Fairly early in Glee’s run, Todd VanDerWerff brought up a theory people were quickly realizing about the show: There were three Glees. Obviously, there was only one show with the name Glee, but depending on who out of the show’s three showrunners wrote an episode (during the show’s pre-standard writers room days), the show could be wildly different. At the time, I found Brad Falchuk’s Glee to be the overall best, with Ian Brennan’s either being very hit or miss (and nowhere in between), and Ryan Murphy’s being the most manic, highlighting everything people criticize Murphy’s work for being overall. Murphy’s Glee was “The Rocky Horror Glee Show.”
Right now, it’s too soon in Scream Queen’s life to try to apply a three Scream Queens theory to it, but it’s already a factor in a scene-to-scene basis. The biggest overall problem with Scream Queens—not jokingly counting the creative team behind it—is its uneven tone and pacing. So far, when things work for Scream Queens, they either really work or at least skate by. When they don’t, they really, really don’t. The best parts of the pilot and “Hell Week” were the most absurd and surreal moments, while the worst were the intensely mean-spirited moments (which were the most prominent). This week’s “Chainsaw” greatly decreases the mean-spirited parts, and while it’s not all completely on point tone-wise (Wes and Pete may not actually know what show they’re a part of), it’s better.
Until the Coney segment (set to Wham!’s “I’m Your Man”), it doesn’t feel like there will be another Glee style voice-over in this episode. And while that would definitely be great in other circumstances, the actual arrival of the Coney voice-over just nails it and confirms the whole idea of Ian Brennan being the funny one in the trio. Specifically, the Coney segment works as a scene from a version of Scream Queens that mostly mines humor from the reactions of outsiders to all of the chaos the Kappa Kappa Tau house is causing. The Take Back The Night march comes from that same place, and it helps the show out with some of its world-building problems. Because as much as Chad talks about how much Chanel and company are social pariahs, there’s no real way to tell unless you see the way the school is actually reacting. In this case, it’s with signs like “I’M NOT A KKT,” which are pretty straight to the point. But then you have people like Chad (pre-Boone “death”) and Coney, who reap the benefits of the Red Devil: freaky sex and intense popularity, all while either acting like the jock boyfriend in an ‘80s movie or a zero to hero…also in an ‘80s movie. It’s the bizarre ‘80s/‘90s/sometimes ‘10s world that this show takes place in, and not being so insular is a good choice for this strange world.
When saying that Scream Queens is comprised of multiple shows from scene-to-scene, it’s impossible not to mention the Dickie Dollar Scholars fraternity show, which actually blows the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority—which, as we all know, is the focus of the series—out of the water. The DDS boys as almost too campy to function, and honestly, they already barely function on a mental level. But this episode confirms that they have something the KKTs don’t have and probably never will: camaraderie. Despite the fact that Chad is a horrible “player player” with mommy issues, a knife obsession, and very morbid sexual kinks, he and his brothers are all willing to risk their lives to avenge their “dead,” gay bro. There’s a real earnestness to the DDS fraternity in this episode, and even though Glen Powell still kind of reads like a filler for Parker Young, he reads like a really good filler for Parker Young.
The DDS are all so dumb that they’re almost brilliant, which is how Chad is able to come to the conclusion that Boone was “murdered” by the Red Devil but also writes “love” letters like one he sent to Chanel No. 2. The entire stretch of the DDS going for “ghetto code” and attacking all red everything (the fire hydrant, the car) with baseball bats is amusing on its own, but with the “Backstreet’s Back” soundtrack and “I Want It That Way” attire, it becomes an absolute highlight of the episode. It would be extremely unsurprising to learn that this entire plot stemmed from just the idea of a person’s arms being chainsawed off to the lyrics “now throw your hands up in the air / and wave ‘em around like you just don’t care,” and still, it would be a good reason for such a scene. Music is already such an important aspect of Scream Queens, and this is the height of it so far.
On the other hand, one of the most overbearing music cues of the episodes is the initially amusing “Crossroads.” The score also gets out of control at times, as it absolutely loves to heavily indicate when something is shifty (Wes’ lecture about cinema) or pop in when completely unnecessary (when Pete opens the door and Grace is there). The horror music riffs in the score are teetering between fun and “too much” too, but at the same time, that’s Scream Queens in a nutshell.
As for overbearing characters, despite being the driving force of the series’ present day situations, the Chanel Oberlin show is the weakest show that Scream Queens offers. Even though this episode thankfully decreases the amount of screentime for Emma Roberts’ Chanel, she remains a case of one of the show’s weakest characters and actresses keeping the show down. Chanel’s scenes are better when they’re with Chad, but that’s mostly because their endless make-up and break-up saga reads like a Glee relationship on even more speed. At times, Scream Queens feels like Murphy, Falchuk, and Brennan taking down Glee or at least what it became—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At least, not in theory.
Roberts is really only challenged by Abigail Breslin in terms of stilted performances, though in the case of the former, it can never be said that the character isn’t clearly defined. Chanel No. 5 is an enigma, as much as any character on this show can be called something as complex as an enigma. Some of the worst acting comes when Roberts and Breslin have to give monologues, which Scream Queens insists upon, and that is how we get uncomfortable lines about how Chanel No. 5 got “spit-roasted by hot golf frat twins” and “Eiffel Towered by two hot morons who are brothers.” Honestly, my initial reaction to that story was “sure you did, kid.” It still is. As campy as this show is, it doesn’t mean a thing if the actors can’t sell what they’re saying, and Abigail Breslin is the biggest offender when it comes to that. By the way, that’s the second scene of the episode, and despite it being relatively short, it feels like it goes on forever. It’s scenes like that—and the terrible “closet vag” exchange—that serve as an incredible reminder of this being a show written by three men with zero vaginas.
At least Chanel gets the chance to She’s All That Hester (now Chanel No. 6 and less interesting), without the help of Michael Bay. But Chanel No. 3 is the Most Valuable Chanel (MVC) of the episode, as she reassures the smitten Sam that she is definitely not the killer, even though her father is Charles Manson and she wants an alibi for supposedly doing nothing wrong. (Honestly, the more I write about this show, the more I think I’m imagining all of this.)
This week’s episode works extremely hard in hitting the possible killer options or, as Denise Hemphill would call them, the people “of extreme murderous interest.” There’s Chanel No. 3 with her alibi buddies (“alibuddies”) pact; there’s Wes, whose feelings for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre are the most intense feelings that any character has shown in all three of these episodes; There’s Grace’s suspect, Chad, who is very much not killed by either one of the Red Devils; There’s Zayday, who has a huge amount of evidence against her; Then there’s Dean Munsch, who is the most obvious choice and has the finger pointed at her by the end of the episode.
After professing my appreciation for Denise Hemphill in “Hell Week,” this week’s episode only keeps the love fest going, as the character remains both the funniest character on the show and also the smartest one. As much as everything is played for laughs with the character, that’s also very much a way to make the audience forget the fact that she speaks a lot of truth. Last week had her telling the girls not to run up the stairs where a killer (we only saw Chanel’s account of what happened with the Red Devil) supposedly was but to instead to run out the door. This week has her bringing up Chanel No. 2.’s tweet about being killed by the Red Devil, which did get posted, and then providing the audience with a pretty compelling case for Zayday being one of the Red Devils. (Really, the girl should be considered a suspect solely for buying a CD in 2015.) The trio of Nash, Palmer, and Skyler Samuels are good too, especially as Palmer and Samuels’ friend chemistry is already strong enough, to a point where they almost feel like one entity when their characters interact with Denise over the Chanel No. 2 situation.
This is probably the first good episode for Samuels’ Grace, as it doesn’t quite beat the final girl thing over the audience’s head and, again, her friendship with Zayday is effortless. Samuels is a charming enough actress that could easily carry a less ensemble-centric show, but she holds her own without really having the most to do in this episode. What hurts the character, however, is her relationship with Pete (and Diego Boneta’s terrible post-pilot haircut), which is arguably the most boring part of the show, and her new situation with her father, which leads to the most intentionally awkward scene of the entire episode. The latter is absolutely surreal but not in the same way as the the rest of the show: It’s the in-class argument between Grace and Wes, the one where neither of them attempt to use their inside voices in front of all of his students or wait to talk after class. Following it with Wes’ screening of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre also shows an interesting tone-deafness on his part, since supposedly he’d have been planning to screen it with his daughter (and her two pledge sisters) in the room, despite the whole serial killer thing. But Samuels makes the most of the initial Pete scene of the episode, getting her Veronica Mars/Nancy Drew on almost with glee (no pun intended) at times: “Take that to build a psychological profile. He clearly sees people as objects. Sociopathic murderers dehumanize their pray. Also, he’s got some sort of, like, knife obsession thing.”
By the way, based on that psychological profile, everyone on this show is still officially a suspect.
Plus, the moments in the episode that really work create a sense of anticipation that was truly missing in those first two episodes. Sure, it’s still an absolute mess and not even close to the best of what Ryan Murphy and company have to offer. But even with every word I’ve written and will write about that, I should also note that I don’t expect it to be anything other than that and will be pleasantly surprised if it surpasses those expectations. It’s pork rinds or ranch chips with chocolate syrup. The questions I’m trying to answer are why exactly that is and what works about that and what doesn’t. I’m not trying to make it or even ask it to be filet mignon and garlic mashed potatoes, because it’s not even close to pretending to be that.
- Scream Queen Of The Week: Chad deserves this, but Denise Hemphill is coming for her crown, and Gigi is too. Sorry, Coney.
- “Pete’s always kind of given me the creeps.” Zayday has only—barely—known Pete for a few weeks and has definitely seen him less since Grace dumped him. What exactly is this “always”? And why does Zayday want chocolate syrup on her ranch chips?!? These are the questions this show should be answering.
- Grace and Zayday don’t know for sure that Chanel No. 2 is dead, even though they highly suspect it. Yet when Chanel for sure confirms that two Chanels are dead (the first being the never seen No. 4), no one bats an eyelash or says a single thing.
- Roger Bart and Charisma Carpenter playing Chanel No. 2’s parents just feels right. Also, if it takes a deal with Ryan Murphy to get Charisma Carpenter back on TV constantly, then so be it.
- “It’s cool. Stuff happens.” Pete tries to beat “Not cool, babe” from iZombie, but he just can’t.
- I just realized the college is called Wallace University. That’s named after Dee Wallace, correct?
- Zayday practicing chainsaw retrieval in her bedroom is so oddly endearing.
- And the Heathers hits keep on coming with “Que Sera, Sera” playing as Hester enters Chanel’s closer. The question is whether or not she’ll pull a Fern Mayo with her new makeover.
- I hope the DDS not understanding the British brother’s (whose name is, of course, Earl Grey) British sayings lasts. First, it was him wanting to get “pissed.” Now, it’s the word “bloody.” Speaking of bloody, the Red Devil who chopped off one of the brothers’ arms is Boone, right? That DDS is the one who couldn’t believe Boone was gay, and that Devil made sure to hurt but not even come close to kill Chad.
- It looks like next week’s episode will have a witness who lives in the backwoods. Get out your slasher bingo cards, guys.
- This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but everything about the Gigi/Munsch scenes in this episode screamed multi-camera sitcom to me. I was almost expecting a surreal laugh track in the white noise scene. It’s very, very broad, but the show was at least smart enough to use two people who could convincingly do it.
- Obviously, everyone’s a suspect, but until there’s any concrete evidence, I’m going to applaud Gigi’s fight scene with the Red Devil. She may be a ‘90s fiend who’s only just now discovered Thousand Island Dressing (“Salad tastes like a Big Mac.”), but she’s got some Sidney Prescott moves.
- Brennan’s directing style is much more obtrusive than both Murphy and Falchuk’s, which is basically too much, considering how obtrusive the other two’s directing styles also are. There’s less of a sense of what Brennan is truly attempting to do unless it’s an action scene, which is what he appears to be more comfortable with. The combination of that and the ridiculous score doesn’t make this the most appealing episode to look at or listen to.
- This is a great report card: