“American Horror Story: Freak Show” recap (4.3): The Mirror Has Two Faces


Previously on American Horror Story, evil Blaine Anderson teamed up with Twisty the clown to bring terror and torment to innocent lives, and further challenged themselves to do so without ever covering Fiona Apple. Dot’s singing talent earned her the jealousy of both Bette and Elsa, who are neck in neck (fucking awesome pun not even intended) for the most delusional stars of the freak show. Del the rage-filled strongman and Desiree his triple-breasted wife joined the gang and we learned that Desiree and Ethel are Jimmy’s parents, though mercifully he has inherited neither his father’s temper nor his mother’s accent. Jimmy himself had a lot of trouble leaving his people to the proverbial mountaintop and has already lost Meep the chicken-eater to the town mob.

This week we travel to a morbidity museum, which is a glorified Freak Show for deformed bodies. A man claiming to have gone to Double Harvard, I guess through the use of a Time-Turner or something, tries to sell the museum the body of a baby Sasquatch. He is joined by his lovely assistant and they are, of course, AHS alums Denis O’Hare and Emma Roberts, and they are a couple of con artists.


The proprietress of the museum tells them she wants no part of their fake-ass Sasquatch, but if they can rustle up some real freaks, then she will pay handsomely for all their parts. As long as they are dead, of course. Live freaks are gaudy entertainment. Dead freaks are science.

This is the first of AHS’s two episodes, so next we visit a little girl going trick-or-treating. This young lady is wise beyond her years, because she has the sense to be mortally afraid of clowns. Her big brother is a shithead in the best tradition of older siblings, and has dressed up like a clown just to torture her. Nearby, Twisty watches this drama unfold, and presumably is offended that someone is trying to get in on his “torturing clown” act.

Now, I come to this show expecting to be offended and maybe a little scared, but I certainly do not come expecting to be moved. But that is precisely what happens when Ethel the bearded lady goes to her doctor and gets some bad news.


Years of hard drinking have taken their toll on Ethel, and she has a case of cirrhosis that is sure to prove fatal in only a few months. He warns her to stay away from alcohol in order to last as long as possible. She bursts into tears and I’m going to leave her speech here, unaltered.

Ethel: I’m not crying ‘cause you told me I’m gonna die. I’m crying ‘cause you’re the first doctor ever treated me with respect. I just can’t help thinking my whole life might have gone different if I’d met you sooner.

Man, if that doesn’t speak to the gay experience for you, I don’t know what will.

Back at the big top, Bette and Dot learn that freak shows never go on at Halloween for fear of conjuring the spirit of Edward Mordrake. So put on your top hat and monocle and let’s flashback to 18whatever!


Edward Mordrake was an English gentleman of enviable talent, brains, and beauty, but he was afflicted with an extra face on the back of his head. The face whispered strange things to him in his sleep, commanding him to perform terrible acts. He tried to make the best of his situation by joining a freak show, but eventually the face took hold of him and incited him to kill his fellow performers and then himself. Now, if any freak performs on Halloween, they are destined to summon his spirit and the spirit of his demon face to take a freak back with him to hell.

Two things.

1. I love Wes Bentley and I’m so glad he was in The Hunger Games and now this, although I worry he is rapidly approaching the glass ceiling for ridiculous facial hair.

2. GUYS, EDWARD MORDRAKE WAS REAL. I know because I read a Wikipedia on him (the exact language of which this episode copied at length.) He didn’t join a freak show, but he did commit suicide at the age of twenty-three and he did have an extra face which couldn’t speak but purportedly COULD LAUGH AND CRY. The Wikipedia article insists that a lot of this story is probably fabricated, but I don’t care and I choose to believe every word because I choose to believe almost everything in life. (Ask me who killed Kennedy sometime. EVERYONE. EVERYONE KILLED HIM.)

Ethel regales the troupe with Edward’s story between sips of brandy, I guess because she doesn’t want to prolong her life any more than is absolutely necessary.

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