The fourth season of FX’s American Horror Story, subtitled Freak Show, concluded this week with “Curtain Call.” Perhaps the most satisfying season finale of the show yet, capping a season which, in my opinion, tied with the first for best of the series, it gave almost everyone who deserved it a happy ending. Mixing tears and joy in moving pathos, “Curtain Call” is the ending fans deserve.
Right away this year, American Horror Story: Freak Show made us care about the freaks. It is the people outside of the carnival that are the problem. Those with the deformities are the persecuted, and the ones to root for. The story tears down prejudice among those who watch, building sympathy for the outcasts. This continues right on through to the end.
As “Curtain Call” opens, the freak show has been sold to Dandy (Finn Wittrock), the biggest beast of the year. But the freaks, who have suffered enough, don’t put up with his gruff for long. They quit, prompting him to go on a killing spree and murder almost every performer left. Thankfully, four survive long enough to punish Dandy.
Wittrock’s performance in American Horror Story: Freak Show is nothing short of amazing. Even as he dramatically dies, drowning in Houdini’s water escape tank, we see the pain and anger in his eyes. He feels misunderstood, miscast in life. The more he tries to carve out his place and hone his talents, the worse he does. He’s deeply damaged, far from emotionless, desperate to find acceptance. He does horrific things, though, and like a diseased dog, the most merciful thing is to put him down, which our heroes do.
One might think that being slain by a madman is not a happy ending, and I mentioned in the opening that the ending is satisfying. “Curtain Call” toys with an afterlife, though, a specific fulfillment of the wishes of those who died. The freaks who are killed, and not just in the season finale, are reunited in an eternal caravan, performing nightly for packed houses. It may not be the ideal existence for most of us, nor even what many of them thought they wanted in life, but it’s what these people end up valuing most, enhanced by perfect circumstances and surrounded by beloved family.
Even Elsa (Jessica Lange) gets to go there, despite her sins. She achieves the Hollywood fame she desires, and finds it’s far less than she wishes for. As she gets bigger and bigger, she feels less and less at home, missing the family she built. In the end, she commits suicide on Halloween, letting us glimpse terrific guest stars Wes Bentley and John Carroll Lynch again, and ends up at the heavenly fair, rather than roaming with the cursed troupe. It’s a reward for the good she does before she does wrong. Ethel’s (Kathy Bates) gentle scolding that Elsa was not a good friend, boss, or cook but that she was born to perform is the perfect emotional chord, reuniting the oldest of friends in a tear-worthy scene that, as usual, proves what a considerable talent Lange is.
Speaking of Ethel, Bates is killed off far too early in American Horror Story: Freak Show. I miss her the moment she leaves, and while we do see her twice more, it only makes me wish for more of her. Angela Bassett’s Desiree, who survives, is also less featured than I’d like. I hope that, if Lange does step down or back in season five, a regrettable circumstance for sure, Bassett and Bates rise to take her place. They have earned a showcase like the one Lange has been getting these past few years.
The quartet that make it through “Curtain Call” intact are Desiree, Jimmy (Evan Peters), and Dot and Bette (Sarah Paulson). All end up happily married with children, having gotten away with the multiple murders they justly committed. My only small complaint about this is that it feels extremely familiar to have Paulson and Peters’ players achieve their bright futures, the two actors among the small number in past seasons who have similar conclusions. That’s likely because they keep getting cast in certain types of roles, the ones that naturally survive, but it still feels a tad bit like a repeat.
In the end, I’m left amazed by the tale told and the characters created. So many impressive performances, so many fascinating guest stars, and so many terrific twists. The plot feels more substantial than in the past couple of seasons, and the emotions run deeper. While half of the main characters sit out the finale (not unusual for this franchise), there are enough supporting characters appearing to keep it feeling full. “Curtain Call” is a great culmination of what builds up, and I cannot think of a better way to wind the various threads together.
American Horror Story has been renewed for a fifth season, which will feature as-of-yet unannounced new cast, setting, and subtitle.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00S8JZQX6][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00OQUZP96]