At the start of this month, the first season of Scream wrapped, so I thought it’d be a good time to look back at the season in Lakewood in anticipation of the already announced second season.
When I first heard about the Scream series, I wasn’t as skeptical as some might expect. No, I wasn’t completely convinced that there would be a way to make a slasher plot stretch across multiple seasons, and yes, I am a huge fan of the original movie series, so I was a bit concerned this new entry might sour my feelings for the overall Scream franchise, but I also had high hopes. I knew that Wes Craven was one of the executive producers, so even though he wasn’t writing or directing, I felt it was almost his way of giving the show his blessing. I also knew that MTV had a huge hit with Teen Wolf, transforming the delightfully cheesy ‘80s comedies into darker fare that was well-removed from its original inspiration. So I was confident that even if Scream the series was disappointing, I’d still be able to return to my Scream films with no bad taste in my mouth.
The first season of the show started with a bang. A viral video featuring two high school students, Audrey and Rachel, making out had ramifications that the makers of the video couldn’t have imagined. Two of the culpable teens, Nina and Tyler, learned that news right away. After Nina was dropped off at her house by Tyler, she prepared for a swim, accompanied only by her puppy and loud music. That is until she received texts she assumed were from the still-flirting Tyler. But when Tyler literally dropped in on her evening, his torso-less head plopping down with a bloody splash in the hot tub, Nina realized that her texts were from a killer. The Scream films blended comedy and humor in sometimes great tongue-in-cheek ways, and in a nod to that tone, we witness a hysterical moment amidst Nina’s fight for her life. As she frantically tries to contact help, she realizes her hands are too wet to use the phone’s touch screen, so she resorts to voice recognition, asking the phone to “Call 911” to which the phone responds, “Calling Pottery Barn.” But it wouldn’t have mattered if the call had gone through to 911 anyway because the killer is already in the yard and ready to attack. The opening scene was a great call back to the movies, while still establishing a new tone and story line.
While Audrey remained a main cast member throughout the first season, most of the central storyline focused around Audrey’s classmate, Emma. Though the viral video (which Emma was partly responsible for) appeared to be the catalyst for the chaos, the mysterious killer let Emma know that secrets connected to her family past were the real reason she’d be subjected to watching her friends die.
While there wasn’t a death in every episode, the killer’s presence was mostly a major factor throughout the series. I’ll admit that between episodes 4 and 6, my interest was starting to wane. I thought that more time was spent on some of the subplots, particularly the story involving Brooke’s dad, and that some of the red herrings were becoming a little bit too obvious as red herrings. Speaking of obvious, I thought it was pretty clear who the killer was and her motivations for it, so I was spending more time trying to figure out who the accomplice could be (and I knew there had to be an accomplice, since the obvious killer was knocked out by someone wearing the mask). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since I was still trying to put some pieces of the puzzle together, but I wish there would have been a bit more mystery involved. Just as I was wondering if I even planned to finish the first season (just kidding, I was definitely going to finish it no matter what), episode 7 rolled around.
Jay Beattie, Jill E. Blotevogel & Dan Dworkin
Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, John Karna
30 June 2015
Bethany's Grade: B+
At first, “In the Trenches” seemed like it would be another teaser of an episode, promising lots of excitement and fear but perhaps not delivering on that promise. And while I found the overall episode stronger than the previous two, I was definitely let down by the “everyone’s OK” ending. As Emma coyly flirted with Will over the phone, I almost rolled my eyes. And then I realized that there was still a few minutes of the episode left. The flirtatious conversation was not the last scene. As soon as there was a cut to Emma pulling up at Will’s, my heart started racing. I knew it meant bad news for the protagonist. The final moments, where Emma accidentally helps kill Will in her effort to save him, had me jumping out of my chair (I’m not exaggerating). The show got its groove back, and remained highly entertaining, and often highly pulse-pounding, through the remaining three episodes.
While the killer reveal was anticlimactic and not at all shocking, Podcaster Piper’s killing spree had another layer of depth that kept the final reveal and showdown from being disappointing. Since Piper had been “attacked” by a figure wearing the killer’s garb, and then said attacker dragged Will away and kept him chained up in an abandoned bowling alley (BTW, this town has a lot of fabulously creepy yet not really run down abandoned places) Piper’s death didn’t necessarily spell the end of Lakewood’s troubles. At the show’s end, lovable geek Noah finishes Piper’s podcast by mentioning this problem. He says that Will corroborated Piper’s story of the attack, so it appeared someone else was in on things. Why, however, only one of the show’s characters seemed to question this is beyond me. When Piper revealed herself as the killer to Emma, her first response wasn’t “It’s impossible! You were also attacked!” Instead, it was more along the lines of, you were nice to me and said you cared (Oh, Emma, you were no Sidney Prescott).
As Noah’s voice-over narration continues, the post-killer showdown scenes of various cast members don’t seem too exciting or surprising, until Audrey is shown. Audrey, the likeable friend of Noah who seemed as much a victim as anyone when one of her most private moments went viral, opens a book safe and reveals a pile of letters (reminding young viewers that digital files can always be recovered, but paper can still be burned) from Piper. As she burns the letters, and Noah questions that second attacker’s identity, Audrey appears to have literally gotten away with murder.
The best part of this reveal is that it lead me to think back to past episodes and look at Audrey through another lense and reevaluate moments from the show. I’ll admit that while Piper was always on my radar as a suspect, I had pegged Brooke as the accomplice. First of all, unless the police station and the hotel Brooke went to for a tryst with Mr. Branson were really, really close, it didn’t make sense that the killer could give Emma a good girl or bad girl choice on the night Riley died. It seemed that the killer was going to pick Riley from the get-go. At first I assumed that meant Brooke was in on it, but now it’s clear that it was a trick of manipulation on the killer’s part. She’d always intended for Riley to die, and she knew how to get Emma to seal her friend’s fate.
I didn’t suspect Audrey until the final episode. I didn’t really buy her just going to Brooke’s party to hang out, especially since Noah and Emma weren’t there. But then when the killer jumped up behind Audrey, and Audrey’s instant reaction was something along the lines of “What took you so long” which was immediately followed by a commercial break, I texted my Scream theory friend and said that Audrey seemed like she had been waiting for the killer. Her “What took you so long” sounded annoyed, not panicked. And then when the killer only left her with a scrape and Audrey had just blacked out, well, I knew something was amiss.
As all Scream killers do, Piper had a speech planned for her final victims. As she wrapped up her talk, poised to kill Emma, the audience was waiting for the surprising news she had (since neither her role as killer, nor the whole family drama motive was probably surprising to most of the audience), but just as it seemed we’d learn, Piper was shot. Audrey just so happened to “follow Emma into the woods,” but apparently not fast enough to kill Piper right away. Piper didn’t go until just before the secret was revealed, and it made Audrey seem like the heroine. I assume that the shocking secret was Audrey’s involvement. This, to me, was exciting. Because it totally changed my perceptions of the killer and accomplice set up.
I realized that I had been thinking like Piper. I am sure she thought she was in the lead, in control, and that Audrey was just a scorned high school student who’d help her get revenge. But why would Piper first choose Audrey to reach out to? Was it possible that Audrey found out about Piper first? Did she set the plan in motion? Even if not, Piper claimed that part of her revenge was Emma suffering through watching her friends die before it was her time. And while Emma certainly did suffer, the victims and circumstances that led up to the finale seem more catered to Audrey’s ideal revenge, not Piper’s.
The viral video that seemed to be a catalyst for everything was most likely a McGuffin. The letters alone seem to prove that. There was not enough time for Audrey and Piper to build up that much snail mail correspondence between the release of the video and the first murders, so the finale had me questioning whether or not Audrey purposely got caught making out with Rachel. It created the perfect cover for Piper, since nobody would connect her to Rachel or Audrey (because, either Audrey had a P.O. Box, or her parents never checked the mail). It also painted Audrey as both victim and suspect, but definitely worked more in favor of the former. I’m not even sure Audrey cared for Rachel, though her quick recovery after Rachel’s death isn’t necessarily an indicator of this, since it seems that the entire town was incredibly resilient when it came to getting over the death of friends and loved ones (one of the small downfalls of having a slasher series, rather than a free-standing movie or television event).
Then there was the good girl/bad girl death of Riley. Riley was literally nothing to Piper, and while she was Emma’s friend, I don’t think the death of her or Brooke would be high on the chain of ones that would deeply affect her. But Riley did affect Audrey’s happiness. Noah was Audrey’s best friend, and probably the only person she actually cared about, except for her fixation on Emma. So when Riley and Noah became a couple, Audrey faced déjà vu all over again. Once Emma got to high school and started dating Will, her friendship with Audrey was officially over, so it makes sense that Audrey would assume Noah would become another Emma, even though Riley seemed a lot nicer and more accepting than most of that group.
Speaking of Noah, there were a few times early in the season where it seemed his time was up, but none of those times were actually close calls. In fact, the killer wasn’t even there! They were just moments made to get the audience worried about one of the more likeable characters. Audrey likely made it clear to Piper that Noah was off limits, emphasizing the fact that he wasn’t even friends with Emma.
Emma’s sex tape leaking was another big clue I missed. Sure, it embarrassed her since it was her first time (she sure made it seem like had it been time 2 or 3, she’d have been OK) and she didn’t know she was being recorded. But again, this embarrassment felt out of place for a Piper-only motive. Did Piper really care that Em had a sexual encounter recorded? Sure, it would make her life worse if it was leaked to everyone, but it seems like Audrey would take more pleasure in having Emma humiliated in this way, embarrassing her by using the main reason Audrey felt her friend had left her.
But revenge was not Audrey’s only motive, and that’s what makes her part in the killings far more interesting than Piper’s. Piper was mad that Emma had the life she didn’t (though it was never explicitly stated what Piper’s life was like). Em was the child that Maggie/Daisy kept, while Piper was seen as a shame that needed to stay hidden. Piper’s father was killed by ignorant townspeople, while Emma’s father simply chose to leave her (I’m not sure either is something to be envious of). Audrey probably started off wanting to get revenge on Emma, but after Audrey and Rachel’s footage went public, and the killings began, Emma started to include Audrey in her life again. This is when Audrey’s plan changed. She was no longer motivated solely by revenge. The more of Emma’s friends who died, and the more she began to distrust them (another reason that Emma’s sex recording seemed more of an Audrey move than a Piper one), the closer she got to Emma. In the final scenes, Audrey not only gets rid of evidence connecting her to Piper, she displays a pic of her with Emma, and smiles at the headline that suggested she didn’t just save Emma, she saved her friend.
The more I thought about some of these key moments and deaths, the more I was convinced that, if Audrey was really working with Piper, then she was probably the one in charge, even if Piper assumed otherwise.
My biggest criticism is the idea that there will be a second season. While I mostly enjoyed the first season, I’m not convinced that a second season with the same characters will be enjoyable. If season 2 focuses on “was it Audrey or not” as the town once again faces death, then potentially everything good that came from the Audrey reveal in season 1 will be null and void. And since Nina, Tyler, Riley, Piper, Sheriff Hudson, and Rachel are dead, and Seth Branson appears to have left town, there’s not much of a cast left to kill.
I really only see season 2 working if one of two things happens. They could do an American Horror Story type set up where the cast mostly stays the same, but their roles and story are new. So now it’s Springwood, Ohio (shout out to A Nightmare on Elm Street) and it’s the ‘80s, and Emma is now called Rowena, and Noah has a Flock of Seagulls hairstyle, and Riley is back from the dead because she’s now Heather who’s never died.
The other possibility is that season 2 hops forward in time, making the addition of new characters seem more organic, and making the connections to the original film series a little clearer. Scream took place in Woodsboro where Sid and friends were in high school. The second film skipped to Sidney’s college years. I could see a similar story work for season 2 of Scream, but I’m still not sure what that would mean for Audrey’s story.
I’m still looking forward to hearing what the second season has in store, and I’ll probably watch it even if it does pick up relatively soon after the events of the first season. Overall, I was pretty impressed with an MTV show that was a riff off of a film series I hold close to my heart.
I’d like to dedicate this article to Wes Craven. The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is the horror franchise I feel most connected to. I admire the man who brought the idea of Freddy to the screen. My love for horror films is, in part, owed to having a teenage sister who let me watch horror with her when I was very, very young. When I was a teenager, I went with my sister to see Scream and was floored by it. I loved the death scenes, the humor, and the references to other films. It was a horror film that felt made just for me. One of my close childhood friends also loved horror, and we used to watch Deadly Friend at least once a month. When I first started thinking about films beyond entertainment, when I got interested in writing about them and studying them, Wes Craven was one of the first directors I turned to. I’d read and listen to just about any interview or piece he did on his work. I loved hearing his inspiration for creating Freddy. I connected with Wes Craven early in my life, and I probably wouldn’t be writing this article or any film articles if it wasn’t for his work. Wes, you’ll be missed.