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On Scream Queens, the horror of exposition is more important than actual horror

Illustration for article titled On Scream Queens, the horror of exposition is more important than actual horror
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Back in July, Ryan Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter that only four characters would make it out of Scream Queens’ first season alive, with a “huge amount” of the characters being killed off on a week-to-week basis. But even before this season finale, it was apparent that the Scream Queens that was promoted and the Scream Queens that exists were two completely different shows. I’ve said on a near weekly basis that Scream Queens’ inability to kill its darlings could be its greatest downfall. At this point, a savvy audience knows what they’re signing up for when it comes to the writing aspects of a Ryan Murphy production—with minor adjustment for the particular genre and tone, of course—but the core concept of Scream Queens lent itself to playing with the unexpected. With Murphy’s stable of actors and the show being another anthology series, the idea of mass deaths was actually something to look forward to, as it was obvious that the death of a character (and a particularly entertaining actor) wouldn’t prevent them from showing up in a future Murphy show or season. But for whatever reason, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan forgot to actually do the one thing they and the show’s slasher-anthology premise promised to do: slash characters.

“It’s similar to American Horror Story in that it’s anthological but different in that at the end of the first season there will only be four characters out of 25 left. And those four in season two will go on to a new horror genre. We do kill off a huge amount of people every week. It’s a whodunit at its core.”—Ryan Murphy


Four characters. That’s how many were supposed to make it out of Scream Queens alive. Technically, four characters did make it out alive—plus a few more. But that does not mean “only” four characters.

  • Grace
  • Zayday
  • Chanel, Chanel No. 3, Chanel No. 5 (Even counting them as one character doesn’t bring this down to four, unless it’s only for members of the Kappa Kappa Tau house.)
  • Hester
  • Wes, of all people
  • Dean Munsch, who is still immortal, I suppose.
  • Chad Radwell
  • Denise Hemphill

Plus, the “huge amount” to die in these last two episodes are simply Pete, the pizza man, and the original Red Devil (but only if you count a flashback kill). The best word I can think to describe all of that is “lame,” and I’m well aware that “lame” is probably the way Wes would describe the situation.

It’s also especially underwhelming when “The Final Girl(s)” becomes an episode that’s guaranteed to have absolutely no killing—as everything is finger pointing, then everything is peachy keen—after a penultimate episode that barely killed anyone. These episodes had to be a blood bath in order to make up for the lack of deaths in the previous episodes, but instead, they featured the most talk and exposition of the first season.

What makes all of this even more disappointing is that these last two episodes, “Dorkus” and “The Final Girl(s),” are two of the funniest episodes of the series. If nothing else, Scream Queens has succeeded in making these characters as fully formed as it can while still being as wildly inconsistent with its characters as a Murphy/Falchuk/Brennan comedy can be. (Honestly, as great as Popular was, the second season was really the beginning of this pattern from Murphy. And that was pre-Falchuk and Brennan, unlike Glee.) Watching Chanel go on and on about how she has to make amends, only for it to be a long con for her to pull a knife on Melanie Dorkus is one of Emma Roberts’ best moments, continuing her run of killing it in this last half of the season (when no actual killing is happening). Chief Of Police Denise Hemphill filling the precinct with hot cops just feels right, kind of like Chanel No. 5 not realizing that her only Tinder match is Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger. The image of the nonexistent Dirty Helen is a terrific short moment. And Hester going on explaining how the Chanels were the killers—complete with parents and split personalities—is quite the performance from Lea Michele.


But this is a horror-comedy. Not a comedy. That’s not a nitpick. That’s the truth. The show is only doing half of what it’s set out to do, and doing half the work isn’t a success in any medium. (Though, in grading, doing that half well at least makes the episode rank higher than certain previous episodes.)

Early on, one of the worst things about these episodes is how absurdly long certain scenes are, in attempts to stretch out the reveal. The Pete/Grace info dump at the beginning of “Dorkus” goes on for 10 minutes, and 10 straight minutes of Pete and/or Grace is generally one of the worst things that can happen to this show. On the horror front, those first 10 minutes eventually give us an out-of-nowhere Red Devil kill (and fight), but the next instance of the Red Devil is a ridiculous decoy situation. The first scene is then followed by Chanel’s “missive to end all missives,” which is also too long (as a missive should be, I suppose)—the first episode is almost half-way over by the time it’s done—but benefits from being one of the most visually impressive things the show has done (and one of the few that has used technology) with its use of kinetic typography to show off Chanel’s rant. And Hester’s finger-pointing is fun, but it takes up half of the finale. This is an episode that reeks of stretching for time and not having enough content to fill the show, especially when you factor in the original 15-episode order for the show that was cut to 13.


“The Final Girls(s)” takes this a step further, because it’s not really a season finale as much as it is an epilogue that is stretched out to an hour (with commercials). The biggest reason for its existence is obviously to apply logic to a story that involves intense leaps of logic (from a writing perspective, not within the ridiculous world of the show) in the first place. Every slasher film has a backstory for its killer, but if it allows them to wax poetic about why they’re doing the things they’re doing, it doesn’t take up an entire half of the film or episode (after the other half is her making up backstories for others). We apparently have to know every aspect of Hester’s plan and why—and the fact that she didn’t kill anyone until Pete and pizza guy—despite it being easy enough to infer from previous episodes. She and Boone were (for some reason) raised by Gigi in the asylum and they wanted to get revenge. Her sister (Grace) and her sister’s best friend (Zayday) were nice to her, so she showed them mercy. Yadda yadda yadda, and so on, and so forth.

And in all of this, even with all of the exposition, the mission statement and intent of the killers is too flawed to ignore. In that first “Dorkus” scene, Pete once again goes on about how the Red Devils’ mission is noble, but even in that episode, the disenfranchised remain the ones who have suffered the most from their antics. With Hester’s decision on Grace and Zayday’s fate being determined by them being nice to her in the first place, it makes even less sense that Jennifer, Sam, and Deaf Taylor Swift were some of the first ones to go. It also makes no sense that she would have Chanel No. 2 killed instead of having her committed like the other Chanels (ignoring the Ariana Grande of it all). Why would Boone waste his time killing one incompetent security guard (and not both)? Hester’s plan gets the Chanels locked up… but it’s actually Chanel Oberlin’s outburst that gets them locked up. And their punishment ends up being the best thing to happen to them, while Hester ends up with an eye patch and the position of treasurer. If the plan was for all of Wallace University to become an aggressively left-leaning campus—which works great for Munsch—there would be more of an understanding, but it’s not. It’s just a result. What is the point from A to B?


And when Hester tells Munsch (who momentarily has a conscience, out of nowhere) that she didn’t kill anyone on the list of memorial names, it’s a reminder that “the killer” of the entire season shouldn’t even be considered “the killer.” She was the brains behind the operation, but as far as we know, she only killed Pete (in this episode) and, technically, the pizza guy. Pete killed Boone. Pete killed Gigi. Pete killed Rodger (or Dodger). Boone and Gigi killed the rest. Munsch killed her husband. The only way Hester’s body count goes up is if you blame her and Boone for killing their mother in child birth, but that still keeps Boone ahead on the killer count. On the question of who the Red Devil killers are, the only reveals left are Pete (kind of) and Hester (also kind of), even though the only one that would have ever been a surprise on this show was Boone, had his faked death not been immediately revealed. The “whodunit” is ultimately an “whocareswhodunit” and the “whydunit” was answered from the very beginning, even before the twin part.

In comparison to another slasher, Scream Queens sort of goes the way of Scream 4 with the Hester conclusion, only it gives the original ending to the audience, to less effective results. In Scream 4, Emma Roberts’ character ends up being one of the Ghostfaces, obsessed with becoming famous off of the thing that traumatized her cousin Sidney. She kills her own friends and tries to kill Sidney, Gale, and Dewey. In the original ending for the film, she gets away for it and is known to the world as the new Final Girl; but the original ending is not what was released, as Sidney and company eventually one-up her. Here, Lea Michele’s Hester has a similar plan in framing the Chanels and being one of their victims, at a smaller scale—only with the fact that she gets away with it falling much flatter than it would have in Scream 4. How can you not want her to get caught, if only for the fact that the characters have spent too much time trying to catch the killer(s). Unless everyone’s interest died with the investigative journalist that was Pete.


So that’s Scream Queens. By the time it finally became something akin to consistent, it also forgot that consistency would include horror aspects outside of a Jason Voorhees/Freddy Krueger argument. Everyone who lives gets a happy ending, besides star-crossed lovers Chad Radwell and Denise Hemphill. Even the Chanels get a happy ending, even though it was the Red Devils’ goal to destroy them. Yes, there’s the final moment of the episode, with the Red Devil coming back to attack Chanel Oberlin, but that’s a basic horror trope that in no way means that she’s dead. The killer always comes back for a final lunge, and come sequel time, it’s either never addressed or it was all just a dream. Unless Hester got word that they were having the time of their lives in the asylum, there’s no reason for her to show up to kill them on the inside. Or it’s Zayday, and Special Agent Denise Hemphill can finally have sweet vindication.

Stray observations

  • Scream Queen Of The Week: Those three seconds of Dirty Helen. Hopefully she’s one of the “four” to make it out alive.
  • Here’s another Scream 4 comparison: The Chanel No. 5/Chad Kroeger on Tinder thing is similar to Trudie/Channing Tatum’s abs on Facebook moment from the movie’s first act.
  • Like Diego Boneta’s Matthew McConaughey impression or not, it was used way too much to (still) be enjoyable by the end of this season. The only way it could have gotten worse is if they had him say “Matthew McConaughey” at the end of every impression.
  • You have no idea how happy I was that Chanel didn’t accidentally email the entire campus. The fact that Red Devil Hester was the one to do it made me breath a sigh of relief—the accidental mass email is one of the worst tropes.
  • So, is the trip to Napa basically Wes abandoning his daughter, or are we just supposed to forget Dean Munsch’s ultimatum from the previous episode? I know, I know: Forget it, LaToya—it’s Scream Queens.
  • Speaking of basic continuity: Wes is clearly wearing black briefs when he seduces and gets down to it with Dean Munsch, but the post-coital conversation has him blatantly wearing plaid boxers. Anyone?
  • Bless flashback Gigi for stabbing the original mascot about a dozen times and then saying, “I think he’s dead.”
  • Despite the lack of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” there are still some great music choices in these two episodes. Especially the girls getting arrested to “Toy Soldiers.”
  • Impressively, the lack of any Feather in the asylum scenes really makes the entirety of “Beware Of Young Girls” even less relevant.
  • Chanel No. 5 is an idiot, but through the tears of her panic attack, it’s so very much clear that she is the only one reacting to any of the things happening in this show with any sense of reality. While everyone else wants to move past and breeze through the deaths of their “peers” and Best Buy security guards, Chanel No. 5 squeals the truth: “Like, after Rodger and Dodger, I’ve suffered so much loss in my life.” You have, Chanel.
  • The absence of Chad Radwell’s character in all but two scenes makes very little sense outside of the possibility of cuts, rewrites, or reshoots, but as I mentioned before, so many scenes are just too long for anything else.
  • Grace and Zayday chose the worst time to lack conviction, as they could have shown the evidence they found to someone instead of just repeating that Hester was the killer. Then again, they thought it was weird there was a college class for sewing but didn’t bat an eye at the domestic terrorism class.
  • However, Zayday remains the best actual character on a show full of cartoons. Everything that fails about Grace is actually what works about Zayday, right down to the hats. Her response to the “Red Devil”—kicking the knife out of his hands—makes it even worse that she didn’t lead the charge against the killers in the first place.

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