The dissonant string music. The whispers in the closet, at the end of the dark hallway. The slow description of the twins’ shared body, and the revulsion of the medical team assigned to their care. It’s an eerie thrill to finally see the twins behind closed hospital curtains, but what’s truly harrowing are the scenes featuring the killer clown, who wears a grisly mask and keeps his victims in a dark, filthy cage where they are forced to watch him perform.

There’s a strong sexual element to this first episode. Dot acknowledges that she touches herself, and that her sister probably likes it. Footage of a freak show orgy is used as blackmail to prevent one character from leaving the troupe, and Jimmy the Lobster Boy gets paid to help women climax with his incredibly long fingers. Even if AHS makes the average television viewer uncomfortable, their titillation and curiosity will keep them from switching the channel.

jessica singing-E1Jessica Lange is back- this time as Elsa Mars, an insecure yet powerful master manipulator much like her other characters from past seasons. Other recurring cast members include Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy, and Kathy Bates, actors who continue to keep the show feeling familiar yet fresh. Finn Wittrock is an intriguing new face, playing Dandy the smug, self-centered and childlike rich boy.

Season Four of American Horror Story, with its bizarre and violent premiere, is off to an excellent start.

Bloody Rundown

Its 1952, and the town is Jupiter, Florida. A milkman discovers the dead body of an older woman, and a freak of nature hiding in the closet.

That “unfortunate creature,” as one nurse puts it, is actually two women sharing the same body. Their names are Bette and Dot Tattler, and they are rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery on a self-inflicted chest wound. Elsa Mars, the owner of the freak show “Fraulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities,” shows up to the hospital after hearing about the Siamese Twins’ existence. She poses as a nurse to gain entry into their room, and coerces them to join the troupe.

lobsterBette and Dot are clearly different in spite of their shared body and telepathy with one another. Bette is naive and easily manipulated, while Dot is pessimistic and suspicious of Elsa’s intentions. Nevertheless, they agree to go with Elsa since its obvious that they were the ones who killed their mother. To avoid the police, the twins flee the hospital and use the freak show as a hiding place.

Some members of the freak show include Jimmy Darling the Lobster Boy, Ethel Darling the Bearded Woman, and Ma Petite the smallest woman in the world. They all depend on the troupe as a place of belonging and refuge- a place where they can be understood and loved, instead of seen as abominations. Believing he is protecting the troupe, Jimmy kills a police officer who finds the twins after they escape from the hospital.

The freak show is doing very poorly, however, and Elsa hopes that the Siamese Twins will bring in more people. Only two show up to the latest performance, a spoiled young man named Dandy and his mother Gloria who are both wealthy and snobbish. After watching the show they try to buy the troupe from Elsa. Elsa refuses, believing its the key to her personal success. Before leaving, Gloria insults her admittedly terrible singing. The season premiere ends with a revelation: Elsa too is somewhat of a freak.

Another freak, who has not interacted with the other characters so far, is a killer clown who wears a gruesome mask. He’s stabbed several people, and kidnapped a little boy and a young woman. He keeps them in a cage in the middle of a forest, and in silence he gives terrifying clown performances that end in a rage.