Friday, October 24, 2014

American Horror Story, Season 4, Episode 3: Edward Mordrake Part 1

We’re at The American Morbidity on Hallowe’en where a patronising tour guide shows off the body parts and pictures of people with non-typical bodies and expressing what a relief Hallowe’en was since they could go out without being noted upon. In to this comes a fake doctor and his assistant trying to sell a faked specimen – the museum representatives are not impressed. The curator is more cunning though – if these clearly morally dubious people (she calls them “inventive”) could bring her a real specimen, she wouldn’t ask too many details.

Which sounds like an invitation to criminal enterprise. Naughty naughty. She also mentions where she used to get specimens – including Freak Shows when a performer died. Especially drawing attention to the expensive conjoined liver they have on display.

Halowe’en has also come to the town near the Freak Show, with kids going out before the curfew and Twisty the creepiest of creepy clowns hanging around being creepy.

Ethel goes to see the doctor –her old days of hard drinking have caught up with her. Or her liver anyway. He tells her she’s only got 6 months to a year to live (and we get to see the real strength of this show – acting that is second to none). She cries and tells him that he’s the first doctor who ever respected her and wonders how different her life would have been if she had met him sooner.

At the show everyone’s partying for Hallowe’en except Jimmy who is moping and Dot who loses her temper and shouts at everyone for celebrating while Meep is dead and Jimmy just buried him. She wants to dedicate the show to Meep’s memory – but is told there’ll be no show. Freaks don’t perform on Hallowe’en because of Edward Mordrake (Ethel explains while getting a drink, despite her doctor’s instructions), a nobleman in the 1800s with a face on the back of his head whose whispers drove him insane. After a stint in Bethlem, he joined a Freak Show and one Hallowe’en snapped and killed every other performer before committing suicide. Now his spirit makes an appearance should any “freak” perform on Halowe’en.

Jimmy talks to his mother about her drinking but she snaps and says means things probably to drive Jimmy away so he doesn’t see her die.

They have a funeral for Meep and a new applicant arrives: Mystic Esmeralda, a fortune teller (one of the con-men from the beginning).

To the twins – both having the same dream of Dot having Bette’s head removed (effectively killing her). Dot thinks this is a wonderfully happy dream, Bette less so. Especially since Dot has tried to kill her before; Dot doesn’t reassure her since she says she will find a doctor to do that surgery once she’s earned enough money so one of them has a chance at happiness.

Jimmy goes to Elsa about Esmeralda and Elsa notes that most fortune tellers have a “darker complexion” and Jimmy concedes she’s “no gypsy”. Elsa tests her and Esmeralda perceptively scans the room for clues about Elsa, quickly seeing Elsa’s desperation to be famous and spins a tale of Marlene Dietrich stealing Elsa’s fame. Esmeralda is hired. She also lays the groundwork for someone to “guide” Elsa.

Alas we have to drop in on Dell and Desiree and Desiree tries to get Dell all hot and bothered – but Dell seems to be having problems getting an erection, the implication being this has been a problem for some time. When she gets frustrated with his excuses and walks off, he grabs her and rams her against a wall. She orders him to remove his hands and he does – she walks out, giving him a glare and taking the booze with her.

Dell storms off and runs into Ethel (his ex) who rightly guesses what the fight was about. We also learn that Dell is Jimmy’s father (no surprise) while he denies ever loving her. Ethel doesn’t want Dell to tell Jimmy he’s his dad, but she does want him to help him when she’s gone

Esmeralda calls her accomplice to say how unsettled she is by all the “freaks”, especially Dot and Bette (Dot doesn’t like her because Esmeralda was with Jimmy and jealousy arose) and she realises her accomplice is actually considering murdering the twins for body parts (what, did she think they’d show up and wait for someone to drop dead?). Esmeralda and Jimmy are hassled by the police for the approaching curfew and that Esmeralda should stay away from Jimmy.

And back in his hotel, her accomplice, Stanley is hooking up with a naked Viking who is very impressed with Stanley’s endowment.

At the show, Dot tries to rehearse against everyone’s advice because of the Mordrake superstition – but it’s time for Elsa’s musical number anyway (brief battle between Elsa and Dot – who has let stardom go right to her head and Elsa lashes out against her as a “freak”). Is American Horror Story becoming a musical?

The musical number does attract Moredrake’s ghost – of course it does. You can hardly have a horror story on this show without it coming true. She sees his ghost and assumes he’s the man their to guide her – and is quite put out when she disappears.

Mordrake haunts people, starting with Ethel to explain that he’s been summoned and now can’t leave without adding someone else to his dead group (he’s accompanied by what I assume are previous victims). He argues with the face on the back of his head, explaining that if the face decrees anyone a “pure freak” they will be taken. This leads to the interview stage of the haunting and Ethel’s life story including failed career reciting Shakespearean monologues – and how Dell even sold tickets to the birth of Jimmy. As Ethel puts it – Jimmy’s been exploited since birth (I really don’t think Dell is the many anyone wants to have guide their son when they die). While Ethel think she’s terrible and deserves to be picked, Mordrake’s second face disagrees (pick Dell!)

At the Mott household, Gloria is still trying to please her petulant son and poor Nora is forced into playing Woody Woodpecker for him. Oh I hope he dies by the end of the season. Dandy joins them and is a terrible person (he also thinks he can ignore the curfew because that’s for poor people). Dandy has a tantrum over his costume, sending Gloria scurrying from the room – Nora is not even slightly impressed and has no time for his histrionics.

He dresses up as a clown and goes wandering downstairs with a knife to menace Nora (or maybe Dora? Everyone calls her Dora I think but IMBD says Nora). She’s not impressed, tells him she found the animals he killed and if he does it again she’s going to the police. When he advances on her with a knife she mocks him for being far too cowardly to do it. She’s right. He pouts, has a tantrum and storms out.

Meanwhile Twisty the clown snatches his next victim, a young man called Mike. Dandy decides to go to Twisty’s little kidnap cage and prepares to murder the kidnapped victims before Twisty arrives with his newest acquisition

The show is continuing to keep up its themes of exploitation and dehumanisation which is good to see. But it’s equally keeping the people with non-typical body parts as background decoration as well.

Ethel stole the show this week, excellent acting and a powerful lesson throughout of having so few options and chances and how that can hurt people. It was excellent.

Unfortunately, the vanishingly small part played by Desiree was not nearly so good. Continuing from my comments on last episode, we have her yet again sexualised, furthering both racial and LGBTI tropes.

Equally continuing from last episode, I’m wary of Stanley with the second scene he’s in (and the first a prologue) being a sex scene. Not normally something I’d complain about but the context of the show is not a good one for LGBT sexuality and sexuality related violence.