Tonight’s “Monsters Among Us” is seen partially from the perspective of Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson), conjoined twins who come into the care of German ex-pat Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) after being hospitalized by a shadowy intruder who also savagely murdered their mother – or so they say. As the episode unfolds, it becomes clear that Bette and Dot aren’t just unfortunate victims of circumstance, piteously misunderstood by the world and swiftly declared guilty by xenophobic authorities. Refreshingly, Murphy isn’t content to tell the same story we’ve heard time and time again – that despite their outward appearances, society’s outcasts are always less dangerous than its members. Instead, there’s real danger lurking on the carnival grounds.
Of course, the idea that these performers were spurned, ridiculed, abused and ultimately cast by society in horrific ways is present. But by the end of the premiere, as lobster-handed Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) whips the other show members into an angry mob and leads them in the gruesome mass stabbing of the murdered detective who was after the Tattlers, there’s no sense that any of the characters are especially noble, selfless or heroic. That Peters, who previously portrayed strong-willed Kit Walker in Asylum and victimized Kyle Spencer in Coven, is playing such an angry and violent guy this time around drives the point home. If you want heroes, look elsewhere.
The shift in tone toward an even more opaque moral playing field gives Freak Show the early impression of being American Horror Story‘s most horror-heavy story yet (only more episodes will show us whether Murphy can deliver on that early promise without sending the season flying off the rails).
Already, there’s a greater focus on scares (which were sorely missing from the campier Coven), including one doozy of a home video involving all the freaks getting their freak on (sorry, couldn’t resist) at the expense of a drugged-out candy striper (Grace Gummer). The eerie way in which the sequence is shot shreds your nerves and turns your stomach simultaneously, and it communicates volumes about Elsa and the rest of the performers.