[This is a review of Scream Queens season 1, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
After three weeks and four episodes, it's pretty clear what narrative formula FOX's Scream Queens will follow each week. First, the episode will feed us a few new clues to the identity of the killer(s); then, in delving into a character's backstory, present possible motives for new suspects; and kill off a character (or two) along the way with plenty of dark humor mixed in. While every episode will certainly strive to throw in some surprises, laughs and fun scares, we can count on each one to follow the same beats as the season drums along.
However, when it comes to a show as unabashedly campy as Scream Queens, being formulaic isn't a bad thing, especially when its ingredients are so damn tasty. In that way, an episode of Scream Queens is like great comfort food; we can't help but indulge, even though it's cooked up the same way every time. And fortunately, 'Haunted House' features the same killer recipe, replete with some intriguing reveals for audiences to sink their teeth into.
Perhaps the biggest of those reveals appropriately comes at the very end of the episode, as we learn that the seemingly normal and mild-mannered Gigi (Nasim Pedrad) is the "Hag of Shady Lane" from the sorority's urban legend, the mysterious figure who raised the orphaned baby from the Kappa Kappa Tau tub. If this isn't a misdirect, Gigi would certainly have reason to strike back against the sorority that covered up her baby birth mama's death, but the fact that she was attacked by the Red Devil killer last week gives her the most reliable of alibis. For a show that prides itself on being shamelessly silly, developments such as this only increase the complexity of its central murder mystery storyline, making the series that much more compelling each week.
The plot certainly thickened with that final image of Gigi, but that wasn't the only investigative twist in this hour. Contrary to what amateur sleuths Grace (Skyler Samuels) and Pete (Diego Boneta) previously suspected, it turns out the baby's gender is female -- according to witness Mandy (Jennifer Aspen), at least -- meaning that Chad (Glen Powell) can't be the "tub baby." Of course, this revelation has Grace grow concerned that it might be her, and if that were true, her father Wes (Oliver Hudson) would definitely have a bone to pick with the Kappas. During a confrontation Grace has with Wes in his class, it certainly seems like he's hiding something.
And apart from the sharp, snarky dialogue, creative kills and stylistic sequences -- like the Chanel-o-ween cold open -- playing this who-dunnit guessing game is the real fun of the series. Of course, no one revels in this game more than security guard Denise (Niecy Nash), but after her prime suspect Zayday (Keke Palmer) did some admittedly "good sleuthin'" of her own, it's revealed that even Denise has motive for the recent killings, as a former Kappa pledge who is now disgruntled after being unjustly shut out from the sorority years earlier.
While it's fun to speculate and play detective as a viewer, the best part about the show's revolving door of suspects is that every character is utilized to great effect. Even though many of them will ultimately be red herrings at the end of the season, the series has done a terrific job at giving everyone a real role to play. In this episode, some of the character highlights included seeing the rivalry between Zayday and Chanel (Emma Roberts) intensify and the hilariously strange connection form between Chad and Hester (Lea Michele), the latter of whom found they shared dark, necrophilic fantasies (and perhaps homicidal tendencies?). Meanwhile, we also learn a little more about Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) this week, as it's hinted at that she may be at the center of everything when a flashback reveals she's been orchestrating cover-ups as a campus administrator for at least the past 20 years.
But even if you don't find the central mystery compelling, interesting or fun, there's still enough to like about Scream Queens to get you through an hour -- whether it's the irreverent humor, the nods to classic slasher tropes or the show's fresh, pulpy style. Sure, Scream Queens may not be one of the finest hours on television right now, but it's easily one of the most entertaining. So, we'll be rooting for the series to keep bringing the same juicy horror/comedy camp while adding to the mystery each week.
Scream Queens season 1 continues next Tuesday with 'Pumpkin Patch' @9pm on FOX.
Photos: Skip Bolen/FOX