'AHS: Freak Show' Episode 3 Recap: Carny Tales (SPOILERS)

*** WARNING: Contains spoilers! Please do not read on unless you've seen Episode 3 of "American Horror Story: Freak Show," titled "Edward Mordrake (Part 1)." Or if you don't mind spoilers, go right ahead! ***

Tonight's episode was a talky one, wasn't it? The past two instalments of "American Horror Story: Freak Show" have been fast-paced and jam-packed, and we've been treated/subjected to gruesome murders at the hands of Twisty. Tonight was more about storytelling, building the foundation for what's to come. We're also introduced to three new characters and given Ethel's messed-up backstory in full detail.

You can tell the powers-that-be behind "AHS" have learned a thing or two from "Coven." Where "Coven" was more of a throw-s**t-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach, it's apparent that "Freak Show" is working to establish more of a thorough story, with character depth and interlacing stories, no matter how ludicrous some may be. In this particular instance, they're sacrificing some of the artifice and going for substance. So tonight we get not one but two genuinely touching moments -- Dell and Ethel bonding over a flask of hooch and Ethel thanking the doctor for showing her respect. Unusually heartfelt for "AHS."

"Freak Show"s answer to Papa Legba (sigh, remember Lance Reddick in that costume? And those red contact lenses?) is Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley). We're told the "carny tale" of his sorry life, of his imprisonment in an asylum after his second face drove him mad, and how he hung himself after murdering a bunch of other freaks. The tale passes the absurdity line when Ethel tells the rest of the crew that if they perform on Halloween, Mordrake is summoned and takes another life. At first I thought this makes absolutely no sense, but then I remembered this is "AHS," and the only way to approach the ridiculousness is to shrug your shoulders and just accept it. One thing I will not and cannot accept, however, is Bentley's British accent. Sorry, dude. Come to think of it, I'm not even 100 percent sure he was supposed to be British.

Two-face Mordrake is a cool concept, but it's too bad they decided to make him a ghost character. It would've been more exciting to see him truly interact with the others as a live human rather than some top hat-wearing agent of death. Also: not enough of that second face. More, please!

Esmerelda and Dr. Mansfield ("doctor") as freak curators are a more interesting pair. Emma Roberts has shed the bitch persona in order to inhabit this more innocent, good-hearted character, and I already like her nerd chic infinitely more than her witchy Madison. Denis O'Hare, as always, plays the creep/opportunist with aplomb, and he's got something up his pants. (Does anyone have any creative guesses as to what it is? I'd love to hear them in the comments!)

Things between Bette and Dot are getting worse. They share a dream/nightmare about Dot getting Bette's head removed from the body, and when they wake, the gloves come off and we see that Dot has absolutely no qualms about murdering her conjoined twin in order to live a better life. The stage is set here for one of them killing the other, though as I said last week, I predict that by the end of "Freak Show," both Bette and Dot won't be alive. Either one living while the other one dies is too easy. A jealous, power-hungry Elsa is also on the periphery, and I'd say that she's a bigger threat to the twins than anybody else. (She's also a threat on stage. Zing! Lange singing Lana Del Rey was the stuff of dreams.)

And we can't ignore the larger, looming threat: Twisty and his new minion, Dandy. Dandy's become even more unhinged -- especially after Gloria gives him a Howdy Doody costume to wear -- and he crafts his own creepy clown ensemble. Slow clap to "Freak Show" costume design for making two very different freaky clown costumes. In this case, the clothes do not make the murderer, as Dandy is too weak to kill Dora. He doesn't get a chance to kill Twisty's captives, either (would he have? I doubt it), as the clown arrives home with a new victim before he gets the chance. Methinks it's only a matter of time before Dandy graduates to full murderer; something needs to push him over that edge, and it just might be killing Twisty and taking his throne.

We'll see next week, when Part 2 hopefully draws to a more exciting finish.

Freak Of The Week: Edward Mordrake wins solely for how awesome the concept of his freakdom is. Weirdly, his second face reminded me of Kuato from "Total Recall" -- the second time that movie has had relevance in the context of this show (the first for the three-breasted woman).

Random Thoughts:

  • So Ethel is "not the one." Who is? Who will Mordrake take with him to add to his dead body collection?

  • I received some emails and read all of your comments about Kathy Bates' accent. I will readily admit I've never been to Baltimore, so I've never heard anyone speak with this accent before. Mea culpa. All of you seem to think she's nailed it, so I have no choice but to agree with you.
  • Your accent may suck, Wes, but you're rocking those mutton chops like no one's business.
  • Can we talk about Angela Bassett (a.k.a. "Triple Tits") in that hot maid outfit? Dayum, girl.
  • Suddenly Viking helmets are in high demand for kinky sex play.
  • Pour one out for Meep, Jimmy.
  • A thing in life I never thought I'd see: legend Patti Labelle dressed up as Woody Woodpecker. Stevie Nicks as a witch is nothing now.
  • I think we can safely say that clowns are pretty much ruined for everyone now. Even that little girl's older brother (and eventual abductee) dressed as a clown was freakin' scary. People in the near future will probably wonder how anyone thought they weren't absolutely terrifying in the first place.
  • "Freak birth." Just no. Never even want to think about that scene again.
  • "American Horror Story: Freak Show" airs on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. EST on FX and FX Canada.

    Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars

    "American Horror Story: Freak Show" Cast Photos