American Horror Story: A Peek at the Links Between Seasons 1-4

Spoliers for AHS Freakshow “Orphans” (S4E10)

In last night’s episode of American Horror Story Freakshow, fans got a glimpse into the beginnings of Elsa Mars’ show, starting with the acquisition of her first “monster,” Pepper.

When Pepper ends up at Briarcliff in 1962, Sister Eunice sees hopes for redemption (for a crime she didn’t commit).  When she puts Pepper to work in the messy library, Pepper finds an issue of Time Magazine from July 1958 that depicts Elsa Mars as the star of Friday night television.  So now we see into Elsa’s future while delving into Pepper’s past.

Read more here.

Ascension: In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb?

When SyFy’s Ascension debuted on Monday, I was excited.  I’m a huge fan of The Twilight Zone and Ascension had a definite Rod Serling vibe to it, what with the mysterious space ship designed to save humanity, a 100-year mission, and a crew trapped in the Kennedy-era with no idea what has happened on Earth since 1963.

Episode 1 was great.  The twist was superb.  The drama increased in Episode 2.

But Episode 3 sputtered.  Last night felt like a letdown, in some ways.  Yes, they set things up in a way that screams “sequel,” but there was way too much going on to really feel like we reached a conclusion.  In fact, I’m not sure we concluded anything.  The show simply ended.

Had there been one more night, things might be different.  Episode 3 felt rushed.  It was moving in an interesting direction, but at that point so many storylines hatched that there was too much to fit into two hours.

If SyFy has plans for Ascension, I will tune in.  I want for there to be more. There has to be more.  Ascension started out too strong for the story to end here.

What did you think?  Am I alone in my thinking?

(A full review, laden with spoilers, will follow soon)

American Horror Story Freakshow Recap S4E10: Orphans

American Horror Story Freak Show, S4E10: Orphans

Original Airdate: December 17, 2014

Recap by Sarabeth Pollock

 

Well, the dreaded Episode 10 has arrived.  S4E10.  If you’re new to the AHS franchise, Episode 10 marks a turn toward the end of the show, when all of the rules change, things you have held as sacred are torn apart, and anyone—anyone—could die at any moment.  Now, we know from media reports that Lily Rabe is set to reprise her role in tonight’s episode, marking the second character crossover after Naomi Grossman’s Pepper.

And so it begins.

The beginning of the end.

Elsa starts out narrating what it’s like to lose one of the monsters.  We see Salty and Pepper sleeping together.  Only Salty isn’t sleeping.  He’s dead.  Paul gently explains that Salty is just a shell.  She still clings to him.

Elsa tells Eve that she understands Pepper better than anyone.  Most “pinheads,” she says, die before they’re 40.  Salty died in his sleep, probably due to a stroke.  But Pepper was with him until the end.  Elsa tells Stanley that she tried to teach Salty with flashcards, but he couldn’t learn.  Pepper could learn, though, and she did.  Stanley tells Elsa that she is a woman besieged with worry.  The telegram from the network executives has arrived that asks for her to rest so that she can be ready for the opening coming up in the schedule. While he says to rest, Elsa says that she must take care of Pepper.  Stanley proposes that Salty be cremated, so that Pepper can keep him close to her.  He wants to take care of the body.  When Elsa acquiesces, we flash to a scene of Stanley “taking care of things.”  He chops Salty’s head off, pausing to cast the ashes of his cigarette into an urn.  Then we see Salty’s head on display next to Ma Petite in the museum.

Pepper is in Desiree’s lap listening to her read a bedtime story.  Dell comes in and tells her that her rendition of the story will make her a great mom some day.  Dell pulls her outside and says that she saved his life, and that he doesn’t want to give up on their relationship yet.  Desiree tells him that she can’t make him happy, and that he needs to move on.  She returns to Pepper and tells her that she will finish the story after the show.  Pepper falls into a rage, throwing everything all over the tent.  Desiree watches her until she’s finished, then she orders Pepper to clean up the tent while she’s gone.

Elsa invites Desiree for a drink.  She explains that Pepper has only ever known abandonment her entire life, until Elsa found her.  They toast.  Desiree wants to know what happens when Elsa leaves for Hollywood.  First Ma Petite, then Salty.  Pepper will be beside herself when Elsa leaves.  Elsa launches into a tale of the time when she came to America.  It was Boston, 1936.  Work was scarce all around.  Elsa was in a gypsy camp, and then a carnival show.  She was in a chorus line, but she needed to be in charge.  Wartime was coming, and she had vision.  With the boys going off to war, they needed entertainment.  Come for the freaks, stay for the beautiful headliner.  So Elsa went about collecting freaks, starting with an orphanage, since that’s where people throw away unwanted kids.  There we see Pepper in a window, cradling a bundle in her arms.  Elsa goes inside and sits down with Pepper, playing with her blocks.  Pepper starts to play with her.  She never knew her father, and her mother died.  Her sister loved her but couldn’t care for her.  She was 18 and alone, and she had the mind of a child, which made the adoption process easier since she was an adult.  Pepper was Elsa’s first Monster.  With Pepper, she felt unconditional love for the first time.

We see Pepper’s first performance, and Elsa knew from the start she was a keeper.  As she collected monsters, she knew Pepper had needs as a woman.  She could never breed, but her maternal instincts were strong.  The answer arrived later, when the Maja Rajah came to the show with a young Ma Petite.  Elsa wanted her, though the Maja Rajah would never part with his favorite pet.  Elsa offers him a soda, and she ended up buying Ma Petite for three cases of Dr Pepper.  With Ma Petite, Pepper had a new friend.  Elsa had never seen her so happy, but she wanted more.  She needed a spiritual husband.  Eventually, an orphanage in Cincinnati wrote that they had another microcephalic.  Soon Elsa was officiating a wedding between Salty and Pepper.  It was a simple ceremony considering that they knew six words.  Ma Petite was their child, and Elsa was the fairy godmother.  Desiree feels horrible that Pepper is all alone in the world and has lost everyone.  She suggests that they try to find her sister, that perhaps the sister will be able to handle her now.  With a sad sigh, Elsa reasons that their little angel might need to leave.

Maggie is in her tent playing with a card that has Jimmy’s picture on it.  She has been drinking.  Desiree comes in with Angus.  They want a reading.  She tells Maggie that they met the night that she debuted her new tassles during the show.  Indeed, we see Desiree swirling the tassles in the tent.  Angus was sold.  His days as a bachelor were numbered at that point.  Maggie sees that he’s a salesman, which he confirms.  She sees that he a romantic, a dreamer, out West with a big house and a picket fence.  Maggie sees their love and she starts to fall apart.  Eventually, she says, they will hate each other and things will go to shit.  Maggie sinks back and says it all ends the same.

They leave her, and she ends up on the carousel alone.  Desiree finds her and tells her that she is seeing her own dismal life.  Maggie reveals that she’s not a fortune teller.  She says that she and Stanley are business partners, that he isn’t a Hollywood producer.  We see them back at their humble beginnings, when Maggie was a newsie and pickpocket.  Stanley spots her in a hotel right before she gets arrested for theft and offers her a job.  Desiree can’t believe her parents let her go off alone, but she had always been alone.  Desiree wants to know what they want with the freaks.  Maggie says that they were fleecing their customers.  Maggie calls Desiree “Triple Tits” and stalks off, but Desiree catches up to her and says that things have been happening since they arrived, and if she finds out that they had anything to do with the recent deaths, she would come after them.

Maggie barges into the twins’ tent and lies on their bed.  Bette offers her an envelope full of money, telling her that they had been saving up but now they want to use the money to hire a lawyer for Jimmy.  Maggie scoffs at the idea, and Dot wants to punch her, but Bette urges her sister to let her handle Maggie.  Maggie says that they are simple minded idiots, but Dot speaks up and says that Jimmy thinks she walks on water.  Dot doesn’t see it.  And the last thing they want is for Jimmy to end up like Meet.  She will do right by Jimmy.  They toss the money at her and leave.

Jimmy has a visitor.  It’s Stanley.  Jimmy isn’t thrilled to see him.  Stanley says he lost his mother when he was young.  He was an orphan and he got into trouble, but not Jimmy’s kind of trouble.  He asks Jimmy if he did the crimes.  Jimmy isn’t sure.  He can’t remember.  He’d had too much to drink and everything was black.  He just can’t believe he killed them.  Stanley doesn’t think he killed them, either.  Stanley has found him a top-notch lawyer who will want a retainer.  Jimmy doesn’t have any money.  Stanley leaves, but he returns with an idea on how to raise the funds.  He points at Jimmy’s hands.

Back at the camp, Desiree is preparing a feast.  Maggie shows up and can’t believe she’s seeing Desiree trying to be Betty Crocker.  Desiree hasn’t forgotten their conversation and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do with the information.  Maggie pulls her into the tent and says that she wants to help Jimmy, but if they don’t act then every freak in the show is going to be dead soon.  She needs Desiree’s help first before she can help Jimmy.

Elsa pays a visit to Pepper’s sister’s house.  Pepper is sitting on the couch with a box of her belongings.  They’re in Sudbury, Massachusetts.  Rita, the sister, knew that she wouldn’t have had a chance at a real life if she had to take care of her sister.  But she couldn’t have kids, so she’s alone now.  Elsa tells her about the things that she taught Pepper, from caring for others to preparing Singapore Slings.  But Rita doesn’t know what she’ll tell her husband.  She must take Pepper in, Elsa says, because she will probably die of a broken heart if she doesn’t have someone who loves her.  Rita goes off to prepare a room for her, muttering about how angry her husband will be.  Pepper cries and begs Elsa to stay.  Elsa tells her that she loves her and she will always be her family.  She kisses Pepper and tells her that her sister will make mistakes but Pepper must forgive her because she is trying her best.  Elsa leaves.

Maggie drags Desiree to the museum and shows her what Stanley has done.  Desiree first sees Ma Petite, then she sees Salty’s head.  All the while, the docent leads a tour and is about to reveal their newest acquisition: Lobster hands.  Maggie realizes that they’re Jimmy’s hands, and she faints dead away.

Rita explains that she and her husband tried everything to take care of Pepper.  We see that she’s talking to Sister Eunice.  It’s 1962.  Eunice asks for a reason for Pepper’s confinement.  Rita says that she never thought she could have children but one night she went to the hospital and found out she was pregnant.  She had a baby, but he was severely deformed.  Pepper helped out while Rita was confined to bed.  She mixed drinks and cared for the baby while Rita stayed in bed and drank.  Larry came home and wanted Pepper to go downstairs with the baby.  Soon, Rita says, Pepper was walking around naked.  Eunice says that shock therapy, along with caning, helps with that.  Rita says that Pepper had a killer instinct, though neither she nor her husband saw what happened.  Rita was ready to go out to a party.  She needs to get out because she has been stuck at home with Pepper and the baby that she never bonded with.  They’re on the same page…they need to go.  Larry has a plan.  Rita asks Pepper to give the baby a bath, and she does so, lovingly.  Larry shuts Pepper out of the room and while she tries to get back inside, the baby is dead.  Rita says that Pepper snipped his ears off and drowned him.  We see Pepper put into a straightjacket and taken away to Briarcliff.  Rita made a good show of making it look like Pepper was guilty.

Pepper is taken to Briarcliff where Sister Eunice tells her that self-pity will do nothing.  She says that what Pepper did was the most awful thing ever.  But when she sees the tears in Pepper’s eyes, she thinks that it’s remorse.  Pepper becomes her special project, and she takes her to the library and has her work to clean it up.  Eunice is excited to think that Pepper might one day work in the bakery with her.  Pepper finds a magazine with Elsa on it.  She puts her hand on her cheek and kisses the magazine.

The caption from the 1958 issue reads TV’s Elsa Mars: She Still Owns Friday Nights.

Ah, Pepper.  You will be missed.

American Horror Story Freakshow returns on January 7 with Neil Patrick Harris, and the return of Jamie Brewer.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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My Interview with Naomi Grossman: AHS’s Pepper

I recently had a chance to interview American Horror Story’s Pepper, played by Naomi Grossman.  Grossman’s talent knows no bounds.  As a theater alum at Northwestern, as well as an alum of Improv Olympic, Grossman has been involved in a variety of projects, ranging from the famous Groundlings Sunday Company to theater productions.  We already know that she’s a talented actress, but she has also written, produced and starred in a number of films and comedy shorts that have been screened everywhere from the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival to the Fringe Theater Festival in Scotland.  Her solo-shows Carnival Knowledge: Love, Lust and Other Human Oddities and Girl in Argentine Landscape were both critically acclaimed across the globe.

Fans of the series were ecstatic to find out over the summer that Grossman’s Pepper would be the first character to appear in multiple seasons of the show; in her case, Pepper is featured in a crossover from Asylum to Freakshow, and her role in Freakshow would give us the background to how she ended up at Briarcliff years later.  Freakshow takes place in Jupiter, Florida, in 1952, and yet we find Pepper locked away in the New England mental hospital in 1964.  Fans have to wait until Freakshow’s Episode 10 for answers.    Now it’s time to meet the amazingly talented actress behind the meatloaf-loving microcephalic.

From where do you draw inspiration for Pepper’s character?  Are you given any latitude in developing her character (this season, or during Asylum)?

The Pepper character was modeled after Schlitzie, a real-life microcephalic and star of Tod Browning’s 1930’s film, “Freaks.”  As far as latitude goes, “do Schlitzie” was about all the info the producers gave me.  Which was the perfect amount—I knew precisely what they wanted, yet never felt micromanaged.  I created a whole back-story for Pepper, which actually pales in comparison to the one the writers have created for her.  I can’t reveal any more, except that Pepper fans are in for a treat!

Who is Pepper for you?

Pepper to me is pure love.  I think that’s what makes her so refreshing and dear.

What has been your favorite scene to shoot this season?  Who is the most fun to do scenes with?

Again, my favorites have yet to air!  Other than that, the musical numbers and party scenes really allow me to flex my improv/comedy muscles and let Pepper play, like only she can!  I couldn’t say who’s the most “fun”—Sarah Paulson is VERY fun, but with her two heads, he scenes take four times as long.  Which is not fun.  That said, other than “The Name Game” and select party-scenes, “fun” isn’t the first adjective I’d use to describe AHS.  Not that it’s not “fun” per se—it’s intense…emotionally exhausting, grueling, fulfilling, and inspiring.  Going out in New Orleans after a 100 hour work week is more “fun”!

Do you do anything special to get into Pepper’s head space?

It depends on the scene.  For the lighter, more playful Pepper, no.   I know her so well, I can just turn her on and off.  As for the more emotional stuff, I don’t get a chance to do that every day, so yes, I have to go to a dark place.  Which I’ve found incredibly gratifying, and has taught me so much, not just as an actress, but as a human being.

Talk about the differences in the role when Pepper became “enlightened” in Asylum.  Which version of Pepper was more challenging to play?

For me, the enlightened version.  I’m very comfortable doing big characters.  I come from a Groundlings comedy theater background, where I would contort my face in a cartoonish way on stage weekly.  Having to be subtle and still and communicate with just my eye (since my other eye is blinded), has forced me out of my comfort zone.  I think I’ve underestimated myself though—I haven’t done drama at this level since college.  I’m glad to know I still got it!

The orgy scene in Freakshow’s  “Monsters Among Us”—WTF?  What was filming like that day?

If I didn’t know AHS was a real, bonafide show, I’d have thought I wound up in a porno!  I’ll never forget Eve lying on her back with her leg up, and Toulouse swinging around it like a stripper pole…All the while, Ryan [Murphy] shouting from the sidelines, “Hump the leg! Hump the leg!”  I don’t know if you caught me in all that grainy footage fist-pumping as I orally pleasured Evan Peters.  HIS idea, by the way!  I remember thinking, “This is every teenage girl’s dream.”  I actually felt funny about it afterwards… At the time, all I could do was fist-pump and make it my own.

How does it feel to play the first/only character to cross over between two seasons of American Horror Story?   Would you like to return in the fifth season as a different character?

Well, Lily Rabe reprised her role as well—but I like to think it all began with Pepper!  It’s tremendously flattering.  They broke all their own rules.  Changed the entire game with the recent reveal that the seasons are all connected.  Of course I’d like to return as a new character!  I’m an actor!

I know that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk keep a tight lid on plans for upcoming installments of the show.  Do cast members ever provide suggestions?  If you had your way, what would your dream AHS season be about?

I wouldn’t know where to being.  I don’t know that the other actors have opinions either.  Again, my backstory for Pepper wasn’t nearly as good as the one they wrote for me, so I really couldn’t begin on future seasons.  I watched a great round-table entertainment show hosted by Jim Rash called “The Writer’s Room” in which Ryan and Brad [Falchuk] joked about a last season entitled “AHS: Mime.”  I know they were joking, but I love the idea!

As a member of the Groundlings Sunday Show and an alum of the Inprov Olympic, does your comedy background help you with a character like Pepper?  Intentional or not, the meatloaf scene in “Massacres and Mayhem” was hilarious in its own way.  I don’t think any fan of the show will ever be able to think of meatloaf and not think of you!

Awww, that’s sweet.  Yes, it absolutely helps!  I think there’s a fine line between comedy and drama… Both are best when the stakes are high, though in the case of comedy, the characters’ intentions are often absurd, like getting one’s meatloaf.  Who gets that riled up over mixed ground meat?  Pepper, that who!  And why not—she’s hungry and she knows that she wants.  She should have it!  Either it, or a tantrum.

I loved seeing your Tweets as you shopped for wigs for the AHS Freakshow season premiere party.  Ultimately you went au naturel—i.e. bald.  How liberating has it been to play a fan favorite like Pepper and have the ability to define yourself based on your performance and not your looks?  Are you surprised by the number of people who can’t believe what you look like in real life?

That was a joke, and a social media stint.  I love a good wig, though I knew that was best kept to Twitter, and NOT the red carpet.  Although I knew there’d be a lot of competition out there, what with 2 foot tall women, and 7 foot tall women, and major stars like Jessica Lange!  To answer your question though, it’s been very liberating.  But then, I was never going to garner fame based on my looks.  Not that I’m ugly, but Hollywood beauties are just a whole other thing.  I’m very realistic about who I am, and what I have to offer.  You cast me because you want something unconventional and quirky and interesting, hot in an Almodovar-girl kind of way, or perhaps ugly in a Pepper way!  The good news is that I offer range, which traditional beauties don’t necessarily.  It’s true—people’s reaction to me has been funny—they can’t believe how beautiful I am!  Which is hilarious to me unto itself.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be “over it,” though it’s astounding how surprised people are, 10,000 blog posts later.

What is one thing that AHS fans would be surprised to know about you?

I’m an open-book.  Between my solo shows and You Tube vids, I’m pretty sure I’ve told all my secrets.

 

SyFy’s Ascension: Themes from Episode 2

(Spoiler Free)

I noticed quite a few major themes in last night’s episode of Ascension.  I don’t want to go into the plot twists and turns, because that’s a whole other post, really.  For now I want to focus on what life is like after spending 51 years in isolation, without any influence from the outside world.

Last night we learned that the inhabitants of Ascension were carefully selected.  Breeding is a selective process, as resources have to be allotted to each passenger.  Therefore no homosexuals were allowed on board; according to Harris, they are “superfluous” to the needs of the mission since they cannot reproduce.  Breeding is “regulated” so that the brightest offspring are produced.  In this case, Krista is one of those special offspring.

Ascension inhabitants have no idea about the Kennedy Assasination, the Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution, Women’s Rights, 9-11, Vietnam.  Sexual favors are exchanged for information.  The stewardesses are used as political spies.  Sex is a currency.

The people behind Project Ascension view it as a sociological experiment, though it has become “the best reality tv show never made.”  In that sense, it’s a lot like The Truman Show, where people live their lives in a totally contrived environment.  Indeed, this middle generation of inhabitants grows up with the forced understanding that they have no choice but to live out their lives on this ship with no ability to leave.  They will know everyone they will ever meet, and they will never see their final destination.

Harris believes that the people on the ship are happy to be where they are.  Or, more precisely, they are happily living in ignorance of the truth.  “Had you been born on that ship would you want to know the truth?” he asks.

As someone who studied both History and Political Science in college, I find the concept of Ascension to be fascinating.  These people are living in their own world.  They have been given the brightest minds and as many resources as possible, and so a little world has been created in which there is social strife (ie living life as a lower-decker) and a political hierarchy, but no crime (until now) and what seems to be a thriving communnity.  Of course, every Eden has its demise, and I’m sure that we’ll see this demise in the final chapter that airs tonight.

Are you watching Ascension?  What do you think?  Is such an experiment possible?

 

 

SyFy’s Ascension: Brave New World (Spoiler Free Thoughts)

The three-day SyFy Channel event, Ascension, debuted last night.

I’m hooked.

I first saw promotions for the show during San Diego Comic Con, where the SyFy Channel decked out Mary Jane’s Cafe at the Hard Rock with Ascension-themed decor.

I had no idea the show would be what it is.  And I love it.

The concept is simple: In the 1960s, a super secret plan was realized which sent hundreds of Americans into space aboard a giant ship.  The 100-year mission was to arrive at a new planet capable of sustaining life.  Several generations of inhabitants would make the journey: those that were there for the launch, those in the “middle”, and those who arrive at the new planet after 100 years.  The “Middle” generation has to deal with the psychological impact of being born and dying on board a ship, with no option of leaving, and no possibility of a return to Earth.

We meet the residents of Ascension in the 51st year, when a suspicious death delivers the ship into uncharted internal strife.  The most startling aspect of the show is that the Ascension residents are now second-generation residents, but they can only refer back to Earth’s history as it was in the early 1960s.  That means they left Earth before men walked on the moon.  They are advanced…and yet they are stuck in the Kennedy-era.

Meanwhile, back on present-day Earth, we meet the man who originally engineered the whole idea (he’s in a senior care facility), and his son, who is trying to protect his father’s legacy.  When a student approaches him claiming that the Ascension project is in fact a reality, the son blows him off, stating that there is no truth to the project at all.

However, Ascension is real…but it’s not what it seems….  The twist is a game changer.

Watching Ascension is like watching a long episode of The Twilight Zone.  The Cold War and racial/social tensions exist as they did in the 1960s even though 51 years have passed.

Part Two airs tonight on Syfy.  I’ll discuss more details as soon as the show has aired.  This is one show that should remain spoiler-free!

 

Being an Eclectic Reader

I read a lot.  In fact, I read more than I watch television.  I only watch the shows that I recap and write about, and I watch a variety of sports. And movies here and there. But mostly I read.

I don’t discriminate when I read. I don’t judge a book by the advance press or reviews.  I read Anne Rice, Dan Brown, Deborah Harkness, Jean Paul Sartre and EL James interchangeably.  It doesn’t matter what genre the book falls into.

I enjoy seeing if trends are worth the hype. I read Twilight because someone gave me a copy while I was standing in line at Comic Con.  It was ok. Nothing spectacular.  I actually liked Fifty Shades of Grey but was irritated by the character of Anastasia Steele. (Most people think Christian Grey is abusive. I personally think Anastasia Steele is manipulative) The writing was lacking, though.

Christopher Rice recently published another horror novel at the same time he debuted his first erotic novel. I read both and enjoyed both. (Reviews forthcoming) 

As long as the writing is sound and the storytelling is great, I will read it.  I went on a nonfiction kick a few years ago and found books I couldn’t finish because they irritated me so much.  I can spot errors without trying (the result of years and years or proofreading papers) and so these things jump off the page at me. One or two is fine–we’re all human–but one every other page is not cool.

Tell me a story. Take me on an adventure. Make me forget about reality for a while. Classics, popular fiction, romance, mysteries, biographies–they’re all welcome.  I don’t discriminate.  All books are welcome.

Are you a reader? Do you stick to a genre or are you open to anything?