Synopsis of 4×10: The death of a freak leaves Pepper a mess and we get to learn what lead her to the freak show and ultimately the Asylum. The history and the formation of the Freak Show plays out center stage.
I wish that this was what every episode of AHS had been like this season. While the episode trailed a little too long for my liking, each moment that Naomi Grossman was on screen was an absolutely wondrous one. Subtlety never was AHS’s strong point, and frankly it wasn’t it’s goal to begin with, but Naomi’s performance – with the subtle changes of the face and the fantastic use of body language in a mostly silent role – was the one to beat this season.
“Orphans” wasn’t an episode solely about children without parents, as most of the characters of this show are, but about families and what truly constitutes a parent. Many of the characters on this show have children (namely Ethel who is still dead), but many of the characters also long to be parents, to raise a child with all of the love that they weren’t shown. But let’s get started with this recap!
The episode begins with Salty having succumbed to a quick, and unfortunately untimely, death. While Elsa declares that the death of a freak is always sad but never a surprise, Pepper isn’t taking well to her partner’s death. She’s bereaved by the death of her longtime mate (who Elsa actually found for her by writing out and searching for a match to make them a pair) and the rest of the cast can’t get her to calm down. Stanley and Elsa seem unconcerned by this and rightfully so; there’s a new head on display in the museum. Desiree makes it her job to take care of the grieving Pepper, and we get to see what could have been had Desiree not had her chance at motherhood taken away from her. Had the world accepted her for who she was, had she been diagnosed correctly as a child, Desiree would have been one of the best mothers on AHS in my opinion.
With another freak gone, the show is continually crumbling apart. Jimmy is in jail, and while Stanley comes to him offering the chance of finding a lawyer to represent him, he’s seemingly given up. As he’s sobering up in jail, his significant other (Maggie, not the other options the show has given us) has taken to the bottle instead. She’s slowly being driven mad by her guilt but she’s still not willing to admit to her part in any of it. Desiree calls her out on it after she performs a drunken “reading” of her and her lover, Angus’ (Theo of “The Cosby Show” fame), future together. When confronted, Maggie admits that Stanley and her aren’t who they say they are, but she still can’t bring herself to say that they are the ones responsible for the death of the majority of the freaks who’ve unfortunately come to the end of the line too soon.
The episode toes the line between these different makeshift families and how they came to be, but the portrayal of Elsa just reveals how demonic she really is. While she views herself as the mother of the freaks, the one defender of them (I watched Hunchback of Notre Dame recently and she gives me some real “Frollo-esque” feelings when she calls them all freaks and monsters, anyone else remember the beginning to the song “Out There”?), she is just like the ones she says she’s protecting them from.
While it was the fall finale, it didn’t really feel like one. There wasn’t any closure to plot points or anything that really moved it forward, but the last ten minutes of the show did finally connect one season to another.
The last ten minutes finally explained the back story of Pepper and of how she ended up at Briarcliff in Season 2. After Salty’s death, Stanley persuades Elsa that bringing Pepper back home would probably be best for the girl – that doing this and giving her a family would be more humane than just leaving her in Jupiter when she moves to Hollywood. We learned that Pepper was abandoned in an orphanage when she was young and was the first of the freaks to join Elsa (before they traded Dr. Pepper for Ma Petite). They traveled together and had been together for many, many years before Elsa just drops her off with her sister – a terrible worm of a human.
For ten years after Elsa left Pepper in Massachusetts, her sister and her worm of a husband treated Pepper as a slave in their own home. When her sister gave birth to her son, she makes Pepper take care of him and she does so with all her heart. She loves the baby as if he’s her own, and he essentially is. One day though, her sister and brother-in-law commit the terrible act that leads to Pepper’s stay at Briarcliff and her run in with Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe, a blessing as always). Mary sees the kindness in Pepper’s heart and determines that, even if she did commit this crime (which was absolutely horrible and just gratuitous violence that shouldn’t have been aired), she was remorseful for what transpired.
She determines that working the library would be good work, and off Pepper goes to organize books and magazines – with one catching her eye in particular. Time magazine reads “Elsa Mars: She Still Owns Friday Nights” with a head shot of the woman who condemned Pepper to this fate on the cover dated 1958. With all of the foreshadowing in this episode (Maggie notices a certain pair of hands in the Museum) we can only wonder what lies ahead for the show and for Elsa over the last few episodes.
“AHS Freak Show” returns on January 7th, 2015, and rumor has it that Neil Patrick Harris and AHS alum Jamie Brewer will be back! Who knows what’s going on under the big tent now.