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You know my motto: always leave them wanting more.
~ Elsa Mars to Massimo
 

Elsa Mars is the main protagonist of the fourth season of American Horror Story who appears in Freak Show. She formerly ran a dying freak show, known as Fräulein Elsa's Cabient of Curiosities, in Jupiter, Florida, where she recruited unfortunate, disabled, and unwanted freaks to join her show. 

In American Horror Story: Freak Show, she was the main character of the season, but also the antagonist of the other main characters, including Bette and Dot Tattler and Jimmy Darling. She was considered to be the savior of Pepper and Ma Petite as well.  

Elsa Mars is hated by most of her employees, including Amazon Eve and Desiree Dupree. Elsa carries a dark and disturbing secret, which, when revealed, shows she has more in common with her freaks than anyone could imagine. 

Elsa Mars is portrayed by Jessica Lange, who also portrayed Constance Langdon, Fiona Goode, and Sister Judy Martin.  

Biography

Background

Elsa Mars was born in an unknown part of Germany and lived there for most of her life.

In her early adulthood, Elsa became a performer at an unknown establishment in Germany during the late 1920’s. She grew jealous of the other performers, and even caused them to injure themselves. During this time of her life, Elsa was determined to be known by the public and to become a star.

During her mid thirty’s, Elsa started getting involved in dangerous acts of prostitution, even tormenting and abusing her clients. She was recognized by so-called producers, and instantly was giving an “acting“ job.

During one of her “acts” for the “producers,” Elsa got ready for her act, unknowing she was drugged. The men then proceeded to chain her to the bed, and the cameras started to roll. The men then proceeded to saw off Elsa’s legs, as she screamed in terror. After the incident, the men now had a scratchy recording of the removal of her legs, and left her to die on the bed. Not long after, Massimo Dolcefino found her and helped her recover from her injuries.

During Elsa’s recovery, she started to lose hope, and started to call herself hideous and ugly, but Dolcefino assured her she was still beautiful. Not long after, he revealed to Elsa his new and complete project, which was the creation of replicating her legs. Over the next several months, Elsa started to learn how to walk again.

Sometime later, Elsa traveled to America and arrived in Florida. She then proceeded to buy a freak show from a dying manager, along with all the freaks in it. The origin for rebirthing the freak show primarily has to do with her wanting to be a star.

During her freak show life, Elsa started gathering new recruits for the show. However, she started to notice the audience wanted something more of a “wow.” She then decided to pay a visit to a local orphanage to find a neglected and saddened Pepper, a pinhead who was given up for adoption after her mother and father died. Elsa starts to connect with Pepper by playing with her. She also starts to like Elsa, which leads to her adopting Pepper. When she arrived at the freak show, Pepper wowed the crowed, and ultimately became one of Elsa’s favorite “monsters.”

One day, Elsa noticed Pepper needed maternal needs, but knew she would not be able to breed. Weeks later, Elsa‘s prayers were answered when a visitor from the far East, who was traveling in America, stopped by her freak show. Elsa took notice in the man’s two foot pet, known as Ma Petite, the shortest woman in the world, and wanted her for her show. Elsa proceeded to bribe him with one single bottle of coke, and ended up trading Ma Petite for all the coke in Elsa’s possession. She then bent down and unchained the bound Ma Petite, and introduced her to Pepper, who would later adopt Ma Petite as her own daughter.

Over the years, the freak show was starting to die more, and Elsa was starting to notice. She also noticed Pepper declining, and decided to find her a suitable “husband.” Elsa called every orphanage, and every asylum, but nothing. She eventually found Pepper a match, and introduced her to Salty, another pinhead. They proceeded to “marry“ and Pepper was the happiest woman Elsa had ever seen.

Sometime after 1940 and Pepper’s marriage, Elsa hears about Ethel Darling and pays a visit to her in a jail. Elsa takes Ethel and her son and recruits them into her troop. She would later see Jimmy as her son and Ethel as the sister she never had.

In 1952, Elsa hears about a monster within a hospital, and decides to pay a visit to see if its worth recruiting, later revealed to be Bette and Dot Tattler.

American Horror Story: Freak Show

After reading the paper with the headline "something extraordinary" had been admitted to the hospital, Elsa Mars pays a visit on the pretense of visiting an ailing aunt. In order to get a closer look at the proclaimed “monster,” Elsa befriends the candy-striper Penny and proceeds to wear her uniform to get into the patients room, where she walks by two security guards. When she is inside, Elsa is shocked in amazement to see conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler sleeping in their hospital beds. Elsa is immediately delighted as they might make the new headlight in her dying freak show.

After many repeated visits, Elsa is able to piece together their involvement in their mother's murder. She pressures Bette and Dot that they get their story straight for the police, as the newspapers are naming them as suspects in Twisty's murder spree (mainly because they are so-called freaks). Because of this, Elsa is able to convince the twins to rake “refuge” in her freak show, in the meantime.

After her performance of “Life on Mars” by David Bowie, Elsa is confronted by Dandy and Gloria Mont, who want to buy the twins. However, the twins remain loyal and state they are staying at the freak show. Upsettingly, Gloria comments on Elsa’s performance by calling it foul and one of the worse she has ever witnessed. Later in the night, Elsa tells Ethel Darling she only brought the twins to the freak show for herself and start to call herself selfish. However, Ethel states Elsa is too kind to be selfish, as she has done a lot for everyone in their community.

She continues to try to integrate the twins into her show and is later surprised that Dot has actual singing talent, and gets her to sing on stage. Elsa’s shock becomes horror when she finds herself upstaged by a more popular act. With the arrival of Dell and Desiree, Elsa deputizes the married couple into emcee and musical director duties, respectively; she focuses the rest of her energies on improving her talent. She is amused when she learns that Jimmy Darling disposed of an investigating police officer nights before.

Later, Elsa is led to believe a planted "prediction" by Maggie Esmerelda that a man will come to change her music career forever. Elsa's determination to rid herself of the twins entices her to call upon the legendary Edward Mordrake by breaking carnival tradition and holding a performance rehearsal on Halloween. Elsa recalls to Mordrake her life in 1932 Weimar as a dominatrix in a sex club. She would torture a soldier by making him sit on a toilet seat lined with nails, and became so famous that she was well-paid to let an audience watch. Mordrake is not pleased, insisting on hearing about her missing legs. Elsa recalls how, in Brandenburg, she was drugged and tricked into doing a snuff film where her legs were amputated with a chainsaw. Her soldier client, who was in love with her, saved her as soon as the producers of the snuff film were gone, and she hated him for saving her life. Her film was distributed all over Germany and Austria, and while she was famous, she knew her career was over. The face then proceeded to say Elsa was the one of his choosing. She says she is ready for him to take her, and he nearly stabs her, but he is stopped when he hears a toy piano playing.

Stanley introduces himself as a television producer interested in spotlighting Elsa in the television world. She declines the offer, insisting her medium must be in cinema. She reconsiders after her showcase to the citizens of Jupiter bores the unruly crowd, causing them to trow food at her on stage. Elsa and the Tattlers discuss Stanley's plans and the promises he's made for each. Elsa tells them that as their new mentor, she has arranged for a seamstress to craft something for them the next day so they can look their best. She spirits them away to Mott Manor in the interest of herself.

Elsa begins practicing throwing knives at a dummy strapped to a spinning wheel, an act she plans to use for her upcoming television show. Ethel expresses her concern that Elsa's leaving and Bette and Dot's sudden disappearance will affect the show's line-up and possibly ruin the freak show. Elsa is upset that some freaks do not believe her lie that the twins abandoned her while she took them dress-shopping, calling them ungrateful, but Ethel assures her of the freaks' loyalty by telling her of their plans for her upcoming birthday. Elsa promises that she intends to have her monsters join her in Hollywood.

Elsa is delighted with the party the freaks throw, but goes into a fury when she sees them a bit gloomy due to the twins' departure, and threatens to strap one of them onto her wheel if they do not have fun and forget about the twins. Later, she is in bed with Paul, whom she has been having a secret affair with for a while, and rebuffs Paul when she realizes that he is in love with her. As he dresses, she promises to let him see her when she goes to Hollywood and unknowingly insults him when she proposes to continue the affair even after she has a "normal suitor".

Elsa serenades Paul with "September Song", but notices his urgency to leave. She smells his perfume and demands to know who he is seeing, but he rebuffs her, spitefully saying everyone knows she is involved with the twins' disappearance. Outraged, she calls for all the carnies to be awakened and sent to the big top, where she rants to them and points out how she saved them from possibly miserable lives. She tosses the empty boxes from her party, calling all their efforts meaningless and shabby. She later calms down and says they can prove their trust if one of them volunteers for the wheel. Jimmy volunteers, but Paul interjects that it should be him. Elsa manages to throw two knives just short of maiming him but hits his bowels at the last try. The carnies hurry to get him medical attention, but Elsa looks on without remorse.

Paul is with Elsa, smoking opium for the pain as he realizes that Elsa did not call a doctor. Elsa promises she did, but she wouldn't shed a tear for him because of his betrayal and notes that she would no longer be doing the knife act in her show. Penny bursts in, wanting to know how long since the ambulance was called. Elsa says they are in no rush.

Ethel waits for Elsa with a slice of cake while the rest of the carnies are with Paul. Elsa muses that they are a kind of family, revealing her unhappy childhood and lack of a loving family. Elsa says she crafted her own family and says she loved them all, but that Ethel is the sister she deserved. Ethel advises her that no-one trusts Elsa anymore, after the series of calamities. Ethel swears that if she discovers that Elsa has lied about the twins, that she will kill Elsa herself. Elsa's birthday wish as she blows out the candle is to just be loved.

A mutiny is broiling as Elsa is confronted by Jimmy regarding her lies about the twins. Jimmy presents the girls to give their side of the story but Dot calls an audible and weaves a tale that protects Elsa's integrity while securing their position as the starring attraction. In Elsa's elegant tent, she and the twins share a drink and negotiate terms. The girls state that they have no intention of going to Hollywood and want to remain with a thirty-percent box office take. Elsa accuses them of blackmail and sarcastically compliments their growth since her rescue of them from the hospital.

In her quarters, Elsa laments the missing Ma Petite but notices Ethel is not so mournful. Ethel tells her longtime friend that she almost believed Elsa's crocodile tears were sincere, even though they were not fake. Elsa slaps her in response. Ethel retorts that all Elsa cares about is the roar of the crowd and hates someone stealing her spotlight. Elsa blames Ethel's behavior on drinking and orders her out. Fourteen years of friendship and history have made Ethel realize that she dreads her best friend. Elsa spurns Ethel's accusations of murder, overturning her table. Ethel reminds Elsa that she's not their savior, she's their surrogate mother. Further, Ethel overheard Elsa's cold conspiracy with Stanley to murder the twins, killing any feelings the bearded lady had for her. Elsa wants to bring the twins for testimony, but Ethel has sent them to safety.

Ethel shoots Elsa in one of her legs, leaving a hole through the prosthetic. Elsa chuckles at the incredulous Ethel while telling the story of how she became a freak: immediately after her amputation incident, her lovelorn soldier brought her to Massimo Dolcefino, an artisan prosthetist in wartime and a cinematic prop-maker thereafter. Elsa admits that she fell very much in love with Massimo, and he with her. 

Ethel asks an ashamed Elsa why she never revealed this, but still intends to halt Elsa's callous methods. Elsa thinks that Ethel intends to kill her, but Ethel instead intends to kill herself, feeling that she has nothing to live for. Quickly their interplay shows changes in plans: Elsa intends to kill Ethel (seemingly by poisoning a drink) before the bearded woman can change her mind, and Ethel (sensing this) turns the gun on her onetime friend. In fact, Elsa expertly throws a knife into her would-be killer's forehead. Elsa looks on in horror at her own murderous actions. She and Stanley collaborate on staging a scene in which Ethel's body could be found without suspicion. Later, her introduction of a new troupe member raises Jimmy that their "family" is breaking down around her, no matter how many replacements she brings in.

Paul, Desiree, Eve, and some others decide to avenge Ethel and kill Elsa, but Bette and Dot warn her moments so she can escape. Elsa questions the twins in their act of kindness, but they do not answer. Elsa flees and drives away in the pouring rain only to realize her wold is falling apart. Elsa later sells the circus to Dandy, who later kills all the remaining freaks (except for Bet and Dot).

In 1960 Hollywood, Elsa becomes famous for her groundbreaking "Elsa Mars Hour" and her gold recording albums. She receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a dream she has had for many years. She marries Michael Beck, her supporter. Michael brings the network's VP for publicity to discuss a spread for Parade magazine about a Halloween performance, but Elsa refuses it. She comes home to see Massimo, who worked in the US Army in the past years. Elsa tells him she is bored and lonely, surrounded by sycophants and a cheating husband. She asks Massimo to run away with her, as she wants to spend the rest of her life with her soulmate.  Massimo confesses that to grow old with her has always been his dream, but the dream came too late, as he has a terminal illness and has only a month to live.

Later Michael comes with Mr. Gable who tells Elsa that her pornographic films have been discovered, and are to be written about in the media. Elsa also finds out that all of the freaks have been murdered. Being confronted by Mr. Gable with a morals clause in her contract, implying that her show will be canceled due to the scandal, she agrees to a farewell Halloween performance after all.

The Halloween performance summons Edward Mordrake, and his troupe of dead freaks, including Twisty the Clown. Mordrake stops Elsa's current performance and notes that she summoned him as an act of suicide. Elsa begs for him to take her. Edward kills her but tells her that she does not belong with them. Elsa instantly dies on stage.

Elsa awakens back at her freak show, where all the previously dead freaks are present, and are happy to see her. Ma Petite welcomes Elsa into the afterlife. Ethel approaches her, willing to reconcile, and invites Elsa to take the headlining spot on the performance. Elsa expresses remorse at her actions and asks if she needs to pay for her sins, but Ethel happily reminds her of her own remark that stars never pay. Elsa joins her family in a performance for the dead, finally finding peace in her death.

Appearances (in show)

Season 4

  • Ep.1 Monsters Among Us
  • Ep.2 Massacres and Matiness
  • Ep.3 Edward Mordrake: Part 1
  • Ep.4 Edward Mordrake: Part 2
  • Ep.5 Pink Cupcakes
  • Ep.6 Bullseye
  • Ep.7 Test of Strength
  • Ep.8 Blood Bath
  • Ep.9 Tupperware Party Massacure
  • Ep.10 Orphans
  • Ep.11 Magical Thinking
  • Ep.12 Show Stoppers
  • Ep.13 Curtain Call (deceased, last appearance, last mention)

Appearance

Physical

Elsa has dark blonde hair and brown eyes. She stands approximately five feet, six inches tall. Her skin is a tanish-pale color.

Elsa formerly had legs, but were amputated during one of her “films.”

Outfits

Elsa dresses as if she was a star, even before she becomes one. She wears clothing that makes her appear rich and famous, which draws the attention of the public and the members of her freak show. Elsa has a huge sense of style and is always wearing clothing that draws the attention of everyone, even when she pays a visit to places such as the hospital or the orphanage.

Elsa’s most noticeable outfit is that of David Bowie’s when she performs “Life on Mars?”

Another outfit that is the green-like dress with feathers when she performs “Gods and Monsters” in the Halloween episode.

Relationships

Pepper

Pepper is known to be one of Elsa‘s favorite monsters in her show. She deeply cares for Pepper, and will not let anyone hurt her in any way. Most of the time, Elsa feels bad for Pepper, and, even at some times, treats her like her own daughter.

In the end, Elsa reunited Pepper with her horrific sister, who later framed her for the death of her child, Lucas.

Ethel Darling

Elsa sees Ethel as a sister, and always looks up to her for advice, even if her problems are selfish.

However, their friendship came to a close when Ethel suspected Elsa for killing Ma Petite, and confronted her. Elsa proceeded to kill Ethel by throwing a knife in her head after Ethel threatened her own well-being of herself and the freaks of the show.

Ethel and Elsa reunited in the afterlife and immediately forgave each other for what they had done. This is when Elsa admits she missed her, and they begin their friendship once more with a hug.

Stanley

Stanley was formerly Elsa’s partner to help her get into the show biz. However, Elsa found out he was responsible for the death of Ma Petite and the decapitation of Salty, and punished him for his actions.

Desiree Dupree

Desiree was once one of Elsa’s closet advisors until her and the freaks tried to kill Elsa in her tent.

Years later, when Desiree sees her on tv, she smiles slightly.

Bette and Dot Tattler

Elsa and the Twins started off on a rough journey, before taking them to her freak show to preform. However, when she realized they were better than her, Elsa sold them to Dandy and Gloria Mont. They later returned and stayed aware of Elsa’s actions.

In the end, the Tattler Twins save Elsa from the mob of freaks that are about to kill her. This is the last time they ever see each other.

Jimmy Darling

Elsa has always seen Jimmy as a son.

Ma Petite

Ma Petite is one of Elsa‘s favorites, and even treats her as her own daughter. When she finds out Ma Petite is dead, Elsa blames herself and starts losing her mind.

Massimo Dolcefino

Massimo is the love interest of Elsa. However, they never ended up together because Massimo had more important things to do. This is one of the reasons Elsa lead herself to let go.

Trivia

  • Elsa Mars is the fourth character to be portrayed by Jessica Lange in American Horror Story, the other three being Constance Langdon, Fiona Goode, and Sister Judy Martian.
  • Elsa Mars is one of the two characters to appear every episode within the season Freak Show, the other being Jimmy Darling.
  • The song “Life on Mars?“ that Elsa preforms is a reference to her last name Mars.
  • Jessics Lange earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress - Miniseries or Television Film for her portrayal of Elsa Mars.
  • Jessica Lange earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.
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