With just two weeks left in the season, American Horror Story: Freak Show appears to be covering for weak development of its primary characters by introducing new figures and shedding light on previously ignored ones. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the wonderful Neil Patrick Harris (here, as in Gone Girl, playing a character who’s more Artie Ziff than Barney Stinson), the attempt to develop the milquetoast war veteran Chester in this week’s “Magical Thinking” is no more successful than the depictions of Imma Wiggles or Pepper in the preceding episodes.
American Horror Story: Freak Show has been making campy nods towards a variety of horror cliches throughout the season’s first three episodes, and “Edward Mordrake (Part Two)” points towards a new subset of the genre—torture porn. Even the most gruesome moments of the previous episodes carry a comic, winking touch to them that keeps them light (without allowing for a few chills). However, in “(Part Two),” the humor is replaced by a noticeably sadistic streak that’s neither as fun nor as scary as the previous tone.