FX’s American Horror Story
Season 4, Episode 2: “Massacres and Matinees”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the previous episode, “Monsters Among Us” – click here
* For a review of the next episode “Edward Mordrake: Part 1” – click here
Some of the sweeping shots of the carnival itself, such as the opening shot of “Massacres and Matinees,” really remind me of certain scenes in HBO’s Carnivale. Great look and feel.
This episode begins with a news report of a missing policeman. Of course, he was buried, dead, by the freaks – led by Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) – at the end of the first episode. Everyone is on edge, naturally. Things get even worse once two more detectives show up poking around, they advise Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) a curfew will be put in place, which effectively poises to ruin her business.
Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson) find themselves called into the mix. The police are very interested in her, the entire band of freaks, and in plain language make it clear to Elsa they’ll be regulars around their neck of the woods.
Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) is up to more murderous fun again. In a shop full of toys, Halloween decorations, and so on, he hides as a clerk looks for his boss. When the clerk does find him, only a head, Twisty stabs him through the back of the neck, piercing his throat. A pretty unsettling scene and then it turns into a bloody, nasty little mess for a minute.
Back at the carnival, Jimmy’s having a harder time than anyone else dealing with what happened to the cop. He was the one who killed the man, after all. Back at the hole, he tells Paul (Mat Fraser) and Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin) how he feels back, worrying the man may have had a family and children. They tell him he had no choice, it had to happen. Meanwhile, they’ve got to transplant the body somewhere else with all the cops and their heat sniffing around.
Good thing, too. Eve spies the man’s badge in the dirt. That could’ve certainly caused a few problems down the line.
Worse than any of them at the show – by FAR – is rich boy Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock). I mean, the guy has a little baby’s bottle made of crystal he drinks from, it has a gold cover over the nipple. Fuck this guy. Worse than that, if you can imagine it, is the way his mother Gloria (Frances Conroy) cleans up his messes and caters to his every whim. Then their maid Dora (Patti LaBelle) tries not to lose her mind in the middle of it.
Things get thicker in the plot of Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates). Once a new performer named Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis) and his wife Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett) show up, everything changes a little. Elsa eventually agrees to take them on: not only is Dell a strongman, a good one at that albeit a terribly troubled one, Desiree has got lots going on under the hood with a set of male and female genitals + three breasts. It takes some convincing, but Elsa goes with their talent, despite any suspicions.
We come to discover Dell and Ethel were together at one time. In fact, Dell is a father to Jimmy. But he’s only there to capitalise. He reveals to Ethel, who is not impressed with his showing up to the carnival at all, Elsa has hired him on as security for their show and grounds. Lots of good tension already between these two, plus Bates and Chiklis in scenes together? The chemistry is there already, now let’s watch this one play out!
Dandy even ends up at the freak show asking to be taken in. He believes himself to be a freak, like them, only on the inside. Jimmy tries talking some sense into him; wouldn’t you like normal hands instead of flippers? It’s sort of offensive to someone like Jimmy if a ‘normal’ guy like Dandy walks in claiming to know what it’s like to be an outcast as they’ve been. He’s tossed aside. Spoiled little brat he is, Dandy loses his mind and smashes his face off the steering wheel in his car.
Luckily back home in the mansion, Gloria, mother dearest, has picked up a clown for Dandy, so they can play together. Best part? It’s Twisty; she’d found him wandering along the road. I’m sure those two have a lot in common. That’s not at all a joke, Dandy is clearly a budding psychopath.
Bette and Dot are being touted as the headliners of Elsa’s show, though, she would much prefer to be deemed the star. Only problem being neither of them are particularly brimming with talent. At least not until Jimmy is able to draw out a beautiful voice from Dot.
In this moment, a zoom on Lange’s face, eyes pointed, we see how Elsa is immediately threatened by this emerging talent. It’s the start of a big dynamic between the twins and Ms. Mars. Works well because in each season from Asylum on, Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange have been setup as these very opposite characters, in strained relationships with one another. So I’m glad to see a new one, with a fresh and intriguing aspect. Great actors working together constantly in such a consistently solid manner is impressive.
Oh, Dandy. What a sick, twisted bastard this young man with too money is, and how painful yet fun it is to see his character open up with each episode. Watching him with Twisty is downright scary at times. First, I was beginning to think Twisty might hurt him, or even actually kill him; especially after Dandy goes through the clown’s bag and looks at his things. But no, Twisty just picks up and runs off leaving Dandy with a goose egg on the back of his head.
Jimmy Darling and the crew of freaks – Pepper (Naomi Grossman), Paul, Eve, and others – show up at the diner looking for a meal. Everyone is properly grossed out for the 1950s, weak minds not willing to let people be people, regardless of how they look or talk. After Paul causes a little disturbance, eating off a plate yet to be bussed with food on it, in walks Dell who gets in a confrontation with Jimmy. Outside, he pounds the boy a few good shots and really lets Jimmy have it. Bastard.
Twisty heads back to his little home sweet home, the ragged rusted bus in the woods, and greets his captives – Bonnie Lipton (Skyler Samuels) and Corey Bachman (Major Dodson). He seems pretty laid back, a bit rattled by his time at the Mott residence. Then he takes out a little wind-up toy, displaying its walk for Bonnie and Corey, trying to be an actual clown and make them smile. Hard to do when his own smile is mortifying. We get a raw look at what’s under the plastic mask over his mouth, as Bonnie manages to crank him with a piece of wood and escape.
Lucky for ole Twisty, his new friend Dandy came back to the bus and followed him. He’s able to help capture Bonnie before she makes off. Sick and twisted are not even close to the words useful in describing Dandy’s character.
Another musical number comes out of “Massacres and Matinees” with Bette and Dot performing a Fiona Apple number. Loved this sequence for several reasons.
Reason the 1st – Sarah Paulson gets to perform a bit of music, proving she has a decent voice and getting a chance at doing one of these scenes. Reason the 2nd – we get to see how savagely jealous Ms. Mars is becoming, episode after episode. So at the start, Bette/Dot were a draw for her, she was rooting and scheming to have them in her show. Yet now, after their true talent is revealed and is emerging quicker than expected, Elsa sees them as threatening. Will this lead to anything sinister? Elsa strikes me as someone who values herself above anyone else, as well as she has a delusional view of herself as a big star still poised to rise.
When the cops show up, more of the relationship between Dell and Jimmy begins to unravel and it brutally affects what will come next. Jimmy tried to place the badge in Dell’s tent, in order to get him hauled away and out of their lives, out of the carnival. Only Dell is too keen, for such a dirty bastard – he planted the badge in another tent. Instead of seeing Dell carted off to a cell someplace, little Meep (Ben Woolf) gets taken. Excruciating to see Meep falsely put in jail, a bunch of scary looking, much bigger men crowding around believing him as a killer; you can feel something terrible is about to go down.
Elsa sneaks in to see Bette while her sister sleeps. Dot wakes up midway through and spoils Elsa’s fun. Clearly she’s playing a dangerous game with the twins; divide and conquer, all within the same body, one entity. It’s hard to tell where this will take any of them because Bette is very starry-eyed, while Dot in complete opposition is so cold and rational, there’s bound to be a good measure of disconnect between them both.
It gets even more brutal when Elsa leaves Bette with a small, sharp penknife, after filling her head with pessimistic thoughts about Dot. Uh oh.
Jimmy takes the weight of Meep being carted off all on his shoulders, he starts to drink for the first time getting absolutely hammered. His mother is worried, but Jimmy only worries about Meep— “he‘s not tough… he‘s just weird.”
No sooner does he say the words and runs outside, Jimmy and Ethel see a car drive by, dropping a wrapped up lump to the dirt. Inside is the lifeless body of Meep. A bloodcurdling scream comes out of Jimmy and rings into the night as the episode closes.
Intense finish to this one! Cannot wait for the next episode, titled “Edward Mordrake: Part 1”, directed by Michael Uppendahl.