Thus far, Freak Show, when focused on the actual freaks of the show, has painted Elsa in a varied light, but it’s always been evident that, above all else, the success of her Cabinet of Curiosities was top priority. The past few weeks have made it clear that her main priority has been success, but not the success of the show, and not the success of the freaks. No, her main priority is just the success of Elsa. This week, that all comes to a head, and her Momma Bear place in the campgrounds begins to fall apart, mostly thanks to Paul the Illustrated Seal.
“Bullseye” opens with Elsa digging out the spinning wheel, slinging knives at imaginary Jimmy, Maggie, and Pepper. It’s clear from the start, as a voiceover speaks of having to “kill the ones you love,” that Elsa gives zero shits for the freaks working in her show, and that she’s willing to do whatever necessary to obtain even the least bit of fame.
There’s a scene at Elsa’s birthday party where nothing much happens other than Ma Petite wearing a primitive Snuggie and saying, “I will keep you warm, Ms. Elsa.” And then the freaks almost in unison say, “We miss the twins,” which sets off Elsa, shouting about the betrayal of the twins, bringing on a “thou doth protest too much” vibe. Surprisingly, the only person who seems to think Elsa’s intentions are suspect is Paul the Illustrated Seal, who has been largely relegated to background scenes in the show. He also seems to be Elsa’s boy toy, though she hardly regards him as a whole person at all. (She certainly doesn’t regard Ma Petite as one, seeing as she refers to her as “my cuddle.”)
Paul’s suspicions about Elsa start out fairly weak, but they’re turned into a more serious hunch when he runs into Dandy at the local merchant. Paul is there to buy perfume for his lover (Penny the Candy Striper (Grace Gummer), who was kidnapped and raped in the first episode, and who appears rather randomly tonight). He recognizes Dandy from his earlier visit, and notices that he’s buying some feminine products — two of everything. Pretty incontrovertible proof.
Dandy, of course, does have Bette and Dot back at his house, as delivered by Elsa. The twins are happy with the situation, but for two very different reasons, as we see clearly through their respective diary entries. Bette is smitten, hypnotized by the money and the food, and excited and ready to marry Dandy. Dot, on the other hand, is obsessed with the idea of surgical separation, and daydreams about living a separate, individual life, even if (especially if?) Bette has to die in order for that to happen.
Eventually, Dandy discovers and breaks open Dot’s diary. In it, she talks about how boring Dandy is, and how it’s not easy to bore someone who was kept as a shut-in for thirty years. Dandy is heartbroken and deep into an ugly cry session when Gloria discovers him. She reads the diary and doesn’t react, really. After the initial wave of sadness he falls into a deep calm, suddenly clear in his purpose. He compares his insides to a desert. “I was never destined to feel love. My purpose is to bring death.” Hum.
Back at the tents, Elsa sings Broadway classic “September Song” to Paul, and says, in her continued effort to bring a meta-commentary to the show, “A little culture for the TV viewers. God knows they need it.” Unamused and unwilling to entertain the painfully egotistic Elsa, Paul confronts her about Bette and Dot, and she goes apeshit. She orders Paul to wake up all of the freaks and bring them to the big tent. “Nobody leaves here until one of you is strapped in and proves to me your unadulterated loyalty,” she says, pointing to the spinning wheel. Paul volunteers. Elsa, unsurprisingly, throws the last knife straight into his gut and can barely hide her satisfaction. (Really, Jessica Lange’s happiness, met with the realization that she looks too happy, followed by an exaggerated sadness, is the best moment from this episode.)
Penny — again, her inclusion is really coming off as a forced way to mix the townsfolk in with the freaks, perhaps as a hint of the ultimate conclusion to this season — rushes in to the tents and finds Paul bloody, lying in Elsa’s quarters. She consoles him as Elsa storms out. Later, Elsa and Ethel talk. Elsa talks about the freaks as her family, and Ethel as her sister. “Faith and loyalty can only take you so far,” Ethel says, and Elsa may or may not believe her. Ethel adds, “If I ever found out you’d been lying, or did wrong by those girls, I’ll kill you with my own two hands.” “I just want to be loved,” Elsa says, as she blows out the black candle of her birthday cake.
There’s a pretty slow Maggie/Stanley plot scattered throughout the episode. Stanley wants Maggie to aid him in cutting off Jimmy’s hands, but she suggests simply pickling Ma Petite. When the time comes, she can’t do it. Stanley isn’t happy, but, as far as this episode goes, it doesn’t have much in the way of consequence, other than to heighten the good/bad dichotomy of Maggie/Stanley.
The episode ends with Elsa blowing out that candle, but just before that we see Jimmy greeted warmly by Gloria and Dandy. This is just after Dandy has his sort of psychic break. The Dandy storyline, as it’s progressed, can’t go that much further. He either has to kill everyone or be killed. Seeing as Jimmy is kind of the low-lying hero of this story — with his whole killing Twisty and being celebrated by the town serving as his own kind of half-assed origin story — there’s little chance that he’ll be killed. Maybe he’ll be taken prisoner, forcing Dell to do something other than pine for Matt Bomer? I’m not sure, but it’s a shame how much of this cast is being sorely underused. If people don’t start dying off, the season is just going to continue on as a bloated mess. That’s always a problem with AHS but usually, by this point, enough people have died to force the show into kind of an unconscious path correction. You’d never think you’d ask for a higher body count in this show, but that’s exactly what we need in the coming few weeks.