Last night, American Horror Story: Freak Show, the fourth installment of Ryan Murphy’s wildly successful annual omnibus of televised provocations, began its journey of inevitably diminishing shock-returns, shuffling out of the darkness of our collective unconscious and into the dingy tent of Fraulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities. There will be freaks, it promises, right there in the title, and then it delivers them, one by one, cattle-prodding them from behind its curtain and onto the prime-time stage of our televisions to be gawked at. And we tuned in to check them out, for this first hour, at least, because let it not be said that we are above spending some quality time with a two-headed Sarah Paulson or a lobster-fisted Evan Peters. A hook is a hook, even if it’s ultimately going to lodge itself in your cheek and yank you to your doom.
Here is a rundown of the freaks from the season premiere1, ranked from “Wouldn’t bother to cross the street to avoid this guy” to “high-octane nightmare fuel injected straight into your eyeballs.”
Sorry, three-breasted Angela Bassett, you don’t show up until next week.
(Warning: Some of this might disturb gentle sorts. Especially if you don’t like clowns. There’s a clown in here. Boy howdy is there a clown!)
11. The Milkman
Freak Factor: Toiling in a soon-to-be obsolete service industry until its ignominious collapse.
Scare Factor: Future job prospects are terrifying, from potential vacuum cleaner sales to door-to-door salvation work.
10. Mean Bros in a Nice Car
Freak Factor: Superhuman Brylcreem tolerance. Vertigo resulting in poor aim as they harmlessly toss beer bottles at the feet of two unsuspecting freaks.
Scare Factor: Their retrograde brand of drive-by intolerance is appalling, as is their probable drunken driving.
9. Horny Normies on a Picnic Blanket
Freak Factor: They don’t live long enough for us to find out, but there’s a strong hint Boy Normie has two penises: “I stole two rubbers,” Girl Normie says after her beau initially demures on the offer of intercourse because “they can’t afford a baby.” The only rational explanation is he needs double the protection for whatever’s going on down there; come on, they’re not doing it twice on that blanket.
Scare Factor: While not themselves terrifying (again, we don’t know about the genitalia situation), they are brutally murdered (him) and kidnapped (her) by a filthy demonclown. (More on him later! Clowns!)
8. Ma Petite, the World’s Smallest Woman
Freak Factor: She is a very, very small woman.
Scare Factor: Only if you are afraid of the heart-swelling physical intimacy of tiny hugs.
7. Paul the Illustrated Seal and Amazon Eve (tie)
Freak Factor: Flipper-like hands (Paul, left) and slightly above-average height (Eve, right).
Scare Factor: Paul and Eve seem nice! We wish those mean bros didn’t throw a bottle at them; it makes you fear they’re not going to be treated well in this sideshow corner of the Murphyverse.
6. Ethel Darling, the Bearded Lady
Freak Factor: She has a beard, a midlevel carnival affectation at best.
Scare Factor: Ethel possesses a truly bone-chilling mid-Atlantic accent of indeterminate origin. Pittsburgh? Delaware? Attempting to geo-locate its provenance will drive you immediately insane, as will the discordant sound of each bizarrely articulated “o.”
5. Elsa Mars
Freak Factor: Our freak-show proprietress has no legs (a late reveal at the end of the episode) and a cartoonish German accent, and must constantly ingest all the scenery around her for sustenance, lest she starve to death.
Scare Factor: Although her vaguely menacing persona might tickle the hair on the back of your neck, her public massacre of David Bowie will stay with you for a while.
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4. Jimmy Darling (a.k.a. Lobster Boy, a.k.a. Edward Shockerhands)
Freak Factor: Although he is unquestionably attractive, his hands vaguely resemble crustacean pinchers.
Scare Factor: On the one hand (pun unavoidable), he kills a guy. On the other hand (pun even more unavoidable), he brings a woman to near-instant orgasm by skillfully deploying his pleasure-claws. You take the bad with the good, we suppose.
3. Bette/Dot Tattler, the Two-Headed Woman
Freak Factor: Two fully independent heads share the same body.
Scare Factor: We see so much of them in the show’s first hour that most of the expected uneasiness of watching dueling Sarah Paulsons navigate their peculiar circumstance is quickly dissipated. By their third appearance, we just want them to break character and tell scary stories about working with Aaron Sorkin on Studio 60. We’ve got it all worked out: One can kind of half-heartedly defend him, while the other doesn’t care about their career — they’ve got Murphy in their corner now, anyway — and is willing to burn all bridges. Lobster Boy is a straight lift from Studio 60, anyway. We wonder if they brought that one along as a big, extended middle-claw Sorkin-ward.
2. Meep the Geek
Freak Factor: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. What are you about to do with that chicken, Meep? Put down the chicken. Step away from the chicken.
Scare Factor: Oh. Oh no. Meep bit off the chicken’s head. Meep bites the heads off things. Meep giggles through the resulting post-decapitation blood-fountain. We don’t like Meep, not one bit. “Geek” seems like we’re soft-peddling what Meep is about. He’s actually “Meep the Fever-Dream-Haunting Head-Gobbler.” Stay away from Ma. Petite, you ravenous monster!
1. Twisty, the Filthy, Stab-Happy Demonclown
Freak Factor: Well, look at him. A lot of things are happening here. That hairline, the teeth, a wilted flower. His lack of hygiene is not helping matters.
Scare Factor: Are you afraid of clowns? If so, you’ve already soiled yourself. We apologize for that, but we warned you at the top of this story that a clown was coming. A clown who stabs people to death with giant, rusty scissors. A clown who looks like he’s torn off his own face to reveal the hellspawn visage beneath, so that the last thing you see is his soul-eating, toothy grin before he plunges his shears into your heart, over and over again, as the music of an infernal calliope plays in your head.
Let’s put the clown out of our heads, go change our undergarments, and pretend this show never happened. Even if they’re breaking out the three-breasted lady next week. Not worth it.