‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ Season 4 Episode 12 Recap: “Magical Thinking”


Ryan Murphy and co. left us in 2014 with Freak Show‘s most convincingly emotional episode. That same episode, “Orphans,” did little to advance the plot of the show, save for hinting that Elsa does, in fact, become a television star. This week, it’s become apparent that, with so few episodes left in the season, they’re itching to get some things out of the way, but they’re doing it by.. introducing a new character.

We start at the jail with Stanley trying to convince Jimmy to give him his claws in order to pay for a proper defense. (You’ll remember that Jimmy was locked up for killing a Tupperware party full of women, a crime Dandy committed.) Stanley gives Jimmy a substance to induce vomiting, and then a hired hand — a male prostitute — is there with an ambulance to take him away. Jimmy wakes up, finds himself in a pretty rough hospital with both his hands chopped off. He screams, but what was he expecting? For Stanley to take only one?

Dell visits him in prison, feeds him, and does stuff like a dad. (“I’m 50 years old and this is the first time I’ve fed my son.”) Dell explains that he was the only man in his family to not have ectrodactyly, being a kind of freak for being normal. Jimmy tells him that he wants to buy the freak show from Elsa. They’re both really excited about it.

Dell returns to the campground, where he and Amazon Eve scheme to have Jimmy rescued. It doesn’t take much doing: They simply smash the window of his police escort, kill the guards, and unshackle Jimmy.

Meanwhile, Bette and Dot, determined to work as partners and no longer dying to be separating from each other, are set on having their virginity taken by any man the two can agree on. They set their eyes on Chester (Neil Patrick Harris), a traveling salesman and magician who doesn’t quite see things how they are, thanks to a metal plate in his head. He’s also got a friend, Marjorie, a dummy that may or may not be alive. The two of them are allowed to stay at the freak show if he does some bookkeeping for Elsa. It’s honestly a surprise that this is the first time a creepy-ass doll has ever been used in AHS.

Chester enlists Bette and Dot as his assistants in his magic show in which he cuts someone in half. During this scene, we get a little bit of a flashback to something ambiguous that involves Chester, with Marjorie on his lap, sitting in the corner of a bedroom as two women have sex on a bed right in front of him.

Soon, Bette and Dot come on to him in his room, make out with him until he’s overcome with the screeching of the metal plate in his head. We get another glimpse into his past, and see that it’s his wife and another woman having sex. He snaps out of it and, after picking up and placing his hand inside of Marjorie (“She relaxes me”), has sex with Bette and Dot.

Cut to Dandy, who receives pictures from a private detective he’s hired to spy on Bette and Dot. He’s not very happy about their sleeping with Chester.

We then see another bit of Chester’s past, with his wife’s lover calling Chester a freak, and a humanized Marjorie (Jamie Brewer) telling him to kill his wife and her lover. And then, back in the present, he buys the freak show from Elsa.

The cops, looking for the escaped Jimmy, eventually show up to the campgrounds. They find nothing, but Chester is distraught over the disappearance of Marjorie. He wanders the campgrounds, shouting Marjorie’s name, and finds Dandy. He’s taken Marjorie, and he knows about Chester’s past: He — or Marjorie, depending on if the show’s depiction of it is to be trusted — killed both his wife and her lover. He eventually finds Marjorie, again humanized, in the big tent and she tells him that he has to saw the twins in half.

Dell returns to the campgrounds and finds Desiree in his camper. She confronts him, asks him who he’s killed. He confesses to the killing of the cops. But Desiree knows that Dell killed Ma Petite — and she brought her back from Philadelphia. Dell admits to it, and when he does, Elsa executes him from behind. Another excellent actor wasted on a shitty, undeveloped American Horror Story character, and another unceremonious, ineffective death.

The late season appearance of Chester and Marjorie, and the seeming weight given to their actions, is indicative of this show’s problem. It tries, constantly, to introduce new, compelling characters, and crams a seemingly complicated background story into 15 minutes. The problem is, these characters are rarely ever compelling, and, what’s worse, they’re thrown into the big stew of this plot with a bunch of other boring, undeveloped characters. That’s mostly what this season is: characters who are introduced as having been innocent, who have suffered some trauma, and who are now awful in a single way. Those are three things, but, unfortunately, that doesn’t make for three-dimensional characters. It just makes for a campground filled with a bunch of flat, “damaged” people, and it’s honestly getting more and more difficult to care about any of them.