In this installment of the podcast, Lowder and Paskin talk about Pepper’s poignant storyline, Ryan Murphy’s obsession with Jessica Lange, and what would have been the perfect ending to Episode 10.
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Willa Paskin: Hi and welcome to a Slate Plus podcast about American Horror Story: Freak Show. We’re at episode 10, “Orphans.”
J. Bryan Lowder: Indeed.
Paskin: Bryan and I, Willa Paskin, are still, I suspect, pretty bitter and angry about the show.
Lowder: Deeply, deeply bitter.
Paskin: We had a good one last week.
Lowder: And then this week we had a lot of digressions. Strange digressions.
Paskin: Why so many digressions? It’s episode 10, let’s get this show on the road.
Lowder: Yeah, yeah. There was a lot of backstory we apparently needed that just kept going on and on, but we didn’t need it.
Paskin: It was 17 minutes over time, so it ran until 11:17 p.m., and when I saw that I was just like please. The thing that was crazy is that I thought that the Jimmy reveal, the reveal of his hands, what a great end for the episode. And then there was this like 17 minute extra vignette about Asylum and Pepper.
Lowder: So I have a question for you about that: Do you think they just tack that on after this episode had been written? Because it felt very much like you say, you sort of felt like a weird extension that didn’t need to be there. Did they just want Lily Rabe to hang out for a minute so they added this weird, because I don’t think we even needed that to know what happened to Pepper. It didn’t really matter that much.
Paskin: First, as soon as Jessica Lange gives Pepper to her sister—which I want to talk about because it didn’t make any sense to me—it was really obvious what happened, to me.
Lowder: Right, we didn’t need to go into the detail that we did.
Paskin: At all. But, additionally, if we were going to go into that detail, I think there is a ton of stuff they could have cut from the episode itself to make the Pepper addendum fit into the episode. It’s this thing where when they can just make things longer, they do. And it’s not good.
Lowder: I was thinking the whole time, editing. It needed to be edited.
Paskin: Honestly, Elsa’s time as the German chanteuse like—
Paskin: I’m sorry, Teutonic. That’s totally useless, basically. We really don’t need to know how she starts the… except maybe to know about Pepper, but—
Lowder: Only to establish that that was her first freak. But yeah, that could have been done and she could have said that, but we didn’t need to go there.
Paskin: Then there was the flashback to Maggie’s beginnings meeting Richard as a huckster. Which, again, I didn’t think that that flashback told us anything at all, it wasn’t even fun to watch really.
Lowder: It was just detail. It didn’t need to be there at all.
Paskin: Let’s just talk about Maggie maybe to start. Her character, to me, she had some moments that made sense, and I also thought she was doing things that didn’t make sense. They just drew this out so long, there was a number of these conversations with Desire where she’s like I’m not going to tell you, then she ends up telling her and we just didn’t need any of that. She could have gotten to the place where she’s like I’m going to confess to this, let’s go to this museum.
Lowder: Well, it wasn’t clear why when she initially started to reveal that they weren’t who they said they were, but then she stopped short of saying what the—yeah, it just was like why, why can’t we just be done?
Paskin: And then we have Desire has this scene with Dell, which is very one-off, and then has a scene with Malcolm Jamal Warner, and it’s just all this stuff that seems like it’s extra and it’s not that interesting or meaningful so it should be edited out. Maggie is back in love with Jimmy, who just gave up his hands. And I thought the hands thing was really grotesque and horrible and freaked me out and was like the best thing about this episode.
Lowder: Yeah, that was genuinely shocking when we saw that. In the prison scene it was pretty clear that’s what was going to happen, but I didn’t know if he would actually go through with it.
Paskin: Yeah, actually I didn’t know that that’s what he thought. Maybe I was aggravated and half playing Candy Crush, but I just didn’t like, I wasn’t like what does he have that Patrick can get money for. But I knew that he was scamming him, but I hadn’t really thought about it. Also, Dandy wasn’t in this episode. Not that I like Dandy, but I thought that he had all this momentum. Also I forgot Jimmy was in prison until it was mentioned.
Lowder: But it’s so easy to forget where all these people are. I’m down for a show to have many, many character and to have to keep track of them, but this show does not do a good job tracking them very well. It either ignores them for whole episodes and so you sort of forget, or it does these weird droplets of information that feel strange and disconnected, and so you don’t know. I’m not sure what the solution is, but it’s not handling it very well.
Paskin: And on that same note, that tattooed man, he was healthy. Last time we saw him, wasn’t he dying?
Lowder: He was dying, he was on his deathbed, yes.
Paskin: So I was just like oh, I guess you’re better. Also, we had this is a little background information, but I had sent Bryan an email this week because the actor that plays the tattooed man was doing a Q&A for FX and I was like I guess he’s dying this week.
Lowder: Right, because they usually come out, made available after.
Paskin: Or they have a big episode. Instead of dying, he apparently is healthy and having one line in the whole episode. So I guess I was wrong. Then I guess there was the Pepper stuff. So the other big reveal of the episode is that somehow Elsa actually gets her TV show.
Lowder: Yes. Which I was not expecting. Friday nights, 1958, she’s on the cover of LIFE, I think was the date on that. I’m wondering about that because clearly Stanley doesn’t get her there. She must find a path to Hollywood. She made it, there you are.
Paskin: Isn’t that so opposite to everything we know about Elsa? Obviously we don’t know everything that’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen, but this is like half formed opinions about things that haven’t happened on this show, this is what I’m about to do. This is so what’s wrong with it: that Ryan Murphy is so into Jessica Lange.
Lowder: Because this is her last season on the show, I’m sure he just wants her to go out on a high note. He probably can’t imagine having her be abject at the end.
Paskin: This is part of the reason that her character makes no sense. She’s so villainous at times and then—
Lowder: Oh, and this episode we tacked back completely to the “I love…” It didn’t even fit into her narrative of her slowly slipping away from caring about these people, now we’re back 100 percent.
Paskin: Speaking of that, she does decide to bring Pepper to her sister, which just did not make any sense to me. It’s so obviously framed as an act of kindness, or certainly that’s what Elsa thinks it is but why? The sister doesn’t want her, isn’t interested in her, she’s like she just needs to be love. There are all these people at the freak show that care about her more than this sister person, I don’t understand why you’re doing this.
Lowder: Yeah, it doesn’t make sense but if I were going to try to make it make sense, I think if she thinks she’s leaving soon, in three weeks or whatever Stanley said, and all the people at the freak show that were most connected to Pepper are gone, then maybe. I mean, I’m stretching, I’m trying to make it work.
Paskin: Yeah, I forgot the three-week thing because it seems so obviously fake, even though maybe it’s not fake. I though Mare Winningham was actually great. She’s also right now currently on The Affair, kind of playing the lead female’s mother in law and she’s sort of this domestic goddess who is secretly a little controlling and bitchy but very sweet woman and it was funny and good to see her in this part. I was like, oh, right you’re an actress and you can do lots of different things.
Lowder: I liked it.
Paskin: I was wondering also, with the baby. Was the intimation that he had fetal alcohol syndrome or that?
Lowder: Yeah, that would make a lot of sense based on what we know about the mother.
Paskin: I guess it could just be genetic. I mean, Pepper is her sister.
Lowder: Right, my read was that because they mentioned the ears. So there was this scene right before the father kills the baby where the camera focuses on Pepper’s ears. And so my sense was that yeah, the baby suffered from the same condition as Pepper. And that way it’s even more poignant, because this is really her baby in a certain way. There’s an affiliation between them because of that.
Paskin: I kept expecting—and it didn’t happen—them to twist it into be like it’s secretly Pepper’s baby and there’s some horrible sexual stuff.
Lowder: Oh. But it was intimated that the father was sexually abusing Pepper, I thought.
Paskin: I couldn’t quite.
Lowder: I think that’s what they were sort of suggesting, but they didn’t go for it totally.
Paskin: Yeah, I felt like they had laid out the pieces for that and they didn’t connect them, so I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to see it there or if it was just a hint of it.
Lowder: I think it really was the mom’s baby.
Paskin: But then I guess Pepper did in a way, or temporarily she got this happy ending because she got this… sister Mary Clarence? No that’s the sister from Sister Act.
Lowder: Sister Mary Eunice.
Paskin: Yeah, Sister May Eunice. That’s right. Sister Mary Clarence.
Lowder: Can we do a mash up of demon possessed—
Paskin: I would have been pretty excite if Whoopi had shown up and welcomed Pepper into her heart. That would have been a good surprise. Right, what ended up being kind to Pepper in the way that the sister sort of never was.
Lowder: I will say, as much as we’re hating on this episode and the show in general, I did find Pepper’s story line here poignant to a degree. Maybe that was mostly the scoring, which I thought was really beautiful in this episode. I was sad for her. But there were so many distractions.
Paskin: It was almost like you wanted it to be the 30 minutes story of Pepper and then don’t tell me it’s an hour and 20 minutes, tell me it’s a half hour, let’s cut out all of this other stuff that we don’t need.
Lowder: I would have been very happy with that.
Paskin: I guess there’s like two or three more episodes.
Lowder: We sound so horrible. Like I GUESS it’s a few more.
Paskin: And then we’ll figure out, oh I guess Neil Patrick Harris is going to show up and be like slightly more evil than Dandy.
Lowder: Awesome. Perfect, we’ll get to see everyone from The Normal Heart.
Paskin: Actually get it on with the twins. Something to look forward to, but not until after Christmas and New Year’s.
Lowder: Yes, we have a bit of a break. Maybe we’ll be refreshed.
Paskin: And maybe they’ll be refreshed and it will all make sense.
Lowder: Yeah, I think they film it all right now anyway. So, they’ve been listening and they’re going to fix it and it’s going to be great.
Paskin: Ok, until then.
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