Welp, sorority mean girl Chanel Oberlin and I have at least one thing in common: Halloween is our favorite holiday.
Halloween episodes, on the other Snickers-smeared hand, have never sat well with me. While I so want to revel in their spooky whimsy, more often than not, these hours feel like an exercise in apathy, with writers leaning too heavily on kooky costumes and slasher-flick references instead of spinning a strong narrative incorporating the best aspects of All Hallow’s Eve. But judging from the first of three Halloween-centric episodes, Scream Queens is off to a fine start rehabbing the reputation of trick-or-treat-themed programming.
The episode opens with a lo-fi montage painting Chanel as a cunning, cat-less version of Taylor Swift. But instead of a glittery Swiftmas, the Kappa president embraces the spirit of Chanel-o-ween, doling out rotting jack-o’-lanterns, razor apples, and cadaver heads to her fawning Instagram followers. Add social media maven to the ol’ application for newscaster!
Meanwhile, Grace and Pete show up in costume (for no discernible reason) as Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, on the doorstep of former Kappa Mandy, who you’ll recall was witness to the Bathtub Incident. Mandy’s been itching to tell her story for the last 20 years. Over a plate of roadkill, she recalls the details: How Ms. Bean wanted to grind the body into sausage and serve it to the sorority sisters for lunch. How Dean Munsch insisted they would bury the body themselves. How the girls rode in the backseat of the dean’s car, to an undisclosed location where they buried the body, dropping out of school the very next day. But here’s what you really need to hear from the mouth of Mandy: The baby was a girl. As in, Chad would have no reason to seek revenge as the Red Devil. (Though he could just be murdering for funsies…)
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Grace later confronts her dad with this revelation. “I don’t understand what you’re getting at,” he says, confused. “Are you on bath salts?” (For a professor, Wes is not the sharpest pencil in the drawer…) But he ultimately debunks Grace’s theory that she could be the Bathtub Baby. I’m not so sure I’m convinced, though.
Back at Kappa, Zayday drops some knowledge of her own: She’s going to run against Chanel for chapter president. And as part of her campaign (inspired by too-cute Dollar Scholar Earl Grey), she’s hosting a haunted house to benefit sickle-cell anemia. Chanel is, unsurprisingly, furious. Cut to 3 a.m., and she’s wide awake, engaging in some mild knife-play in her closet. (I mean, who among us hasn’t, on occasion, eschewed sheep-counting in favor of cutlery-sharpening?) Anyway, No. 3 and No. 5 appear at her side and convince Chanel that she should throw a benefit of her own. A Haunted Pumpkin Patch! (Totally different.) And it will benefit…Black Hairy Tongue. Woof.
NEXT PAGE: Body snatchers (and returners)[pagebreak]
Now, you may be asking, but what is the Dollar Scholars’ death-defying president, Chad, up to? Well, we find him walking among tombstones, succumbing to his earlier-established erotic fixation with dead bodies. He’s unzipping his pants over poor Dorothy’s grave when he’s interrupted by…Hester. Who totally gets it. “I also find the idea of dead bodies extremely arousing,” she coos. “I want everything Chanel has…including you.” She even hints that their might be back-door action in the deal. But he has to wait for a text message detailing the address of a very scary rendezvous point, because a graveyard just isn’t spooky enough to get Hester off.
Pete and Grace reconvene at what appears to be just such an address: 53 Shady Lane, an abandoned house Zayday and Earl Grey happen to be scouting for Zayday’s charity event. And, wait! Denise Hemphill shows up too. She and Pete begin to deliver (in unison) the library-researched legend of the abode. Basically, a woman (a real hag, apparently) used to be heard wailing and moaning about dead children from inside the home. She also collected toys from around the neighborhood, stockpiling them in an upstairs room. And this all happened in, you guessed it, 1995.
Another interesting bit of history? Denise Hemphill was once a Kappa pledge. That’s right, in 1988, but she was rejected by the racist sisters, and she dropped out of college soon after. Is her jealousy over this current black pledge enough to provoke Denise to “kill, kill, kill,” in Zayday’s words? It’s an interesting theory…
But back to the creepiest couple this side of Norman Bates and his mother. Chad and Hester both receive mysterious text messages telling them to meet at 53 Shady Lane for their clandestine bit of coitus. But it becomes apparent that the two are only down with necrophilia in theory, not practice, as they stumble from room to room finding the campus’ deceased and are rightfully freaked out. There’s Ms. Bean (don’t stick your finger in her leg!). And Shondell. And Coney. And Chanel No. 2. And poor Mandy. Chad and Hester flee to the coffee shop where they warn everyone, but their pleas only incite the caffeine-chuggers to run toward the haunted house. And it’s there that Zayday is kidnapped by the Red Devil.
Grace can’t seem to rally a proper search party for Zayday, but she does manage to find out more information about 53 Shady Lane. Namely, that the odd noises began coming from the house in November 1995, one month after the Bathtub Baby was born and around the time diapers and milk were reported stolen by a black-shrouded hag. Who is this mysterious figure? If a cut to Gigi rocking back and forth in 53 Shady Lane, surrounded by stolen porcelain dolls is any indication, well, it’s Gigi.
Now, I can’t conclude my recap of “Haunted House” without dedicating a small amount of digital ink to that ball-busting cafeteria scene. Which, as a standalone piece, is a thrilling bit of wish-fulfillment. (How many times have you wanted to body-check a guy who cat-called you or told you to smile?) But in the greater context of Scream Queens it felt slightly off-brand. After all, this is a show in which Chanel calls her pledges “idiot hookers” and gives credence to the misogynistic musings of a douchebag frat bro. Perhaps I’m not giving credit where credit is due: I did relish in the themes of the scene, but it just felt like an attempt at a feminist-leaning message with no real spine to support it. What do you think?
Prime Suspects: Though we haven’t seen him for a couple of weeks, I’m keeping Boone at the top of my Most Wanted List. And you know what? I’m going to keep Wes slotted in that No. 2 spot I gave him last week. None of the evidence presented during “Haunted House” made a strong enough case to throw off my suspicions. But I would like to offer up a new (harebrained) theory. What if Gigi is a ghost? The ghost of the sorority sister who died in the bathtub? Just think about it.