FX’s American Horror Story
Season 4, Episode 10: “Orphans”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by James Wong
* For a review of the previous episode, “Tupperware Party Massacre” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Magical Thinking” – click here
With only a few episodes left, the freak show in Jupiter is experiencing all sorts of madness descending upon it, from Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) and her dangerous ties with Stanley (Denis O’Hare), to Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) who now finds himself at the mercy of the police; so, so much is happening. And still, there’s more!
This episode commences with the death of Salty (Christopher Neiman). Poor Pepper (Naomi Grossman) is devastated, clinging to his corpse on his beautiful deathbed. Paul (Mat Fraser) and Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin) try to tear her away, though, she misses him obviously. Elsa claims to know the “depth of that girl‘s soul” even if others don’t always. We get a couple very sad moments where Pepper discovers Salty dead during sleep, a stroke they assume. Such a tragic thing, to see two people who loved each other in spite of the world around them, now one of them left alone to remain on earth.
But we get more of Stanley looking for specimens, as he takes the body of Salty, chopping off its head, and sending it over to the Museum of Morbid Curiosities. Where the head is displayed next to Ma Petite, floating in a jar of formaldehyde. More of a sad end in the life of Salty.
Over at the camp, Pepper lays in bed while Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett) reads her a bedtime story. The part-newly changed Dell (Michael Chiklis) shows up, moved by her reading the book and claiming she’ll be “a great mom someday.” He’s still a bad guy, but to see this shift in him is a bit incredible. For all the terribleness that is Dell, he still cares for Desiree, as well as seems to have started caring for the freaks around him after finally admitting that he, essentially, is just as much a freak. Inside the tent, Pepper cries while Desiree has to leave to prepare for the night’s show.
Elsa and Desiree have a drink together, talking a little about Pepper’s dilemma. Further, they chat about Elsa’s new move off to Hollywood, or at least what Elsa believes is her coming big break. Will Stanley, a.k.a Richard, do anything for her? We’ll see. For now, we get more flashbacks into the life of Elsa Mars and her first days in America playing in a group from Boston. Soon enough, though, Elsa found her niche, proclaiming the circus owners as “morons” and saying they couldn’t “see the future.” But Elsa could. She understands entertainment, what people want, what they crave, even the darker things. “Most people don‘t see beauty in someone like Pepper. They see shame, they see human garbage,” Elsa tells Desiree. This is where she arrived at an orphanage to find Pepper alone in a corner, playing with blocks by herself. Such a touching scene, highly emotional to see Elsa connecting with Pepper in those first beginnings of their long relationship/casual friendship. She was Elsa’s “first monster,” one who made her feel real and unconditional love for the first time, as well. Moreover, Elsa saw the maternal instincts in Pepper grow, but knew she couldn’t have children. Then came Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge), who satisfied the curiosity of Elsa, and also helped to quell the maternal longing of Pepper. What a beautiful sequence where we see the origins of these freak show relationships! Such fun to see Ma Petite back, too. Even when she’s traded for 3 cases of delicious Dr. Pepper into Elsa’s arms. But, although Petite became a part of a carnival of so-called freaks, she was let off the leash to which she’d been held by the Indian prince, and so I say: good. One of the most emotionally challenging and intense sequences out of this season, as we get this really romantic and nostalgic sort of thing happening throughout these scenes. Especially after Salty is first introduced to Pepper, and they fall in love at first sight! They have a nice carnival wedding, officiated by Elsa and flowers tossed around by the sweet little Ma Petite. Definitely a favourite overall from Season 4 Freak Show, with an extended sequence stretching out a bit. This gives more depth to the other characters. It also makes Elsa a little more human, regardless of her terrible faults.
Still, Desiree suggests maybe Pepper’s sister may take her back in now that she’s older, not eighteen and hard to handle anymore. But, as we know, Pepper later ends up in Briarcliff during Season 2 Asylum. Are we to see that transition in this season, better yet in this episode?
Maggie Esmerelda (Emma Roberts) receives Desiree and Angus T. Jefferson (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) in her tent, looking for a reading of their future. Shyster Maggie shows off her skills, or at least her skills of excellent perception; pretending to look at the crystal ball, only gleaning facts about him from looking at his shoes, his coat, et cetera. She feeds them both a good line of bullshit, as they lap it up eagerly, loving on one another. But then Maggie’s own feelings work into the reading, talking about how their perfect little little will go “all to shit.” Because that’s life. They have no time for her nonsense, even Angus claiming he’s a “God–fearing Christian” who doesn’t believe reading the future is possible. Yeah, like he didn’t love it before that.
Outside, Maggie and Desiree have a confrontation. Then Maggie reveals: she and Stanley are “on the grift,” and they’ve been working together since 1941. A little flashback to Maggie’s days grifting as a young sneak selling papers, supposedly, as a boy. Stanley yanks her out of trouble, then makes her his partner; for a bad price on her part. Maggie is upset, but Desiree knows there’s something nasty afoot on their part, and threatens the younger woman – if she finds out anything happening at the carnival, the freak deaths, has something to do with her and Stanley, there will be hell to pay.
In her tent, Maggie is awaited by Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson). They want her to do right by Jimmy. They have money to pay for a lawyer, so he won’t “turn out like Meep,” which finally frightens Maggie into helping. Or at least so it seems.
At Jimmy’s cell, up turns Stanley. He says he’s there to help and knows exactly how Jimmy feels. He reels off a story about losing his mother, being an orphan. Is it more sleek sales pitch, or is it real? I doubt that. Jimmy doesn’t remember killing those women in his drunken rage. Though, he can’t be sure. He had a long blackout. “I didn‘t kill them. Did I?” Jimmy asks Stanley. The latter says he has an attorney for Jimmy, one who wants a retainer. Stanley is greasing his way towards something: what is it? He says he has an idea on how to “raise the funds”, after which we get a flip-screen shot zooming in Jimmy’s hands. NO! Is Stanley going to do what I think he’s out to do? Will he convince Jimmy to cut the hands off? Will Jimmy die? Oh, man. I can’t handle that.
In tent city, Desiree is busy cooking for all her fellow freak family. She and Maggie are still flitting around each other. Maggie wants to help Jimmy and tries to gain Desiree’s trust: “Everyone in this entire camp will be dead soon if you don‘t listen to me,” Maggie tells her.
Mare Winningham returns to the Ryan Murphy-Brad Falchuk universe as Pepper’s sister, Rita Gayheart. She seems a very prim, proper type, an upper class housewife in the 1950s with a nice hairdo, high heeled shoes, and a drink during the afternoon with a little cherry in it. Elsa doesn’t want to leave her there evidently, but seems to believe it’s best for Pepper. Rita, for her part, is not too interested. Especially seeing as how her husband has no idea Pepper exists. “Pepper is a gift,” Elsa says and tries to express how Pepper needs someone now, after suffering “great losses.” More emotions flow again now, as Elsa says a teary goodbye to her friend, her companion Pepper, who also shows that she will miss her. But the trouble has only begun for dear Pepper.
In other news, Maggie brings Desiree to the museum where Stanley unloads all his freak bodies and body parts. Sad to watch Desiree walking around, seeing Ma Petite and Salty in their jars, dead and gone. Right as they’re moving around from one exhibit to another, up shows a new exhibit: lobster hands. Maggie faints, but is this real? ARE THOSE JIMMY’S FUCKING HANDS?
Before figuring it all out, we snap back to Rita who is with a familiar face: Sister Mary Eunice McKee (Lily Rabe). What a treat! I love Rabe, and her presence in the American Horror Story universe is incredible, as always. We’re flashing to 1962, at Briarcliff, where Rita talks about how she finally got pregnant after not thinking she could get pregnant. Unsuspectingly, Rita has a child. Only the baby was slightly deformed, and later little baby Lucas became more of a problem.
Rita claims Pepper was helping out with the infant. Though, we get shots of Pepper trying to do so while Rita lies drunk in bed calling for “another martini.” In Season 2 Asylum, we heard Pepper supposedly murdered the baby, cutting its ears off or something similarly nasty. Here, we see the truth. Rita was a mess, her husband Larry Matthew Glave) was possibly molesting Pepper. The baby was left mostly to Pepper, who is accused by Rita as being a murderer. Yet in reality, Larry and Rita want the baby gone; he leads things, but she certainly doesn’t try to stop him. They concoct a little scheme to have the baby gone, to have Pepper gone, too. Larry asks his wife: “What if I had a way to kill two birds with one stone?” I won’t say any more. But this whole sequence is very morbid, frightening, and entirely too sad. Pepper’s tragic history is a weepy one, no doubt. Which left her rotting in the hell-hole that is Briarcliff Asylum.
At the hospital, the snake pit, Sister Mary Eunice makes Pepper her “special project.” And while sorting magazines there, Pepper sees a Life Magazine from 1958 with Elsa Mars on it, calling her the Queen of Friday night television.
What a beautiful and painful episode, all at once.
Looking forward to reviewing the next one, “Magical Thinking”.