One of the only surviving sideshows in the country struggles to stay in business during the dawning era of television. When the police make a terrifying discovery at a local farmhouse, the eccentric purveyor of the freak show sees an opportunity that will lead her troupe either to their salvation or ruin.
In Jupiter, Florida, milkman Bill Palmer discovers his last delivery to the Tattler house has soured on the porch. He enters the house and sees unfinished meals on the dinner table before discovering the elderly Eudora Tattler dead on the floor. He ventures upstairs and finds the conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler hiding in a closet. The girls are suffering from a stab wound to their shoulder. They are rushed to the emergency room, much to the disgust of the staff. The doctor is amazed by their anatomy.
Elsa Mars enters the hospital under the pretense of looking for her sick aunt. In reality, she is looking for the twins. She charms information from a candy striper named Penny, inviting her to visit Fräulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities. Elsa then infiltrates the secure wing in candy striper garb to see the twins for herself. They awaken, startled, and Elsa calls them fortunate to have each other. She explains that she investigated their house but wanted to see them. Elsa tells them that she knows that they are not as dimwitted as the reports say because she found magazines she knows Eudora wouldn't read. As the conversation progresses, it becomes apparent that the twins can communicate with each other without speaking aloud. Bette warms up to Elsa when they discuss showbiz and sex, but Dot remains wary.
Near Lake Okeechobee, a couple is making out at a picnic. Bonnie wants them to have sex, and Troy goes to retrieve a gift from the car. A clown approaches in filthy clothes and a cap made from a scalp and tries to entertain the girl, only for the boy to return and reveal that he did not hire a clown. The clown uses the juggling bats to knock the two unconscious. She awakes to see the clown stabbing her boyfriend and runs, but the clown chases her.
At a diner, Elsa clips a movie review from the paper and discusses her disappointment with Marlene Dietrich with the waitress. At the other end of the counter, she is furious to see Jimmy flirting with a waitress and reminds him of his deformity and he sulkily sends the waitress away. Jimmy reveals his pessimism for the future of the Freak Show in Jupiter, revealing that he knows that their landlord wants them out. Elsa reveals that it is true, as the landlord's wife wants them out and replaced by a church revival, but she seduced him in order to stay. Jimmy is still unmoved and leaves. When reminded of the check, Elsa refuses to pay for her meal, saying stars do not pay. During a home Tupperware party, Jimmy makes extra money using his deformed fingers to pleasure women.
Elsa returns to see the twins, who use the plot of Gaslight to try to explain their mother's murder. She points out an inconsistency in their story and urges them to get their story straight before the police arrive to question them. Elsewhere, Twisty, the clown, kills a couple in bed and a radio announcement reveals that the couple's son, as well as the girl from the lake, has gone missing. In the woods, caged inside an old bus, the two prisoners try to comfort each other. Twisty comes in and tries to entertain the terrified captives. Each "trick" turns more violent, scaring them more as they cower.
The twins escape the hospital and pack clothes at their home, but Elsa offers a plausible alternative story: Bette wanted to be free of their mother's abusive captivity and stabbed her, and Dot stabbed Bette in the upper chest non-fatally. Elsa offers them safety and a new home.
Paul, Jimmy, and Eve look on as the twins arrive at the Freak Show. Bette's diary is more upbeat than Dot's entry, as Bette is entranced by Elsa's glamour. Dot is disturbed by Meep, a "geek" who bites heads off live animals, and majordomo Ethel, a bearded lady, but is smitten with Jimmy. Ethel describes Elsa's rescue of her from a drunk tank, where she was reunited with her son, Jimmy.
Jimmy and Paul are worried about the banner publicizing the twins, but his concerns are brushed off by Elsa. Penny the candy striper appears, demanding to be sent home after being drugged and staying with the troupe for days. She refuses Elsa's wish to remain silent about her experience, and Elsa shows her a film of Penny enjoying her stay and freak-filled drug-laden orgies, leading Penny to be startled and promising her silence. Ma Petite announces the arrival of a limousine. The guests buy all of the tickets for the show.
Jimmy and Ethel discuss the revenue from Jimmy's Tupperware party entertainment. He wants to leave the show and Ethel is steadfast that there is no other place for them. That evening, he observes a detective coming upon the twins. He argues with the detective, who is arresting them for the murders. Jimmy then summons the other carnies. They fill the tent before a hotheaded Jimmy slices the detective's throat with a straight razor from his pocket. He releases the twins from their handcuffs.
The sold-out carnival is empty except for two visitors, Gloria, and Dandy Mott. The spoiled Dandy is anxious to see the freaks. Ethel provides the introduction, showing off the "freaks" and Elsa, singing (anachronistically) David Bowie's "Life on Mars". While a sword-swallower and contortionists perform, the other "freaks" control the scenery and music. An elated Dandy gets up at the end of the performance to find the twins, offering to buy them for prices rising to $15,000. The twins decline, as they have found their new family. Gloria retorts with a jibe at Elsa's singing. Later, Twisty rides the deserted carousel. A funeral procession of carnies carries the detective into the nearby woods. Jimmy calls for revolution, and they hack the policeman apart. Twisty lurks and watches.
Elsa confesses to Ethel that she brought the twins into the show to draw crowds, not for the family of carnies, but for her own glory. Ethel agrees that Elsa is gifted enough to be a true star, though her face shows concern when Elsa isn't looking. Elsa reveals her own deformity as she undresses: prosthesis conceal that she is legless below the knees.
- Dot Tattler: "Dear Diary, my soul plumbs new depths of despair. I long for the quiet of the farm. The warmth of my bed, the smell of flowers outside my window. I'm surrounded by a cesspool of activity. No words can do justice to the depravity that permeates the grounds. A creature they call "Meep the Geek" chews off the heads of living things for sport and amusement, darkening further the edges of my nightmares. Though even in the darkest of night.. the promise of dawn beckons. Perhaps worst of all is a bearded lady named Ethel, who serves as Elsa's henchwoman, the sasquatch champion of law and order in this hellish sty. You heard me right, Diary. A lady with a beard!"
- Dot Tattler: "Dear Diary, It was a Saturday, the 3rd of September, that the world as I had known was forever doomed. The shadows that had sheltered me were banished by the blinding light of scrutiny. I knew I was about to enter the gates of Hell. But like the inescapable pull of gravity, there was nothing I could do about it."
- Bette Tattler: "Dear Diary, I have seen my future. It is pink and wrapped in silk. I never thought my escape from darkness could be so complete. I found myself in the middle of a movie star's palace. Elsa's tent is the epitome of glamour. There is only one law here-- the bigger the star, the bigger the tent. Glorious freedom. For the first time in my life, I dare to imagine myself surrounded by beauty."
- Jimmy Darling: "When bad things keep happening to good people, you start to question what is right and what is wrong. Well, I say it's time we make our own right and wrong. I say it's wrong for them to treat us like shit and kick us around like the scum of the earth! They want to call us monsters? Fine, we'll act like monsters. From this day on, if anyone tries to mess with us-- any of us, 'cause you're one of us now-- they're going to end up like this pig. Let's show 'em what we can do. To the worms!"
Cast and characters
- Sarah Paulson as Bette and Dot Tattler
- Evan Peters as Jimmy Darling
- Finn Wittrock as Dandy Mott
- Frances Conroy as Gloria Mott
- Kathy Bates as Ethel Darling
- Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars
- Erika Ervin as Amazon Eve
- Jyoti Amge as Ma Petite
- Naomi Grossman as Pepper
- Mat Fraser as Paul the Illustrated Seal
- Rose Siggins as Legless Suzi
- John Carroll Lynch as Twisty
- Grace Gummer as Penny
- Skyler Samuels as Bonnie Lipton
- Major Dodson as Corey Bachman
- Christopher Neiman as Salty
- Benjamin Woolf as Meep
- Entertainment Weekly's InsideTV: Ryan Murphy talks sex, scary clowns, and season 5 clues (2014-10-09).
- Entertainment Weekly's InsideTV: Watch Jessica Lange's full performance of Bowie's 'Life on Mars' (2014-10-09).
- E! Online: Holy Clown Awfulness! You Won't Believe What Happens Next on American Horror Story: Freak Show... (2014-10-09).
- Michael Chiklis (Dell Toledo), Denis O'Hare (Stanley), Emma Roberts (Maggie Esmeralda) and Angela Bassett (Desiree Dupree) are credited but do not appear.
- "Monsters Among Us" is the first premiering episode to be given an extended run time, at 90 minutes long, instead of the usual 45 minutes.
- The film Gaslight spawned the verb "gaslighting", psychological abuse that causes one to question their own reality. It could be foreshadowing of a future plot point in this season or a clue to the glue between seasons.
- This is the first episode Ryan Murphy directed since the pilot episode.
- The Elephant Man - John Morris
- Should I - The Four Aces
- With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming - Patti Page
- Down At The Beach - The Pentagons
- Auf Wiedersehen, Sweetheart - Vera Lynn
- Kiss of Fire - Georgia Gibbs
- Tango Notturno - Pola Negri
- Thunder - Jody Reynolds
- Carnival Of Souls - Verne Langdon
- Life On Mars? - Jessica Lange (originally performed by David Bowie)