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The American Horror Story: Freak Show Moment That Went Too Far

In a horror anthology series known for over the top and shocking moments, it is hard to pick out just one in each season. "American Horror Story" has featured school rampages, actual blood baths, disfigured homicidal clowns, and even the end of the world brought on by the antichrist. These are just a few examples of the total insanity unleashed by showrunners Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. And yet, every once in a while, a certain scene pushes the limits more than fans want to see. For instance, the fourth season, "American Horror Story: Freak Show," was popular — it has a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes – but it also had a few moments that many felt were a step too far.

"Freak Show" follows Elsa Mars (a German-accented Jessica Lange) and her troupe of "sideshow freaks and eccentricities." Set in a 1950s Florida, "Freak Show" continued to push the bar of "AHS" with interrogating Victorian two-faced ghosts, psychotic ventriloquist dummies, very serious saw tricks, and a far amount of musical renditions. However, in a series known for its off-the-wall antics and jaw-dropping displays, one scene truly disturbed viewers on a whole other level.

Elsa Mars and her tragic backstory

The scene in question? It's the flashback that explains Elsa Mars' backstory, in the fourth episode — "Edward Mordrake: Part 2" — set during the 1932 German Weimer Republic.

The episode explains how Elsa struggled to survive in post-World War I Germany, and took employment at an exceptionally dark and violent brothel. Unfortunately, this attracted the unwanted attention of an even darker and grimmer element. Drugged and isolated, Elsa Mars became an unwilling participant in a brutal snuff film. The abductors tied Elsa to a bed, and then proceeded to film the action of slowly cutting her legs off with a chainsaw. In a voiceover, Elsa comments that after the deed was done, the psychopaths left her to bleed out and die. She adds that had it not been for a "soldier boy in love" she would not have survived the ordeal. 

In the penultimate episode, "Showstoppers," it is revealed that the mastermind of Elsa's crippling is none other then the monstrous Doctor Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), a former Nazi officer whose real name is Hans Gruber. He was previously one of the main characters in "American Horror Story: Asylum." And while "American Horror Story" has featured plenty of dark or grotesque scenes in the past, this particular flashback elicited a strong, disturbed reaction from the internet.

Fans were upset with the torture scene in Freak Show

"Edward Mordrake: Part 2" provoked a strong response, and many across the internet expressed their dismay with the scene's graphic nature. Back in 2014, an entire thread on Reddit popped up with one user saying, "I was so horrified and disturbed by that entire scene that I couldn't stop thinking about it and being scared that it happened in real life." 

Meanwhile, Bustle writer Kelsea Stahler criticized the sexual undertone of the torture sequence, and wrote, "When depicting such graphic travesties as Elsa's legs being sawed off [...] it's probably a good idea to keep the sexual aspect separate. In both scenes, the angles of the camera add a sexual nature to something that should be anything but sexual."

As for the character of Elsa Mars herself, the series does not depict this event as breaking the character or stifling her spirit. Afterward, she still yearns for fame and fortune. She eventually earns her fame, but it comes at a horrible cost — Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk adore their Faustian bargains, it would seem.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).