Neil Patrick Harris makes everything better, and that's certainly true for this week's episode of "American Horror Story: Freak Show." His character Chester, a mild-mannered traveling salesman with a love for lizards and ladies, starts off as a mild-mannered Southern gentleman, is the exact sort of character that "AHS" does best: super duper normal and harmless on the outside, although perhaps a little eccentric, and utterly bananas once we stop being polite and start getting real. And, boy, things get real this week.
The show starts with a flashback to two days prior, when Jimmy is presented with a real "Sophie's Choice" dilemma by Richard. Jimmy can rot in jail, where he'll probably meet a similar fate as poor Meep, or he can let Richard sell one of his hands to pay for a lawyer. Of course, Jimmy wakes up in the hospital with not one but two stumps, no lawyer, no painkillers (the nurse sniffs one of her friends was at the Tupperware party), and no future. However, Dell comes by to visit, and they bond and make plans to buy the show from Elsa.
Meanwhile, Dot and Bette have decided that it's time to enjoy the body they inhabit, which means they make lots of lewd jokes to themselves via ESP and try to seduce Toulouse, who proves to be an inept kisser. This change in the twins is sudden and strange, and their monologue about how wonderful and joyous and in touch with pleasure the freaks are has a gross "noble savage" feel to it that feels very much against the grain of the whole "AHS" vibe. On one hand, it makes sense that the twins can only fully embrace their sexuality by rejecting the values of their mother, but the way they describe the openness of the other freaks is dehumanizing and disappointing. Sometimes, it's hard to square what I think is the deeper subtext of the show, our shared humanity and/or lack thereof, with all the characters and their arcs. On one hand, it's great to see them shed their inhibitions, but on the other, it stinks to see them embrace an Elsa-like take on freaks as innocent monsters.
Enter Chester! If we didn't automatically realize he was entirely too gentlemanly to be well adjusted, the brief but bloody visions he has tips us off. When he does his ventriloquist act, we can hear his puppet Marjorie's voice, as played by Jamie Brewer, and later, when the twins seduce him and he insists on having Marjorie with them, well, it's apparent things are just going to get weirder. Especially when he mentions he was in World War II and has a metal plate in his head, and he starts hearing a loud buzzing noise when he gets aroused.
Paul gets in a few great zings in this episode, the best being his advice to Chester to go lighter with his stage makeup. "You look like you just marched out of the Nutcracker Suite," Paul says, much to Marjorie's amusement.
Eve and Dell scheme to save Jimmy. It's absolutely the least interesting part of the episode, although it will no doubt prove to be pretty important by the time the season wraps up in a few weeks.
Back to Chester!
Through flashbacks, we learn about Chester's dark past, and boy, it is a doozy. See, he's really into the twins both digging him because then he doesn't feel left out; we soon find out why he has this deep-seated fear of being left out during a flashback. Cut to: Chester sitting in an armchair, smoking a cigarette, with Marjorie on his knee. He's watching two women in bed. One of them is his wife. After a while, he declares he is going to go to the garage to work on his magic. Eventually, both his wife and her lover meet a gruesome end at the hands of Marjorie, which again, is played by Jamie Brewster dressed like Chester's mannequin. As the P.I. Dandy has hired to follow the twins and their new lover explains, Chester's been on the run ever since.
Yep, Dandy hired a P.I. to follow the twins, and he is super sad that Chester deflowered them.
The newest act Chester is working on is the old saw a lady in half trick, and he wants the twins to be his assistants. "We don't want to be sawed in half any more!" one cries. No, no, he makes it clear that they're his assistants, and it's because they're beautiful, and no one is going to get sawn in half, obviously, because that would be perfectly crazy. Right?
It seems appropriate that two guys who come across as polite to the point of being milquetoast, Dandy and Chester, are actually murderous freaks given half a chance. It's perfect that they become archenemies. In retaliation for sleeping with the twins, Dandy steals Marjorie and hides her in the main tent. She's sitting and calmly eating grapes when Dandy finds her, and then she starts making demands. She wants him to get rid of these new ladies he's involved with - and this time, he has to do the dirty work himself.
The Jig Is Up
As we saw in the last episode, Maggie's change of heart means she's coming clean about her grifting ways. Specifically, she brought Desiree to Philly to see Ma Petite floating in a jar full of formaldehyde, just to really drive home her point. Somehow, they transport this giant jar full of Ma Petite back to Jupiter, FL., and Maggie reveals the truth to Elsa. While Desiree is questioning Dell, we hear Elsa scream from across the camp. Although Desiree is armed and dangerous, it's Elsa that puts a bullet through Dell's skull. Bye, Dell.
Drew Rin Varick, who plays Toulouse, says one line in this episode. After his kissing style is criticized, he protests, "But I am French!" That might actually be the most he's said in the entire show.
Paul the Illustrated Seal Man is getting in loads of zingers. Seems he's healed completely from the stabbing incident, but where's Penny?