Since American Horror Story: Freak Show has not had a traditional beginning or middle, and because it has failed to develop even the subtlest of narratives with its central plot, it was no surprise that the season finale would fail to bring everything together in a cohesive whole as some of the other seasons have done. Unfortunately, “Curtain Call” is even worse than that, because it recognizes that it can’t possibly tackle all of the loose ends and wraps them up in a nice big bow of shmaltz that leaves this season feeling the most underwhelming of them all.
Let’s start from the beginning. Dandy takes over the freak show now that Elsa Mars has run off to California, and his first task as showrunner is to command all of the freaks to do his bidding, whether it be hanging a sign out so that everyone can see Dandy is the star of the show or dominating them into submission. The freaks don’t take kindly to that, overpower Dandy, and leave him to think about his shitty singing. Unfortunately, Dandy’s not one to let people have the last word, and he goes around the freak show tents massacring everyone who gets in his way. He takes a sort of stony-faced glee in the matter as well.
Truthfully, this is one of the best moments we’ve gotten in Freak Show so far. Finally, the show takes a stand, does something seriously tweaked; Dandy’s murderous rampage is, while I wouldn’t say fun, at least entertaining, and it’s a breathless few moments while everyone we’ve met at the camp is slaughtered. Yet this is the equivalent of the writers throwing up their hands in exasperation and yelling, “We don’t know what to do with the rest of these people, so let’s just get rid of them!” Instead of emotionally compelling, it feels like a waste of characters we were forced to meet earlier in the show, and also a huge loose end that almost becomes the butt of a joke.
Jimmy, Bette, and Dot get their revenge though, along with the sole surviving member of the massacre, Desiree. They plot the ultimate death for Dandy, making him the star of the show in the process, and sit down to watch as he drowns Harry Houdini-style. “Curtain Call” gives each of these characters a better ending, but again, it lacks the necessary work put into it to make any of these storylines stick. Jimmy and Bette and Dot’s relationship is forced on the viewer after the show dropped this romance a while back, and the same is true of Desiree’s eventual happiness with Angus T. Jefferson.
The second half of the episode focuses on Elsa Mars in Hollywood, making her big break by marrying a talent scout named Michael Beck. Flash forward 8 years and she’s the unhappiest she’s ever been, because she’s bored and stuff. Freak Show wants us to feel bad for Elsa, to see that maybe she’s just an unhappy person in general and that’s why she’s done all the bad shit, but in general “Curtain Call” doesn’t make it any easier to like her. She’s got riches and a husband and people at her beck and call and she’s still a huge bitch – plus she killed people – and it doesn’t do any justice for the show’s final scene.
This last half of “Curtain Call” isn’t just lacking something to make Elsa’s character more personable; it’s boring after the excitement of Dandy’s massacre. And Freak Show forces us to listen to Elsa sing David Bowie one more time, albeit a different song; she’s just really not that good, and despite bringing back all of the characters from the first part of the season including Twisty and Edward Mordrake, it’s a terrible montage.
Still, I liked the inclusion of Mordrake, throwing back to the idea that freaks aren’t supposed to perform on Halloween. It’s just odd that Elsa gets the happy ending that she desires, in a land where she finally accepts herself as one of the freaks. Everyone invites her in, welcomes her, and allows her to be the star of the show. In this heaven, apparently everyone is still forced to bow down to Elsa. It’s supposed to be a heartwarming conclusion, but instead it reeks of Freak Show again not knowing what its main point wants to be.
After watching “Curtain Call”, there’s an emptiness inside me towards Freak Show. Sure, some of it was fun. But would I say it had any lasting worth? Absolutely not. A final rating of D for a show that lacked any driving direction.