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Wes Bentley (#110 of 5)

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap Episode 13, "Curtain Call"

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American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 13, “Curtain Call”

FX

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 13, “Curtain Call”

“Curtain Call” ends American Horror Story: Freak Show on an unsurprisingly dour and haphazard note, reveling in the show’s most annoying ongoing assertion: that the freaks are “just like everyone else.” No, they aren’t. A man with flippers for hands who’s lived in a circus all his life fantasizing about joining conventional American society isn’t like a man born into that society unquestioningly with the privilege to take it for granted. These are profoundly different emotional experiences, and, if this sounds like over-literal nitpicking, bear in mind that American Horror Story goes to great efforts to congratulate itself on its “other”-friendly symbolism. The freaks are clearly meant to represent a great variety of minorities, and their often boring “magical negro” cuddliness is meant to attest to the inherent unifying decency of the human species regardless of variation.

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap Episode 4, "Edward Mordrake (Part 2)"

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American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 4, “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)”

FX

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 4, “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)”

“Edward Mordrake (Part 2)” finds Freak Show wallowing in the sort of dull, meaningless outlandishness that usually sets in right around the halfway mark of any given season of American Horror Story. Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk seem to forget that if everything is “shocking” and “subversive,” then nothing is, as there’s no contrast between conventionality and deviation to produce the sort of dramatic friction that’s necessary to sustain something like 95 percent of all fiction. The problem with American Horror Story writ large is that there’s never any patience exhibited, never any sense of shocks being actively prepared for. For a few episodes, this speed-freakiness doesn’t necessarily matter, as TV shows are obviously playing the long game and need to instill in the viewer a notion of the stakes from the outset. But it’s becoming clear that there aren’t any stakes in Freak Show, and that the characters, who are barely characters, are going to say and do things whenever it’s convenient, because Murphy and Falchuk can’t ever be bothered to construct a coherent scenario with which to govern their admittedly impressive sense of atmosphere.

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap Episode 3, "Edward Mordrake (Part 1)"

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American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 3, “Edward Mordrake (Part 1)”

FX

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 3, “Edward Mordrake (Part 1)”

With “Edward Mordrake (Part 1),” American Horror Story: Freak Show plays to its strengths, sounding its themes through action rather than talk. Jimmy’s (Evan Peters) already reliably tedious, half-true blathering about the equality and sameness of freaks is mercifully limited to a speech given over Meep’s funeral; mostly, we’re allowed to regard the freaks simply as characters, with accompanying pleasures and demons, rather than as potential monuments to retrospective political actualization. Narratively, this episode’s a mess, as it introduces half a dozen threads and is clearly doing a great deal of bookkeeping for the season at large. But this structural looseness, which favors vignettes that stand on their own, also affirms the central premise of aloneness: These characters are bundled together on a cramped makeshift campground yet they’re emotionally solitary, trapped within their individual obsessions. “Edward Mordrake (Part 1)” is aware of the reassuring safety, and of the stifling social enclosure, of living with family.

Great Performances: The Temperamentals and Venus in Fur

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Great Performances: <em>The Temperamentals</em> and <em>Venus in Fur</em>
Great Performances: <em>The Temperamentals</em> and <em>Venus in Fur</em>

The Temperamentals could have easily been the title for The Boys in the Band, given that the latter’s party guests fit that description to a T, and it’s interesting that both works are sharing the same season. Both are about a group of men who, despite their differences, try to make sense of what it is to be gay in their society. Except that this play, sensitively written by Jon Marans (Old Wicked Songs), goes back all the way to the early ’50s, when gay wasn’t even a state of mind yet. Cue the advent of the Mattachine Society, a politically based platform begun by married, somewhat conservative Harry Hay (Thomas Jay Ryan), slowly embracing his homosexuality, and his Jewish émigré lover Rudi Gernreich (Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie), and their difficult efforts trying to get a group together to create a faction for men who felt disenfranchised (calling themselves “temperamental”), much like black Americans did in the same time period.

Ghost Rider: Running on Fumes

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<em>Ghost Rider</em>: Running on Fumes
<em>Ghost Rider</em>: Running on Fumes

Comic book adaptations of late are feeling less and less like feature films and more like depictions of their life-sized action figure counterparts. It’s telling that so many of these movies are aimed at preexisting, built-in audiences, as studio execs and directors-for-hire are less worried about introducing new characters and plots to viewers than they are at satisfying their base visceral desires. Performers are chosen not for their thesping skills, but for how well their public image matches their assigned character; directors not for their storytelling abilities, but for how readily they can supply the components for the much-needed, appetite-whetting trailer (with apologies to Raimi, Lee, Nolan and Singer).