‘Scream Queens’ Recap: Episode One
The two-hour Scream Queens premiere was a fast-paced bloodbath, with a script densely-packed with pop culture references (a joke about the Serial podcast, and the fact that teens call female celebrities “mom” online) and an airtight cast. Seriously, everyone is so good — but the pilot standouts, for me, were Lea Michele and Nick Jonas, who both stole the show with limited screen time. It also had a great soundtrack — I listed all of the songs at the bottom, so let me know if I missed any in the comments. My list of suspects is at the end, too.
Let’s dive into some fun, TV-14-rated horror-comedy! SPOILER WARNING: Scream Queens plot details ahead.
The show opens with a flashback to 1995. A girl with blood all over her hands staggers through a party, and she takes her sorority sisters upstairs, where a girl in a pretty yellow dress has given birth in the tub. It’s an awkward party foul, and the girl is all, “Sorreeeee!” but her sisters don’t have time for this bathtub baby. The sisters leave her to go dance to TLC’s “Waterfalls,” because it’s the ’90s, remember? Also because they are terrible friends. When they come back upstairs, the girl has bled to death, and her stricken friend is holding the newborn. The tone, as director Ryan Murphy has said he’s aiming for, is very Heathers-style black comedy. And BOOM, there’s our origin story — onto the present day…
It’s 2015. Meet Chanel Oberlin: She’s horrible! Emma Roberts plays a mean girl with a sharp but cruel sense of humor — basically her character in AHS: Coven, but with more power suits. She and her friends, which she addresses as fellow Chanels, all wear Chanel suits. Is that how it’s poppin’ off on campus these days? Popular girls dress like elderly ladies who lunch? Okay. Anyway, we get to hear Ariana Grande, aka Chanel No. 2, say “I have a colonic at 10.”
Chanel goes to meet with Dean Munsch. She’s played by Jamie Lee Curtis, who is horror royalty and the absolute best. This scene establishes both characters as the potential Red Devil: The Dean was recently promoted under suspicious circumstances (!), and she explains that one of the many reasons she hates sororities is how Chanel maybe tried to kill someone last year(!). We get a flashback in which former queen bee Melanie Dorkess humiliates Chanel, then gets spray-tanned with hydrochloric acid minutes later. The dean is like “Sooo, since you definitely did that, meet your new advisor.”
Gigi is played by the hilarious Nasim Pedrad, and she evidently has the same accident-induced amnesia that Andy Richter’s character on 30 Rock did, where she’s mentally frozen in another time period forever. It’s why she’s dressed in acid-washed denim, and says things like “I’m bursting like a piece of Freshen-Up!” THEORY ALERT: Is she the brunette girl in the flashback who’s found holding the newborn?
Next we meet Grace, our Final Girl — or who we’re supposed to think is the final girl, anyway. Kate Hudson’s brother Oliver is driving his TV daughter to college, and I’ll say it: He’s a DILF! Like any good horror heroine, Grace has a dead mother who she remembers with a meaningful object: Her Kappa Kappa Tau pin. Her roommate is Zayday (Keke Palmer) and they become fast friends who bond over their out-of-the-picture moms. Grace convinces Zayday to pledge Kappa with her.
We see the impossibly-shiny red devil through the trees, so we can rule Grace out (FOR NOW), but he vanishes as three girls in ghostly dresses walk by. The Kappa Tau sisters prepare to meet all the randos they’re being forced to pledge by the Dean and Gigi. They’re disposable caricatures, mostly: “Neckbrace,” “Predatory Lez,” and “Deaf Taylor Swift.” Did I mention this show has an uh, acerbic wit?
Chanel’s boyfriend Chad is an abusive golfer (played by the very funny Glen Powell) and Nick Jonas is a DELIGHT as Boone, his second banana who’s definitely in love with him. Chad dumps Chanel because her popularity is slipping: “I can’t date a garbage person. I won’t.” This is the best scene in the show so far, comic timing-wise.
Chanel and housekeeper Ms. Bean go to get coffee, where we meet barista Pete (Diego Boneta) who hates Chanel’s rude, racist guts. Then he meets Grace, who is a(n almost unrealistically flawless) treasure, and they flirt. She’s like “I want to be in Kappa!” and he’s like “Do NOT do that, I’m warning you!” Red (Devil) flag!
Later that night, the Chanels show Chanel an evil Chanel-shrine that Ms. Bean allegedly made (she likely didn’t). Chanel proceeds to shove Ms. Bean’s face into a deep fat fryer, which Chanel thought was off — but it wasn’t, and now Ms. Bean is refried. All of the pledges see what happens, but Chanel’s like “NO COPS, you guys, hahaha!” and everyone is weirdly fine with this. They hid the body.
Jamie Lee Curtis is smoking a doob while she talks about marching with Gloria Steinem in the 60s (again: the best). The camera pans over, and we see Chanel’s ex Chad! She’s blackmailing him or something, but he says he’s in love with her. He leaves, and then she weirdly talks to herself in the mirror. Another red (devil) flag.
Pete is an investigative reporter for the paper, so Grace tells him about Ms. Bean’s murder (already? They just met). She says she’s sticking with the sorority despite the whole “accessory to murder” thing, to restore it to the way it was when her mom was a sorority sister. They and Chanel and Chad all discover that the housekeeper’s body is gone. Freaky Chad is disappointed.
Next, the Chanels wear red hooded robes as they burn candles for a blood oath, like ya do. It’s so AHS: Coven.After a back and forth about blood oath-transferred STDs, Ariana Chanel #2 storms off. UH OH.
Look: I, like many others, am sad that Ariana only made it to minute 46. But her death scene is one of the best moments of the episode, and funnier than every Scary Movie put together. The red devil stabs Chanel #2, after a hilarious text back and forth: “I’m going to kill you now.” “Whaaaat?” She could have run away, but she stays to live-tweet, so she can’t see him come up behind her to re-stab. As Millennial-skewering satire goes, it’s exceptional. RIP, Ari.
Chanel’s like “Seriously, no cops, guys,” AGAIN. Grace and Zayday aren’t feeling the secretive, murder-y vibe in the house at all, and they want changes. Chanel tries to neutralize the situation with Grace over pumpkin spice lattes. It goes south quickly.
Next, some sorority sisters are stuck in the ground, with only their chop-offable heads sticking out of the lawn. All of the girls start screaming when they hear the mower — except for Deaf Taylor Swift, who makes a bunch of unfunny “I’m deaf!” jokes until her noggin gets stone-cold lopped off. Body count: 3 so far.
Hour two! The police and the media are at the crime scene, and the Dean’s in full badass mode. “As far as I’m concerned, all of you are suspects.” Same. The cop, the Dean and Gigi convince the sisters to stay in the house, because plot device. Gigi: “We can make it fun! Like a Friends episode, Except you know, someone’s trying to murder all the friends.”
The Chanels argue over what to do with Chanel #2’s body, but they can’t figure out. Good thing Lea’s character is a FULL-ON MORBID WEIRDO who knows way too much about disposing bodies. Even Dexter is out there watching and thinking, “this girl is intense.” The girls look on with horror as Neckbrace takes things from forensic to supernatural: “If we touch her she’ll haunt our dreams.” Bravo, Ms. Lea Michele.
The house gets a security guard (with no gun). She is useless, but hilarious. Grace makes out with Pete.
Meanwhile, Grace’s dad is on campus, talking to the Dean. He has some concerns about campus safety, given the murder at the house where his daughter hangs out, but the Dean’s like “nah.” Her insistence is suspicious, as is the fact that she says “IF there was a killer, your daughter wouldn’t be at risk.” Then she makes a pass at him, because she is a true champion. He’s a professor, conveniently, so he demands a job.
Now Grace is at the Kappa House, rifling through the creepiest basement ever. She finds all of the accouterments from the 1995 murder: The bathtub, the yellow dress, a CD with “Waterfalls” on it. Chanel appears, and fills Grace in on the events of 20 years ago, telling her Dean Munsch allegedly covered it up (with help from Ms. Bean!). We’re supposed to gather that the dead sorority sister is Grace’s mom, right?
Chanel dumps Chad, who is sort of her ex already, but he still doesn’t like it. He goes back to his extremely-plaid bedroom, where roommie Boone is waiting to comfort him with a snuggle. Chanel catches them, and then she and Chad dump each other roughly 50 more times…this scene seems to be just to show that Boone is gay. Sure!
Pete’s breaking into the Dean’s office, like a totally normal undergraduate journalist. He IMMEDIATELY finds a file titled “Campus House Party 95’ but the Red Devil knocks him out, hanging him outside with a sign that says “MYOB” (mind your own business). When Grace is in his room afterward, she finds the red devil costume in his closet. He says it’s a mascot outfit, but then gives a VERY shady look when she storms off.
Boone finds the Chanels at the coffee shop and says he’s officially coming out as gay to get in front of the issue, and they have to accept him as a sorority sister now (?). Chanel sees this as a good PR move, but Chanel #5 can’t move past her homophobia. Shut it, Chanel #5.
Gigi climbs into Grace’s dad’s van and they bond over 1995 power ballads (SUSPICIOUS) before driving off to get coffee. Dean Munsch lurks like a sketchball, watching them leave.
Chanel screams upstairs at the Kappa Tau house, claiming the Red Devil was in her room but she fought him off. Chanel #5 suggests they charge upstairs to get him, and the guard yells at the girls for doing the horror movie thing, running toward the killer instead of in the opposite direction like a normal person. They go anyway, and find “SLUTS WILL DIE” scrawled in blood.
As the scream queens be screamin’, the security guard finds that the other security guard’s been stabbed. Meanwhile, Boone’s lifiting weights, looking buff — go ‘head, Nick Jonas. He’s alone in the dark, so clearly he’s about to get murdered. The red devil rolls up, and Boone says “Am I supposed to be scared?” Minutes later, a bunch of preppies find him carved up on a dining table.
The sisters fight over some dinner, and Zayday brings up Chanel’s “maiming Melanie with spray-tan acid” incident. How many people know? The security guard and Chad burst in to inform them of the two latest murders…but then we see the red devil find Boone at the morgue, and Boone opens his eyes. Oh, thank god. See you next week!
Bat For Lashes, “What’s A Girl To Do?”
Glass Candy, “Warm In the Winter”
Christina Perri – A Thousand Years
Frida, “I Know There’s Something Going On”
T’Pau, Heart and Soul (cover)
Thompson Twins, “Hold Me Now” (cover by Eden XO)
Thompson Twins, “If You Were Here”
Pointer Sisters, “Automatic”
Bryan Adams, “Ever Really Loved a Woman”
Bon Jovi, “Always”
Corey Hart, “Sunglasses At Night”
Order of Suspicion, From Highest to Lowest:
The last two entries — Chanel and “Dexter” Hester — are just too obvious.
- Melanie Dorkess
- Grace’s dad, Wes
- Dean Munsch
- Chanel #5
Stars’ Halloween Costumes