American Horror Story: Season 4: Freak Show - Review

Now that I am finally catching up with American Horror Story, having seen Asylum, Coven, Freak Show and now Roanoke. I think I can safely say that each season has gotten less exciting and vibrant with each following season. While I have yet to see Murder House, Asylum is my favourite season, and then Freak Show coming in second place. I did enjoy Roanoke recently, so that takes third place but I thought Coven was a bit of a mess, things got boring very quickly. But even with the Glee-style out of place, contemporary songs which are used in this season, I think this season is just slightly better than Coven. Maybe with American Horror Story it is time we looked back at the past of the show, rather than getting too excited about the future.

I really liked the villains in this season, we had three main ones, Twisty the Clown, Dandy Mott and Spencer. Each of these characters help to give this season a particularly cruel edge, something which Coven seemed to lack, even with Kathy Bates giving a great performance. Where Freak Show faltered was the episode count, 13 episodes in total, and a lack of story to really stretch across this number of episodes. 10 episodes should have been the limit but something like eight would have worked even better.

Due to the length of the series, Freak Show kept giving us fake flash forwards as well as the old kidnapped/escaped/only to be kidnapped again routine, and a new character, Chester, played by Neil Patrick Harris, thrown in right in the final episodes to help the series feel like it isn't running out of story to tell. For me, this is the main problem with AHS. Why did characters get killed and resurrected so much in Coven, to the point where death didn't matter anymore? Yes, Freak Show managed to draw things out better than Coven did, though this was mainly due to Stanley's 'which freak will die next', storyline.

For me, the biggest problem with this season was the character of Jimmy Darling, played by Evan Peters. The way his story was wrapped up in the final was the right way to send off his character, with his wooden lobster hands. But Jimmy was a real problem over all. He started the season as the muscle who quickly turns into a quivering mess at the death of Meep, someone who no one should have been that upset over, and turns into an alcoholic for a couple of episodes before sleeping with some of the women from the carnival. Then there came the love story between him and Maggie. I don't know if you could call it a love story, there was no chemistry between the pair of them. Maybe everything that makes them a great couple happened off screen?

The other characters are constantly telling Jimmy how much they need him to be their leader and protector, even though he was really terrible at being both of those things. After sleeping with a woman from the carnival, he gets arrested and framed for murders he didn't commit and then cuts his own hands off to get himself enough money to afford a lawyer. He really was a chore to be around. And his performance of Nirvana's Come As You Are, was awful, ranking for me, as the worst musical number that this series produced. And the fact that he had to sing this song to get it out of his angst-ridden soul before confronting Elsa about the twins was just a load of twaddle, it really was!

And even though the character of Edward Mordrake was a very polite bore in the Halloween two-part story, it also gave us the origins of Twisty the Clown and it is easily the best episodes that this season has to offer. Even if Twisty was taken out of the show a little too early, he was a great and twisted inclusion to the series. And he was scary, probably the only character to actually scare me from the AHS series as a whole! Dandy Mott, played by Finn Wittrock was also another great character, even if there were a few episodes towards the end where it appeared that Dandy was less crazy, he managed to offer up some of the most gruesome moments to come out of this season. And the performance from Wittrock was fantastic throughout, even through his final moments.

A different type of evil was offered to us in the character of Stanley, played by Denis O'Hare. He was one who preyed on the vulnerabilities of people in the carnival, Elsa's ambition and Del's closeted homosexuality, to name the most obvious of these. He was a really enjoyable evil character. If there is one thing that AHS does well, it is creating really nice, evil characters, as well as attracting top-list actors to come in and portray them! But AHS can sometimes be a little too self-indulgent. We have a 15 minute flashback which explains the story of how Elsa and Ethel came to meet and the introduction of Ima, the carnival's fat lady, who then just became a character who didn't contribute to the plot.

One question that could be asked about this season is why it had to tie itself to Asylum. Could it have been because both seasons were set in the 1950s and 1960s? Could it have been because it was Jessica Lange's final season? But the moments when it does tie in with Asylum are some of the best moments that season has. It was fantastic to see Lily Rabe return as Sister Eunice, who was alongside Lana Winters, one of my favourite characters in Asylum! And Pepper's, who also appeared in Asylum, storyline was heart breaking. It was the first time that I was actually crying at AHS, Sister Jude's death in Asylum made my eyes water but from the moment that Elsa tells Pepper if she ever feels lonely to put her hand to her cheek, to the moment that Eunice hugs Pepper and then when Pepper sees Elsa on the cover of a magazine, I was an emotional wreck!
And the flashbacks to how the origins of Elsa and Asylum character, Hans Gruper were tied together was a really entertaining Easter egg.

But when Dandy goes on his little shooting spree around the carnival in the final episode, I realised just how little I was actually invested in the majority of the characters. (Never mind the fact that Dandy's gun seemed to be magical and never needed reloading.) This was the biggest problem which the series threw up as we spend quite a well with a few of the carnival members. Maybe it is because we spent to much time flashing forward and backwards, without the show making it clear which ones were real and which weren't. And the season descended into a game of whack-a-mole, with characters being killed off left-right-and-centre, making it the identity of this season.

Freak Show had some brilliant villains but it really collapses under the weight of trying to stretch a thin storyline over thirteen episodes. I'm sure the number of episodes are decided by the network, not the creators, but in the case of Freak Show, more was certainly less...