With American Horror Story: Freak Show having yet to match the hype behind it, it’s a dog with a bark worse than its bite.
Popular opinion: Circuses are always creepy.
Seriously, it doesn’t matter how modern they are; any and all circuses are like halloween costumes from anytime before 1970.
Not cute, just weird and scary.
So naturally, the 1950’s set “American Horror Story: Freak Show” was supposed to be a fail-safe change of pace for the show.
Unpopular opinion: it isn’t. At least not so far.
If you don’t watch the show for the creepy-factor, you’ll probably be satisfied – it certainly wasn’t bad. But if you are looking to get a good scare, the heightened expectations of “Freak Show” couldn’t have fallen flatter.
How ’bout that “Asylum” crossover?
Set a decade before season two’s “Asylum” premise, “Freak Show” gets super meta by bringing back our favorite microcephaly patient, Pepper, in what we can only hope is an origin story. It also references “Asylum” by mentioning that freaks without a place of their own – the Freak Show – end up at “the madhouse.”
The show has always been used as a surreal platform to insert real-world commentary, and “Freak Show” could be straight out of a stifled 50’s housewife’s fantasy.
From a young couple’s frisky date ending in clown-induced bloodshed to a straight-edged girl discovering (in horror) she enjoyed a freak-run orgy kinkier than “50 Shades of Gray,” getting freaky in this PG society is used as a metaphor for deviance.
Finally, Sarah Paulson seamlessly plays a pair of telepathic siamese twins – the brooding Dot and the simple and seemingly sweet (with an unpredictable streak) Bette. Thanks to a murderous past and pre-existing tension between the two opposites, it seems like we’re in a not-so-calm before the impending storm.
The problem with “AHS: Freak Show” is the same problem the show has always had: it’s a fetishization of horror. It sews together pre-existing cliché horror motifs and the lazy “sex sells” method, and passes it off as something new.
For example, let’s talk about sex, baby.
The show is no stranger to weird sex stuff. But series creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk incorporate sex into the show at an addict level, shoving the world’s laziest attention-grabber down our throats season after season.
The most recent examples include “Flipper Boy” pleasuring women at parties, a freaky orgy, and the classic young-couple-in-a-slasher-film trope. Even the opening credits – while their twisted creativity and originality usually make them the scariest part of the show – are gratuitously sexual.
Don’t get me wrong; the amount of sex packed into episode one would be a cool contrast against the 50’s setting. It’s just a theme that has been exhausted.
It just seems like they’re taking the easy way out by using sex for “shocking” cheap thrills while riding the wave of clichés.
A scary clown?
The “slut” getting murdered first?
Society not accepting what they consider to be a monster?
Even the brilliant Jessica Lange’s character Elsa – a performer trying to reclaim fame – seems like a tired, recycled trope from her power- and youth-hungry character last season.
At least now we can’t blame her for leaving.
Time to mention the clown in the room.
In the premiere that didn’t provide the goosebumps that were expected, Twisty the murderous clown gives us a reason to sleep with the lights on – something this season desperately needs. Murphy said as much, boldly teasing that they would have “the most terrifying clown of all time.”
And with Twisty’s perpetual plastic smile mask hiding whatever horrors it may hide, I’m with Murphy in this case.
In the first episode, the clown’s already murdered three people (at least) and kidnapped two more, who he’s keeping in his van in the forest. His creepiness is only amplified by the fact that he doesn’t seem to have any affiliation with the freak show – he’s just a scary ass forest clown.
Twisty the clown is where “AHS” is doing scary right. Because what’s truly scary is not what lurks in the shadows, but the veil of shadow itself. The freakiest part of Pennywise from “It” wasn’t the weird finale of him turning into a giant spider, but rather the scenes where you saw him from far away just standing there.
What makes Twisty scary is not what’s there, but what isn’t. His muteness and lack of reason for the creepy clown tricks he performs were far scarier than the gore-fests and wild freak-outs that followed. Because in that void left in the lack of reason and speech provides room for the questions and ideas that come into your head. And those are the true source of fear.
Who (and what) is under the mask?
Why didn’t he kill the two people he kidnapped?
What armpit did he crawl out of?
I’m going to stick around to find out. Despite feeling a little tired, American Horror Story has bounced back before and this season has the potential (and the Twisty) to get twisted really fast.
(Featured photo courtesy of screenrant)