We’re just a week away from Scream Queens’ bloody finish, in which most of the cast will be “murdered to death” (bless your dumb, WASPy heart, Chad Radwell) and two poor suckers will live to see another slasher parody.
“Black Friday” has all the signs of being the penultimate installment in a series as haphazardly constructed, and as brazenly DGAF about it, as this one. It’s stuffed to the brim with nonsensical, last-minute plots, rendering it as overcrowded and full of false urgency as the “holiday” that gives the episode its name. But not only is Scream Queens’ signature sloppiness more tolerable than usual because there’s an end in sight: it also begins the way, in retrospect, every single episode should have—with a Chanel Oberlin monologue on the twisted reason she loves a certain day of the year.
“Chanel-o’-Ween” remains unchallenged as the finest two minutes this show has yet to produce, but “Black Friday” comes close by giving Chanel a worthy object of derision. She sees the annual bloodsport for the farce that it is, yet she can’t help herself from wanting to do it better than those who actually need those extreme discounts on midrange electronics. The sight of her buying intentionally crappy gifts, all the better to undermine and manipulate her friends with, in front of a screaming horde elicits exactly the reaction Scream Queens is looking for, but rarely achieves: equal parts bitchy solidarity and horrified awe.
Back in real time, the arrival of Gigi’s roasted head won’t deter the Chanels from their customary trip to the mall. I love that the logic of this show is established enough for Dean Munsch’s point (you can’t just walk away from the scene of a grisly murder!) and the Chanels’ (the cops are just gonna do what they did the last six times this happened!) make equal amounts of sense. Off to the mall they go, until Chanel’s Christmas epiphany—which somehow passes for a genuine parody of holiday episode clichés and not yet another contrived plot point—is interrupted by the last standing Red Devil and her badass crossbow.
That’s when Denise Hemphill makes her return as the town’s new chief of police! The mayor, understandably, has fired the entire homicide division of the local police department, freeing at least one cop to realize his dream of an interior design business. Less understandably, the mayor has also put Denise in charge, which is tragic because she’s incompetent and doesn’t know how to handle a gun, but mostly because we only got to see Niecy Nash in full-on sorority gear for an episode or two. “Why didn’t I shoot him when I had the chance?! I was just talking so much!” makes a solid case for having Denise back on the law enforcement side of things, though.
Here, unfortunately, things start tipping over from the delightfully absurd into contrived chaos. Three subplots come out of nowhere and mostly just kill time until the episode’s final half-reveal—well, four, if you count Grace suddenly and inexplicably losing her hats. Grace and Chanel decide their only option is to murder Dean Munsch; Pete goes on a bizarre journey of self-discovery prompted by Chad’s offer to join his frat; and Grace becomes preoccupied with whether she should get it on with Pete, which she seemed pretty content not doing until…literally right now.
The Munsch stuff rings particularly false, both because it’s an obvious dead end—if Grace knows that the Red Devil killers are her dad’s kids, shouldn’t she also know Munsch is several decades too old to qualify as a suspect?—and because the humor meant to compensate for said dead end doesn’t land. There are so many ways one could parody feminism among white, female college students these days, not that I trust Ryan Murphy to pull any of them off; acting like the generation that produced Emma Sulkowicz just cares about the wage gap, and only after they leave campus, reads like the writers are making shit up based on a half decade-old stereotype. Which, of course, they are.
This is both cranky of me and probably unfair to criticize in a show that thought the “let’s kill Munsch” tangent was a good idea in the first place. But compare Chanel and Grace’s half-baked definition of “millennial feminism” to Pete’s dead-on diagnosis of everything that’s actually wrong with the Greek system: “Guys join fraternities to get some structure in their lives. Problem is, that structure is antiquated. It’s misogynistic, and hierarchical, and dangerous.” Reader, my jaw dropped.
Scream Queens works best when it picks worthy targets, which is why Chanel is, against all odds, a strangely compelling antihero and Chad is, against all odds, her perfect counterpart. And the contrast between his prickish prepster (“How many John Mayer albums do you own?!”) and Pete’s nice-guy complex plays perfectly—or at least it does until Pete has a sudden change of heart and decides he doesn’t want to sleep with Grace.
About that final reveal: Pete’s a killer, though he can’t be the killer, right? He’s been creepy since day one, but at least one of the Red Devils is a girl—unless Scream Queens is about to pull a supremely ill-advised Pretty Little Liars—and a deliberately-pursuing-his-own-sibling would be too gross for Network Television Ryan Murphy. (Cable Ryan Murphy is a whole other ball game.) The confession, and the role reversals about who’s pressuring who into sex, weren’t just contrived—they were too contrived to be the final twist of the season, especially since we’ve got one more week to go. My money’s on Chanel #5.