A young, headstrong girl starts at a new school in hopes of finding out what really happened to her dead parent. Upon arrival, she makes a nemesis of the campus queen who may or may not have something to do with it. However, the deeper the girl gets into the mystery, the more complicated, personal, and messy it becomes.
Does this summary describe Kill la Kill or Scream Queens?
Scream Queens is one of the few television shows I’ve kept up with this season. It hooked me from the start with its snappy dialogue, its over-the-top characters, and the numerous references to iconic films. After about the second episode, I realized that another reason why I liked the show was because it reminded me so much of Kill la Kill.
No, Grace does not walk into Kappa Kappa Tau with a giant scissor blade and demand that Chanel Oberlin explain the truth behind her mother’s demise, but her actions do progressively contribute to a change in a long-standing system. Much like Ryuko, Grace walks into a school where wealth determines status. Those with all of that going for them are tolerated, accepted, or maybe even lucky enough to become Chanels. The triviality of Chanel’s values combined with her near absolute power perpetuate a long-standing system in which acceptance is earned through fleeting, insubstantial things (money, attractiveness, and popularity). Like most of the other characters in the show, Chanel is an over-the-top caricature of a sorority girl: white, blonde, skinny, rich, pretty, selfish, racist, ableist, and homophobic. She is the embodiment of the misogyny that women experience from other women. Like Satsuki, she passes on that elitism to her immediate circle, her clan of Chanels that serve her and keep her reign intact (except when they plot against her later in the season).
Chanel isn’t the only obvious caricature. Dean Munsch, Chad Radwell, Chanels #2-5, Sam, and Denise Hemphill are as well, creating an entire cast of parodies and exaggerations. Kill la Kill does this as well by weaving in and magnifying solidified anime tropes and character types. As an over-the-top parody, Scream Queens blatantly recreates and mocks famous scenes from past horror movies like Psycho and Silence of the Lambs. Kill la Kill is also, at times, a conglomerate of references and homages to past anime and other elements of Japanese pop culture.
Like Kill la Kill, Scream Queens has problematic elements that, due to how the show is constructed, may be easier to justify for some and twisted messages for others. Kill la Kill’s issues are with female nudity, sexualization, and assault. Sexuality and lewdness are also central in Scream Queens, but this show, filtered mostly through Chanel’s language, does a terrible job with queer representation and disability representation. Sam, the only queer WoC, is killed off; Chanel #3’s bi/pansexuality is hardly touched on; and it turns out Boone only pretended to be gay because that somehow made his cover story more convenient. A deaf character is killed off in the first episode and Hester’s disability was also just a convenient farce to add to her cover story. On the one hand, these actions should emphasize that Hester and Boone are the bad guys. Of course they would use marginalized identities as costumes just as they use the red devil costume. On the other hand, it feels like a narrative excuse to pass off problematic representation as all right. At least Denise and Zayday made it out okay and Chanel #3’s queerness was briefly confirmed.
As both Kill la Kill and Scream Queens reach their conclusions, it’s clear that there’s some type of conflict with a long-established social system. In Kill la Kill, it’s the clothing=power/nudity=shame dichotomy, the direct connection between educational performance and economic status, and a capitalistic ruler who quite literally makes her consumers the consumed. In Scream Queens, it’s the Greek-life culture of vanity, hazing, popularity, exclusion, and douchebaggery that resulted in a dead girl in a bathtub and two children growing up in an asylum. The difference with Scream Queens is that it’s the antagonists–Gigi and the red devil killers–who are the most adamant about bringing down this system. Grace is, too, and so is Zayday to a lesser extent, but their primary focus quickly becomes finding the killers rather than changing the culture. This theme of structure change only becomes apparent again in the final episodes, and even then it’s clear that Chanel will never not impose a structure with herself as the queen. Kappa Kappa Tau might be better now without the Chanels–and seeing these characters get shut down in a court of law by a black judge is certainly symbolic–however, it’s clear that you can take the girl out of the sorority, but you can’t take the sorority out of the girl. Gigi, Hester, and Boone’s goal was to clear the university of those who benefited from and perpetuated toxic Greek-life culture, but even though the Chanels were punished, nothing else about them has changed.
Should Scream Queens get a second season, we might see how or if this “cleansing” affects the entire university. We might also see Chanel learn some more empathy. As it stands, the show wraps up enough to not exactly warrant a second season, but it does leave some space open should the series be renewed.