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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: American Horror Story, "Edward Mordrake (pt. 1)"

American Horror Story is well known for being a bit unsettling, but their Halloween episodes are always the ones I look forward to the most. Following the trend from Murder House, the first season, the Halloween storyline will be told in two parts. 

The first part of the story aired last night, and it certainly held true to its disturbing tone. The opening scene introduces two new characters (played by AHS alumni Emma Roberts and Denis O’Hare) who are checking out a Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not type of exhibit together. 

AHS changes the setting to a calm neighborhood in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1952. Trick-or-treaters are out during the daytime because of a curfew issued due to the recent string of murders around their town. Like a constant reminder that the dangers are still hiding in plain sight, Twisty the Clown seems to be lurking around every corner.

Ethel, the bearded woman, pays a visit to the doctor, who tells her that her liver is failing and she only has 6 months to a year left to live. Instead of revealing this to her son, she returns to the Freak Show and warns her troupe against performing on Halloween. She and the other “freaks” explain to the Siamese Sisters that “no freaks perform on Halloween” because of the legend of Edward Mordrake, an 1800’s aristocrat (played by American Beauty’s Wes Bentley) who excelled in almost everything he tried, but had a terrible secret. Mordrake had a second face on the back of his head that whispered to him, telling him what to do. After trying to murder his second face, Mordrake was sent to an asylum that he soon escaped to join the local freak show as “the two-faced prince.” The characters explain that he went crazy one night and killed his entire troupe, eventually also hanging himself. The legend says that if any freak performs on Halloween night, his spirit will be summoned and he must take another soul back with him before he leaves. 

Emma Roberts arrives at the Freak Show in a taxi, explaining that she is the Mystic Miss Esmeralda, a fortuneteller. The show hints that she’s a fraud but it’s confirmed when she tells Elsa it is never too late for stardom, and that a handsome dark-haired man will bring her fame. 

Dot and Bette, the conjoined twins, butt heads with Elsa, the washed up starlet, telling her they need the space to rehearse since they’re the new headliners. But Elsa uses her intimidation tactics to ensure she gets the rehearsal space, all of them ignoring the warnings about performing on Halloween night. Keeping in tone with the other songs that have been performed at the Freak Show, Elsa belts out a modern tune, “Gods and Monsters” by Lana Del Rey. 

This critical episode hinted at several plot twists that may be in the upcoming episodes. The rivalry between Dot and her sister reaches an all-time high when she threatens to have surgery to remove her second head. Ethel, knowing that she’s living her last days, reveals to the audience that the Strong Man really is Jimmy’s father, but threatens him, saying that Jimmy can never know. The mystic Esmeralda makes a phone call to her partner in crime, who says they’ve hit the “jackpot.” He implies that they plan to kill the freaks and display their bodies, and it seems that Denis O’Hare has a freakish secret himself.

Mordrake is summoned, but Elsa sees him walk in and believes he’s the dark-haired man who will bring her stardom. He visits Ethel instead, trying to decide whether or not she’s the soul he wants to take back with him. But his second face whispers that she isn’t the one, and Mordrake leaves to find his victim.
In all of the previous seasons of American Horror Story, Halloween seems to reveal everyone’s darkest secrets, and this episode was no different. We got to see Elsa in a different light–she’s usually in charge of everything and everyone she crosses, but her ego allows her to be easily tricked by Esmerelda and her crystal ball. Jimmy is also at his most vulnerable because of his grief and guilt about Meep’s murder. The entire troupe showed their human sides at Meep’s funeral, and the Strong Man proves not to be so strong after all when Desiree asserts her power over him. The emergence of the scam artist fortuneteller puts everyone in a state of vulnerability and keeps the audience on their toes by making it clear that, just like in all seasons of AHS, each character has their own individual agenda, and they aren’t all good intentioned.

Guest review by Kendall Harris
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