Scream Queens, Season 1, Episode 12, “Dorkus”
Season 1, Episode 13, “The Final Girls”
Written by Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk & Ian Brennan
Directed by Bradley Buecker (“Dorkus”), Brad Falchuk (“The Final Girls”)
Aired on Tuesdays at 9pm (ET) on FOX
In the end, the same thing that brought down the Chanels was also the major letdown with Scream Queens as a whole: the need to be right. The exact smugness that doomed the crew of blonde psychopaths at the center of this story was the season itself’s main misstep, and one that was doubled down upon rather than made more subtle as it progressed. Being right was more important than being smart in both cases and for the show, this means being way too proud of themselves as everything gets wrapped up. Hester is satisfied with the outcome of her long con to get back at the Greek system because it was expertly planned out and she accomplished all of her goals. The Chanels are content to yell and insist they are innocent to get their way instead of actual proving anything with evidentiary support, because that is what has worked for them their whole lives. Ryan Murphy’s empire of shows has long done the same – opting for the blunt force trauma of insistence on quality rather than crafting a season or a show into a master plan of intricacy and intelligent individual pieces.
Nothing represents Murphy and Co.’s self-satisfaction than the hour long voiceover fest that is “The Final Girls.” The killer’s reveal and haughty explanation of their plan is often the best part of a murder mystery, but “The Final Girls” drags it out far too long and would have been better suited as a tight 30 minutes piggybacking on the end of “Dorkus” instead of an entirely new episode. It’s a side effect of the script wanting to give Lea Michele as much to do as possible since this is the first time she’s been able to chew scenery as an actual confirmed piece of the murder squad. Which is great, since Boone and Pete were given that chance throughout the season and were made better characters for it. And Michele does solid work with the material she’s given throughout the hour. Yet it feels so dragged out that the punch of the reveal, the end game of this entire exercise, is completely absent. Even for audience members who already had their suspicions about Hester being the mastermind, or at least a piece of the plan, a more stunning pull back of the curtain would have been the better route to go instead of Zayday and Grace casually dropping her name as the killer and going from there. If the reveal was always going to be explained in a straightforward way rather than a dramatic unveiling, why hide the name attached to the falsified transcripts? It’s a bungled finish that suffers from far too much exposition and not enough scares or drama for it to work.
The good news is that Hester’s identity as the killer actually makes sense. The show could have easily shoehorned Grace or Dean Munsch or even Denise into that slot to make the reveal more of a shock, but Hester’s creepiness and obsession with Chanel’s life fits into the profile of a deranged sociopath who has murdered or facilitated the murders of half the campus. It’s not a stretch, but still works within the scope of a show that has nestled into the middle of the realism scale. Somebody stabbing themselves in the eye with a stiletto and surviving without major damage is not even remotely possible outside of this semi-fantastical realm, but having Chanel #5 or Zayday do it would have been even more of a leap of faith based on the established facts. In the same vein, it doesn’t make complete sense that Hester would kill the nicer pledges in the Kappa house if she was aiming to clean up the system but it works because she is one, deranged and two, working within a master plan to frame her other sisters as well.
Even the things that fall flat at least make some kind of narrative sense within the show’s world, despite them not completely working on an entertainment level. These include but are not limited to Dean Munsch and Wes’ 80’s-soundtracked rendezvous, the fact that Chad is all but completely missing for the last two episodes, Pete being killed off almost immediately after he confesses everything to Grace, and the random side journey into Chanel being publicly shamed because of her letter to the Chanels getting forwarded to everyone which in itself is a parody of multiple real-world sorority letters of the same ilk. Not everything clicks as a rollicking adventure within the horror comedy bracket, especially after the flash forward occurs and the voiceover begins, but at least the majority of this wrap up is plausible and has enough stretches that click to make this two parter just above average, all things considered. “Dorkus” is by far the more taut and focused of the two hours, using a manic energy and frantic series of events to steadily but surely bring everyone back to the Kappa House for the big unmasking. Bringing Melanie Dorkus back into play as one last red herring is slightly random, but the craziness that Emma Roberts and Billie Lourd bring to their performances in that climactic moment of near-murder makes the character’s return as a scarred, resentful individual mostly okay.If only the show found the sweet spot that the later episodes occupied earlier in its run. With a limited series like this, taking more than half of the allotted episodes to get comfortable with the tone and the humor/violence balance is simply not possible and the fact that Scream Queens didn’t truly get going until “Beware of Young Girls” at episode seven or “Ghost Stories” at episode nine largely damaged any chances the show had of pulling itself together as a comprehensively entertaining and smart study on horror tropes, Greek culture, and the art of black comedy. Even when the episodes markedly improved, they dropped some of the best characters nearly completely off the radar like Denise Hempfield or Zayday Williams (this author will leave the decision of whether the fact that both of these characters are black is a coincidence or a symptom of Ryan Murphy’s artistic decisions to the reader’s judgment).
For every expertly plotted and concise story twist there was a death that either didn’t matter or didn’t get the creativity it deserved (sorry, Earl Grey). For every sequence that successfully scared the daylights out of the audience there was a Chanel monologue that was either unnecessary or insulting or both. It all comes down to balance, which the show failed to attain in so many areas that the entire show ended up as a smorgasbord of ideas and vignettes that quite simply didn’t mesh. It’s a common problem with Ryan Murphy shows, but also a sign of how difficult it is to pull off a dark comedy that works at the highest level. In the end, there are enough bright moments that Scream Queens is not a complete failure. It may not be rewatchable or spark fond memories in super fans five or ten years down the road but it is a programming choice that doesn’t happen very often on network television and FOX should be applauded for at least pushing their comfort zone to include more than the standard network fare. Plus, everybody got to see Diego Boneta’s Matthew McConaughey impression and Nick Jonas play an axe murderer. If nothing else, enjoy the highlights.
- Grace calling Pete out for being a douche when he quotes Nietzsche is the best thing that character did all season.
- The stylistic choice of having Chanel’s letter be written out via the walls and surfaces of each reader’s space is the kind of choice the show should have made more often.
- Things that happened just because the writers wanted them to: Chanel getting meta about clickbait and Twitter critics, the pizza delivery man getting gruesomely blown up, Chanel ordering a garter snake in a sweater and thinking it was an asp (although the last one is one of the funniest moments of the finale.)
- Zayday was barely a character, but at least she gets to be president in the future!
- Boone not actually enrolling in Wallace, just walking into the frat house and fitting in because nobody goes to class, and Hester getting in off of her fake disability are actually the most plausible parts of their master plan.
- Definitely not enough of Chad Radwell in the finale, but his press conference and ill-fated relationship with Denise are both wonderful goodbyes to the character.
- Another great detail, Dean Munsch getting on the cover of Men’s Health for her book on new new feminism.
- The entire coda of the Chanels being found guilty and getting sentenced to life in the insane asylum falls mostly flat, but Chanel Oberlin ending up as the de facto sorority president of the asylum is about the only way that could have ended.
- Billie Lourd finally having the Princess Leia buns instead of ear muffs is a step too far for that specific inside joke, as if the audience needed it shoved in their faces if they didn’t catch on already. It’s not that funny a reference, Scream Queens.
- Thanks for reading this coverage of Scream Queens, I thoroughly enjoyed writing about it week to week even if the show never completely achieved the expectations myself and others had at the beginning.