‘Scream Queens’ Season 1 Episode 3 Recap: “Chainsaw”

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Scream Queen’s second—well, technically third—outing is dedicated to two things: paying relentless, and increasingly meta, homage to a certain kind of slasher movie, and upping the number of suspects to “pretty much everyone in the cast.” But first, our one-liners of the week!

  • “Find that tortured gay kid in your life. Hold them close to you tonight.”
  • “Your boobs are symmetrical and you shave your box in a hot way.”

And most importantly:

  • “You violated my closet vag!”

True to its title, “Chainsaw” was all about the Red Devil’s murder weapon of choice. From the screening of Texas Chainsaw Massacre Grace’s dad inadvisably (and suspiciously!) holds for his intro film class to the weapon ZayDay’s grandma has her keep under her bed for protection, Wallace University is oddly coordinated in its sudden craze for highly impractical weapons—though that’s probably just a side effect of existing in the Ryan Murphy Cinematic Universe, where shock value comes first and coherence comes second.

For now, those priorities are still working entirely in Scream Queens’ favor. “Chainsaw” mostly advances the plot by revealing more and more skeletons in characters’ closets: Chanel #2, whose body has gone missing, is still posting to Instagram (even though they’re not even cute!); Chad was sleeping with her, along with the rest of Chanel’s minions (even though Chanel #5 “wasn’t that into it”); Chanel #3 is the secret love child of Charles Manson (even though she seems more ashamed of being a B-list Swanson’s heiress). In other words, “Chainsaw” mostly functions to stretch Scream Queens into a show that can plausibly last most of a network season instead of flaming out after the premiere.

But while “Chainsaw” achieves its practical purpose well enough, it’s at its best when simply letting its characters be their psychotic selves. Probably the biggest beneficiary of this is Niecy Nash’s third-person loving Denise Henfield, who’s fast developing from a cringeworthy sass generator into an outsider who’s somehow both incompetent and the series’ resident voice of reason. The idea of someone who’s savvy enough to point out “the bitch done tweeted” about her own murder to her dense sorority sisters but dumb enough to think a Shonda Rhimes tweet counts as evidence is a great one—and who knows? She might be on to something with ZayDay.

Scream Queens’ unlikely masterpiece, however, might just be Chad Radwell. There’s a lot to be said about the ick factor of three dudes writing such a vicious parody of an all-female space, but I’m starting to think the true butt of Ryan Murphy’s joke might be the fraternity house. Not only is Chad’s gang called the “Dinky Dollar Scholars”—at least Kappa Kappa Tau sounds realistic—he’s the kind of guy who unironically references “porkin'” in a love letter and “ghetto code” in a motivational speech. Murphy may skewer bratty white women in a way that sometimes verges on misogyny, but the gloves really come off when he’s writing for entitled white men.

Witness the episode’s greatest sequence, in which a rich, mostly white golf fraternity stages a full-blown riot. The brothers ultimately succeed in their goal of yelling at the Red Devil until he comes out, a strategy that costs one of their own his arms. But before they do, the DDS needlessly take out their aggression on a parked car. Murphy and his co-writers didn’t invent the satirical tactic of pointing out “white lawlessness,” but they bring it to life—and spoof the destructive masculinity of frat culture—in thrilling fashion.

The sawed-off-arms guy presumably makes up half of this episode’s relatively low body count. He’s joined by poor, faceless Aaron Cohen, who flew his ice cream costume to close to the sun and, predictably, melted. After ditching his plans for dental school to go along with Dean Munsch’s emergency PR strategy (the Red Devil is inspiring panic and genital tasings, so she switches him out for a knockoff Mr. Softee), Cohen inexplicably provokes the killer into sawing him in half. RIP, Aaron. You died as you lived: in the dumb suit you used as a chance to grope unsuspecting coeds.

This is Scream Queens, so there’s still plenty of action we haven’t gotten to yet. Chanel #3 is jumping ship! Lea Michele is now Chanel #6! Dean Munsch sets her white noise machine to “slasher movie”! We’ll skip all that, except to note our approval for Dean Munsch’s “19th century homesteader” aesthetic. Instead, we’ll skip to the final scene, where the killer goes after a sleeping Gigi on the Kappa house couch. She’s saved by Grace’s helicopter dad, who promptly accuses Dean Munsch of being the Red Devil—or one of them, at least.

Until next week, when Lea Michele passes out from the pain of living without her scoliosis brace and Grace tries to find out what the hell is up with that baby!