Wednesday, October 22, 2014

All Monsters Are Human: How 'American Horror Story' Creates Villains As Personas Many Can Inhabit

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There’s a theory making its way around sites such as Reddit and Tumblr regarding the eventual fate of Twisty the Clown. Despite the character’s omnipresence in a majority of the marketing leading up to the premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show, fans are starting to wonder if he won’t even make it past the first handful of episodes. At first it might seem like a shocking turn of events to have the much-publicized Big Bad bite the dust early on, but if this happens then it’s just a testament to one of American Horror Story’s ongoing tropes: characters as concepts that can be inhabited by several people.

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It’s an idea that goes all the way back to season one’s Murder House theme. Rubber Man was in much of the pre-air advertising campaign and the mystery of his identity became a driving plot of the season’s first half. Even when it was revealed that Tate had been the murderous version of Rubber Man, we are shown several iterations of characters wearing that suit/identity. Rubber Man became a concept beyond just a single character and this trend would go on in the next installment of the show, Asylum.

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This concept might just have hit its apex during Asylum as Bloody Face was more than just Oliver Thredson—a reveal that wasn’t terribly surprising if you knew what to look for—it was also the idea an idea of the sins of the father finding their way to the son. Oliver’s son Lana would take up the Bloody Face mantle but before the audience was let in on this, we were given a delicious assortment of punk kids wearing fake Bloody Face masks and terrorizing the desolate remains of Briarcliff Manor. It gave the show a chance to toy with the concept of a certain character being inhabited by several people over a span of decades. A deeper look into how evil is born and how it languishes through the act of history repeating the mistakes no one learned from. This advance of the trope was so much more layered than a hand-me-down gimp suit finding various purposes.

With Freak Show there’s a villain that by the end of the year will be the kind of over-arching concept and so more than one character can inhabit the persona. Twisty the Clown is introduced early in the premiere episode of Freak Show with a splashy entrance. His constant lurking punctuated with seemingly random acts of violence established this grim figure as the new headliner of our nightmares. But along came Dandy Mott, a character that fits so many of Ryan Murphy’s favorite tropes. He’s aesthetically pleasing, sadistic, unhinged, and pampered to the point of being completely disconnected from morality.

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 A pretty boy with ugliness inside of him that gets the chance to connect with after he makes Twisty’s acquaintance and that’s where things get interesting. Here we have a character that actually made our veritable Big Bad turn tail and run away like the cliché horror movie victim—all that was missing was for Twisty to break his ankle while fleeing. It wasn’t enough to keep Dandy at bay and now it seems as though young Mr. Mott will be taking himself on as Twisty’s unexpected (and unwanted) apprentice of sorts. Promos for tonight’s episode show him dressing up in his own clown outfit as he tries his hand at furthering the lifetime mental scars of both of Twisty’s current captives.

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But for someone with a temperament like Dandy Mott’s, enough is never enough and so it seems that down the line he will grow frustrated with Twisty’s game and seek to take over. The most damning evidence, other than the fact that John Carroll Lynch is only a guest star while Finn Wittrock is a supporting lead this season, can be found in the latest crop of promo pictures from episode 4.04. In several of them, Dandy can be found wearing Twisty’s half-mask. After getting that glance at Twisty’s brutal lower jaw situation it would be very hard to believe that he willingly lent it to a protégé. It would however, be likely that Dandy struck out at Twisty in one of his boredom tantrums and is now enjoying displaying a trophy he can wear proudly. A far cry indeed from the badly hidden animal remains of his prior kills. And similar to the rubber man suit and skin mask before it, Twisty’s grin is more than just a piece of a costume it’s a symbol.


The first Twisty might not last but his inspiration will live on in another and take it from someone that has a slight bit of coulrophobia—everything about Dandy Mott’s opening act in episode two was a thrillingly horrific example of how all monsters are human on American Horror Story but true evil can live on as personas inhabitable by anyone.

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