If you weren't too busy cowering from murderous clown Twisty behind a pillow or ogling at the technical prowess of Sarah Paulson's two-headed transformation, you may have noticed something odd during last week's premiere of FX's American Horror Story: Freak Show . The anthology series, which maintains many of the same actors but tells a new story with new characters every year, did something unexpected. This fourth iteration of the show is the first to reuse Pepper from AHS: Asylum.
Unless you've wiped the mercilessly bleak Asylum from your memory, then you remember Pepper from Season 2 as an inmate at Briarcliff who was abducted by aliens and eventually returned physically intact, but with the ability to speak. Actress Naomi Grossman transforms into the microcephalic character through the magic of makeup, and she has the distinct honor of being the first performer in AHS history to play the same role twice.
Why did Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk decide to bring Pepper back? Is she meant merely as an Easter egg to please the diehard fans of the show? Or does her presence hint at a larger connection between Freak Show and Asylum... and perhaps all four seasons of AHS? Surprisingly, the answer seems to be the latter.
Remember that Asylum took place in 1960s New England, and Freak Show is set about 10 years earlier, in 1950s Florida. Having Grossman (pictured above with costars Gabourey Sidibe and Finn Wittrock) play Pepper in both seasons essentially makes Freak Show an Asylum-prequel. When Pepper's recurrence was first announced this summer, Ryan Murphy quickly dispelled any doubts about his intentions. Not only was there a character named Pepper on both Asylum and Freak Show, but he confirmed that it was, in fact, the same Pepper: "Freak Show is sort of like what happened to Pepper before she went to the asylum ... We thought about it long and hard and we decided that it was interesting to do."
Last month, Jessica Lange elaborated on the connection between the two seasons: "I think what will be revealed with Pepper is that when these freak shows were finally closed down, in a lot of cases they were closed down without the consent of the performers. And a lot of these people ended up in asylums, alone and isolated." (So apparently the season will end with Elsa's carnival being shuttered. Thanks for the spoiler alert, Ms. Lange.)
So what impact will Pepper's return have on AHS as a whole? We have long operated under the assumption that every season has its own separate entity — but does this mean that they're all connected in ways we're just starting to glimpse? Will AHS culminate in a final season that combines every iteration into one über-horror-show? A closer inspection of the series reveals other connections that may just be coincidences... but may also be evidence of Ryan Murphy's master plan.
Vulture recently documented these AHS links: Is Coven's Madison Montgomery related to Murder House's Nora & Charles Montgomery? In Murder House, the Harmons were from Boston; in Asylum, Briarcliff was in Massachusetts; and in Coven, the witches hailed from Salem — What's so special about the Bay State? Oh, and are Taissa Farmiga and Evan Peters destined to be together in every possible timeline?
Whatever ramifications Pepper's recurring presence may have on the AHS universe, one thing is certain: no matter what horrifying shenanigans Twisty gets up to this season, we don't need to worry about Pepper meeting the business end of his rusty scissors.
Images: Michele K. Short, Frank Micelotta/FX; hello-berlin.net