So the whirlwind first season of Ryan Murphy’s new brainchild Scream Queens drew to a close this week, a little over two months after it began. Shorter seasons are becoming the norm on television, but it still seemed to go by especially quickly. You may remember from my last post about the show that despite some problematic issues, I was a fan of this quirky horror-comedy mash-up, in particular the absurdist humor and spectacular comedic delivery from the actors. Yet as I delved into the second half of the show, I felt its charm quickly petering out. Was it just end-of-semester grad school stress and not feeling well which made me less receptive to this odd show, or was the writing going downhill fast? Let’s take a closer look after the jump. Major spoilers ahead.
I think there’s a reason slasher flicks are rarely more than ninety minutes long. By the time the seventh or eighth episode rolled around, Scream Queens began to feel stale. Okay, who is going to get knocked off this week? By this point it became apparent that none of the main sorority sisters were actually in danger of dying (despite a small fake-out death by Lea Michele’s Hester at the end of Episode 9) and in fact, by Episode 10, practically all the side characters important enough to care about had been killed. They literally ran out of victims. This meant for the last three or four episodes, we had a large spike in dialogue-heavy scenes versus action scenes, which felt like it derailed the momentum of the show. We were treated, for example, to extremely lengthy scenes of each character describing in detail why their hypothesis of the Red Devil killer was correct, when we knew that in just an episode or two, the identity would be revealed. Snooooooze.
And well, it would be inaccurate to merely say Red Devil killer (singular) when in fact it was Red Devil killers (plural). The audience was aware that there were two killers wearing Red Devil costumes, but then in the penultimate episode, we find there was also a third, which really just felt like a red herring to milk out revealing the identity of the final Red Devil for one more episode. By the time the last episode rolled around I was practically shouting, “For the love of God, I don’t even care who the last killer is, just tell us already!” The first killer’s identity had actually been revealed a few episodes prior, when it was revealed gay frat boy Boone had staged his own death and was involved in the slayings. Turns out, Boone was not who he said he was: in fact, he was one half of a pair of twins whose mother had died giving birth in Kappa House twenty years ago who now swore revenge. There was another big part of Boone that was not true: he was not really gay. He was faking being gay because of… reasons?? This was one of the most bizarre parts of the show. Obviously, being gay wouldn’t endear him to the frat brothers, and he wasn’t even out to most of them! There was absolutely no point to being fake gay.
Boy next door barista Pete Martinez was the throw-away third Red Devil, so who was Boone’s twin sister and the most wicked killer of them all? None other than queen of awkward, Hester (Lea Michele). Her social awkwardness, much like her neckbrace, was a ruse to make others write her off as kooky but harmless, when in fact, she was the most devious one of them all. The finale took a strange and bold move; going from a whole season of “who is the Red Devil?” to Hester taking over as narrator and giving us a “this is how I did it” spiel for the final episode. Did it work? Um… kind of? It felt pretty info dump-y at times. She also frames the three remaining Chanels for the murders, and gaslights them into thinking they could have done it. Her machinations get the Chanels a trial that ends with them being committed to an insane asylum (cue Eichen House-level ableism). And she just gets away with it. I understand the whole point of the show was a critique of the cruel and oppressive power structures operating in Greek life, but the killers literally slaughtered probably close to twenty (mostly) innocent people and got the other three committed to an asylum. Are we supposed to cheer them on? See them as an example to emulate? Now, I know today’s pop culture media is chock full of anti-heroes and moral ambiguity, but the whole thing left a pretty unpleasant taste in my mouth. Generally speaking, slasher flicks end with the slasher getting their comeuppance, which did not happen here.
How did my representation concerns play out? Well, on the good side, with the Chanels locked away, Zayday was the sole president of Kappa, with Grace at her side as vice-president. Grace in many ways was the more central character, and it would have been super easy and frankly expected if she was the president and Zayday was VP, so I was pretty impressed the writers had it the other way around. Zayday and Denise were the only Black characters, and only characters of color at all, to survive the series. Would have been nice to see more color make it to the finish line. As for LGBTQ+ representation, I already mentioned the bizarre case of Boone’s faked homosexuality that served no purpose. While there wasn’t much time to explore Chanel No. 3’s queerness because of the short season, it was certainly acknowledged in an epilogue sort of way in the finale, saying that once committed to the asylum, No. 3 went “full lez” with one of the female nurses. Really not a great way at all to phrase that, plus it promotes bi-erasure when No. 3 clearly stated she was more bi/pan earlier in the season.
Overall, Scream Queens really fell flat in the second half. The funny moments I loved grew fewer and farther between as the hunt for the Red Devils intensified. The quirky atmosphere quickly grew very dark and somber as questions like whether it is justified to kill a killer to stop them rose to preeminent importance for our girls. There was perhaps, more than anything, a sense of relief when it was finally over. This was disappointing, as I really enjoyed the first half of the season; I went from laughing my ass off to just praying for the finale to come. While overall, the show was very memorable and had some unforgettable characters and laughs, I will unfortunately also remember how it jumped the shark so quickly. If I understand correctly, future seasons (if the show doesn’t get cancelled) will feature the surviving characters as themselves, not just recycling actors like American Horror Story. Honestly, I’m not sure where the characters could go from here, so maybe it would be for the best if the show just ended after one season; a limited look into one of the quirkier corners of Ryan Murphy’s mind.