Last night was the Scream Queens premiere: a new horror-comedy series from Ryan Murphy. The man who brought us Glee, American Horror Story and other beloved shows is taking a stab at blending the highly-stylized vision of Coven with the murderous mysteries of Asylum and sort of acid-tongued barbs that one might expect to come spewing out of Sue Sylvester’s mouth.
Your enjoyment of Scream Queens depends largely on your tolerance for Murphy’s schtick. You’ll need a high threshold for camp and enough power to suspend loads of disbelief. Scream Queens is, frankly, the Ryan Murphy-est thing Ryan Murphy has done so far.
Working with a mix of some of his favorite actors (Emma Roberts, Lea Michele) and new faces (Nick Jonas, Ariana Grande, Jamie Lee Curtis), Murphy (along with frequent collaborators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan) is bringing to life a slasher with a sense of humor. A Red Devil is terrorizing the fictional Wallace Univeristy campus and appears to be targeting the wicked Kappa Kappa Tau sorority.
In typical Murphy fashion, there’s a ton going on, so we’re here to recap the thrills and chills each week. As someone who has spent a lot of time watching hazing-themed videos online (wink), I feel I am uniquely suited to this task.
It’s a double episode tonight, so we’ve got plenty to discuss. Without further delay, let’s dive in to a super-sized recap.
We begin our story, 20 years ago in 1995. Yes, 1995 was 20 years ago. Let that just set in for a hot minute. Already scary, right?
The ladies at Kappa Kappa Tau are throwing a big ol’ bash, when it comes to the attention of the sorority president that one of the girls has up and given birth upstairs in the clawfoot tub of their finely appointed sorority house. The pres is disgusted by this development, plus, TLC’s “Waterfalls” is on, and that’s her jam! She and her sisters head back down to the party, leaving the new mommy chilling in the tub with a friend. When the pres and her flock return to the bathroom, the new mommy is dead and her friend is seriously shaken. That baby though? Totally still alive and very, very important, so pay attention.
Fast forward 20 years to today, where Kappa Kappa Tau is being ruled with an iron resting bitch face by Chanel (Emma Roberts). This HBIC is like a WASPY-er version of the character Roberts played on Coven. She’s 100 percent attitude and acerbic one-liners and also capes and pumpkin spice lattes, and I know I’m not supposed to, but I sort of love her. She’s got what Janice Ian (the character from Mean Girls, not the singer-songwriter) would call an “army of skanks” comprised of ditzy Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande), the inexplicably ear-muffed Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd) and the high-strung Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin). Chanel Prime has a lot to deal with already, as the new dean has requested a meeting.
Dean Munsch (played by true scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, in a role that could easily be parlayed into a career resurgence, a la Jessica Lange) has got it out for the KKT gals. Since ascending to power following the death of her predecessor, Munsch is determined to bring down Chanel and her sisters. She even brings up an incident last year, wherein the former KKT president was killed when someone slipped hydrochloric acid into her spray tan after she berated Chanel. Suspect!
But before Munsch can revoke KKT’s charter and shut them down, Kappa Kappa Tau national president Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad) shows up to make the save. Gigi, you see, is stuck in the ‘90s, because something traumatic happened to her then and froze her psyche. (My money? She’s the friend of the dead new mom from 1995.)
Meanwhile, our last-girl-standing is en route to campus. Her name is Grace (Skyler Samuels) and she’s just, like, you know, a normal girl. You know she’s a normal girl because she wears floppy hats. This is not the first time Ryan Murphy told us a character is just like, you know, normal by putting them in stupid hats.) She’s driving to campus with her dad (Oliver Hudson) and they’re listening to the PLAYLIST he made about Grace going to college. He’s very into playlists, you guys. Like, they have a very specific conversation about playlists and how he makes them and that is a thing you should know about him. Get it? Grace’s dad. Playlists. Don’t forget.
You also should know that Grace’s mom died when she was young and her mom was in a sorority and now Grace wants to join a sorority
because plot to feel close to her. “Don’t do it!” her dad pleads, but, nope, she’s gonna do it anyway. Kids, right?
She’s also dragging her roommate Zayday (Keke Palmer) along for the ride. The two show up at the sorority house with a bunch of other potential new pledges, only to learn that Dean Munsch and Gigi have decided that since tolerance and global community are so hot right now, they’ll open up KKT membership to anyone who wants to join.
Without the ability to tout its exclusivity, most of the girls flee the house, leaving behind a motley crew of remaining potential pledges, including Grace, Zayday, Hester “Neckbrace” Ulrich (Michele), and a few others I bet we shouldn’t get too attached to (like a candle vlogger, a deaf Taylor Swift fan and a very butch lesbian).
This upsets Chanel Prime to no end, so she runs off to her main slam piece and all-around big man on campus, Chad Radwell (Glen Powell). Surprise! He doesn’t really care about her problems, and he can’t be wasting his time on some president of a loser sorority. Then, despite her pleading, Chad’s right-hand man, Boone (Nick Jonas), steps in to underscore just how wonderful Chad is. To be honest though, it’s kind of hard to follow what he’s saying when I can’t stop looking at his arms in that polo.
New plan! Chanel takes the housemaid Ms. Bean (Jan Hoag) out to coffee. After berating her barista, Pete (Diego Boneta), for not making her pumpkin spice latte to her exact specifications, she reveals a plan to pretend to dunk Ms. Bean’s head in the deep fryer (you know, the deep fryer that all highly-competitive sororities full of perfect looking skinny girls has) to scare the new pledges away. But! The fryer won’t be on. It’ll just be pretend. So fun!
Also in the coffeeshop is Grace, who, duh, just wants normal, everyday, regular coffee, because she’s just like, a normal girl, you know? She and Pete make some flirty-flirty, and he reveals that he’s only a barista by day, but by night he’s an investigative reporter for the school paper, which is definitely not a thing. It’s not like campus papers have a Spotlight team, let’s be real. Slow your roll there, kiddo. He starts to warn her to stay away from Kappa Kappa Tau, but then it’s revealed by Chanel that he was like obsessed with her last year and she had to get a restraining order. Suspect!
Flash forward to that evening and the Chanels tell Chanel Prime that Ms. Bean has put up a murder collage of Chanel in her quarters featuring pictures of Chanel with the eyes crossed out and stuff like that. Real menacing. Chanel marches down to the kitchen with all the pledges in tow to teach them a lesson in demanding respect. Then, she goes to dunk Ms. Bean’s head in the fryer, which, SURPRISE!, is not off like it was supposed to be, so Ms. Bean’s face gets all extra crispy original recipe and then peels off. Gross. Then she is dead. R.I.P., Ms. Bean. I hope you’re enjoying that pumpkin spice latte in the sky.
The girls panic, obviously, but Chanel Prime realizes quickly that all the girls are now implicated, and if any of them try to snitch, the sisters will circle the wagons and pin the whole thing on the stool pigeon. Not exactly the finest logic, but sure. It’s enough to convince the new pledges to go along with this. They roll up the body and carry it down to a walk-in freezer.
Elsewhere on campus, the dean is schtupping Chad. Their post-coital mutual exposition reveals that Chad’s got some serious mommy issues (watch out later this season for Chad’s mother to be played by the incredible Julia Duffy, who crushed it as Patrick’s mom on Looking). We also learn that the dean is a former radical feminist who’s confronting what it means now that she’s become the symbol of authority. I don’t know, she gets to be boss, smoke joints and bang hot college dudes, so I think she’s got it pretty well figured out, no?
Having failed to get the girls to bring in the authorities, Grace turns to Pete, and the two agree to work together to bring down Kappa. Pete tells her he saw them move the body, and they should go check it out. Except, TWIST!, when they get there, the body is already gone. And right behind them are Chanel Prime and Chad, the latter of whom is all kinds of turned on by the idea of a dead body. Ew.
Chanel Prime is rightfully fully-freaked by all this and rallies the other Chanels together to take a blood oath to keep all this secret. It’s too much for #2, who decides she’s calling her mom and going home. As she packs, she gets a text message from an unknown number, and thus begins one of the best scenes of the whole evening.
The text asks if she’s brave enough to open the door, which she does, only to reveal a very brightly colored Red Devil. He comes in, asks her if she wants to “dance with the devil” (a phrase the last KKT pres used before that whole spray tan incident). Then he texts her that he’s going to kill her, to which she responds back via text “Wait whaaaaaaat?!?!?” Then he stabs her, but she manages to fight back long enough to fire off a tweet asking for help. The whole thing plays out without any shrieking or audibly calling for help; just texting and tweeting. You know, because millennials. It’s one of the night’s most inspired sequences, and, honestly, a mercifully short stay from Ariana Grande who, bless her heart, seemed dizzyingly in over her high-pony here, acting-wise. R.I.P., Chanel #2. I’ll miss your go-go boots the most!
The remaining Chanels (Chanel Prime, Chanels #3 and #5) get the new pledges ready for some good old-fashioned hazing, except Grace is NOT having it. So Chanel Prime offers to take her out for coffee, while her other minions have the rest of pledges buried in the lawn up to their chins. It’s all fun and games, until the Red Devil appears, revs up his ride-on mower and plows right over the deaf Taylor Swift fan’s head. Yikes. (Also, whew. That character was one-note and an unnecessarily cruel target, even for this show.) R.I.P., Tiffany (Whitney Meyer). I’m glad you’re not here long enough for the show to inflict further insult on the deaf community!
Well, the secret’s out now, so Wallace University’s campus is flooded with reporters and investigators. That means the pressure’s on to get rid of Chanel #2’s body. Luckily, Hester knows all kinds of ways to get rid of a body, because she is a complete weirdo. She helps the Chanels move the body to the freezer of no return, starts to call them all “mom” and mumbles a bunch of mumbo jumbo about souls trapped in the body.
Gigi has hired Denise Hemphill (Niece Nash) as a private security detail to keep watch on the house. Denise does not have a gun, but she does a walkie-talkie, if you need help. Sure this kind of private security is essentially useless against a crazed murderer, but, I must say, Denise is exceptionally competent at being useless. More Denise, please!
Grace’s dad is all up in arms about the beheading at his daughter’s campus, so he visits the dean. Munsch convinces him not to worry (all the while trying to seduce him), but he’s only satisfied after telling her that he is a professor (convenient!) and he would like a job on campus, so he could be closer to his daughter. Totally cool. Very normal thing that happens.
Pete and Grace have been keeping themselves pretty busy. They’ve figured out that they need to break into the dean’s office and into the creepy basement nook at the KKT house to look for more clues. Grace busts into the secret nook and finds all kinds of relics relating to the baby-mama death in 1995. There’s the bath tub and, what’s this? Oh, it’s the track listing to a playlist for the party? A PLAYLIST? Did I hear you say playlist? Playlist.
She’s surprised by Chanel Prime, who catches her in the act and adds a little more background about how the 1995 death of the new mother was covered up by Ms. Bean AND Munsch. Whoa.
Then, just in case you weren’t already thinking it, Grace wonders aloud to no one in particular whatever happened to the baby. She didn’t exactly immediately wink into the camera after that, but, you know, she might as well have.
Chanel is keeping herself occupied by bonking Chad, which is getting harder to focus on when he keeps saying weird things about choking her and having sex with corpses. She’s already too distraught and he’s not being supportive. So she breaks up with him and sends him home.
He returns to his room and climbs into his twin bed, beside his buddy Boone, who is lying awake in his own bed. Boone asks if he can climb into Chad’s bed with him, and Chad reminds him that last time he asked to climb into bed with him, Boone tried to touch his wiener. That’s right, Boone’s a gay. And thus, the Nick Jonas Gaybaiting Express continues to chug along. (Not that we are complaining. At all.) Boone swears he’s not going to try to touch him again, and Chad agrees to let him in the bed. Excuse me while I just take a minute to fan myself for a moment.
This is of course when Chanel comes back around to take Chad back, only to find him in bed with Boone and Boone sporting a huge “broner.” Chad tries to explain, claiming “Everyone loves me — men, women, animals at the zoo, plants probably.” Then she tries to make up, and he breaks up with her.
Across campus, Pete has a little success in the dean’s office, finding a file folder with a list of names, before getting bopped on the head by the Red Devil. He wakes up the next morning hung up outside with a sign taped to him that says “MYOB” which is apparently short for “Mind Your Own Business,” because millennials.
He and Grace rendezvous back in his room, where she finds the Red Devil costume in his closet. He tries to explain that it’s the school mascot costume, which is a weird detail to just now reveal in the episode, but, sure, whatever. Then she grills him about when he was born, which, surprise!, aligns with exactly how old the baby born at that 1995 KKT party would be today. Then he says “I thought you were the one person in this school who thought I was a good guy,” which is exactly the kind of RED FLAG good guys don’t ever need to say. Grace has had enough, so she bolts.
The Chanels are all drinking their pumpkin spice lattes, when Boone approaches. He tells Chanel Prime that he wants to come out on his own terms, and he wants to be the first gay guy to pledge Kappa Kappa Tau. They DO have to take everyone now, remember? Chanel Prime thinks this is a great way to boost her cred with the all the gays that will serve her throughout her career, but Chanel #5 is not having it. She’s aggressively against the idea, almost to like Kim Davis-level. It’s like, alright already, just do your job, amiright? #topical
Later that night, Denise is posted outside, and she’s visited by her friend Shondell, who snuck away from her post at the Best Buy parking lot. As she describes in hands-down the best line of the night: “Not one bad thing has ever happened in a Best Buy parking lot.”
Inside, the girls are watching a mysterious car parked outside, which Grace reveals is her nosy dad being overprotective. Gigi volunteers to go out and talk to him, only to realize that he’s playing a series of songs that are all-male power ballads from 1995. Almost like a curated list of songs that he’s playing. Like some kind of play-list. PLAYLIST.
The two get flirty-flirty, and it actually makes a lot of sense for them to hook up, because she loves cheesy, ’90s-style alt rock and he’s got a whole Rufus from Gossip Girl thing going on. They drive off together to probably makeout and listen to Eve 6, or whatever.
The girls inside get a scare when Chanel Prime comes running down shrieking that she was attacked by the Red Devil upstairs, but managed to escape. Denise runs in to see what the commotion is all about, but once the girls decide they should go back upstairs to catch the killer, Denise drops some common sense on them like “No way, that is crazy. You dumb girls are so stupid.” All of which is true. She offers to stay downstairs while the girls go upstairs to find a message scrawled on the walls that just says “SLUTS WILL DIE.”
Denise goes back to meet Shondell in the car, only to find her stabbed through the neck. Screaming and panicking, Denise tosses Shondell’s lifeless body out of the car and speeds off.
Now, bless you, Ryan Murphy, for making the next stop on the Nick Jonas Gaybaiting Express an extended shirtless workout montage. Thank you, thank you, thank you. After a few gratuitous shots of Boone pumping iron, he’s confronted by the Red Devil, which he faces with a fair amount of nonchalance.
Flash to a splayed out Boone in his briefs, surrounded by candles with his throat slit. R.I.P., Boone. Thanks for giving me so many reasons to keep this episode forever on my DVR for easy access!
Wait just a minute, though. Because we go to the morgue to see the Red Devil remove Boone’s body from a drawer, only to have Boone end up being very much alive and wearing only a fake gash across his throat.
As Chanel #2 (R.I.P.) might say: Wait, whaaaaaaat?!?!?
I know applying logic to a Ryan Murphy show is a sure way to drive myself completely insane, but I’m particularly dumbstruck by how this last twist could conceivably be carried out in reality. If Boone was faking it, how did he get to the morgue? He fooled not only the frat bros that found him, but, presumably, cops, a medical examiner, and a coroner who all couldn’t tell he wasn’t actually dead? Seems like a mighty big leap of logic.
OK, fine, sure, whatever, but what do you guys make of the rest of the bunch? Who’s behind that mask? If I had to make guesses now, I’d say that Gigi is the friend from the 1995 party who stayed with the new mom and the baby, and clearly Grace’s dad was there, because PLAYLISTS. I’m not sure I buy Pete as the baby or the killer, because it just seems too early and too obvious.
What do you guys think? Did you enjoy the premiere? Who do you think is terrorizing Kappa Kappa Tau?