AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW It's hard to not feel a little disappointed in this week's episode of "American Horror Story: Freak Show" after last week's hour-and-a-half long season premiere, but not every day can be Halloween. (Okay, it can be, but it sure gets exhausting.)

Last week's extravaganza poured the foundation for the "Freak Show" world and introduced the major players, so it makes sense that "Massacres and Matinees" would take a step back to fill things out a bit and set various arcs in motion. It also handily sets up a number of rivalries and alliances that we'll see play out over the season (see below for a more detailed breakdown). Still, it can be a little trying to watch an episode that feels like it's just setting things up and giving us little tastes of what the writers are building towards. Although lots of stuff happens, watching this episode felt a little like treading water.

Spoilers ahoy.

Now that the foundation for this season of "American Horror Story: Freak Show" has been set, the cast is beginning to come together. Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis) and Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett) roll into town looking for a new gig after things went very seriously south in Chicago. Dell is your typical strong man with a temper, except his wife has "three titties, proper girl parts, and a ding-a-ling," as Desiree puts it. "I'm a full-blown hermaphrodite. Put that on your banner." It feels like a diva-off is coming, and if it's anything like what went down in "AHS: Coven" between Bassett and Jessica Lange, it will be awesome. In the meantime, we've got to make do with Dell bullying his way around the sideshow, starting with making everyone do matinee shows. Dell also has a history with Ethel - and although Jimmy doesn't know it yet, with Jimmy as well.


Dell Vs. Everyone (But Especially Jimmy)

We've established that Jimmy has a bit of a temper, yeah? Well, he comes by it naturally. In a flashback, we see a young Ethel pulling a gun on Dell just as he's about to snap their newborn son's neck. Now Dell has sort of bullied his way into the position of manager, making him Ethel's boss. Dell also overrides Elsa's wishes about doing matinee shows, and then has the gall to give her the lowest billing - a truly unforgivable move.

Meanwhile, Jimmy's feeling kind of bad about murdering that policeman and getting the rest of the side show performers to chop him up in little pieces. Everyone else is like, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, so they burn the pieces. The only thing that won't burn is the cop's badge. Not a very subtle hint, but there's not a lot of subtlety in the "AHS" universe.

Jimmy's frustration with being a "freak" is building. "They don't even know us. If they just got to know us, they would see we're just like them. No better, no worse. Just regular people. That's what we gotta do - let 'em know us!" Of course, when Jimmy says that, it's just as he and Paul the Illustrated Seal (Mat Fraser) and Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin) are digging up and burning body parts, so you know, it's all relative. His quest leads him to an outing with the other performers to the local diner for lunch. That goes about as well as you'd think, and then Dell shows up to make it worse.

So starts the official rivalry between Jimmy and Dell, as well as Elsa and Dell, Ethel and Dell, and pretty much everyone Dell comes into contact with. We also have yet to see him do much of anything in the strong man department, although he does put on a fake fancy mustache for the matinee show.

Dot Vs. Bette (And Maybe Elsa)

As it turns out, Bette couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. Elsa doesn't care; they're just supposed to lure people in to see Elsa's grand finale! But they've gotta do something. No one appreciates Desiree's suggestion, which is based on an act she saw in Mexico involving ping-pong balls, but Jimmy coaxes Dot to sing. Both Bette and Elsa are horrified to learn that Dot is actually the one with talent, which leads into one show-stopping performance of Fiona Apple's "Criminal," complete with a crowd-surfing little person and Bette chiming in with a tremulous harmony on occasion.

Bette and Dot don't look particularly great in long shots, but close-ups are where Sarah Paulson's performances really shine. Although the Dutch angles used to separate the twins get tiresome, it highlights the different mannerisms, voices, and expressions she uses for each character.

It's bad enough to upstage your boss, but when you're a better singer than the person who's sharing your body? Well. Elsa knows a growing mutiny when she sees it, and given that Bette and Dot are just supposed to lure the rubberneckers in to see her perform, she's more than happy to fan the flames of jealousy.

Twisty Vs. Dandy?

I'm not sure if I should have seen this coming, but WOW. Okay. Dandy (Finn Wittrock) works himself up into a snit and leaves his fancy escargot lunch in a huff because he wants to be a thespian, and Gloria (Frances Conroy) would really prefer he settle down with one of the many nice girls she's tried to fix him up with. You definitely get the feeling that Dandy has done something terrible to at least one of those girls, which is compounded when their housekeeper, played by Patti LaBelle, tells Gloria that she found assorted animal parts in the backyard and the neighbors have been looking for their cat.

No one mentions that Dandy drinks cognac out of a cut-crystal bottle with an engraved silver band around the nipple.

Gloria goes out to find Dandy, who's run off to beg Jimmy for a job at the circus, and as she's puttering along some back road of Jupiter, she encounters Twisty, whom she hires to be Dandy's plaything. After Jimmy tells Dandy in no uncertain terms to hit the road, Dandy returns home to find his new friend.

"You can do anything you want with him!" Gloria twinkles. It's not clear if she means Twisty or Dandy, because by now I'm beginning to wonder if she realizes just how grotesquely awful Dandy is. But maybe not! After all, she didn't blink twice when she came face to ghoulish face with Twisty, and then she let him hang out in Dandy's playroom with his croquet set and stuff. Boundaries. Bad boundaries.

Even Twisty thinks Dandy is a weirdo, because soon enough he takes his toys and goes home. Unfortunately, Dandy follows him. And it's doubly unfortunate for Twisty's captives, because Dandy is pretty stoked to have some new toys to play with. The real question is whether or not Twisty will share, or for how long.

Worth Noting:


1. Ethel's role as Elsa's sidekick means she has a complicated relationship with the other performers. Like Elsa, she calls them "my monsters" or "my freaks," although Ethel is more aware of the fact that she's just as much of a freak in the eyes of the outside world. Elsa's secret, which was revealed in the last scene of the last episode, has to come out eventually; it's Chekhov's gun, and no matter how long she's kept it hidden, it's gonna go off before the season ends.

2. We need more Desiree and a little less Dell, or at least a little more complexity to Dell. Dell is a blowhard bully, and while that's all well and good to create conflict, Desiree needs some screen time. There is never enough Angela Bassett in the world. Plus, I want to know more about their relationship.

3. Poor Meep.

4. There is a tiny glimpse of Twisty's unmasked mouth, and boy, it is horrendous.

5. On the wait-and-see front, I'm pretty skeptical about Patti LaBelle's character. On one hand, it's the '50s, and the Motts are obnoxious rich people. On the other, really? On the third hand, there's still plenty more to be unveiled, and it's obvious her character knows much more than she lets on. Let's just hope they make better use of LaBelle than they did of LuPone in "Coven."

6. I really wish Mat Fraser, Erika Ervin, and Rose Siggins were given more significant roles. They're all professional performers, so why not given them something more to do than lob the occasional one-liner?

7. What happened to Jimmy's side gig? No more flipper action?