Is it magical that Neil Patrick Harris gets a guest role on American Horror Story: Freak Show, and more than that, also gets to flash his butt? Sure – I’ll take NPH any day over the mish-mash of themes and ideas that Freak Show has so far given us. In “Magical Thinking,” NPH plays a wandering salesman who shows up at Elsa’s Cabinet with a bunch of chameleons who cloak themselves in color (yeah, there’s some metaphor here and yeah, it’s pretty obvious). But he also has a trick up his sleeve, or several: he happens to be a magician who also does a pretty mean ventriloquist act. And he harbors some dark fetishes that make him an interesting character.
It’s surprising that Freak Show decides now is a good time for this new character, named Chester, to head to the camp. What’s even more odd is that the writers of Freak Show feel like most of Bette and Dot’s story is complete, opting to wrap up whatever issues they had with a quick diary entry that pretty much says, “Yeah, we’re back to our old ways and everything is good. Now we want to bone a dude.” Let’s just say that whatever Freak Show is doing, it’s not effectively figuring out how to conclude all of the miscellaneous plot lines it has started.
But “Magical Thinking” at least realizes it needs to tie Dandy to the rest of the freaks in whatever way possible. This episode is again a mess of different portions of sub-plots thrown together, hoping that maybe one of them had an impact on the audience enough to garner a reaction. It takes almost half of “Magical Thinking” before Dandy even makes it in here; his preoccupation with Bette and Dot is still on-going, and for whatever reason he’s deterred from simply going to the camp to kill all of the freaks. So his PI investigates and finds the twins having sex with Chester, which causes a pretty big reaction.
But it’s all so random! Whatever Freak Show is working towards, I have no idea how it plans to get there. Is it a final showdown between Dandy and the freaks? Or is between the freaks and Stanley? Both of them have had their noses in the freaks’ business for too long, and it’s clear the freaks want to take the show away from Elsa – with Chester getting in the way of that. But otherwise, no clear narrative is occurring here, from the themes of parenting to the idea that the freaks might not be the worst people in Jupiter. It’s all so conjumbled that it makes me scratch my head, thinking, what could possibly be the point of all this?
Maybe it’s just meant to be fun. Jamie Brewer’s stint as the full-size Marjorie dummy is certainly a treat in this episode, especially because Freak Show treats it as though she could be real. It’s not clear if it’s all in Chester’s head or not, and that’s entertaining simply because it’s an idea that resonates. Unfortunately, not all of “Magical Thinking”’s twists do.
Characters keep popping in and out of the episode, and it highlights the fact that Freak Show has done a terrible job of juggling in this final act. With two episodes to go, Dandy and Maggie are nearly completely absent; Dell gets some quick screentime with his demise, actually making some progress with Jimmy after his hand amputations. None of it seems to matter though, because these stories are only secondary and they only pop up when Freak Show feels like it. Any actual depth is lost because of the space between each time they’re featured.
The biggest dilemma I have with “Magical Thinking,” though, is that it’s gloriously entertaining because of NPH’s character and the introduction of the dummy. I think that this is a place Freak Show should have gone to a long time ago, instead of opting to include so many disparate ideas. But now, it again feels like the showrunners are attempting to cram another plot element into a show so stuffed with them it feels like it will burst. And when it does, at the conclusion, it’s not going to feel fulfilling; it’s just going to feel like somebody needs to clean it up for next time.