If anything saves the show, it’s Lange’s portrayal of Elsa.
Elsa Mars is the proprietor of “Fraulein Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities,” circa 1952. At the time, anything other than white bread was looked down upon, and “political correctness” wasn’t around to ride to the rescue.
Elsa oozes decadence when she rides a wood rocket on stage and sings David Bowie’s song “Life on Mars.” The scene is only slightly ludicrous since the song was written some 25 years later.
Another scene is also a classic. Elsa dresses up as a candy striper to convince Bette and Dot, the two-headed woman, to join her show. Her character is as unctuous as any sociopath can be.
Trouble financially, Elsa needs and act that can turn things around. She thinks Bette and Dot are the ticket.
She lures them to the show by playing off their split personalities; one wants lights the other prefers the dark.
But really, drugging the nurse and making a sex tape to keep her quiet? Was that even possible back in 1952? It’s not like they can sneak in a camera phone. The equipment was bulky back then.
We wouldn’t have a problem with the Bette and Dot thing, except for the fact that it seems exploitative of real-life conjoined twins Abigail and Brittany Hensel.
True to form, there’s plenty of gore during the show and even a murderous clown that’s so cliched it’s a Simpson’s character, Sideshow Bob.
The show is actually counting on the very thing the it decries to draw viewers — our lurid fascination with “freaks.”
The best the show’s writers could come up with to justify the voyeurism is that freaks are human, too.
The real freaks actually lurk on the other side of the curtain, Elsa opines.
But don’t we already know that? The mentality this show strikes at may still exist, most evident in the form of bullying. But socially the message is already out– its very uncool.
Elsa’s world couldn’t exist today, so the writers had to reach back far enough in time to make the premise work.
But at least Elsa’s character is contemporary. She is totally amoral and out to cynically make a quick buck off the suckers. (Hello, Wall Street)
Her relationship to the freaks is morally acceptable because it is symbiotic. Her “curiosities,” she points out, have nowhere else to go in the button-down 1950s–except the madhouse.
At least, Elsa gives them a home. Now, if only the show could find one.
It really has nowhere else to go, either.
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