It was a ten-episode build up to connect Freak Show with it’s predecessor (in terms of production) Asylum. The connection is through Asylum’s Pepper, and her origin story. For much of this season, Pepper has remained in the shadows of the other freaks, subsequently leaving her portrayer (Naomi Grossman) out of the spotlight. In “Orphans,” both are front and center to deliver one of the franchise’s most depressing installments about constant rejection from parental figures—namely Pepper’s.
The extended episode opens with the passing of Pepper’s fellow “pinhead” passing away in his sleep and her gut-wrenching breakdown after processing what has happened to him. Desiree steps in to comfort her and Elsa gives us Pepper’s backstory.
From an early age Pepper was ignored and eventually left by her sister in an orphanage only to be scooped up by Elsa. In her own monstrous (benefiting from Pepper under the guise of caring for her) way, Elsa becomes a mother figure to Pepper, while Pepper, in all her innocence, desires to become a parent herself. The scenes where Pepper cares for Ma Petite underline how harmless this misunderstood creature was.
After Pepper’s other half passes away, Elsa decides to get rid of Pepper by returning her to her sister, played by Mare Winningham (last season’s “touchy” mother from hell). Eventually the sister grows to despise Pepper and sends her off to Briarcliff; framing Pepper for murdering her baby.
In terms of performance, Grossman manages to wordlessly convey all of Pepper’s emotions with just her eyes, mouth movements, and body language. There was happiness, agony and suffering coming from that innocent girl. That type of physical and emotional performance is quite the feat to pull off, but Grossman hits every note effortlessly.
As for the rest. Angela Bassett’s Desiree Dupree is not taking any bullshit from Emma Roberts; Emma admits to being a con-artist and realizes, at some point, Stanley cut-off Jimmy’s claws; Jimmy is in jail; and Elsa payed three cases of Dr. Pepper for Ma Petite.
Next year: Neil Patrick Harris brings his dark magic.
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