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Series / American Horror Story: Freak Show

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Come one, come all, for the fright of your life!note 

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?
David Bowie, "Life on Mars"

American Horror Story: Freak Show is the fourth season in the American Horror Story anthology. The fourth season takes place in 1952, in Jupiter, Florida, and follows one of the few remaining circus freak shows as they struggle to keep the business afloat.

Returning cast members include Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy, Denis O'Hare, Emma Roberts, Angela Bassett, and Kathy Bates, with guest appearances by AHS alumni Gabourey Sidibe, Jamie Brewer, Lily Rabe, Naomi Grossman, and Mare Winningham. New cast members are Michael Chiklis, John Carroll Lynch, and Finn Wittrock, with Patti LaBelle, Matt Bomer, Neil Patrick Harris and Wes Bentley as guest stars that would appear throughout the season.

American Horror Story: Freak Show provides the following tropes:

  • The '50s: This season takes place in 1952.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Eudora Tatler, who kept her daughters locked up out of shame and subjected them to years of verbal (and seemingly physical) abuse.
    • Penny's father Vince treats his daughter more like a possession than a person. When she states her intention of moving out of his house to be with Paul, he "gives her a proper send-off" by having his tattoo artist friend drug her, then disfigure her with a full-face tattoo and a forked tongue as an act of distancing himself from her and protecting his "sterling reputation" as an electrician. He even eagerly waits for her to wake up and because he wants to see the look on her face.
  • Aborted Arc: Several plot points are seemingly forgotten in the second half of the series including:
    • Jimmy's murder of the detective in episode 1
    • The twins being wanted fugitives for killing their mother
    • Dell and Elsa's power struggle
    • The focus on Stanley's large penis makes it seem as though it'll tie into the plot in some way. It never does.
    • Jimmy and the housewives. The plot comes out of nowhere and after that one scene its never mentioned again. For the rest of the season its as if it never happened. It could almost be considered a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Twisty. In the end he was simply a kind, childish clown who was driven insane after having his reputation and life ruined. And although he was driven to murder, all he ever wanted to do was please children the way he used to.
  • And Starring: In-universe. When Elsa sees the new posters Dell had printed she is rather angry that he printed her name on the bottom of the poster as a "with" lumped together with the Geek.
  • Anti-Hero: Pretty much the entire Freak Show.
  • All Women Are Lustful: In the suburbs, there's a very strange sexy party in which bored housewives allow themselves to be fingered by Jimmy the Lobster Boy. It's as bizarre as it sounds.
  • Anachronic Order: "Pink Cupcakes" is interspliced with scenes featuring Maggie and Stanley at the American Morbidity Museum, featuring exhibits such as the body of Paul the Illustrated Seal and Bette and Dot's upper body. These scenes were actually fantasy sequences, however time skips in 'Orphans' revealed that the Museum has the body of Ma Petite, the head of Salty and Jimmy Darling's hands.
  • Anachronism Stew: Any and all musical numbers, especially Elsa performing "Gods and Monsters" originally by Lana Del Rey. The song's chorus namechecks Jim Morrison, who would be only 8 back then.
  • Anyone Can Die: In true AHS fashion. By the end of the season, the only survivors are Jimmy, the twins, Desiree, Pepper, and possibly Stanley.
  • Artificial Limbs: Elsa (legs) and Jimmy (hands).
  • Artistic License – Biology: In episode one, the surgeon taking care of Dot and Bette say that they have two sets of lungs (4 lungs total). However, later when Bette take a drag of Elsa's cigarette, Dot blows out smoke. This should not be possible if they do not share the same set of lungs, as indicated by the doctor earlier.
    • Dot and Bette can communicate with one another telepathically. Real conjoined twins cannot do this.
  • Back for the Finale: Edward Mordrake, Twisty and most of the freaks who died in previous episodes returned for the Season Finale.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Completely revoked. All the characters who are portrayed as beautiful are the primary antagonists or commit terrible crimes over the course of the season, while the "freaks" are rejected or subject to violence for their conditions.
  • Betty and Veronica: Jimmy is the Archie while Bette and Dot are the Bettys and Maggie is the Veronica. In another case, Bette and Dot are the Archies while Jimmy is the Betty and Dandy along with Chester are the Veronicas.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Though they do not interact and only share a single non-speaking scene together, Dandy and Stanley are the only two villains shown to be unambiguously evil, and who never seek redemption. Stanley is a Disc-One Final Boss in the penultimate episode, while Dandy takes over the show and massacres the performers.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Ethel’s trailer. When Edward Mordrake pays her a visit, the interior appears positively palatial. It even seems to have multiple levels.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Elsa and most of the freaks die, but they're reunited in the afterlife where they can perform their show for eternity with a full house every night.
  • Blatant Lies: Dell's excuse for his attempted chloroforming of Amazon Eve and subsequently having had his ass handed to him was that he had been working on a strongman-strongwoman type act for the carnival.
  • Blood Bath: Dandy believes that bathing in people's blood will give him their power. The first onscreen instance of this comes right after he kills his own mother, though the fact that he is covered in blood after killing Andy may suggest that he did this then too.
  • Bloody Horror: Dandy's murder of Andy in Episode 5 certainly counts, as he first repeatedly stabs him, shooting blood everywhere, and then cuts his arms (and presumably the rest of his limbs) off and dumps them in an acid filled bathtub. The way Dandy rises up at the end makes even his blood-spattered tighty-whitey briefs a little frightening.
  • Body Horror: The people of Jupiter come specifically to gawk at and be frightened by the performers for their disabilities or bodily conditions, but it's subverted in that they're never portrayed as monstrous to scare viewers (except in the opening credits).
  • Bond One-Liner: "Nightey-night Dandy!"
  • Book Ends: In the first episode, Elsa sings David Bowie's "Life on Mars." The last episode ends just as Elsa is about to sing "Life on Mars" again.
  • Boom, Headshot!: A recurring theme. Specifically, Gloria, Regina, Dell and the remaining freaks sans Pepper, Jimmy, the twins and Desiree all died this way.
  • Boring Insult: Dandy delivers one to the freaks when they fail to sell any tickets (thirty minutes after putting advertisements up). They throw it right back at him.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Dandy shoots the freaks with a revolver that he fires at least twelve times without reloading.
  • Broken Heel: In Twisty's introductory scene, he interrupts a picnicking boyfriend-girlfriend couple and brutally murders the boyfriend. The girlfriend flees in terror, but quickly trips and falls on the grass as she's escaping.
  • Bungled Suicide: Twisty attempts to kill himself by shooting himself in the mouth. This, however, fails, and mutilates his mouth and jaw.
  • Candy Striper: In the first episode, Elsa Mars enters the hospital where Bette and Dot are being treated under the pretense that she's looking for her sick aunt. She charms information on the twins' room from a Candy Striper named Penny, inviting Penny to visit the show. Elsa then infiltrates the secure wing having disguised herself as a Candy Striper (complete with uniform, goody-cart, and balloons).
  • Casting Gag: A signature of the series is having actors play off their previous roles in the franchise.
    • In Murder House, Frances Conroy plays the ghost of a maid murdered and buried in the backyard. In Freak Show, she covers up her son's murder of the maid by burying her in the backyard.
    • In Murder House, Evan Peters plays a teenager with a love for grunge, explicitly naming Kurt Cobain as one of his favorite musicians. Peters's character in Freak Show sings a Nirvana song in "Test of Strength". Specifically, the song "Come As You Are," which includes the line, "And I swear / I don't have a gun / No, I don't have a gun." In Murder House, Evans' character was a school shooter. Yeah.
    • In Asylum and Coven, Evan Peters plays characters who end up in a three-way relationship. Here, Evan Peters ends up in a three-way relationship with the conjoined twins Bette and Dot.
    • Gabourey Sidibe's character in Coven was named Queenie. This season, it's Regina, which means queen.
    • Kathy Bates's character loses her head again. Minus the immortality-induced comedy.
    • Mare Winningham plays another bad mother, possibly worse than the incestuous Alicia in Coven.
    • In Asylum, Evan Peters played a young man wrongly accused of being a serial killer. In Freak Show, he gets framed for Dandy's crimes after he bribes the detective.
    • In 'Orphans', Jimmy Darling's prison garb is exactly the same as Kit Walker's Asylum garb.
    • A twist: both Murder House and Freak Show have a Detective Colquitt.
    • In Coven, Jessica Lange and Danny Huston play two lovers, the latter a ghost. In Freak Show, the two are old flames.
    • At the end of Coven, Fiona Goode, played by Jessica Lange, ends up in her own personal hell after she dies. At the end of Freak Show, Elsa Mars ends up in her own personal heaven.
    • Evan Peters once again ends up in a three-way relationship with two women. Unlike Asylum and Coven, two of the three weren't resurrected, although both Bette and Dot died in dream sequences.
    • In Coven, Denis O'Hare's character responds to the self-pitying excuses of Jessica Lange's character with "Horseshit!". In Freakshow, his character Stanley does this with her character Elsa.
    • In the final episode of Coven, Evan Peters' character Kyle becomes the butler of the academy. In the final episode of Freak Show, Peters' character Jimmy poses as a butler in the Mott mansion to help Bette, Dot and Desiree exact revenge on Dandy.
    • John Carroll Lynch is once again tangling with a travelling show. Similarly, it's not the first time that he (allegedly) preyed after couples on picnic retreats.
    • Much like in Fantastic Four (2005), Michael Chiklis plays a man renowned for his strength. Unlike The Thing (who hates being called/considered a freak), however, Dell appears normal.
  • The Cast Show Off: Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson get to sing a couple of songs (see Anachronism Stew) and do so quite well. Later, Evan Peters gets a number.
  • Central Theme: Places of exploitation also being places of refuge; finding community outside one's family; basing one's sense of self on ambition and public entertainment.
  • Cerebus Call-Back: Dandy's puppet show in the second episode is rather comedic. However, his interest in puppetry as well as his line, "I like real puppets," serve to set up a horrifying scene in a later episode where he turns his mother's corpse into a giant marionette puppet with an unnamed lady's head sewn on next to hers to make her resemble Dot and Bette..
  • Childish Villain, Mature Hero:
    • Elsa Mars is a White-Dwarf Starlet and Anti-Hero, but she's also a responsible businesswoman who genuinely cares about the "freaks" in her Cabinet of Curiosities, treating them with respect and kindness even as she uses them to pursue her dreams of fame. Her opposite number, Stanley, works as an agent for another freak show, the Museum of Morbid Curiosities, but he's a petty, scheming man who sees freaks as toys to be collected rather than human beings, to the point where he's out to kill and stuff as many as possible just to make a quick buck. He also resorts to blackmail and mind games to get the freaks to work for him, while Elsa, though slightly underhanded, offers the freaks a good home and is transparent about her plans.
    • The ultimate trio of heroes for the season—conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler, "lobster boy" Jimmy Darling, and Desiree Dupree—are mature, responsible people with dreams of building a better life outside of the freak show. They're also hard workers who take their jobs in the show seriously and help to protect the other freaks, especially those who can't help themselves. By contrast, Big Bad Dandy Mott is the very definition of a Psychopathic Manchild: he lives in a gigantic playroom full of toys, has a mother who endlessly pampers him, and thinks that his money allows him to do whatever he wants without any consequences, including trying to buy Bette and Dot to be his personal girlfriends (apparently not realizing that you can't buy people).
  • Conjoined Twins: For the first time in the series, Sarah Paulson is playing Bette and Dot Tattler, conjoined twin sisters and performers in the freak show.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Maggie gets sliced in half by Chester when she volunteers for a magic trick.
  • Damsel in Distress: Bonnie, the girl being kept in a cage by Twisty the Serial Killer Monster Clown. It doesn't get more distressing than that.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Bonnie successfully escapes Twisty all by herself. Too bad she gets recaptured by Dandy shortly after.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: A good many characters in the show have a past like this.
  • Dead All Along: Inverted. It was actually fairly shocking to learn that Twisty WASN'T a ghost.
  • Dead Star Walking: Alas, Matt Bomer. His character, Andy, dies in the first episode he appears in.
  • A Death in the Limelight:
    • Subverted with Ethel, who gets a significant amount of screentime in "Edward Mordrake, Part 1" that reveals her Dark and Troubled Past. Just when it seems like he's about to kill her, he changes his mind and spares her.
    • Played straight with Twisty in "Edward Mordrake, Part 2," who's also given much screentime and has his backstory revealed as well. Mordrake doesn't spare him, since he still believed he was doing good even though he was clearly murdering innocent people.
    • Paul has a bigger than usual role in "Bullseye". He ends it with a knife through his stomach. Subverted as he survives. And is perfectly fine 2 episodes later.
    • Gloria has her biggest role in "Blood Bath," and at the end gets shot to death by Dandy.
  • Depraved Dwarf: The dwarves in Twisty's flashback, who spread rumors that he was a pedophile just for their own entertainment. Edward says "Never cared for dwarves. Power mad, the lot of them."
  • Developing Doomed Characters:
    • Twisty, who dies in episode 4 after a long story showing how he came to be, and whose death came as a complete surprise to many of the viewers, who expected him to be the series' big bad.
    • Andy, who dies in Episode 5 after we learn he has been in a sexual relationship with Dell for around a month, that he loves to create art, and is a seemingly nice guy, who isn't willing to ruin Dell's relationship with his wife. At least not when Dell is still in love with her. The death was, admittedly, expected, but we were still given a small hope that Andy would be around for a bit. At least until Dandy shows up.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Quite a few viewers were surprised when Twisty was killed off a mere four episodes into the season.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: After Penny the candy striper threatens to tell the police that she was kidnapped and held captive by the carnival for days, Elsa blackmails her using an 8mm film of her in a hedonistic, opium-fueled orgy with the rest of the "freaks."
    • Seems to be a theme for Penny. When her father finds out she wants to run away with Paul. He has her face forcibly tattooed in scales and her tongue forked.
    • She breaks the theme herself, when she and her 'sister freaks' kidnap her father, tar and feather him and choose not to remove his penis.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In the scene where Twisty jams a weapon through the neck of the toy shop assistant, he seemed... sated and relieved.
  • End of an Age: It's one of the few remaining freak shows in America, and not doing well.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: In the finale, Dandy enacts ritual execution of all the freaks. The only survivors are Pepper, The Twins, Jimmy, and Desiree, with the last four killing Dandy themselves.
  • Expy: Gloria and Dandy are one of, respectively Norma and Norman Bates from Psycho. The main difference is that Norma is abusive and Norman is submissive, while here the roles are reversed.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Stanley is turned into a freak by having his arms and legs removed and turned into a bird-man.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • In "Edward Mordrake, Part 2," Elsa arrives on set of what it's obviously going to be a porn flick. And then she's drugged. And then a chainsaw starts revving...
    • Dandy spends a good couple of scenes in "Pink Cupcakes" in just his underwear, the first is of him working out. Too bad he's spending that scene psyching himself up to make his first deliberate kill, and the next scene he's naked but also covered head to toe in the victim's blood.
    • Scenes of Dandy bathing including a close-up shot of his butt. Sounds great right. Not so much considering he's bathing in his mother's blood.
  • Fanservice:
    • The Viking God from "Edward Mordrake, Part 1."
    • There is also Dandy being in his tighty-whitey briefs with Andy. The scene immediately turns to Fan Disservice when Dandy starts killing Andy and is covered in his blood. Not that there probably weren't some people who felt that was straight fanservice...
  • Fingore: Dell does this to the doctor to stop him from operating on Desiree.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Pepper survives the events of this season, since she's already appeared in American Horror Story: Asylum, set twelve years later in 1964.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Maggie pretends to read Elsa's future in her crystal ball, she tells her that a suave-looking man will come along, see her performance, and make her a star. In the finale, said man turns out to be Edward Mordrake, who kills Elsa during her performance. And after she dies, she becomes the star she dreamed of being in the afterlife.
    • When Maggie reads Jimmy's palms, she tells him that if he leaves the Freak Show, he'll end up having a happy life, but sadly, Maggie won't be in it. In the finale, Jimmy earns his happy ending married to the Twins, while Maggie dies in the penultimate episode.
    • In "Edward Mordrake, Part 2," Dandy tries to saw Maggie in half after trapping her in a box. Guess how she dies in "Show Stoppers"?
  • The Freakshow: The main premise revolves around a traveling freak show trying to survive in a prejudiced community.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Chester's wife and her lover. Unlike most guys, he did not like it one bit.
  • Groin Attack: Played with in "Bullseye" when Elsa demands that she prove her trustworthiness to the freaks... by having one of them test her knife-throwing act. Paul, who had just expressed his distrust of her, volunteers. The second knife lands just below his groin. The third one hits him in the gut.
  • Half The Woman She Used To Be: Maggie's end in "Show Stoppers".
  • Hypocrite:
    • Jimmy professes disgust with some of the freaks for being lushes in the beginning of the season, and after his mother dies he follows the same pattern.
    • Dell professes his desire to run away with Andy but is majorly angered when Desiree expresses the same, or at least, to move in with Ethel.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Elsa. In the same sentence she disregards the freaks worries about summoning the spirit of Edward Mordrake as mere superstition… because she needs to practice for the impresario that a clairvoyant just predicted will come to see her.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Bonnie cracks Twisty with a 2x4 and successfully escapes confinement. Only to be recaptured by Twisty's fanboy, Dandy.
    • In "Blood Bath", a depressed Dandy is threatening to shoot himself after Gloria has told him that she doesn't love him anymore. However, Gloria says that she can't go on if he kills himself, which prompts him to shoot her instead.
    • In the finale, Eve ambushes Dandy in Desiree's trailer and gets the gun away from him and gets the upper hand for a few seconds. Then he manages to get his gun back and shoot her in the leg, then kill her.
  • Identical Stranger: Since the season is closely connected to Season 2 in both characters and timeline, it's safe to say that Elsa is this to Sister Jude, the Tattler twins are this to Lana, and Jimmy is this to Kit. Pepper may have even uttered an in-universe You All Look Familiar at some point.
  • Incest Subtext: Between Gloria and Dandy, in a Psycho fashion. Taken to the extreme when, after killing Gloria, Dandy turns her into a Dead Guy Puppet mockery of the Tattler twins, whom he's sexually attracted to.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: In a series' first, both Sister Mary Eunice and Dr. Arthur Arden (Hans Gruber) appear in cameo roles, along with Pepper, connecting two seasons of American Horror Story together.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Dell may be an utter asshole, but his idea about the matinées turns out to be completely right.
  • Kill the Cutie: Ma Petite, who up until that time had done nothing but play a tiny violin, wear beautiful saris, and pop out of jack-o-lanterns.
  • Last of His Kind: No other living Motts are seen or mentioned, not even after Gloria's death, as they would otherwise have to take care of her affairs, or at least be mentioned in her testament, so Dandy and Gloria are this to the Mott family. Since Dandy dies in the finale before producing a heir, the Mott family is now extinct.
  • Love at First Sight: Salty and Pepper according to Elsa.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: A subversion. Jimmy had already known by the time that Dell arrives at Elsa's carnival, but he wants to hear Dell say it in his own words.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Ethel appears separately to both Jimmy and Dell following her death. Both men are in respective pits of despair, and one could make the case that she is merely an indulgent hallucination. However, the fact that she appears to them individually within such a short time, and that, instead of talking Dell down from suicide, she urges him to go through with it (like a vengeful ghost would, and more specifically like her vengeful ghost would), some have taken the stance that it really is Ethel, communicating from beyond the grave.
  • Monster Clown: Twisty, a clown who is also a Serial Killer.
  • Mood Whiplash: While never Played for Laughs, Dandy's childish and evil nature, and Gloria's borderline ridiculous attempts to deny that there's anything wrong with her son are so over-the-top that it makes him sometimes fall into Laughably Evil territory...then "Blood Bath" happens, in which Gloria acts much more realistically like the parent of a mentally unstable person. Dealing with Dandy has turned her into a chain-smoking nervous wreck, and by the episode's end, she appears to have completely lost her will to live, as she just stands there and allows Dandy to kill her.
  • Multinational Team: While mostly Americans, the Freak Show consists of a German (Elsa), a Brit (Paul), a Hindu (Ma Petite), a French (Toulouse) and presumably a Hispanic note  (Dell).
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Jimmy left distraught by the knowledge that his trying to frame Dell ended up in Meep being arrested, and then murdered.
  • N-Word Privileges: The performers live and work at a Freak Show (the word even appears on a big sign above the entrance), but are highly offended when others use the term to describe them. Granted, the word is usually used in a malicious way towards them.
    • Elsa is similar, being protective of her "monsters" but also seeing herself as above them.
  • Never Trust A Preview:
    • The preview for "Edward Mordrake, Part 2" includes scenes of Ethel warning Dell that "he's come to claim his victim," implied to be Mordrake, and one where Dell cocks a gun, and then shouts a Big "NO!". Not only are these scenes not in the episode, but Dell only makes the briefest of appearances at the very end, and Ethel doesn't appear in the episode at all!
    • The preview for "Blood Bath" shows Dandy telling Gloria that he has a bargain for her, then a scene with Gloria standing behind an unsuspecting Regina with a gun pointed to her head, leaving viewers to assume that Dandy had told her to kill Regina. While Dandy does tell Gloria to kill Regina, the scene with Gloria holding the gun is not present. Dandy ends up killing Gloria with it.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • When police come looking for Detective Bunch, Jimmy decides to kill two birds with one stone and frame his hateful father by hiding Bunch's badge in his tent. Unfortunately, Dell catches on and plants the badge in the unfortunate Meep's belongings instead, meaning poor Meep is arrested and ends up being brutally murdered by the other prisoners in the cell he's shoved into.
    • Elsa disregards the warnings of performing on Halloween night and summoning Edward Mordrake. She did it because she believes in Maggie's fortune that a well-dressed stranger will come and lift her from obscurity into fame.
  • Nightmarish Nursery: Dandy Mott is so coddled by his mother that his room at the Mott estate is essentially an adult-sized nursery where he plays with his toys. Already disconcerting on its own, it becomes steadily creepier when Gloria brings Twisty the clown home to entertain her son. Later, Dandy butchers Gloria and an unfortunate Avon lady, then sews them into a life-sized marionette and makes it perform for him in the nursery.
  • Obliviously Evil: Twisty honestly believes he's a good person who's making his captives happy. Even Mordrake is impressed by his sincerity in this belief.
  • Only in Florida: The freak show has set up business in a small town in Florida.
  • Pass Fail: The inverse is applied to the freaks, whose abnormalities are played up to the extreme and fake backgrounds are embellished so that their strangeness can attract a bigger audience. Reflects Truth in Television. For example, sideshow promotional material would claim that "pinheads" (microcephalics) like Pepper and Salty came from Darkest Africa and were the "missing link" between apes and humans.
  • Pedo Hunt: Carnies spread rumors about Twisty that parents become terrified of letting their kids near him. First it frustrates him and them leads to his Bungled Suicide.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Angela Bassett.
  • Prosthetic Limb Reveal: Elsa Mars, the seemingly only non-freak in the titular show, is revealed at the end of the first episode to have two prosthetic legs that she hides. They were hacked off in a snuff film she was "cast" in and the amputation was intended to kill her.
  • Questionable Casting: In-Universe example. Dell tried to make it big by having Ethel perform Shakespeare's plays. As you can imagine, the part of Juliet as played by a bearded lady with a thick Baltimore accent wasn't something many people were interested in.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: What the freaks think when they believe that Dell tried to rape Eve. He was actually trying to chloroform her so that she could be killed for Stanley to sell her body to a museum.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Dandy and Jimmy fulfill the respective roles for the twins.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Andy, the boy at the gay bar, who is introduced and seems like they might be around for a while considering his relationship with Dell before being killed in the first episode they appear in by Dandy.
  • Second Episode Introduction: Dell and Desiree are introduced in the second episode.
  • Seemingly-Wholesome '50s Girl: The women at the Tupperware party. They are discussing the wonders of Tupperware... as well as their husbands' PTSD. While one of them is getting fingered in the other room one at a time.
  • Sherlock Scan: Maggie is a master of it. A quick look around Elsa's tent and a few seconds is all she needs to figure out Elsa's life story and the best way to con her.
  • Sex Signals Death: Twisty’s first on-screen victim is a young man who is about to have sex with his girlfriend. Said girlfriend is then taken prisoner by Twisty.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The scene where the freaks chant "Kill the copper!" and throw back alcohol is a twisted, darker mirror to the most famous scene from the 1932 film Freaks.
      • In fact, Freak Show has more than its fair share of tributes to Freaks. The bearded lady, the pinheads, the dwarves, and the "geek" appear to have inspired the appearances of Ethel, Salty and Pepper, the dwarves, and Meep the Geek.
      • Taken even further with the opening of "Show Stopper", which features the freaks commenting on their desire to watch the movie Freaks (which they love) and describing an overview of the plot. Stanley's demise is even a shot-for-shot remake of the climax of the film.
    • There's a shot of Twisty standing at the edge of a hedge on a street in episode 3 that's an homage to Halloween (1978).
    • Dandy's narration in "Pink Cupcakes" is reminiscent of Patrick Bateman's in American Psycho.
    • During the Freak Show massacre, Dandy is essentially dressed as The Man with the Golden Gun.
    • Judge Dredd: Dandy - "I am the law!"
    • Dandy's "I'm surrounded by amateurs!" line is a shoutout to The Lion King (1994)
  • Slashed Throat: How Dandy kills Dora.
  • Spoiler Opening: Evan Peters' name is being shown along with an amputee, while a baby dropping its head appears before Kathy Bates' name rolls around.
  • Stealth Pun: In episode 5, Elsa is singing before a large crowd and starts to bomb. When the crowd begins heckling her, she looks around for sympathy. The camera switches to Ma Petite, who is literally playing the World's Smallest Violin.
  • Stepford Suburbia: The town of Jupiter certainly has this aura.
  • Stereo Fibbing: At the end of their introduction, Stanley and Maggie say they need to catch their plane/train.
  • Surprise Incest: A variation, and heavily downplayed. Just when it appears that things will get hot and heavy for Desiree and Jimmy, who are comforting each other, the moment gets interrupted. Ethel later tells Desiree that Jimmy is Dell's son, but aside from her anger with Dell, there's not much of a reaction on her part.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Twisty's origins and situation actually makes Mordrakes evil second face weep.
  • Tagline: "Wir Sind Alle Freaks", German for "We are all Freaks".
  • Tar and Feathers: The fate of Penny's father. While the freaks chose not to kill him after, the way they tar and feather his head, neck, and groin means he may well die from the wounds anyway.
  • Team Pet: Ma Petite. Even the most hardened freaks soften when interacting with her, and Elsa in particular treats her like a living doll. Ma Petite even becomes a Morality Pet for Maggie, who is so touched by her trusting innocence that she can't bring herself to kill her.
  • Team Title: The titular Freak Show refers to Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities.
  • Tempting Fate: In the third episode Elsa sings "Gods and Monsters", which has the lyric "No one's gonna take my soul away". Her performance summons Edward Mordrake, and he's not leaving without a soul.
  • Terror at Make-Out Point: Twisty attacks a young couple, killing the boyfriend and kidnapping the girl while they're making out during their picnic.
  • Three-Way Sex:
    • Basically anyone who sleeps with Bette and Dot turns the situation as this by default. Chester and Jimmy are the only ones who did it.
    • Chester's wife and lover invited him for this. He doesn't respond well.
  • Urban Legends: The tale of Edward Mordrake, the English aristocrat with a smiling, demonic face on the back of his head that whispers to him incessantly. It's believed that if a freak performs on Halloween night, they will summon Mordrake and they will turn up dead with a Slasher Smile on their face and their neck twisted all the way around, just like how he himself died.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Twisty the clown gets this not once but twice: the first time when he approaches the girl having a picnic with her boyfriend and she assumes he's a clown hired by her boyfriend, and the second time when Gloria picks him up on the street and gives him to Dandy.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • After the Time Skip, Jimmy is shown to be married to the twins, with a baby on the way. It's never explained how any of them managed to clear their names, as they were all fugitives beforehand.
    • As far as we know, Dirty Cop Detective Colquitt has escaped unscathed without any comeuppance of any sort, making his last appearance after Jimmy escapes police custody.
    • It is never shown what became of the horribly mutilated but still living Stanley after Dandy finds him.
    • We also never know what happened to the Motts' fortune after Dandy and Gloria's death, nor whether Gloria's corpse was found.
    • Elsa arms Bette with a knife, presumably to aid her in The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry. It's never seen again afterwards.

  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Discussed in-universe. After the freaks capture Danny, Desiree questions why they can't simply cut his balls off. Jimmy persuades her that since they're part of a carnival, they have to kill him in a theaterical manner.
  • Why Won't You Die?: Dandy has a heckuva time getting Andy to stay dead when he tries to murder him.
  • Working with the Ex: Ethel the bearded lady and Wendell the strongman used to be a couple and had a son together, and all three still work in the freak show together although Wendell is now married to Desiree, another performer.
  • Would Rather Suffer: As desperate as she is to be famous, Elsa says that she'd rather be boiled in oil than be on TV. Which lasts all of one episode before she's booed off the Freak Show stage while singing.


Video Example(s):


AHS: Freak Show

The opening incorporates stop-motion and CGI to haunting effect with a circus-organ rendition of the franchise's central theme.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / AnimatedCreditsOpening

Media sources: