‘Scream Queens’ Season 1 Episode 4 Recap: “Haunted House”

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“Haunted House” imposes some order on the utter chaos that is Scream Queens—which might be a good thing, considering it’s burnt through one of the show’s biggest fan theories by the time the episode’s over.

Where last week’s chainsaw motif felt random and a little forced, “Haunted House” reveals that every episode will have some kind of horror trope grafted onto it. Think of it as an accelerated, week-to-week version of American Horror Story.

But before we get into the house on Shady Lane, here are this week’s one-liners!

  • “ZayDay’s gonna win because we live in the age of Obama?!?!”
  • “Cause of death: stabbed a whole lot in all of her.”

And most importantly:

  • “Do you think you’re man enough to take me inside that house and attack my crack?”

I suppose, however, one really ought to start with Chanel-O-Ween. This is where Scream Queens shows its hand: what does a beat-for-beat parody of Taylor Swift’s manic, condescending Christmas video have to do with campus ax murderers? Nothing! What connection does Chanel-O-Ween have with the rest of the plot? Nothing! Chanel-O-Ween is a self-contained master class in malice that Murphy and Friends don’t even attempt to integrate into the rest of the show, or pretend they did it for any other reason than skewering yet another clueless white girl And it’s perfect.

Then the real action starts. Halloween may be Chanel’s “jam,” but ZayDayn decides it’s the perfect opportunity to launch her campaign for First Black Kappa House President. Armed with an endorsement from The Only Non-White Dollar Scholar, a pumpkin carved with Yes I Can, and that chainsaw her grandma (supposedly) sent her, ZayDay sets about planning. She’s even found the perfect venue: a house with a creepy backstory featuring a woman with a “generally haggy nature” and her missing children.

Speaking of missing children! Grace and Pete travel to a mobile home in the woods sporting their How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days best to find out what’s up with that baby in the bathtub. The whole trip is starting to look like an excuse to bust out Diego Bonet’s McConaughey impression and a few zingers from ’90s Jamie Lee Curtis when former Kappie Maggie reveals that the baby was a girl. Ergo Chad Radwell is just another frat bro with a thing for necrophilia, not a murderer.

Grace immediately proves herself to be smarter than any slasher heroine has a right to be and immediately jumps to what I thought would be the conclusion of the season: she’s the baby, and her dad is the killer set on avenging her mom. Doesn’t help Dear Ol’ Dad’s case that she finds him lecturing about the sins of our youth coming back to violently murder us, because Grace doesn’t know we’re only four episodes in and this can’t possibly be over yet.

The final ingredient in the recipe for disaster that is ZayDay’s haunted house party—Denise may be kinda off-base with her ZayDay theory, but she’s right that a Halloween party during an unsolved murder spree is basically a buffet—is the budding romance between pervert Chad and psycho Hester. Lea Michele is letting her crazy out in increments, but while “Haunted House” reveals she’s even nuttier than Chad, or just pretending to be due to her Chanel obsession, neither are actually up to the sight of a half dozen dead bodies. The discovery of which only makes the Wallace community more interested in ZayDay’s party, not less.

This all culminates in ZayDay’s mid-party kidnapping, Grace and Pete’s discovery that the Hag of Shady Lane is real, and the closing-shot revelation that the Hag is really Gigi. Guess we found the part of her psyche that’s still trapped in the ’90s! This doesn’t get us much further towards solving the case, both because the cops are more interested in partying at the Shady Lane house than investigating it and because we, as viewers, don’t quite know what’s up with Gigi yet. Is she a split personality? Is she one of the killers? How the hell did she raise a child in that house who didn’t end up all Grey Gardens-y and could enter college undetected?

So instead, I’ll leave you with the memory of that girl-power cafeteria scene, in which the Chanels feast on cotton balls and kick a cat-caller in the nuts. It’s a misfire, but a fascinating one that crystallizes the problems with a series that’s “feminist” yet written entirely by men—and more importantly, that’s interested in mocking femininity instead of exploring it. That mostly works when your main character is as delightfully awful as Chanel (see: Chanel-O-Ween)…until you trot out lines like “I took a single women’s studies class because I had to, but I really learned something from it!” Scream Queens is a balancing act with risks and rewards, and this scene felt like a stumble. The nut-kicking was nice, though.