Zayday: “That seems like an unnecessarily complicated cover story.”
Dean Munsch: “Yes, but aren’t those the best kind?”

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It feels safe to say that no one could have predicted that Scream Queens’ best episode would be completely devoid of Niecy Nash and would kill off Nasim Pedrad. It’s especially strange because of the holding pattern Scream Queens has been since Boone returned in Joaquin Phoenix mode and the growing possibility that Scream Queens is a 13-episode show that exists solely for the “OMG” grand finale. The Red Devil as a whole has become an ineffectual villain—which makes some sense given how “dumb” people in this universe generally are—and whole episodes go by without any substantial kills. Take the death of Earl Grey last week, who is surprisingly a series regular (Lucien Laviscount’s name is still even in the credits). Besides his relationship with Zayday, all we really know about that character is that he was the closest thing this show has had to a “normal,” real person, and the kill is really only motivated by Boone’s jealousy. Then Boone is killed, but Boone was already “killed” once before, and Nick Jonas is yet another guest star. However, Chanel pushing Hester down the Kappa Kappa Tau stairs actually teased a change to the status quo of the show, finally bringing in a sense of “no one is safe” that Scream Queens has been so sorely missing.

But Scream Queens mostly remains afraid to kill its darlings, and yet another series regular escapes death… Which is convenient for when the finale comes and the audience has more than a handful of characters to point the finger at, the opposite problem of when Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s Nip/Tuck was about to reveal the identity of The Carver. This episode only has one death, and the only murder attempt shown is a flashback. That’s basically become Scream Queens’ way of doing things, if it kills a character at all.

However, this episode makes its one death a doozy, and it finally does something that’s been expected from it as a slasher series: It makes the mystery of the entire who-dun-it interesting again. Because, at this point, the mystery of who the Red Devil is/are/were/will be has fallen to the wayside, but it hasn’t really done so in favor of more interesting plots. In this episode though, it’s the main focus, and it’s such a needed focus.

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“Thanksgiving” is Scream Queens really nailing how fun this show can and should be, but it also manages to be the understanding how to do that and also how to get those pesky, yet necessary, emotional beats to land. I’ve said that Scream Queens actually does well when focusing on the begrudging sisterhood that the ladies have, and as all roads leads back to KKT—or “home,” as Chanel No. 3 calls it—the show (at least in this episode) appears to realize that too. It’s still ridiculous to think that any of these people want to return to this house, since there’s a serial killer on the loose who knows where they live, but it’s the kind of ridiculous that works for the show; it’s the same kind of ridiculous that the pilot addresses when it makes it clear this show isn’t really in the real world. Plus, at least at KKT, the girl know they won’t get lost in the shuffle. Unless their heads end up replacing a turkey, that is.

Again—and I can’t stress this enough—the episode is fun. Humor is apart of that, but it’s really an enjoyable episode to watch from top to bottom, even when Grace and a dumb hat show up in flashbacks. Even when it’s cruel to Chanel and Hester, who we know are truly despicable, it doesn’t reach a line where it’s unpleasant to watch the way they’re treated (even if you feel for them), nor does it become a weird emotional torture porn (where it wants to really rub in how “bad” they are).

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One of the best things going for the Grace character right now is everyone within the show realizing how lame she is and being just as bored by her as the rest of the audience is. Her own dad is pretty sure she’s the killer! He’s the worst, but it does say a lot about her too. The thing about Grace’s character is that while it could be easy to argue that she has been intentionally written as such a cardboard cutout of a final girl (though she’s done so in a less boring way than MTV’s Scream’s Emma), it’s harder to argue that any form of enjoyment could actually be taken from her because of that. Instead, characters’ (and not just Chanel Oberlin’s) reactions to Grace since “Seven Minutes In Hell” come across as a sort of course-correction from the writers’ perspectives, realizing that the Grace character isn’t working and writing to that accordingly. That’s good—that implies at least some awareness of what ultimately works and doesn’t work about the show during the writing process, even when the show can be uneven with that.

Speaking of what works about Scream Queens, Chad Radwell has taken this show and run with it, so the entirety of the Radwell Thanksgiving is basically perfection. The casting is superb, even though I’m still scratching my head to figure out how Chad Michael Murray (who is in the role he was born to play as Brad Radwell) scored “Special Guest Star” status in an episode of television with Julia Duffy, Alan Thicke, Faith Prince, and Gary Grubbs. He fits in perfectly in this world—everyone in the Radwell family does—but it is Julia Duffy’s Bunny Radwell who completely takes over from the moment she shows up onscreen. Chad’s mommy issues make so much more sense now, and Duffy delivers all of her lines like she decided to take a break from her own television show—Mr. & Mrs. Radwell—in order to help out her beloved son with his spin-off. She doesn’t miss a beat when tearing down Chanel or Hester, and it’s amazing to watch those two characters be so in over their heads in this situation.

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This episode really raises the question of why Ryan Murphy hasn’t tried to make Julia Duffy a regular in his stable of actors. Then it raises another question of why there isn’t a Radwell family show that begins with the death of Patrick Schwarzenegger’s Thad Radwell bringing the whole family together.

Bunny Radwell: “So, let’s all give a round of tolerant applause to our newcomer, Chanel O…ber…lin.”
Tad Radwell: “Welcome, Chanel. Chad hasn’t mentioned you. Ever.”

The plot also adds an interesting possibility to Chanel’s entire storyline: She might be a con artist. The fact that no one in Chad’s family has heard of the Oberlins is a pretty big red flag, especially coupled with the fact that the audience doesn’t really know about her family outside from what she’s said about them. After all, her demeanor from a year ago doesn’t quite jive with what she’s said about how she was raised. And a drunk mother can exist in all socioeconomic statuses. Yes, it barely explains things like her ability to hire Scotland Yard or the Elon Musk satellite phone, but like I said, the theory is that she’s a con artist. All we know about her family is what she tells everyone, and as mentioned before, her encounter with the Red Devil wasn’t based on anything the audience actually saw happen. She doesn’t take the bribe money, but there’s much more money in marrying into the family than being paid off by them. It’s intriguing, to say the least.

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Chanel No. 3’s side of the turkey day festivities is also really good for the briefness of it all. Scream Queens’ sporadic use of voiceover has led to Glee comparisons, except the voiceovers really aren’t that necessary here. Except for in the case of Coney, of course. But what does work is this short plot detour, from the moment Chanel No. 3 enters her family’s absolutely stunning house to the moment she decides to go “home.” First of all, Faith Prince is another solid casting choice, especially in lieu of Billie Lourd’s actual mother. Secondly, this all confirms that Chanel No. 3 is one of the deeper characters on the show—as a lot of her reactions have been silent judgments of characters—even though the series’ unevenness has her believing things like Boone being a ghost. This girl has been in a duel!

There’s a lot of situational intelligence in this show among the Chanels, but the consensus appears to be that Chanel is the smartest, Chanel No. 3 is right behind her, Chanel No. 6/Hester is third, and Chanel No. 5 is way at the bottom. Chanel No. 2 was on a different list completely. Then again, because of this situational intelligence, Munsch’s take-down of Chanel No. 3 for “then”/”than” falls a bit flat (especially since they have a pretty nice one-on-one near a dead turkey in this episode) and Chanel No. 5’s Legally Blonde moment about nitrates is both her best moment and also the most surreal of the episode. Of course, in this world, the founders of a frozen dinner empire only eat frozen dinners, even on Thanksgiving; in fact, given the disgusting way in which they eat, I think I finally understand why Chanel No. 3 doesn’t eat.

So while Chanel is most likely not what she seems, the episode doesn’t point the finger of anything more than a grifter at her. Instead, as everyone gets their Remington Steele on to point the finger at almost everyone else (Chanel No. 5 is never accused and neither is Pete, really), the show gives the audience reasons to be suspicious about Chanel No. 5 and Hester. As we see Gigi with the Red Devil in the morning, we also learn how Hester survived and escaped the meat locker, and she’s not in the episode until she shows up at the Radwell compound. Then she recites the same “roasted flesh” line that Gigi says in the beginning of the episode, which is even called out by Chanel No. 3 for how specific it is. Plus, she has a sweet tooth for Chad Radwell, and his Thanksgiving speech is all about how thankful he is for the Red Devil not wanting to kill him for some reason. Of course, Chanel No. 5’s Thanksgiving is never actually shown before she returns to KKT, upset and with eight-meat stuffing. And she’s actually the one who brings out the “turkey.” The most compelling argument, however, is her theory as to why Grace is the murderer: She lays out a perfectly thorough revenge scenario that, with a few tweaks, could easily apply to herself.

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Then again, Zayday is the one who keeps checking on the turkey throughout the evening, so maybe Denise Hemphill was right all along. Zayday’s the killer. The Red Devil? No. But definitely the killer.

Stray observations

  • Scream Queen Of The Week: Most of the Radwell clan but especially Bunny Radwell. She deserves her own parade, not Macy’s. Also, Genevieve Valentine for filling in for me last week.
  • During the Gigi/Red Devil scene, I realized how hard that scene had to be to perform and get the timing right. It’s not exactly like Nasim Pedrad was really having an exchange with someone—the Red Devil was in her own version of “Hush” as Gigi kept going on and on and on.
  • Chad: “Hold up—what did you do with her body?”
    Chanel: “Duh, I put it in the meat locker. It’s where we’ve been putting all the bodies.”
  • Grace: “Okay, there is no evidence at all that mass murder is genetic.”
    Wes: “Wait, her dad is Charles Manson? How did I not know this?” Because you’re dumb, Wes.
  • Grace: “Then you guys kicked me out.”
    Chanel No. 5: “Ha!”
    Chanel No. 3: “Good times.”
  • So… What happened to Tiburon the turkey? Meat locker?
  • Jamie Lee Curtis, reading a Playgirl and eating a bologna sandwich. That’s such an important image, and it will stick with me forever.
  • Wes is Boone’s father, so way to go on that, Wes. Everyone calling Wes out for how terrible he is may actually be better than them doing the same to Grace, even though it’s also easier.
  • All the characters want to call college Wes a douche, but I think Pete also fully captures the douche spirit in 2015. Between his proclamations of being an “investigative journalist” and his decision to call his girlfriend’s father a murderer (and basically try to prove that) in front of everyone, he’s asking to at least be punched in the face. I do appreciate that his approach to investigative journalism involves him being a character from The Newsroom though: meaning, the only ways he gets leads is by personally knowing someone who can easily give him the lead.

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