American Horror Story: Freak Show, Season 4, Episode 9: “Tupperware Party Massacre”
Written by Brad Falchuk
Directed by Loni Peristere
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on FX
Though American Horror Story: Freak Show has been deprived of its most horror-like element for over a month now, the violence has picked up considerably over the past two weeks, and the latest episode, “Tupperware Party Massacre,” showcases its most graphic bloodletting yet. Despite Dandy seeming like a less conventional horror villain than the psychotic clown, he’s made up for his less than terrifying appearance with a seemingly insatiable bloodlust.
As with last week’s “Blood Bath,” the teaser centers around providing greater insight into Dandy’s ruthlessness. This week, however, Esmerelda takes on the role of therapist, and Dandy tells his own story, in part due to his mother’s untimely exit last episode. Dandy shows off a vastly different side of himself than the audience has seen up to this point—he’s flirtatious, charming, and generally appealing (removed from his villainous context, of course).
But Brad Falchuk, who picks up writing duties this week, quickly undermines whatever appeal he gives Dandy in this scene by cross-cutting it with his brutal murder of an unsuspecting Avon lady, whom he fuses with his mother to create a simulacrum of the twins he desires. Falchuk strengthens the Oedipus complex the show has been hinting at over the course of the season, with appropriately unsettling results. It’s not like Freak Show really needed to do more to have the audience be sufficiently grossed out by Dandy, but as these reviews have noted in previous weeks, the show hardly traffics in subtlety, and the suggestion makes him all the more villainous and appalling.
Dandy isn’t the only one with an Oedipus complex, as the latter half of the teaser reveals Jimmy’s drunk flirtation with Imma. Falchuk doesn’t make the Oedipal connection too explicit, but he leaves open the suggestion that Jimmy’s attraction stems from Imma’s physical resemblance to his deceased mother. Esmerelda’s WASP-y charms aren’t enough for him—he needs a freak like himself (and like Ethel).
It’s an insinuation that Falchuk develops further in the first act, in which Jimmy’s sex with Imma segues, somewhat awkwardly, into his performance at the episode’s titular Tupperware party. As the women discuss blowjobs and reprove of Jimmy’s intoxicated state, he envisions Ethel’s ghost, and cries into her dress. Though Falchuk still doesn’t definitively cement the Oedipal nature of Jimmy’s attraction to Imma, he makes the connection even stronger here, particularly considering that the scene is preceded by the shot of Dandy’s ghastly attempt to recreate the twins.
While all of these Freudian fantasies are being enacted, the actual twins provide one of the most touching moments of the season so far. Stanley wants to murder them them under the guise of “surgery,” and Elsa makes for a fitting (if not entirely willing) accomplice. Unfortunately for them, the twins decide otherwise in the aforementioned scene. Bette tells Dot just how much Dot means to her, and the two realize that they can’t live without one another. The scene feels a bit rushed in the context of the sisterly squabbles seen over the rest of the season, but Sarah Paulson plays the moment well enough for it to be convincing.
In a less convincing subplot, Dell’s secrets become too much for him to handle, and he attempts to rid himself of them by hanging himself. As was expressed in the review of “Test of Strength,” Dell has been among the least interesting characters this season, and his suicide attempt fails to be emotionally compelling. Director Loni Peristere puts in a good effort, with gruesome close-ups of Dell’s bulging eyes and pulsing, heartbeat-like sound effects, but Freak Show hasn’t fleshed him out enough as a character for the scene to hold the viewer’s interest.
Fortunately, Paulson is good enough to anchor yet another scene that successfully resonates—Dot’s love declaration to Jimmy in the tag. He’s not totally onboard with it, as he admits after kissing her, but the brief moment of mutual affection allows for one of the most powerful images of the season: Jimmy’s lobster hands caressing the bare back of the two-headed twins. This season has often centered around questioning who the true “freaks” are, and the shot hammers home the idea that those who society ostracizes feel emotions just as real as those felt by those whom it includes. Not everything in Freak Show has worked, and “Tupperware Party Massacre” highlights one of its most glaring weaknesses, but the episode also proves just how effective the show can be.