The American Morbidity Museum is having a tough year. People aren’t shelling out cash for the corpse bits of malformed human beings anymore; they have The Ed Sullivan Show now. Which makes it an excellent time for the arrival of Dr. Mansfield and his associate, Ms. Rothschild. Dr. Mansfield has a double degree from Harvard University: One in Cock and another in Bull, to judge by the wares he’s peddling. That Baby Sasquatch is just a fetal goat with the jawbone of a cat; any appraiser worth his salt could tell that. But the proprietor of the museum can recognize sharpies, especially when those sharpies are the latest variations of Denis O’Hare and Emma Roberts, who are required by law to play People Who Aren’t What They Seem on American Horror Story. If they can furnish some freaks, the museum can furnish some cash for them. They pay top dollar for conjoined livers; imagine what they’d pay for conjoined bodies.
It’s Halloween in Florida, which means clowns and clowns and clowns. It’s also that very special time of year when people who’ve lived rough lives somehow discover a new low. Poor Ethel the Bearded Lady has been dry for years–but all that time on the bottle has left her with cirrhosis of the liver. She’s got six months to live, maybe a year. And yet, that’s not what makes Ethel cry. It’s the fact that her doctor is so kind to her. He can tell she’s lived a hard life; he knows, without being told, that she’s seen the very worst of human nature. How different my life would’ve been, Ethel thinks to herself, if I’d met a doctor like this before. Or just any man like this, ever. When Kathy Bates cries, the world cries with her.
The doctor tells Ethel not to touch a drop of alcohol. This being American Horror Story, Ethel immediately pours herself a dram or five of the hard stuff. The Elsa Mars Carnival Spectacular is taking a break today. No freak show performs on Halloween, you see. Ethel relates the story to us: The sad tale of Edward Mordrake, a member of the British nobility, a duke or earl or duke of earl. Edward had a little problem: He could only grow Bentley Brand™ Gloriously Horrible facial hair. And also he has a face on the back of his head, whispering to him, driving him mad. (Or, in Ethel’s accent, “mee-yid.”)
Mordrake was sent to an insane asylum. He escaped; he wound up in a freak show; he performed beautiful music that he wrote himself; and he murdered every single freak in the show before hanging himself. I suspect this is all some sort of metaphor for the creative process: That voice in your head whispering nefarious evils, saying that you aren’t good enough or occasionally choosing the worst moment to tell you just how good you are. (It’s also possible that this is Ryan Murphy’s way of secretly revealing that he has a face on the back of his head.)
Any freak show that performs on Halloween will receive a visit from Mordrake. But there’s another visitor looming on the outskirts of the carnival, bringing ill tidings her way. That would be the aforementioned Emma Roberts, who presents herself as a fortune teller to the opium-addled Elsa. She sees dark tidings. She can see into Elsa’s past; she sees clearly that Elsa’s brilliant career was stolen by that infamous scoundrel Marlene Dietrich. Elsa hires her immediately. (It’s not immediately clear whether Ms. Rothschild’s gift is genuine, or bunk, or the kind of gift that is supposedly bunk but turns out to be genuine.)
NEXT: One head is better than two