American Horror Story aired its mid-season finale last night, revealing many of the characters’ origin stories. With a show like Freak Show, it isn’t hard to imagine that all of Elsa Mars’ “monsters” have suffered harrowing tales of judgement, loss and pain in their past lives, a few of which were brought to life earlier this season when Edward Mordrake visited on Halloween. Ethel’s story stands out to me the most, and of course we were witness to Penny’s transformation at the hands of her abusive father. In “Orphans,” the last episode until January 7, we learned more about how Maggie met Stanley, Elsa became the ringleader of her Freak Show and ultimately how Pepper came to Briarcliff Manor, thus connecting for the first time at least one previous season of American Horror Story to the current one with the return of Lily Rabe’s Sister Mary Eunace.
The episode began with Pepper mourning the loss of Salty, who passed in his sleep after suffering a stroke. Pepper was beside herself and Elsa discussed with Stanley her plans for a proper burial for Salty. Stanley made a handful of empty promises once again with Elsa being none the wiser of his lies and mutilated Salty’s corpse selling it to the same museum who paid him for Ma Petite. After trying to console a devastated Pepper, Desiree brings her new beau played by Malcom Jamal Warner to see Maggie and have their fortune told. Unfortunately, Maggie is down on love after Jimmy’s arrest and she drunkenly snaps at Desiree. Maggie returns to her tent in a huff to find Dot and Bette there waiting to give her their life savings to put towards Jimmy getting an attorney for his defense.
Speaking of Jimmy, Stanley ventured out to visit him in the prison. A now sober Jimmy reveals that he actually has no idea if he killed the women in town or not, but ultimately decides that he couldn’t have killed them. Stanley suggests to Jimmy that he get an expensive and renowned defense attorney to take his case but Jimmy doesn’t believe that he could afford it. Stanley hints that he may know of a way to get Jimmy the money that he needs for his defense. After her not so successful conversation with the Tattler sisters, Maggie finds herself drinking alone out on the carousel of the grounds when she’s confronted by Desiree about her behavior earlier at the tent. They fight but ultimately a few scenes later Maggie comes clean to Desiree about Stanley and takes her to the museum where Stanley has been selling the bodies of the “freaks.” It is here that Maggie sees Jimmy’s hands on display.
At the core of this episode was Pepper, Naomi Grossman’s sympathetic pinhead, who was originally seen in season two of the anthology series and made her return this season in Freak Show. While Pepper appearing this season first seemed like an Easter Egg of sorts, it has since turned into the sole confirmed connection between seasons (yes, Madison Montgomery from Coven shares the same last name as Lily Rabe’s character in Murder House but so far, their connection has not been officially confirmed). Pepper’s heartbreaking journey from Elsa Mars’ care to that of her drunk, abusive sister was heartbreaking as Pepper’s own sister commits filicide and blames the death of the baby on Pepper. What seems to be pervasive through this season of American Horror Story is the notion that if you look normal on the outside, you can get away with almost anything. Scapegoating and otherness has long been a powerful tradition in horror and I will say that while I have had my problems with this season so far, I find this point to be very important and am happy that the writers continue to make it.
There were a lot of things teased last night, too. Desiree now knows about what Stanley and his possible accomplices have been up to even if she still doesn’t know about Dell’s involvement, it appears that Jimmy has had his hands removed and we learn that Elsa Mars eventually becomes a TV star. The tease for the mid-season premiere sees the return of Dandy and the debut of Neil Patrick Harris which looks like a gory treat.
American Horror Story returns on Wednesday, January 7, 2015.