Every Ryan Murphy production has a moment (or moments) where it feels like he (and, by extension, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan) is simply playing a trick on his audience. It’s not even necessarily a malicious thing, but it’s the type of situation where you usually have to take a step back and ask yourself if this is actually happening. Glee had it. Nip/Tuck had it. (And both shows had more than just the one moments) American Horror Story constantly has it from the moment a season begins. And now, “Black Friday” is Scream Queens’ go-to example for that. Though, as I said, it’s not particularly for malicious reasons: It’s just that it’s an episode of Scream Queens where the punchline is also one of the show’s biggest problems. I’m of course talking about the show’s unwillingness to be a slasher series that actually slashes characters, which is played for its biggest laugh with the failed assassination attempts on Dean Munsch, the Rasputin of Wallace University. Jamie Lee Curtis has been killing it these past couple of episodes, and the best part of her surviving all of these things is that she can continue to kill it. Sure, until her last scene, the character is written and played completely different in this episode from how she has been in every other episode. But she still kills it.

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The thing is: No one’s going to be talking about how cool it was to see Jamie Lee Curtis (or any of these actors) survive another week on Scream Queens, now are they?

If you want to think of it in another way, there’s a moment in this episode when the Kappa Kappa Tau sisters go on and list all of the characters the Red Devil has killed. There are some pretty funny moments, like when Chanel refers to Caulfield as “Chad’s irritating armless friend” (when the only “irritating” quality he was shown to have was his questioning Chad about missiles) or Earl Grey as “black British guy” (which Zayday strangely doesn’t correct or address at all). But it’s difficult to ignore how many of the victims either don’t have or aren’t given actual names when they’re listing all of them off. And by the end of this episode, you can add the nameless new uniform cop to the list. Despite character plans, no one drowns in this episode, but it’s hard to say that there’s anything other than treading water when it comes to killing actual characters. And it wouldn’t even be that big of a deal if not for the fact that Scream Queens acts like it is killing off characters of note:

Pete: “Sometimes I kinda side with the Red Devil. He’s cleaning all the mess and filth of this place in a way no Dean or expose ever could.”

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Is he/she though? The head of the serpent, Dickie Dollar Scholars president Chad Radwell, is still alive and pretty much under the protection of the Red Devil. Earl Grey was a good guy who was killed because one of the Red Devils was jealous. Caulfield was smarter than Chad Radwell, which doesn’t say much, and he lost his arms then life for that. Roger and Dodger only cared about their incestuous devil’s threesome with Chanel No. 5. The rest of the DDS members aren’t confirmed dead, so they probably just left campus like the rest of the students. Chanel Oberlin gets a shoulder wound that misses every major arteries, and her henchwomen—except for the one who truly challenged her when it came to Chad Radwell’s love—are alive and well enough to harass Victoria’s Secret clerks. In fact, the only KKTs to get killed were the weirdo new recruits, not the pretty ones. The Red Devil killed Coney! Exactly what mess and filth is being cleaned up by this killer?

What’s strange about all of this is that the depleting ranks technically work within the world of Scream Queens, and the wasteland aspect of Wallace University is hopefully something that will be explored more in the next two episodes. I’ve been saying since the pilot that the show works best as a fantasy world completely detached from the real world, which is why things like Chanel-O-Ween, Black Friday, and cafeteria feminism fights feel off-kilter in a show that is naturally off-kilter. Scream Queens shouldn’t be an overt commentary on things in the real world, because there’s no way Scream Queens can take place in the real world. Dean Munsch as an icicle is the epitome of that, whether the show wants to make her the Michael Myers (wink wink) of this show or not. And the fact that it’s such a fantasy world means there’s no need to question the morality of these characters—even characters like Grace and then Zayday—so quickly jumping to kill Munsch in the first place.

Plus, one of the best moments in the episode is when Grace, Pete, and Wes go to the precinct and learn that the entire homicide division—plus the Chief of Police—has been fired by the Mayor for their incompetency, not because it’s the most realistic course of action given how bad they are at their jobs but because the only thing it’s going to do is make matters worse. And it does: It makes Denise Hemphill the Chief of Police, and if the homicide division doesn’t become the “Zayday Williams Did It” division, then she’ll have exceeded any and all expectations.

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Speaking of Grace, Pete, and Wes, this is definitely the best episode for the show’s three weakest characters. The latter has devolved completely from “protective professor papa” to the shallow doofus we all saw him as in the first place, and it works, even when every single one of his lines begs to have a character reply to him with a “you’re such an idiot.” In fact, this episode is full of pretty great line deliveries from everyone, idiots or not; Chanel No. 5’s description of the documentary known as Teen Wolf continues Abigail Breslin’s return to actual acting (which started in “Ghost Stories”). Grace, on the other hand, continues to be very Grace-like, though Skyler Samuels is at her series best when she’s creepily on Chanel’s wavelength, and that includes the physical comedy of the two bonding in the name of feminism in front of Munsch. Where things get a bit iffy is with the obligatory virginity part of the equation, which is expected given her final girl status but also feels as out-of-nowhere as her brief step into the dark side. After all, this episode is only a day long, and it’s a few hours after the events of the previous episode.

As for Pete, the more he leans into his “I’m an investigative journalist!” rhetoric (despite, ultimately, just being a college student), the more he falls into the same territory as Wes, which is actually a good thing now. What falls flat here, however, is the “reveal” that Pete is not a good guy and is apparently a murderer. (And possibly the secret gay lover of Boone.) The question becomes one of whether or not anyone watching the show has ever trusted him, especially with the combination of his Chanel obsession that isn’t talked about enough and his Red Devil costume that he lazily explained away at the beginning of the season. When the episode shows him staring at the costume contemplatively, it’s one of the moments of the episode that simply doesn’t work: We know he has the costume (and the previous episode served as a reminder of that), we just heard him have a suspicious conversation on the phone, and he’s packing his bags to skip town. There’s no “dun, dun, dun” moment here, and it’s definitely unnecessary when that actual moment is the closer to this episode. Plus, he and Grace are just an awkward couple in general, and adding possible sex (the Grace/Wes exchange about it is pretty great, playlist or not) and declarations of love only highlight that.

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The show is currently relying very heavily on the very concept of dramatic irony as the main characters get farther away from who the killer is. We know Dean Munsch is a killer—that’s not even up for debate—but we also know that she’s not the killer. As fun as it is to watch the girls try to rub some brain cells together to come up with plans to kill Munsch (and to learn that Hester has a puffer fish), these characters really aren’t getting any closer to actually figuring out all of the people who are killing… people. But “Black Friday” is also probably the last bit of “fun” these characters will have before the finale, so it’s at least a good thing that this is a very funny episode and, for the first time all season, no one is the weak link.

And hey, Pete’s new relationship with Chad Radwell is an interesting one, especially since it produces yet another promise of death. Someone has to die, right?

Stray observations

  • Scream Queen Of The Week: I’m going to make it a tie between Dean Munsch, since—like I said before—Jamie Lee Curtis really kills it in this episode, and Chanel, actually. There’s a moment at the pool that Emma Roberts just nails, as Munsch leaves and Chanel gives the biggest “oh shit” look possible.
  • Ian Brennan loves a voiceover, but he and Scream Queens still haven’t gotten a better one than with Coney the mascot.
  • My excitement over the episode suddenly turning into a “mallpisode” made me pretty bummed that the Chanels quickly escaped the mall, but luckily the rest of the episode was solid.
  • Denise Hemphill: “Damn! Why didn’t I shoot him when I had the chance?!? I was just talking so much!” Yep, I still love Denise Hemphill.
  • Since it’s what I do, I’ll just mention that the puffer fish and its poison was a plot point in an episode of Nip/Tuck, and the attempted killing of Dean Munsch kind of feels like an updated version of the Popular season one finale when the kids try to kill Ms. Glass.
  • This has sort of been the case for the past few episodes but especially in this one: At this point, Wes and Chad really have the same speech patterns. In fact, if not for the beautiful existence of the Radwell family, I wouldn’t be opposed to a revelation that Wes is Chad’s dad. Then again, there’s always a chance college douche Wes slept with Julia Duffy, so it’s still a possibility. Or it can just be Murphy/Falchuk/Ian’s writing style shining through.
  • Scream Queens really should have built its marketing brand around “Tumbthumping.”
  • The show has also apparently forgotten that Chanel and Zayday are co-presidents, which should really be a bigger part of the dynamics within the house. Zayday unfortunately has fallen to the wayside post-kidnapping, and it’s a shame, especially the Chanels are finally all clicking as characters and Grace isn’t always wearing a hat.
  • I hadn’t addressed it before, but with the combination of a comment from the “Thanksgiving” review and this episode’s attempt to squeeze through a door/size “zero” exchange, I think now’s the time: Is Chanel No. 5 secretly pregnant? The character’s weight hasn’t been a point of conversation in the show until this episode, but she’s definitely been in less than flattering outfits as the season has progressed, and I want to believe it’s intentional.
  • By the way, that size “zero” scene led to some really great lines from Hester: “This is discrimination!…Make her happy!…She’s a terrible person! Look at her! Give her something to be happy about!” Sisterhood, courtesy of Lea Michele.

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