This week, it’s Halloween in Jupiter but “Edward Mordrake: Part 1” doesn’t offer up much in the way of tricks, treats, or even scares, really. Instead, it offers up a bunch of introductions and not much else.
From the start, we meet Stanley (Dennis O’Hare) and Maggie (Emma Roberts), a team of con artists attempting to sell a “Sasquatch fetus” to a museum of morbid curiosities in Philadelphia. That doesn’t work — the fetus is actually a macabre patchwork of several animals — so instead they head down to Florida to obtain a real freak “specimen.”
Their trip to Florida, thus far, consists of Maggie masquerading as a psychic — Ezmeralda — and Stanley having sex with a male prostitute. Most exciting, though, is the reaction of the prostitute when he takes Stanley’s pants off. What did he find, do you think? An actual head head? A snake? Or, simply, a giant cock? Somehow, that seems too obvious for this show. (Leave it to Ryan Murphy to make a giant dick anti-climactic.)
We’re introduced, truly, to Ethel Darling and we see, for the first real time, a sensitivity to her. Upon being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, she breaks into tears. “I’m not crying because of the cirrhosis,” she says to the doctor. “I’m crying because you’re the first doctor ever to treat me with respect.” The doctor warns Ethel that any alcohol will accelerate the process. So, of course, she drinks. In fact, in every scene we see her in for the rest of the episode, she’s got a drink next to her. It’s obvious that poor Ethel isn’t too happy with her life so it’s a wonder that she doesn’t just shave and walk out into the mainstream.
It becomes a little more obvious why she doesn’t just shave and leave when we learn of her history with Dell — as well as Dell’s history of impotence, hyuck — during a riverside chat and, later, through flashbacks. Turns out, Dell got her pregnant, convinced her to try to perform Shakespeare and then, when that failed, charged spectators to witness her giving birth to Jimmy, billing it as a “Live Freak Birth.” Surprisingly, this whole subplot is handled with a (relatively) light touch that is rarely, if ever, found in the AHS story. This is probably due to Kathy Bates’ and Michael Chiklis’ performances, but we actually feel for these characters and the lives they’ve been forced to live. Ah, freak love!
We also see post-performance Dot, who has warped into an egomaniac-slash-control freak, actively dreaming of Bette’s beheading and then snapping at Bette for being sad about it. We even get a glimpse into the hypothetical surgery such beheading would require and it’s not pretty, but also not as gruesome as one would expect (or, admittedly, hope). At this point, with all the teasing that’s happening, it’s going to be disappointing if those two don’t get separated — if not to give Sarah Paulson a break, then to at least get Bette away from her shit of a sister.
But, perhaps most significant — at least due to the title of the episode — is our introduction to the character Edward Mordrake (an awesomely camp Wes Bentley), who just sounds evil, yeah? Mordrake is the source of a carny myth. Apparently, he was an artist, poet, and musician who was driven to committing a Halloween mass-carny homicide by the devilish whispers of the deformed face on the back of his head. And so, if any freaks perform in a freak show on Halloween, they’re said to summon him and forsake themselves. (Mordrake’s second face, among all of the CGI wizardry happening through all of the AHS seasons, is probably the flat-out dumbest looking of them all, but that might be the point.)
Mordrake seems to be a nothing character throughout much of the episode, until Jessica Lange, spurred by the reading given by so-called psychic “Ezmeralda,” performs Lana Del Rey’s “Gods & Monsters,” because, of course she does. This summons Mordrake, and he appears before Ethel, which is how we see the flashbacks. But, he doesn’t kill Ethel. Who does he kill? We don’t know — the episode ends with a “To Be Continued.”
And that leaves us with the Twisty and Dandy storyline, of which there is, sadly, little to say. Dandy throws a fit because Gloria gives him a Howdy Doody costume. He instead makes his own meh clown outfit and threatens to murder Dora, who is dressed as Woody the Woodpecker and is not taking any of Dandy’s shit. (And also, Patti LaBelle doing the Woody Woodpecker laugh is all kinds of wrong, but also so right.) When Dandy fails to kill Dora, he heads out to Twisty’s prison van to torture some children, only he’s interrupted when Twisty comes home with a new older, male prisoner. Oh, is he recreating his family here? God, I hope not. Please, let it not be so, Ryan Murphy. Don’t give us mommy/daddy issues with Twisty, and don’t give Stanley a run-of-the-mill giant dick. We deserve more than that, Murphy. You know we do.
There were a few smaller, nicer moments in this episode that show signs that there might be some poignancy yet to come, but let’s not get our hopes up. The best of these little vignettes was a funeral scene for Meep the Geek, the freak who was dropped off dead and beaten by the police. The freaks gather round his casket and rain severed chicken heads onto its wooden frame, a sign of respect for the little guy who just loved chomping off the heads of live animals. Meep, we barely knew ye. Pray the next freak who dies is someone we actually care about.