The most disturbing programme on television is back, and this time Ryan Murphy is talking us to a 50s freak show in the sleepy Florida town of Jupiter.
Going by the structure and themes of the first three seasons, we can paint a broader picture of what is going to happen at the freak show by drawing on what we have seen from the first couple of episodes. Murphy has kindly left us plenty of clues in past seasons to reveal what is going to happen this year.
1. Jessica Lange’s fading starlet
The troop of freaks is, of course, led by Jessica Lange, in her usual Blanche Dubois-esque character, this time with a Belgian accent. A glamorous woman who was drawn to the bright lights on Hollywood, but a bump in the road led to a drastic detour. The difference this season is, Elsa still hasn’t quite given up on her dream of being in the spotlight, using the freaks around her to get a leg-up onto the stage, sorry that phrasing may seem tasteless as Elsa is actually a double amputee. She seems to care for her freaks, but is it only a means to an end? She certainly seemed to be threatened when it turns out that Dot (one head of Sarah Paulson’s Siamese twins) actually has a glorious singing voice, far better than her own.
2. Masked mass murderer
The gimp, bloody face, the axe man, and now Twisty the clown. The faceless killer provides an extended story arc over the course of the series. One of the reasons people suffer from coulrophobia is the fear of not knowing who is under all the make up on the clown’s face. It is essentially a mask. In the case of Twisty, half his face is a mask, with the creepily large grin covering something far nastier underneath. Being somewhat twisted himself, Dandy the spoilt brat seems to have taken a liking to Twisty and already become something of an accomplice. Maybe the mass murderer will not act alone this year?
3. Discrimination as a uniting force
Gay people standing up to homophobia, different coloured people standing up to racism, people suffering from mental illness or physical deformities standing up to discrimination and women fighting for feminism. Murphy is always rooting for the outsider. This theme even extends beyond American Horror Story (look at Glee and The Normal Heart). Murphy champions strong female leads in AHS; Vivienne, Lana, most of the coven of witches, and this year, Elsa Mars. But of course, the most predominant example of this theme in Freak Show is the freaks themselves. Although, maybe don’t call them freaks to their face, they don’t seem to like it. Especially the endearing Jimmy Darling, aka Lobster Boy for his deformed hands (Evan Peters in his usual disturbed, brooding but attractive young male role that he plays oh so well). Murphy didn’t just take the easy route of using famous actors with prosthetics for this year’s AHS (obviously Kathy Bates doesn’t have a beard, and there are no three-breasted women in existence, so why not use the brilliant Angela Bassett) but the world’s smallest woman Jyoti Amge from India has joined the cast along with actor Mat Fraser as the Illustrated Seal. It’s always nice to cheer for the underdogs; this year there’s plenty to choose from.
4. Time hopping
AHS doesn’t do linear timelines. Flashbacks help to explain characters’ backstories and give us a glimpse as to why they became the way they did. Murphy is not afraid to write flawed characters, there is never a clear cut “good guy” and these flashbacks, and sometimes even flash forwards, help to reveal these quirks and characteristics. It’s safe to say that this season will jump around to look back at Elsa’s past, Twisty’s past, and how the Strong Man (Michael Chilkis) and Bearded Lady (Kathy Bates) became estranged following the birth of their son, Lobster boy. There may also be some time hopping that links to the Asylum in series three, as Pepper was present in both seasons, and they are only set ten years apart. Rumour has is that Lily Rabe is returning as Sister Mary Eunice. With her back in the habit, maybe she takes Pepper away to live at the asylum? It would be interesting to have more clear cut links between the series. The hints are there but not as explicitly as character cross overs, until now…
5. Familiar faces
The anthology structure of AHS is exciting because every season is a clean slate, a new horror trope in a new part of America in different era. As well as the possibility of cross over characters, Murphy uses the same core troop of actors to play different characters. Jessica Lange, who has deservedly won Golden Globes and Emmys for AHS, and Evan Peters have become central characters every season, although, sadly, Lange has announced this season will be her last. After their great reception in Coven, Cathy Bates, Angela Bassett and Emma Roberts are all back. I am disappointed not to see Taissa Farmiga again, and was hoping for a return from the brilliant Zachary Quinto after his absence from Coven. It is rumoured that last season’s witch Gabourney Sidibe will also be making a return. And many are excited to see a brand new face join the troop: Neil Patrick Harris.
6. Drawing on urban myths, and real life frights
What’s more scary than a true story, or a supposedly true story? Having explored the Black Dahlia, Westfield High school shootings and Fanny Price among others. Don’t worry, Twisty isn’t based on a true story, so don’t let at haunt you more than it already has; this season is looking into Edward Mordrake, a man who had a ‘demon’ face on the back of his head in addition to his real face. The convincingly creepy Wes Bently plays the man which two faces, maybe he will be a friend to Sarah Paulson’s two headed lady?
7. Forbidden love
There’s usually a gothic Romeo and Juliet style romance in AHS, usually with Evan Peters as the Romeo (or in the case of last year, more Frankenstein) This year we have already seen him offering his services to some sexually frustrated housewives and seen him flirting with Bette and Dot (naïve Bette is definitely smitten) but who will be the lucky, or in this case, not so lucky, girl to win his heart at the Freak Show?
Lastly, something you can certainly expect a lot of this year is blood. And gore. And more blood. With murders mounting up already, this Freak Show is being true to form when it comes to bloody violence. If you don’t like gore, look away now.