Scream Queens: “Mommie Dearest” Season 1 Episode 8 Review

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An uneven episode has some great moments, but the show still appears to be spinning its wheels.

The weird thing about Scream Queens, and other Ryan Murphy productions, to be honest, is that its parts can often be greater than its whole. This week’s episode featured some truly awesome interactions, some of the best Chanel Oberlin lines to date, and a very entertaining opener. Yet, when you stand back and look at the whole thing, you realize how little these pieces really fit together. Scream Queens isn’t a show that thrives on an overall cohesiveness, but at eight episodes in, its tonally indecisive nature has worn very thin.

The opening sequence actually serves as a microcosm of the series’ larger issues. Was it fun to watch Jamie Lee Curtis enact an homage to Psycho, only to flip the tables and unleash some badassery on her three assailants (two Red Devils and one Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia)? Sure. But when you look at the scene as a whole, there are several flaws that stand out.

The biggest of them is the supreme illogicality of Dean Munsch choosing not to unmask any of her attackers. At this point, there is literally no reason for her to not try and at least see who one of them is, and her random walks to other rooms of the house or her refusal to chase after each of them as they left just came across as obvious stalling. Even within the ludicrous world of Scream Queens, this made zero sense.

Then there’s the “speech” she gives Justice Scalia as she proceeds to knock him out. It has the same problems that the Chanels’ feminist cafeteria throwdown did in “Haunted House.” Great for Dean Munsch for giving Justice Scalia a piece of her mind. But also, why Dean Munsch? Are we suddenly supposed to sympathize with her character because she’s taking a stand on important socio-economic issues? Up until now, she’s been so incredibly self-serving that it makes these lines come off as a joke, which is unfortunate, because those issues are actually important. Murphy & Co. seem to be fans of out-of-character moments such as these, but on a series where everyone plays to the broadest version of themselves as possible, I don’t think they really have a place.

The truth is, if this series really wanted to pay homage to Psycho, it would’ve aired this scene—and possibly Jennifer the Candle Girl’s death—way sooner. The excitement of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous film lies in its first-act twist; the reveal that Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane isn’t actually a main character in the story (sorry if that was a spoiler…but also, not that sorry. That movie is 55 years old, you guys).

Scream Queens, on the other hand, has played it safe with its core cast for far too long. Was it any surprise that Jennifer was the one who was offed this week instead of any of the Chanels, Pete, Wes, Zayday, or Grace? I will miss Breezy Eslin’s droll delivery, but I once again find myself asking, where is the “scream” in Scream Queens? A little suspense never hurt anybody.

“Mommie Dearest” spends half of its time dwelling in exposition, and the other half moving the plot forward so drastically that it almost feels like the writers realized they only have four episodes left and they haven’t really told any of the story.

We learn that Grace’s mom isn’t the girl who died at the Kappa party in ’95—meaning Grace wasn’t the baby in the bathtub—but actually, she was the girl who wanted to continue partying after that girl had given birth because “Waterfalls is [her] jam.” So pretty much, her mom was the worst, and Wes is also the worst for falling for her.

Grace is actually very problematic in this episode, and not just because of her weird fetish for bad hats. The only times her character has truly been enjoyable is when she’s partnered with Zayday, and when she’s with Pete she’s the lesser of two duds. Alone, Grace is a bit of a nuisance, which really sucks because she’s the only person propelling the show’s “mystery” forward. All of the Kappa sisters work better when they get to play against each other—proof of which can be found in the absolutely hilarious scene in which Chanel asks her underlings for clues—so having one or two of them act as a lone wolf is a waste of time.

After Jennifer’s death, things kick into high gear with mixed results. Denise takes over as house mother for the Kappas and it is glorious. Dean Munsch closes down the school, and her “You’ve won” to the Red Devil is pretty impactful. Chanel digs up the aforementioned dirt on Grace’s mom, and admits to a “tough” upbringing herself in a scene that makes the most out of Emma Roberts’ flawlessly apathetic delivery (seriously, the fact that her siblings are named Harvard and Muffet is just…perfection).

But then, the final sequence takes a dump on all this fine work. Nick Jonas’ Boone finally returns with a Joaquin Phoenix sight gag that’s not as funny as the writer who came up with it thinks it is. In a quick phone call, he reveals that he was one of the Red Devils who attacked Munsch (not much of a surprise) and that Gigi was Justice Scalia (a little surprising that she’s actually a part of the killing, but again, not much of a stretch). So basically, two down, one to go. There are four episodes left. I get that this show needed to speed things  along a little, but now we have to wait four weeks for just the final third of a murder trio? Ugh.

There were actually a lot of moments I liked about this episode, but funny moments don’t make a TV series. With Jennifer out of the way, it seems like the show will finally close in on its remaining core cast. Or, you know, another random guest star could show up and take the entire plot on another pointless detour. Only time will tell. Grade: B-

 

Some Other Notes

  • There was an unfortunate lack of Chad Radwell this week, but I did appreciate the “Night of 1000 compliments” scene.
  • There was also a real shortage of Zayday, but Keke Palmer made the most of her brief time onscreen and was a total boss.
  • The best interaction from the clues scene is as follows:
    Chanel No. 5: “Zayday Williams is the killer. When you rearrange the letters of her name it spells out I MAY SLAY LIZ DA.”
    Chanel: “What?! Who is Liz Da?”
    Chanel No. 5: “I don’t know! But clearly Zayday is contemplating slaying her! If she’s the next victim, we need to find her and help her!”
    Chanel: “All of these clues are terrible!”
  • Right behind it is, “You know what they say, those who pill together, kill together.”
  • It actually kind of sucks that Grace isn’t the baby in the bathtub, because the discovery of two babies made me think of a Luke and Leia situation where Pete is the other baby and the two have to stop hanging out out of sheer awkwardness.
  • Dean Munsch after one of the Red Devils attempts to stab her in the shower: “I’ve seen that movie 50 times!”

 

By Mike Papirmeister

 

 

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