SPOILERS AHEAD, BEWARE
We were introduced to Bettie and Dot Tattler, the Siamese twins who recently murdered their own mother. We met Ethel and Jimmy Darling- a mother and son pair of freaks- she, the bearded lady, and he the lobster man. "Ma Petite" is the world's tiniest woman, "Paul, the Illustrated Seal" has flipper arms and tattoos, and of course, Pepper is back.
We also met "Twisty the Clown" and he is one of the most horrifying things I have seen in a long time. He seems to be wearing someone else's skin on his head for a hat, and he has a hideous, frozen, toothy smile that just amplifies the crazed look in his eyes. He is fond of stabbing people to death, and when he's not doing that he's locking them up in his trailer of terror and making balloon animals for them. He is not part of the troupe, but he is seen hanging around their tents and I doubt he has good intentions.
The rest of the freaks are a family, bound together by Fräulein Elsa Mars, a German woman, played by Jessica Lange. Elsa has wanted to be a glamorous star all of her life, and she has only managed to become the ringleader for a circus of sideshow acts. Initially, you assume she is "normal" herself, and has used the freak show as a venue to try to showcase her own talent, but at the end of the episode, you discover that she, too is an amputee, and fits in better with her comrades that she probably wants to.
But the family is not just a refuge for the different and the disposed of. There is a darkness there, under the surface. Jimmy Darling kills a police officer that came looking for Bettie and Dot, and the troupe gathers around the corpse to mutilate it. And Elsa has a dark side too. She invites a candy-striper from the hospital to come to the show, and once there, she gives the girl drugs and films her getting um...freaky with the freaks. What is her motivation, you wonder. Maybe just to take some pretty, "normal" girl and defile her? Is it jealousy or is she just sick? It's hard to say after just one episode. But although they aren't full-blown serial killers, like Twisty, they definitely aren't just innocent victims of a society that shuns them.
And there are some really bizarre and surreal moments. Jimmy the Lobster Lad is a hit with the ladies- on the down low, of course. He gets paid to attend parties and pleasure women with his unique appendages, and then he sneaks out the back door and back to the tents before anyone else in polite society knows he's ever been there. That seems a bit weird. Just the idea that 1950s wives would be having a tupperware-style sex party kind of makes me giggle. Frances Conroy plays a wealthy mother to a psycho son who wants to buy Bettie and Dot- for what purpose we have no idea. And then there's the first show we get to see. The freaks are doing what we expect- showing off their attributes under the spotlights- and Elsa has a big song number. Except, it's David Bowie's Life on Mars, and she is even wearing a baby blue suit and eyeshadow, ala Bowie, himself. Oooookay. It was truly odd, but also kind of perfectly suited to a show that is going to be completely crazy.
One thing that was bizarre, but not in a good way, was Kathy Bates' accent. I couldn't quite tell what region she was supposed to be from. It almost sounded Southern at moments, and then it would slip into something more New England- almost Canadian but then, no...not that either. it was just sort of muddled. Hmm. Honestly, I expect better from her. Oh well.
So, for next week, it looks like Angela Bassett, Denis O'Hare, Michael Chiklis, and Emma Roberts will be joining us. Looks like it's going to be a weird ride, guys.