America's favorite freak show took a breather over Thanksgiving, which was just long enough for the events of the seventh episode to get a little fuzzy. Don't remember what happened? This recap might help. Then again, it might not, because try as I might, it seems like a few important details slipped through the cracks in this episode.
Let's kick things off with some female trouble.
Die, Mommy, Die!
The whole freak/family metaphor is really being pounded home again and again. The last episode focused on bad daddies, so naturally this week is all about their mothers and mother figures. Gloria Mott (Frances Conroy) has started chain-smoking and seeing a shrink, but she's still trying to protect Dandy (Finn Wittrock) from outsiders and/or himself even though she knows the whole situation is all about to blow. Dandy isn't too pleased when he realizes that the nice doctor's inkblots aren't really testing his amazing IQ. When his old pal Regina (Gabourey Sidibe) shows up looking for Dora (Patti LaBelle), push really comes to shove in the Mott household.
After the unsettling discovery of Ma Petite's bloody dress, Elsa (Jessica Lange) loses it, and no wonder - she carted Ma Petite around like a baby doll in between manicures. Ethel's back on the hooch, so between that and the cancer, she's really got a go-for-broke attitude when it comes to tolerating an iota more of Elsa's BS. Ethel (Kathy Bates) confronts Elsa about her plans to knock off the twins, accuses her of killing Ma Petite, and finally pulls a pistol on Elsa and shoots her right in the leg prosthetic. That gives Elsa an opportunity to tell her story about the whole German snuff amputation creepiness, which is ultimately a bit of a letdown, especially since Elsa's confession is very quickly upstaged by her knife-throwing skills. The logic of how or why Ethel, who waits on Elsa hand and foot, or any of Elsa's lovers never noticed her prosthetic legs isn't really addressed. Doesn't she ever get really drunk on schnapps and just trip or something?
And poor Ethel. After her murder, she's dealt yet another indignity by Elsa and Stanley (Denis O'Hare) when they set up an extraordinarily gruesome suicide that leaves her decapitated. (Shall we make a bet on how much the head of a bearded lady might fetch at your local oddities museum?) Maggie's participation in the set-up has her plagued with guilt and acting nice all of a sudden, which is kind of lame. Looks like Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) is taking after his mom and dad in all the wrong ways, with a new booze habit and an ugly temper.
Penny (Grace Gummer) and her new face show up for Ethel's funeral, and when she reveals a story worse than something out of "Ink Master," Desiree (Angela Bassett) goes full-on mama bear. Desiree recruits Amazon Eve and Suzy to help them carry out a terrible/wonderful plan that involves Penny's dad, tar and feathers, a big knife, and alligators. Maggie and her new-found conscience show up and stop them just in time. Boo.
Oh, and all that smothering motherly love Gloria has been doling out to Dandy all these years finally catches up to her. Individuation can be hard, so Dandy skips years of pesky psychotherapy by just shooting Gloria in his weird playroom that's a sort of Christmas hellscape. (Who has red Christmas lights? For that matter, who uses a cat skull as a Christmas tree ornament?)
There are some other weird developments in this episode that don't quite fit in to the scheme of things yet. First, the Tattler twins (Sarah Paulson) are gone. Last time we saw them, Dot was scheming to get Elsa to hire a doctor to separate them, and they were trading weird letters while Bette was working on her comedy routine or something. Now? Nothing. They're gone. They're referred to in passing, and it seems clear that we're not supposed to think that they've been murdered (yet?), so... where are they? With an ensemble this large, it makes sense that the characters take turns being the protagonist, but usually we at least see everyone hanging around in the background somewhere, no matter how little they have to do that episode.
The same goes for Paul (Mat Fraser). In the preview for this episode, there's a shot of Penny and Paul in her old house surrounded by flames as they menace Penny's dad. Did that get scrapped in favor of the tar and feathering? When Maggie's trying to persuade Penny not to kill her pops, she refers to how much Paul loves her and how awful it would be for Penny to throw it all away just to, you know, tar and feather and murder her father, even if he did drug her and have her face tattooed and tongue split. It's safe to infer that Paul's still alive, so this just feels sort of sloppy.
Then there's Ima Wiggles (Chrissy Metz), the newest member of the sideshow. Elsa was just chilling in Miami and walking around some sort of pseudo-medical spa when she spotted Barbara trussed up in one of those awful vibrating fat loss machines. Naturally, she recruits Barbara, renames her Ima Wiggles, and brings her home to Jupiter. What's also disconcerting is the disgust on Jimmy's face when he stares at Ima. Elsa sees him looking at Ima and comments on how comforting it would be to snuggle up to Ima and bury his head in her chest, much as he would do with Ethel's "bosom," and although Jimmy's initially offended, he's totally weeping into Ima's cleavage by the end of the episode. Where's this going?
The keywords for this episode are "mother," "sister," and "bosom." Like, multiple bosoms. And one "suckling" for good measure.
Why was Elsa in Miami? Should we infer that she dropped off the twins at this ritzy health resort for their surgery?
That last shot of Dandy. Or should we say Mr. Bathory?