On the latest American Horror Story: Freak Show recap we explore the sad life of poor Pepper and also welcome back a cast member from the second season of the show…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
One of the things I’ve always noticed about ‘American Horror Story’ outside of a few key scenes in the debut season is that it’s not really all that scary, but there are definitely plenty of horrific moments throughout all four years the show has been on.
From rubber men to bloody faces to revenge fueled witches, ‘American Horror Story’ always carries elements of horror throughout every season and while characters are routinely dispatched because it is a show based around the most awful things happening to people, rarely has the show ever made me truly sad. Sure, I was bummed when Emma Roberts’ character died during ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ because she had become the straw that stirred the drink and I was slightly upset that so much effort went into billing Twisty the Clown as the most disturbing killer this side of Pennywise only to watch him get dispatched in the first four episodes this season.
Still, by and large, the deaths on ‘American Horror Story’ always made sense or at least they made sense in the grand scheme of the story, but for the first time in the show’s history tonight’s episode legitimately made me sad.
The focus of tonight’s winter finale titled ‘Orphans’ was primarily focused on poor Pepper, the cast member from ‘American Horror Story: Aslyum’ who managed to crossover to ‘Freak Show’ this year, but nobody quite understood how it was all going to come together until this week.
Pepper was a simple minded girl often called a ‘pinhead’, who performed at the Freak Show with her partner Salty, performing tricks much to the delight of the cheering crowds inside the big tent. As it turns out, Pepper’s story was one of the most charming and heartbreaking parts of this entire season, which has been uneven at best and still managed to tick a few of those boxes tonight as well.
That said, the story of Pepper’s impossibly hard life nearly brought me to tears so allow me to relay it back to you as we recap the latest edition of ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’.
A Love Story for the Ages
This week’s episode kicks off with the sad passing of another freak, but it’s not by Stanley’s treacherous hand but instead just natural causes. Salty — the other half of Pepper — died in his sleep when he suffered a massive stroke. Pepper is inconsolable and barely responsive outside of some time she spends with Desiree, who reads to her until she tries to leave and then watches a big temper tantrum get thrown. Elsa is a mess over the loss of another of her monsters, but Stanley doesn’t want his new star to fret so much.
It seems he received a telegram today from his producers in Hollywood that advised Elsa to get plenty of rest so she’s not worn out when she gets her new shows — it seems a Friday night slot has opened up and her time is coming very soon. Elsa agrees to allow Stanley to take care of Salty’s body, which he then hacks the head off so he can sell it to the American Morbidity Museum.
Meanwhile, Desiree tells Elsa how down in the dumps poor Pepper has been and continues to be without Salty around. It’s here that Elsa decides to tell the story about how she started the Freak Show and brought Pepper on board as he first act.
Elsa worked for a circus after leaving Germany, but performing as a sideshow was never her greatest gift. She was meant to lead so Elsa set out on her own to build a new show. Her first stop while recruiting was an orphanage where she met Pepper for the first time. It seems her parents died and her sister just couldn’t handle the burden of taking care of her sister. Pepper was already 18 at the time, but the orphanage allowed her to stay there because she had the mind of a child. When Elsa found her, they became fast friends, playing games and getting to know each other and eventually the future queen of the freak show decided to take her home and start building a stable of monsters to help sell her idea.
Pepper worked out great, but as she got older her maternal instincts kicked in on some primal level and Elsa had to do something quick. So she bribed a visiting nobleman from India with six cases of Dr. Pepper to retain ownership of his most valuable servant — the world’s smallest living woman later known as Ma Petit.
Pepper clung to Ma Petit like a mother to a child, but in the end that still wasn’t enough. Pepper felt the unconditional love of a child, but still longed to be loved by a man. So Elsa searched far and wide until she found her male equivalent, who soon joined the Freak Show and his name of course was Salty.
The two had a wedding and raised Ma Petit as their own and it was a love story for the ages. Until it all started to disappear…
Maggie’s in a bad spot this week because she’s torn apart on the inside dealing with Jimmy sitting in jail while she can’t do much of anything to save him. When Desiree brings her new man Angus (hey kids it’s Theo himself Malcolm Jamal Warner!) to Maggie’s tent for a reading after informing Dell that they have no future together, she starts out with all the hearts, flowers and picket fences they can handle. But eventually the whiskey talk starts to kick in and Maggie tells the love birds how this will all fade away one day and they’ll grow to hate each other.
Later that evening, Desiree confronts Maggie while she’s sitting on the merry-go-round and the grifter with a heart of gold finally comes clean. She came to the freak show with her partner Stanley as a way to make money. He picked her up off the street years ago and together they’ve been scheming and conning their way across the country. She lies and says they came here to pick pockets of the unwitting customers. Of course Desiree wasn’t born on the farm, but she can smell some bullshit. She knows these two con artists are up to more than she’s letting on and if she finds out that any of the deaths that have been taking place since they arrived are their fault, Desiree will cut them both down without impunity.
Out of nowhere the twins show up in Maggie’s tent with an envelope full of money that was once reserved for their surgery. They want to use it now to help save Jimmy so they give it to Maggie to hire the best lawyer possible to represent him. Maggie’s not to quick to jump for the assistance and Dot looks like she’s about ready to skin her alive, but ultimately they just toss her the money and tell the little conniver to do the right thing.
The next day with Desiree in full housewife mode ready to make a pot roast with all the fixings for her new man as a sign that she’s domesticated, Maggie decides to tell her the awful truth. But just how deep down the rabbit hole will she take her new three breasted friend?
Salvation Lies Within
Jimmy’s brief appearance this episode is him sitting in jail while he awaits his fate after being accused of killing a room full of housewives. When Stanley shows up out of nowhere asking if he did it, Jimmy swears he didn’t but then again he was so drunk he really doesn’t remember. Jimmy’s sure he’s just not capable of doing something so awful.
So Stanley offers him some assistance — and even offers to bring in Clarence Darrow’s son to work on his defense! But it’s going to take a retainer and Jimmy doesn’t have any money. Good thing Stanley is there to offer him a great idea!
Meanwhile, Maggie takes Desiree to the American Morbidity Museum to come clean with everything Stanley has been up to these past few weeks. She’s showing her the awful things he’s done so if she disappears at some point at least somebody was witness to Stanley’s atrocities. When Desiree walks in she’s horrified to see poor little Ma Petit’s body stuffed in a glass jar and equally horrified to see Salty’s head just a few feet away.
The real horror for both ladies comes when the museum unveils its latest acquisition — a pair of lobster hands perfectly preserved. Maggie passes out, Desiree’s jaw is on the floor and at least for now it looks like Stanley found a way to pay for Jimmy’s retainer. Something tells me if the lobster boy really did give up his hands and Dell finds out that Stanley’s responsible, the grifter is going to be the latest addition to the museum after the strong man rips him limb from limb.
Elsa finally decides that she can’t do anything more for Pepper and she needs to be with family. So Elsa tracks down Pepper’s natural sister, Rita, who is now living in the suburbs with her husband. Rita’s a lush and clearly doesn’t care much about her simple minded sister, but Elsa pokes and prods and guilt’s her into taking Pepper into her home. Before she goes, Elsa kisses Pepper’s hand and puts it to her face and tells her that any time she wants to feel at home, just do that again and she’ll feel the warm embrace.
It turns out Rita is a real asshole because a few years later she ends up having a kid when she’s nearly 50 years old and when little Lucas is born, there’s something just off with him. Things are so bad that Rita’s husband calls him ‘baby Frankenstein’ and the couple puts Pepper in charge of handling the little boy. She does everything right — she feeds him, clothes him, comforts him and bathes him, but it’s still not enough for Rita and her hubby.
They decide that since they never really bonded with the kid anyways he has to go. Rita’s husband even has a plan to get rid of Pepper at the same time.
So he cuts off the baby’s ears, drowns it and they call the authorities and say that Pepper was the one who murdered the child. The next stop for Pepper is a place called Briarcliff Manor, who fans will remember as the setting for ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’. Inside, Rita turns her sister over to a kindly nun named Sister Mary Eunice (played wonderfully by Lily Rabe), who takes in Pepper with the intention of whipping out the psychosis that would allow her to do something as awful as killing a baby.
But a strange thing happens — as soon as Sister Mary Eunice lets Pepper out of her straight jacket and she sees the tears she’s shed, the nun knows that this person feels remorse. Even though Pepper can’t talk, Sister Mary Eunice communicates everything in perfect harmony and eventually moves her to the library where she will organize magazines and books. If Pepper does a really good job she’ll even get to work in the bakery with Sister Mary Eunice one day.
This makes Pepper happy again and holy shit after this episode she deserves it.
But a major cliffhanger comes at the end of the episode as Pepper stacks up copies of Reader’s Digest, National Geographic and Life magazine. She puts her hand on one particular volume and then brings it up to her cheek just like Elsa showed her so long ago. When we get a glance at the magazine it shows Elsa on the cover and how she continues to rule Friday nights.
Elsa eventually gets to Hollywood? It appears so!
‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ is off the air for the next two weeks for the holidays before returning on Wednesday, January 7 at 10pm ET/PT.