Overanalyzing the ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ Trailer


Nobody watches Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story for consistency: apart from the anthology show’s varied settings and levels of quality from season to season, individual episodes and characters waver with such gusto that it can sometimes feel like we’re watching American Horror Story: Foreign Policy. So to predict, from a mere one-minute trailer, what the fuck is going to happen on the next season of TV’s worst self-editor seems like a wildly futile task. But it is a wildly futile task that simply must be taken on.

For it would be pure pop-culture-journalistic criminality to glance over the fact that, say, Sarah Paulson has sprouted a second head or that Kathy Bates has sprouted a beard, or that the show seems to have sprouted an awareness that it’s not the slightest bit scary, and that it truly soars when it amps up the camp. It’d be criminal to ignore the fact that the brilliant Frances Conroy (Ruth to all you Six Feet Under fanbois out there) is one of the first faces we see in the trailer, or that this season will likely – as far as overt absurdity goes – far outshine the others. Yes, it’d be purely criminal not to, in time-stamped increments, over-analyze this trailer to campy, gory death:

Seconds 1-6

Finn Wittrock’s Veruca Salt-ish character – the spoiled son of a Palm Beach society lady – turns to Mummy (played by Frances Conroy) and demands, “Where are the freaks? I’m getting bored.” Then, as the “freaks” parade out in front him, he whispers in near-arousal, “Freeeeaks.” And we’re in!!

From this introductory six seconds, we can assume that the character’s gleeful fetishization, coupled with his wealth and childishness, will likely lead him to do some twisted shit to the “freeeeaks” throughout the course of the season. His is a character that desperately wants to join the Freak Show, because he feels he identifies. But will this conventionally attractive, spoiled mama’s boy – a physical antithesis to the ideal “freak” – fit in or face rejection? I’m guessing he’ll be met with skepticism, if not totally snubbed, and I’m also guessing he’ll overreact and retaliate. It’s not hard to see, even in these first seconds, that this is a character that’ll shake things up for the worse: the mama’s boy trope almost always insinuates evil.

Seconds 7-20

YES. This is where we find out that the season – or at least some of it – is narrated by Sarah Paulson’s conjoined twin characters (or is it just one who’ll be narrating? Having both contradictorily and/or argumentatively narrating would be a good way of subverting the show’s tendency to erratically include half-baked voice-over when it needs to, uh, conjoin its disparate plot points). Paulson is among the AHS ensemble’s best actors, and fights the show’s incoherence with startlingly sensible character choices. Ryan Murphy seems very aware of this: as much as an AHS season centers around anything, this one seems to center around her narrative(s) as the fresh-new-inductee-to-weird-place-character (just like Taissa Farmiga’s flattest of characters in Coven).

We learn herein that the twins’ story is another escape-from-the-clutches-of-rabid-Christian-mother narrative (recall Patti Lapone giving her son a bleach enema last season). Indeed, what would AHS be without copious Mommy-horror? Also, here we see that the show’s method of spooking-through-slanted-camera-angles remains fully intact. We’re likewise introduced to Kathy Bates’ character, Ethel Darling, who has to bear the burden of not only a beard, but also — unlike Bates’ character for much of last season — a body.

Seconds 20-40

In this section, the camera rushes for the second time into the giant monster-mouth that’s the entrance to the circus. What can we take from this set piece, symbolically, besides that this is a place of ever-impending danger? That dental isn’t part of the “Freak Show” benefits package?

This is also Evan Peters’ first appearance. As in the show’s prior season — where he was literally a collage of superlative man-parts — he’s got a rare physical condition (though perhaps less rare than the condition wherein one is made of sexy chunks of other people): Syndactyly, which he leverages to perform as a “Lobster Man.”

We’re already being clued in to the bifurcating perspectives of the conjoined twins: one idealizes performing, while the other asserts that she’s “nobody’s trained monkey.” It’s pretty much inevitable that, if American Horror Story is setting up two combating parts of one body, those parts will at some point be severed in a scene of gratuitous gore (there’s just no way both heads are staying on through the finale, is what I’m saying).

We also get the sense that – like Sarah Paulson in Coven – Bates’ Ethel will be the benevolent den mother, while Jessica Lange will reprise her role of manipulative-seductress-matriarch (who occasionally breaks out into Lana Del Rey songs? While my colleague Shane is rooting for the classic “Video Games,” I think “I Fucked My Way Up to the Top” would be a wise pick, though pretty much anything in her oeuvre would be fitting).

Seconds 40-60

This bit reveals a new plot line – one regarding the adversity the circus performers face due to bigotry among the townsfolk (some of these interactions may be uncomfortably familiar for those who attended liberal arts college in a small town). Might this be hinting at a war between the circus folk and the townies who taunt them?

The trailer’s last gift is Twisty the Clown — the season’s main antagonist — knifing someone in bed. Indeed, between old Twisty, the townies, and whatever two-faced betrayals Jessica Lange’s character might have in store, surely there’ll be no dearth of factors that will lead to severed lobster claws and heads: but luckily, death never really means death on AHS… and, after all, some of the characters have an extra head to spare.