We're not quite halfway through the season of "American Horror Story: Freak Show," but things are starting to come together nicely. "Bullseye" is an especially satisfying episode because it offers a few juicy reveals that play off of each other and have already set certain events and revelations in motion, but not so many that we're overwhelmed. Relative to the non-stop craziness that Ryan Murphy et al packed into just one "Edward Mordake" episode, "Bullseye" has a little breathing room that lets us take in the different revelations and the themes that are gaining clarity.
Spoilers from here on out!
The Wheel of Fortune
It's Elsa's birthday week, because that's how she rolls. As one does, she pulls out the good old Wheel of Fortune to practice her aim - the TV crowd goes wild for knife throwing, am I right? As she pictures different targets, she contemplates her own ruthlessness; Elsa will do whatever it takes to manifest her own destiny, no matter what she has to destroy in the process.
The Wheel of Fortune symbolizes change, fate, destiny, things we can't control, and all that jazz. It's usually associated with good stuff (Pat Sajak!) but that doesn't mean the changes in store will be painless, what you expected, or even positive; the Wheel can turn the other way too.
Elsa set things in motion last episode when she unceremoniously dumped the Tattler twins on the Motts' doorstep. Back at the Motts, Dandy is sad about the new cook and misses Dora - "Hindsight is 20/20, my dear," Mrs. Mott counsels - but he's absolutely thrilled with his new best friends. He's insulted when his mother provides him with a silver tray full of condoms, and not just because they're presented to him like an entrée. It's actually not clear why he's so angry; is it because he loves the twins and wouldn't "violate" them (his words, ick) or if he's offended that she thinks their DNA will further pollute the Mott gene pool or just, well, who knows what goes through Dandy's creepy head?
As for Bette and Dot, they've got very different things on their minds. As usual. The scene of them laying on their big fancy bed, scribbling in their journals side by side is impressive; not all of the special effects for Dot and Bette have looked great, to be honest, although Sarah Paulson's double performance is worth the price of admission. Bette's in love and eats up every decadent spoonful of caviar and BS that Dandy dishes out. Dot's still dreaming of being surgically separated from Bette, but it's so dangerous and expensive. How could she ever get her hands on that sort of dough? Well, maybe Dandy is good for something after all.
In a most delightful development, Paul the Illustrated Seal (Mat Fraser) is getting more and more of an active role in the narrative. During her birthday party, Elsa receives a pair of fancy underthings as a gift from Paul; she laughs it off and calls him cheeky. It's all in good fun, right?
Cut to Elsa and Paul snuggled in bed together, with Elsa enjoying a post-coital puff of opium. Since she's Elsa, she's condescending and terrible and tells him he can come with her to LA and be her driver and when she finds a "normal suitor," he can just stick around and be her chauffeur. She sends him away, but not before requesting that he pick up Ma Petite from the chair she was sitting in in the corner of Elsa's tent (just hanging out and watching?!) and give the tiny but adult woman to Elsa for Elsa to snuggle like a baby. Oh, Elsa. Come on!
There's still love in the cards for Paul, and it's with someone we met a while ago. Apparently, he's kept in touch with Penny the Candy Striper (Grace Gummer) even after how horribly things went down the last time she was chez Elsa. Penny's back living at home, and her dad isn't tolerating any more shenanigans, which means he nearly catches Paul and Penny snuggling. Later, her dad catches her as she's sneaking out to be with Paul and nearly shoots her. She does a little song and dance about living a real life and not dying a slow death in suburbia and all that melodramatic jazz. Kind of like the Pulp song "Common People," except with a sideshow.
It's all really sweet, except for the fact that Penny was clearly intoxicated and unable to give consent during the orgy that was filmed by Elsa et al in order to blackmail her. So, that puts a damper on things.
This episode of "Freak Show" probably doesn't include references to all of the cards in the Major Arcana of the Tarot (although I certainly could be wrong!), but at least it hits the biggies. With a TV show like "AHS," there's always a question about whether or not your favorite character will be knocked off at any time without so much as a how-do-you-do. Trying to suss out who might be next is somewhere between a hunch and some complicated system of weights and balances, such as how famous the actor is or how prominently they're featured in the advertising (although "Game of Thrones" certainly fooled us there!) or even if one of the actors will be doing interviews or appearing in the media the next day.
Paul's growing suspicion that Elsa had something to do with the twins' disappearance combined with his love for Penny made him a likely candidate. Elsa smells Penny's perfume on him, and he confronts Elsa about using and abusing them all and having "a deceitful and demonic soul," among other zingers. When Elsa finds out people think she's behind the disappearance, which she is, she flips out and demands they all gather in the main tent for a little Wheel of Fortune. Paul volunteers. Just as it seems that Elsa is only trying to scare Paul by getting perilously close to his head and groin, she throws a knife right into the side of his stomach.
Is it possible Paul will get a reprieve? The doctor or ambulance Elsa supposedly called hasn't shown up yet, but Penny makes it to Paul's side for a rather sweet scene despite Elsa's cutting remarks. Paul looks greenish and sweaty, but the preview for next week's episode is giving me a little hope he'll make it yet.
Then there's Dandy and Dot. Bette's eating out of the palm of Dandy's hand, but Dot isn't having any of it. Naturally, Dandy reads her diary and has an epic meltdown about how he "was never destined to feel love" and how he's full of the dust and scorpions of the desert his mom took him to when he had TB and wahhhh my fee fees are hurt! Then, with clear eyes, he takes out a big fancy knife and announces he's found his special purpose. Sadly, it is not the kind of special purpose that Navin Johnson has in "The Jerk." Dandy declares, "My purpose is to bring death."
And then Jimmy Darling knocks on the front door and asks to see Dandy, then demands to see the twins. So that's gonna end well.
Speaking of death, Stanley and Maggie are still trying to find someone to kill and sell as a museum specimen. Maggie kidnaps Ma Petite but doesn't have the heart to go through with it, although we are treated with a horrible fantasy version that features Ma Petite dying in a jar of formaldehyde. Ma Petite seems to be unaware of how narrowly she missed becoming a museum specimen, and then Amazon Eve takes her to eat pancakes for breakfast. Yay? Stanley's second choice is Jimmy and his lobster claw hands, and Maggie's trying everything in her power to avoid it. Luckily for her, Jimmy's removed himself from the equation by going to visit Dandy, aka Death in a Handful of Grown Man Tantrum Tears.
Mrs. Mott offered Elsa a fat check for the twins in the first episode, and it's not as if Elsa would have just given her the twins. How much cashola did Elsa get for them?
There are too many fake-outs with Stanley and Maggie. The tint and gauziness of the shots give clues that we're watching a fantasy, but nothing feels steadfast in the "AHS" universe. Anything is possible, which is exciting but ultimately undermines our faith as viewers that the writers aren't just jerking us around.
Everyone's turning on Elsa, but her scene with Ethel and that ominous slice of birthday cake is the best so far.
Paul's cutting comment to Jimmy that he's lucky because he can "pass" in public echoes Andy's comments to Dell in last week's episode.
Hey, what happened to Andy? Did he ever actually die?