Why Freak Show’s Massacre Scene Didn’t Work

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While American Horror Story: Freak Show’s massacre was one of the most dramatic and unexpected scenes in the season, it was also a weak, misguided anti-climax thanks to poor pacing and character choices. There are few shows as frustrating as American Horror Story. The horror anthology series often sets up a stellar premise, only to abandon this intriguing conceit to follow an irrelevant supporting character or focus on an unrelated side quest. One of the best seasons in the show’s history, American Horror Story: Cult, was a sharp political satire until its finale devoted to cringe-worthy, predictable wish fulfillment.

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Similarly, American Horror Story: 1984’s Richard Ramirez subplot derailed an otherwise fun homage to classic ‘80s slashers by delving too deep into a lurid, unnecessary recreation of a real-life serial killer’s crimes. Before that, American Horror Story: Apocalypse spent half the season introducing a slew of characters and developing their complicated dynamics before killing off everyone and starting over in a move that was meant to be shocking but ultimately felt pointless and hollow. However, none of these storytelling issues were as ill-judged as the pivotal massacre sequence from American Horror Story: Freak Show.

Related: Jessica Lange’s New Movie Continues Her Worst Post-AHS Career Trend


Dandy Mott Killed Too Much of AHS: Freak Show’s Cast

American Horror Story Dandy Freak Show

Dandy’s massacre of American Horror Story’s eponymous freak show should have been a jarring, terrifying sequence, but the scene left the AHS season with too few characters for viewers to care about. Immediately after Freak Show wasted Neil Patrick Harris in an underwritten cameo, the American Horror Story season suddenly killed off a huge swathe of its cast as fan-favorite villain Dandy Mott opened fire on the heroes. In quick succession, Dandy executed Amazon Eve, Ima Wiggles, Penny, Paul, Toulouse, and Legless Suzi. While this was an effective jolt, it wiped out half the cast of American Horror Story: Freak Show and rendered all of their subplots moot in an instant.

It is clear upon a re-watch that, like the brutal mass death later seen in American Horror Story: Apocalypse, this scene was supposed to be a hard reboot for season 4 of AHS. However, since intruding characters like Kathy Bates’s Ethel Darling had already been killed off, this left American Horror Story: Freak Show with few characters for viewers to invest in. Dandy Mott proved American Horror Story’s scariest villains aren’t usually supernatural but, in the process, the villain killed off any lingering interest viewers had in the season’s story. Without the titular freaks, American Horror Story: Freak Show spent the rest of its episodes most focused only on Jimmy and Elsa.

Dandy’s AHS: Freak Show Massacre Was Badly Timed

One problem with the massacre was that it came at the worst possible time for American Horror Story: Freak Show. The scene occurred on the back of Maggie’s shocking death, which gave neither explosive scene any time to make a meaningful impact on its own. Before viewers had even come to terms with the fact that Emma Roberts’s morally ambiguous anti-heroine was dead, Dandy was wiping out the rest of the heroes in quick succession. This might have been intended to act as a dramatic one-two punch but, instead, the gambit simply left viewers exhausted. Like American Horror Story: Hotel, the season suffered from a lack of sympathetic characters and this sapped the story of stakes.

Dandy Killed The Wrong Freak Show Characters

jimmy darling and maggie in ahs freak show

While American Horror Story: Freak Show’s massacre did kill off too many characters too quickly, the scene also faced the inverse issue. Namely, the sequence only killed off supporting characters, with Dandy conveniently missing the lead characters of the AHS season. If the scene had killed off Jimmy, Maggie, or Elsa (or even Ethel, if Elsa hadn’t gotten to her an episode sooner), then this sequence could have been much more impactful. However, Dandy avoided all of American Horror Story: Freak Show’s biggest players, making the massacre feel like cheap shock value as the event killed off enough stars to feel impactful, but too few to make a real impact.

Related: AHS: NYC May Have Secretly Teased Season 12’s Theme

This was, in effect, the worst of both worlds. Most of Freak Show’s dead characters were killed off in a way that felt less tragic, meaningful, or surprising, and more unnecessary. However, these deaths were sapped of potential shock value since none of the characters who were killed in the massacre scene were among American Horror Story: Freak Show’s leads. Thus, the scene was simultaneously too bleak for viewers and too inconsequential to affect the plot, resulting in a sequence that derailed the story without revitalizing American Horror Story: Freak Show in the process.

More: American Horror Story’s Worst Season Fit Another Ryan Murphy Show Better

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