Once again, Jessica Lange is brilliant in her role, claiming it thoroughly and offering a level of dimension few might attain. Her character, Elsa Mars, quickly proves to be a mistress of disguise, first when she uses the candy striper’s uniform to gain access to the twins and later when we learn she walks on artificial limbs. (Was she born this way—thus making her born a “freak” as well—or were her legs amputated at the knees?) Her name, aptly paralleled both with her choice of song in the first episode’s show (David Bowie’s “Life on Mars”) and the setting (Jupiter, Florida) suggest the cast lives in a world separate from ours, that they might as well reside on a different planet.
The writers only delve deeper into the theme of duality—different but the same—with conjoined twins, Bette and Dot. The use of split screens and shots covering only part of one head (the view of Bette showing part of her face coming from the left and the view of Dot coming from the right) furthers the theme’s strength, as does the comparisons the performers make between them and the rest of the world.
Consider Jimmy “the Lobster Boy’s” assertion, “If they would just get to know us, they’d see we’re just like them. No better, no worse.” And compare that to the very weird and demented “normal” rich boy, Dandy’s, statement when he’s denied a spot in the show: “What you’re looking at; that’s not what I am inside.” Of course, we learn that Dandy has a thing for torturing helpless creatures when “[h]e’s just bored,” and his teaming up with Twisty the Clown comes as no surprise. This, obviously, begs the question: What makes a real monster—what’s on the inside or what’s on the outside?
There are two abnormalities that I’m sure have been placed on purpose, those being the anachronistic music selections during both performances and the first two episode’s air lengths (the pilot being 1 ½ hours long and the second episode being 1 ¼). These, I can only speculate, force the audience to feel immersed in the show’s step outside “normalcy.” Even further, the music seems to represent the freak show itself: it is out of place in this time period given the changed attitudes and various laws having been passed among different states that limit or forbid live freak shows for ethical reasons.
With this in mind, I must again reassess my feelings about this season. Is AHS Freak Show merely a modern version of an outdated spectacle, using “freaks” under the guise of offering gainful employment and promoting understanding? Can making a point about the “sameness” of “us versus them” negate the spotlight the writers have put on the “differentness” of its cast? I’m really not sure. I’m an avid fan of the series, but this season might just be the one that blows it for me.