references to the film Freaks, but here Elsa spells it out for Stanley and the audience, basically saying that what they’re about to do to Stanley is directly from that film. “Show Stoppers” even bookends the episode with Stanley’s ultimate fate, the exact same thing that ended Freaks.
Stanley’s quick story resolution is the true problem of “Show Stoppers” though, as the episode seems to come to the conclusion that it there are too many irrelevant characters on the show, and cuts them out as simply as possible. Which brings me to Chester. He was introduced last week, concludes his story this week, and seemingly had no purpose other than to deflower the Tattlers and kill another problem character. Under the spell of Marjorie, Chester saws Maggie in half—quite possibly the most gruesome death in the show’s history—a shame considering how Maggie and Jimmy’s story seemed to be going in a particularly sad and interesting direction.
But soon after killing Maggie, Chester comes to the conclusion that Marjorie is just a dummy, something he’s been dealing with for years, leaves the circus and gives himself up to the police. Also too conveniently, the freaks all finally come to the realization that Elsa killed Ethel, and plan on getting revenge for their true mother. They probably should’ve realized this weeks ago, but hey, that wouldn’t have coincided with the finale!
“Show Stoppers” does feel incredibly rushed, but also set out some interesting directions for the finale. For example, Dandy as the new owner of the freak show makes perfect sense. I can’t believe I didn’t even consider it before, especially given his penchant for showmanship and his love of vengeance for those that have wronged him. Hell, Dandy might even be a better owner than Chester.
“Show Stoppers” also gives us some pretty great material centered around making a clean start. Dandy finds a new calling, Elsa is forced to begin again somewhere else and Jimmy is given the new beginning he’s always wanted, with a pair of “normal” hands. Elsa and Massimo’s scenes together are surprisingly beautiful, hinting at a love that could’ve been. It’s also a welcome surprise when Jimmy receives his new hands from Massimo, only to discover that they resemble his old hands exactly.
Had this been the actual finale, the season could have ended on an incredibly bleak note, leaving things vague, without forcing the show to tie everything up. Oh well, there’s almost the possibility that next season will get it right.
“Show Stoppers” goes to some compelling places for the final episode, but it also gives Freak Show the problematic rushed feeling that every other season has suffered from. This second half of this season, the show has slowly disintegrated into those past errors, spoiling the good it had done prior. At this point Freak Show is still probably the strongest season of the series so far, it’s just a shame the show isn’t learning from its past mistakes.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.