I’ve gone on record for having a love/hate relationship with American Horror Story, before. The most recent episode, Pink Cupcakes proved again what happens when the show gets everything right. What sets this episode apart from its predecessors? Why is it legitimately the best episode of the show, since season 2? Frankly? It comes down to the writing. [Spoilers follow.]

Jessica Sharzer wrote Pink Cupcakes, and it gives us the first actual glimpses into what makes several characters really tick. The acting is grand— these actors have been developing their characters for weeks now. They remain unchanged. What has changed, is that we see for the first time what some of these characters really want, and what they’re willing to do to get it.

There’s Stanley— played by the always welcome Denis O’Hare— who wants the wealth and prestige he imagines would come with selling the entire Cabinet of Curiosities to a corrupt museum of natural oddities. He’s perfectly fine with planning to murder them. There’s a scene in his hotel room where he has an open, honest conversation with his co-conspirator, Maggie (Emma Roberts). Stanley’s such a consummate bullshit artist, it’s refreshing to hear what he actually thinks and feels, about what he’s doing.

There’s Elsa, who we learn has actually put some thought into what she truly wants. It’s not just that she wants to be a star… she wants to be immortalized in films, in a way no other medium can match. Up until now, we knew she longed for greater things, but this is the first time (if I remember correctly) that she was actually specific about where she wanted to go.

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Her failure on stage is a bit of an enigma: we watch her lose the audience— to the point that they threw things at her— but it’s not entirely clear how she lost them. They get bored, the song is not to their liking, or perhaps, Elsa is just too old. It’s heartbreaking to watch her performance break down, piece by piece. Her ability to delude herself is remarkable: even after this miserable performance, she’s convinced that she could enrapture the nation, on her own TV show.

We see Jimmy, rehearsing his lines before the night’s performance. It’s a side of him we haven’t seen before— one that still gets stage fright. The crowd will love him, he’s a small-town hero. But he’s worried in spite of this. We see that doubt, that loneliness, as he first is rebuffed by Maggie, then going to see Desiree.

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Desiree is a huge part of why this episode worked so well. She’s felt trapped in her marriage to Dell, because she’s always been labeled a freak. She can’t imagine that anyone else would want her. A distressing turn takes Desiree to the hospital, to see Ethel’s doctor. He drops a pair of bombshells: 1. She’s not androgynous, but 100% female, and 2. she was pregnant. (Emphasis on was.) What Desiree has mistaken for a “dingaling” her entire life, is rather some exceedingly over-developed female genitalia. A relatively simple operation could “fix” her.

What almost strains credibility to the breaking point, here, is the fact that Desiree has never gone to a doctor, since she hit puberty. But— this also makes a fair bit of sense. It’s reasonable to allow that she’d be too afraid of getting real answers, and would rather stay in the dark. Also, doctors that treated ‘freaks’ with any level of professional courtesy were vastly few and far between.

Dell… doesn’t take the news well. At all. Desiree storms out, leaving him for good, swearing up and down that she’ll be able to find a real man, someone she deserves.

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This is after we’ve learned that Dell has fallen for a prostitute named Andy. We’ve known Dell to be possessive and hot headed. To see him so desperate to cling to a shred of happiness, is an entirely new light for him. The scene with Dell and Andy at the bar is heart wrenching.

Sure, Andy’s horribly murdered and mutilated later that night, but still! Dandy’s first pre-meditated killing does not go exactly to plan. He got ahold of some acid to dispose of the body parts, but he’s gotten it out of sequence. He’s already disposed of one of Andy’s arms before he learns that Andy didn’t die. He just passed out from the pain. Yeeech.

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Elsewhere, Stanley has also promised Bette and Dot their own TV show, The Tattler Twins Hour. He went through all the trouble to bake them a pair of poisoned cupcakes— and we see in grisly fashion what would have happened, had the girls eaten them— but the girls decline: If they’re going to be on TV, they need to watch their figure.

Then there’s Dandy, a caricature and an annoyance for the past four episodes. He had no depth, no dimension, beyond being a spoiled brat with homicidal urges and a hair-trigger temper. Then we get to Pink Cupcakes. Taking a page from American Psycho, we actually hear Dandy’s thoughts, as he obsessively works out:

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“… This body is America, strong, violent and full of limitless potential. My arms will hold them down when they struggle. My legs will run them down when they flee. I will be the U.S. Steel of murder. My body holds a heart that cannot love. When Dora died, she looked right into my eyes, and I felt nothing. The clown was put on earth to show me the way. To introduce me to the sweet language of murder. But I am no clown. I am perfection. I am greatness. I am the future, and the future starts tonight.”

The fact that Dandy is capable of such thought, of working toward an agenda, versus simply responding to his every impulse as they arrive, gives him a depth he frankly didn’t possess, last week. There was nothing to demonstrate that he had the slightest ability to delay his gratification. This, my lovelies, is progress.

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We also see more depth in Dandy’s mother, Gloria. Dandy has inherited his father’s “sickness”. She knew this was coming. She’s resigned herself to it. She seems relatively calm about it (after the initial shock of finding Dora, the maid, murdered on the dining room floor), going so far as to dispose of the body beneath a garden box. No one will ever find it.

She loses this composure, however, when Dora’s daughter calls to ask after her. (Hi Gabourey Sidibe! Hi!) That… won’t end well.

Finally, Dell shows up at the doctor’s office, to confront the physician who gave Desiree the news that set her free. He breaks the doctor’s fingers as an opener, and threatens to do horrible things to his family, should the doctor call the police. Desiree will remain trapped. We’ll see where that leads.

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I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed this episode. Not for the horrible tragedies it revealed, but for the characterization that brought these figures to life. My hat is off to Jessica Sharzer. It’s only too bad she didn’t write the next episode!