Friday, November 21, 2014

American Horror Story, Season 4, Episode 7: Test of Strength

Jimmy hasn’t been murdered – he’s visiting Bette and Dot – Dot is notably silent while Bette tells Jimmy how happy and well treated she is. When jimmy says the Motts just think of them as freaks to gawk at even simpering Bette can see that there’s little difference between that and the show. When Bette also adds that Dandy is the hero who stopped Twisty, Jimmy realises Dandy was Twisty’s accomplice… Dandy’s attempt to talk the twins out of leaving goes awry when he reveals he’s read Dot’s diary

Dot wants to leave, Bette to stay – but chooses Dot over Dandy. Jimmy leads Bette and Dot out while Dandy stands watching looking very unhappy indeed.

To the show – time for another musical number because why not? Jimmy this time (with Elsa looking on all bitter because someone has talent). Paul is still not dead. Dell has noticed the absence of Andy and decides to violently attack a bar tender. Elsa tries to belittle Jimmy as is her wont, but Jimmy’s not impressed – he confronts her over the treatment of the twins but, surprisingly, Dot speaks up in her defence. She lies for Elsa and secures their return to the show.

Ethel and Desiree both go to their doctors, Ethel definitely in poor health – but the doctor’s is closed after Dell’s attack. His daughter believes it was suicide – and blames Ethel and Desiree for it.

At the show, Stanley reveals to Dell that he saw him at the gay bar. Taunting the strong man may not be the best bet, but Esmeralda saves Stanley from being squished – as arranged by Stanley, he knows blackmail dos and don’ts. Blackmail established, some added gross homophobic wording to the mix and Stanley says what he wants – one of the “freaks”, dead and delivered.

Jimmy and Esmeralda are now sharing a bed – and she’s still trying to convince him to run away with her while he is still focused on the show and Dandy-the-murderer.

His first attempt is Amazon Eve. He tries to chloroform her and she promptly beats him bloody until he’s prone on the floor then throws him out of her trailer. Eve is not impressed by the strongman.

In her tent, Elsa asks Bette and Dot what they want for their lies; they reveal they’re not going to Hollywood, (they rightly don’t trust Stanley). They lay out their demands which start with Belle’s childish claims and follow up with Dot’s more sensible – and harsher – monetary demands. Elsa calls it blackmail, Dot isn’t even slightly worried at the depiction.

The next day, Jimmy, Ethel and Suzi help Eve – Jimmy wants to go to the cops. Ethel thinks that’s ridiculous and thinks a far better idea is murder. Eve is clear Jimmy would certainly have been more vicious if Maggie Esmeralda had been targeted and Ethel questions Jimmy’s ridiculous optimism – there’s no hope or justice or goodness. The only way to get by is to look after their own.

Jimmy assures her she can get rid of Dell – Ethel agrees to let him try but if he doesn’t handle Dell, they will. Jimmy and Dell go into town to talk. They get a drink  – Jimmy is afraid of booze since his mother is an alcoholic but Dell shames him because MEN DRINK, UGH! Dell lies about what happened and Jimmy doesn’t seem overly to care who did what – but he’s worried about what they women will do. The conversation turns to Jimmy’s reminiscing and why he has to wear gloves in public – Dell takes the gloves and says he doesn’t need them, has no reason for shame and he’ll break the skulls of anyone who gives them grief.

They go outside and Jimmy is violently sick, not used to the booze and Dell considers bashing in his head with a brick – but Jimmy turns maudlin and reveals he knows Dell is his dad. He demands Dell admit it and he does – dropping the brick and going for a hug instead.

They stagger back to the camp in the early morning with Elsa complaining about the noise and Desiree telling Jimmy he should say away from Dell. Dell starts shouting about Jimmy being his son to which Elsa snarks, gloriously “it must take real courage to proclaim your progeny after 24 years.”

Dell decides to pass on his misogyny too his son, telling the drunken Jimmy never to let a woman tell him what to do. Elsa isn’t impressed by the antics of mouthing-off drunken men who can barely stand. Father/son moment ends when Dell leaves and Stanley makes another blackmailing comment.

Time to check in on Penny – she tells her abusive father she’s going to move in with Paul at the camp while he talks about how vital his reputation is (which includes controlling his daughter). She says she’s leaving anyway – and her father has her drugged unconscious and her face tattooed and her tongue forked against her will. Penny returns to Paul who holds her while blaming himself

Bette is getting everything she wants, including a make over – while Elsa seethes and Dot plots. Elsa slips Dot a note asking why she’s let Bette do all the talking and asking what she wants. Dot sends a note back about wanting an operation to be split from Bette.

Elsa considers this a problem and asks Stanley for help – he suggests, basically, murdering them; Elsa seems to be open to the idea but Ethel hears everything since she’s serving their dinner.

Dell, meanwhile, has chosen another target to appease Stanley – yes, Ma Petite. He gives her a dress – then crushes her in his arms. He actually crushes her, not an image or a plan – she’s dead and we later see her body in the museum preserved in formaldehyde. In death she finally gets a name: Mahedevi Patel.

Ethel may have a rather ridiculous accent but she has delivered some truly epic, amazing speeches and performances.

I also like Jimmy’s discussion about the winter with the show and the clear family there is between them – and what it meant for him to be in a place where everyone wore gloves and the gloves he wore were not notable. But while I love the speech, I don’t particularly love the timing. Dell attacked Eve, the assumption is it was a sex-motivated attack – and here we have this huge derail in the middle of the issue. Especially with Dell getting all paternal – this is not the time for very very very belated humanising of Dell, that’s long past especially since they had Dell try to commit murder seconds afterwards. Don’t pretend they’re trying to fit any humanity or nuance into this character.  Certainly not if it’s going to be framed as “I don’t care if you attacked a woman, you’re my dad.”

Points to Elsa for the 24 years snark, that line was perfect – you proudly proclaim parentage after your son is a man? Yes, she’s not impressed.

I don’t know what the point of the Penny storyline is – last week she served to humanise Paul. This week… what? It seems to be some random misogynist abuse just dropped into the storyline without purpose. I won’t say they’re praising this abuse since I think it’s clear we’re supposed to think her father is the villain – but what is this here for? Beyond revelling in shock abuse? I’m also not following this. Do I believe he would be abusive of his daughter? Obviously – he is abusive and controlling – I can see him hurting her, torturing her, imprisoning her or even killing her – this I can see because he sees her as an extension of himself not a person in her own right. But I can’t see a man who cares so much about his reputation even having a tattoo artist friend with such extensive facial tattoos – and if he is horrified at the thought of his daughter been known as having joined a freak show to be with Paul, I can’t see why he’d be ok with his daughter appearing in public with extensive facial tattoos. It doesn’t fit his own abusive narrative – yes, he has exerted control but he has not exerted the appearance of control or respectability he also values.

And because we’re playing homophobic trope bingo this season, we now have anti-gay blackmail. And, no, this isn’t just a matter of showing the prejudice of the time, because the gay men in this season have either been irredeemably demonised or killed off before they had anything resembling a character: there is absolutely no way we’re expected to feel sympathy for Dell or see the blackmail of him as tragic or cruel and, if it’s wrong, it’s not because of blackmailing a gay man for being gay (complete with homophobic speech) it’s because it’s causing Dell to hurt other people. Just in case the whole mess of homophobia isn’t bad enough, we don’t even have a straight person with their hands dirty – no, it’s a gay-on-gay blackmail.

There is something to chew on about Eve. On the one hand it's awesome to see Dell be beaten by her and there's nothing wrong with that scene. If I step back to the actors though, Eve is played by a trans woman - which makes her being the only one as strong as Dell and the line "whose the strong man now?" potentially dubious - however I lean back the other way because there's no indication that Eve is trans - and that would be entirely based on extrapolating on the actor's identity.

Last week we complained that Ma Petite was endlessly dehumanised and infantilised – now there’s absolutely no chance of redeeming that. She didn’t even get her own name until after she died. Her whole purpose on this show was to be childlike and adorable so Dell and Stanley could have their “kick the puppy” moment – showing them as unspeakable for killing someone that child like and adorable. She had no personality or personhood – she was an angelic doll who existed just so we could say “awwwww”.