American Horror Story is one of the biggest and most-buzzed shows on TV right now and it’s no surprise as the Ryan Murphy series gets to reinvent itself every season. After two stellar seasons – Murder House and Asylum – things went a bit off course with the disappointing third season Coven. For the show’s fourth outing the theme is Freak Show with Jessica Lange returning for her final time as Elsa Mars, the owner of troupe of human curiosities.
American Horror Story: Freak Show is somewhat a return to form for the series. For the most part it rights the wrongs of Coven taking things back to basics and actually remembering to be scary, as well as star-studded. The main storyline centres around Elsa Mars and her determination to get her freak show up-and-running so she can make herself into a star. She brings new act Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson) into the folder hoping that the conjoined twins will attract a whole new wave of visitors.
Running parallel to that main storyline is the story of spoiled rich kid Dandy (Finn Wittrock) and his mother Gloria (Frances Conroy) who has his eye on taking over the freak show and starting a romance with Bette and Dot. There’s also travelling con-man Stanley (Denis O’Hare) and his ‘daughter’ Maggie (Emma Roberts) who arrive at the freak show with the aim of kidnapping some of the freaks to sell to a museum.
As is always the case with American Horror Story there are plenty of other stories and sub-plots flying around throughout the season. In the midst of the season there is a two-part Halloween special that introduces the character Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley), a man driven to murder by the second face on the back of his head, and that threatens to derail things for a while. There’s also Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch), one of the most terrifying characters the series has produced, whose storyline is oddly cut short and giving a disservice to the character.
Freak Show is more good than bad though and once you’ve got past spot-the-celebrity – Michael Chiklis, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, Angela Bassett, Mamie Gummer, Gabourey Sidibe and Matt Bomer all appear alongside the other cast we’ve mentioned – there’s plenty to enjoy. The season has a fairly decent pace and isn’t as frenetic as previous seasons but for for us the pay off at the end was a little disappointing.
The season is packed with strong performances with Jessica Lange impressing once again. Kathy Bates gives another stellar performance as bearded woman Ethel and credit has to go to Sarah Paulson as twins Bette and Dot. The scene-stealer for the season though is relative newcomer Finn Wittrock who is perfect as the demanding, needy and murderous Dandy.
Special features on the Blu-ray release include six behind-the-scenes featurettes ranging from footage of the season’s Hollywood premiere through to character profiles for Twisty and Edward Mordrake.
American Horror Story: Freak Show is much closer in tone and satisfaction to the first two instalments of the series. It’s a vast improvement on the muddled Coven and despite a few too many storylines, it’s engaging and terrifying in equal measures. There are clear links with Freak Show and Asylum (we won’t give those away though) that make for a nice touch and if you’ve never been scared of clowns you will be by the time you get to the end of the season.