AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW

Although there were some serious let-downs in this week's episode of "American Horror Story: Freak Show," it serves as a reminder of just how far the show runners are willing to push past the boundaries of taste and sanity on basic cable. Of course, the Grand Guignol gore and straight-up weirdness is why most of us watch it, so kudos to everyone involved for making this episode the stuff of nightmares.

Spoilers start here. Let's get this show on the road.

Taking Off the Masks

This week's episode caps off, so to speak, the story of Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley) and solves the mystery of who he was looking to take with him into the greenish fog. Edward, as directed by the demonic face on the back of his head, continues peppering each of the performers with questions about their deepest secrets and darkest shames, which is a cool narrative device that allows us to get to know everyone a little better. Just as Ethel (Kathy Bates) got her chance to shine in the last episode, so does Twisty himself (John Carroll Lynch) manage to share his truly jaw-dropping secret with encouragement from Mordrake.

Mordrake also manages to get Elsa's story out of her, and it's a doozy. We already knew Elsa's biggest secret, the source of her shame and her drive and her delusion: her missing legs. She presents herself as "a benevolent zookeeper," as Mordrake puts it, even though she's no better than the freaks - if anything, she's worse, because she's a liar and a hypocrite. The real secret is how she lost her legs, which is illustrated with a black-and-white flashback that's like Madonna's "Erotica" video crossed with, I don't know, some terrible VHS tape you find at a garage sale that you want to scrub from your brain. Between Twisty's tale of despair and Elsa's gruesome Weimar shenanigans, this episode lived up to the show's name and then some.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAK SHOW

Legless Suzy (Rose Siggins) and Paul the Illustrated Seal (Mat Fraser) both get a chance to share their stories, which is a welcome change of pace from just using them as the freak show backdrop. Fraser is especially excellent, and I hope we see lots more of him in future episodes. Frankly, it's too bad Fraser wasn't cast as the lead himself.

After a near-death experience at the hands of Twisty and Dandy, Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) and Maggie Esmerelda (Emma Roberts) are hailed as heroes by the police for helping them solve the murder mystery. Then the townspeople gather at Elsa's to thank Jimmy and basically do a meet and greet with the freaks. The episode ends when Maggie Esmerelda's pal Stanley (Denis O'Hare) shows up for a ticket to that night's sold-out show. He introduces himself to Elsa as a talent scout from Hollywood named Richard, so we all know just how well that's gonna go.

This is definitely the kitchen-sink approach that "AHS" prides itself on; nestled alongside lecherous small people, a suicidal clown, and snuff is a truly surreal scene of the local Jupiter residents hanging out and sharing some snacks with Elsa's crew in broad daylight.

Sad Omissions

Although it sucks to say goodbye to one of the scariest clowns in TV history, it was Twisty's time to go. What sucks more is that Patti LaBelle's character Dora meets an untimely death at the hands of, who else, Dandy; it's an absolute waste of the fabulous Ms. LaBelle, and it's obvious and just generally boring. I expected more from the writers. For shame!

That goes double for Angela Bassett. All she does is pop up occasionally and make references to being a "hermaphrodite," as per the terminology of the era. At least in "Coven," she was pitted against Jessica Lange in a great diva-off! As long as she's still alive, I'll retain hope that Desiree Dupree will come into her own in a major way - hopefully without her scummy husband Dell (Michael Chiklis).

Bette and Dot didn't have much to do at all in this episode, but it's clear they'll be up to something quite soon. First, Elsa made them mad by telling them they were no longer the star attraction. Then, Jimmy rolled up on his motorcycle with Maggie and her one very pretty head after being out who knows where all night. Based on the previews for next week's episode, Stanley/Richard has something in mind for the twins, inspired no doubt by the conjoined liver of Chang and Eng they saw back in Philly.

There was no musical number this week. It's probably hard to top Jessica Lange covering Lana Del Rey, but if anyone can do it, "American Horror Story: Freak Show" certainly can.