American Horror Story Freak Show this week shows that being two faced is a killer, both figuratively and literally. The episode titled Edward Mordrake Part 1 is about “carny” legend and it features American Beauty actor Wes Bentley as the mythical Lord Mordrake, a member of the aristocracy who had a second face on the back of his head. This spare visage whispered to the poor man driving him mad.
Edward is placed in a madhouse until he escapes and joins a freak show. Before killing himself, the man murdered a large number of freaks and legend says that if members of the freak show work on Halloween, the noble madman will return and not leave until someone dies.
The show uses a “real life” character mentioned in the 1896 book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George Gould, a writer who compiled medical dictionaries and so on for the American Medicine and Medical News and Philadelphia Medical Journal. Gould told the tale of a two faced scholar, poet and musician, Edward Mordrake. On the back of this man’s head was a female face which was said to be beautiful but would grimace and move its mouth frantically while making no noise at all.
The thing also was said to show signs of intelligence. Edward begged doctors of the time to remove the face, he claimed it kept him up at night whispering hideous things to him, things that drove him mad. According to the book, the young heir apparent to an aristocratic title killed himself at the age of 23, unable to take the strain of living with this malignant smaller second face.
Ethel Darling tells her version of the story to a disbelieving Dot and Bette who do not understand why the other members of the freak show in American Horror Story are partying rather than mourning the murdered Meep and paying their respects by putting on a show. The two headed headline act knows all about how difficult it is to be “two faced” and later in the show Bette reveals that Dot attempted to slay her own “sister” and become a killer regardless of the cost to her by ending Bette’s life.
At one point, the two women are sharing a dream, and with a wicked punch line delivery, when Bette wakes her up, Dot says she was having a wonderful dream. The two completely different women know just how difficult it is to live with two faces and Dot’s real life dream is to save up enough money to have Bette removed for real. Another case of a character having two faces is Elsa Mars herself, although this complex woman seems to have more than just two in terms of what she shows to whom.
Show creator Ryan Murphy continues to have anachronistic music as part of the 1952 American Horror Story timeline when Elsa Mars sings Lana Del Rey’s Gods and Monsters, albeit without all the “f**ks” in the original, and her singing on Halloween is enough to bring the Lord Mordrake to the freak show main tent where he appears transfixed by the mad woman who believes the new “spiritualist” Maggie Esmerelda who tells her that an important man will listen to her sing that night.
American Horror Story Freak Show reveals that being two faced is a killer, both literally and figuratively. Ethel receives a visit from Edward and his second face who elicit a story from the dying woman. The bearded lady is spared because of the sympathy her tale evokes from both Edward and his second face. Each episode of American Horror Story thus far has featured a musical number which tells of the show’s underlying theme. The addition of Wes Bentley as the aristo with another evil version of himself on the back of his head adds even more surrealism to an already off the chain tale of madness and a killer clown that nightmares are made of. The big question is who will Mordrake take as his victim?
By Michael Smith