When I was a kid, my very sweet, very gentle, very deadly karate instructor would shove a thick wire through his arm and hang buckets of water from either side of it. I don’t think everybody grows up with the impression that Human Pincushions are just plain folks, however. Even I have trouble watching some of the more extreme acts of self-impalement.
AMC’s Freakshow went all pins and needles in Episode 4 on Thursday night. Working acts and made freaks are the sideshow performers that modern fans are most likely to have seen in person. The Jim Rose Circus brought hardcore sideshow acts back to a modern, widespread, rock and roll audience, and other sideshows followed.
Working acts perform sideshow feats, both magical and daring. Sword swallowers do exactly what we expect them to do…they swallow swords. Blockheads do things that are less expected. They insert large nails and other things into their nasal cavities. Human Pincushions stick sharp objects into, and often through, their skin. (If you want to learn some of the skills of the working acts, you can at the Coney Island Sideshow School, incidentally.) Made freaks are people who’ve altered their bodies in some fashion, mainly through massive amounts of tattooing or many piercings. More needles.
The Creature is a made freak. We haven’t seen most of his tattoos on the show, but his facial piercings are impossible to miss. He has more than just a few nose and lip rings. His face is so festooned with jewelry that it has to be a bit hard for him to talk. He looks very, very different from most of the people in the world. His obsession with his art of body modification has cost him, we learn. He misses his five-year-old daughter, who is afraid of him. Danielle Ray sets up a meeting between The Creature and his lovely, angry, baffled ex-wife in the hope that they can find some way to repair the relationship between The Creature and his little girl. It goes unspoken that Mommy’s feelings have surely colored her daughter’s attitude toward her father, but The Creature’s ex isn’t a bad person. It has to be hard for her. This isn’t a situation where she can simply ask her ex to watch his behavior around the child…The Creature’s obsessions are all over his face. She agrees to work toward a healing of the rift between The Creature and the little girl after spending some time with him and seeing the sweet, lovely gifts that The Creature has made for their daughter. I enjoyed this part of the show. It was touching human drama with a sideshow twist, and it left me hoping that The Creature does get to spend time with his kid.
The rest of the show was devoted to working acts Morgue and Murrugun. Morgue and Murrugun can both swallow swords, but they are also both Human Pincushions. Morgue likes pain and he likes blood. Morgue uses surgical needles to impale his forehead and his cheeks, and he finishes up by plunging one through the middle of his own hand. Murrugun has modeled himself on the fakirs of India. (You can see fakirs do some shocking stuff on the internet, but you’ll have to find those links yourself…they are a bit much, even for me.) He uses his body, his mind, and his spirit to perform acts that would at least hurt most of us very badly, if not kill us. Murrugun doesn’t bleed when he shoves skewers through different parts of his body and he says he feels no pain. The finale of his act is a skewer through his side. Murrugun claims that he uses his muscles to move his internal organs out of harm’s way, and maybe he does. That skewer certainly was impaling more than just a love handle.
It was interesting to see two different approaches to the Human Pincushion act. Murrugun works on the philosophy that he’s amazing enough to transcend pain and blood while Morgue works on the philosophy that he’s odd enough to enjoy pain and blood. And that really is the sideshow. No two performers are ever alike, and so far, neither are any two episodes of Freakshow!
I’ll leave you with a link to an old act that makes Murrugun look a little tame, and may very well have been his inspiration…Mirin Dajo, the Human Pincushion.