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Throwback Thursday - Scream - Halloween

Throwback Thursday, a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from over the years.

“I wanna know what happens!" – Jennifer Jolie, “Scream 3”

Both before and after “Halloween” aired last October, the fate of MTV’s “Scream” series felt very much up in the air, like that of a character who’s stabbed on-screen, but then gets loaded into an ambulance right before the closing credits. Days before its debut, MTV renewed the show for a shortened third season. Then came a period of silence during which the network was clearly pulling out of the scripted programming game. And then, it was announced that while the show would be going forward, it would be completely rebooted, with new characters and a new mythology (and, we recently learned, the original Ghostface mask).

Given I only wrote an advance preview for it at the time, this Throwback Thursday gives me a chance to look back at what is now the “series finale” of the Lakewood continuity. So let’s talk about the standalone story first and then dive into some of the now discarded setup for season three.

Past, present, and future are all haunting the remaining “Lakewood Six”-ers are as we rejoin them eight months after Kieran’s arrest. It’s Halloween, which dregs up bad memories of both the original Brandon James massacre and Piper Shaw’s murder spree from season one. They’re absorbing the news that Kieran was murdered behind bars (like I said, more on that later). And concerns about their lives after high school – whether it’s Emma’s reluctance to consider college, Audrey and Brooke’s respective relationship woes, or Noah’s writer’s block after a successful graphic novel with Gustavo based on the killings – are weighing on them as well.

And so, in story setup I’ve said before and will say again is super reminiscent of “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer,” they all more or less jump at the chance for a getaway to the punnily named Shallow Grove Island. The girls aren’t psyched to learn that “Murder Island” had its own infamous serial killer – Anna Hobbs, a local who went crazy and slaughtered three people, including the patriarch of the prominent Whitten family. And indeed, it’s not long before someone wearing her burlap mask is slicing up red shirts with oversized shears. Throwing around theories, Brooke is terrified that Kieran’s killer is after the rest of the “Lakewood Six,” which seems plausible when Emma gets a call from someone using the nuGhostface voice modulator app. But Noah can’t help noting the callbacks to the Anna Hobbs story. “It’s like the killer is combining these two legends into one brand new murder spree!”

My favorite part of the “Murder Island” story was the arc of Emma Duval: Final Girl. The “Scream” movies typically picked back up with Sidney years after each murder spree and thus we didn’t get to see much of her dealing with the trauma and trying to move on. So it’s interesting to watch Emma struggling with that here. There’s a nice bit of business in hour one where Jeremy (Alex Esola, “Mr. Robot”), Noah and Gustavo’s publisher, tries to prank the kids by rushing at them wearing the Anna Hobbs mask and Emma leaps to her feet and takes him down hard, with Noah remarking that her “jujitsu lessons really paid off.” And she has several conversations with Alex (Alexander Calvert, “Arrow”) – a dreamy Whitten scion who prefers to live his life off the grid – about losing one’s sense of self, about being propelled into the spotlight by tragedy, about seizing the day, etc.

And that’s why I also really liked the reveal that Alex – or, more accurately, a man by the name of Tom Martin posing as Alex – is the killer (and sidebar – before Emma figures that out, there’s a great bit of sliding doors theatre where he attacks her, then comes to her rescue). Tom has no connection with Anna Hobbs or Brandon James or Kieran, he’s just a guy damaged by his own trauma who felt a kinship with Emma when he saw her story on the news and went to crazy lengths to woo her. But as Emma so succinctly puts it during their final confrontation, “I don’t need a hero. I’m Emma Duval!” It’s a nicely done character journey, punctuated by Emma claiming her power by getting a tattoo of her last name on her wrist.

On the less positive side, the island’s murder mystery – and Noah’s unraveling that it was the Whitten patriarch who actually butchered Anna’s mother and brother before she killed him in self-defense and succumbed to her injuries, making her a final girl as well – was serviceable, but not particularly spellbinding (I nodded along with Brooke at one point when she asks what any of that has to do with their current predicament). I also found Gustavo pretty blah in these two hours; he was much more interesting as a creeper/red herring/suspect than he is as part of the gang.

Now, let’s talk about Kieran. The special opens with him in court, being sentenced to ten consecutive life sentences. But it seems like he’s getting an early parole when someone new wearing the nuGhostface getup sneaks into the holding cell and, with almost supernatural strength (a road I really hope they weren’t planning on going down), breaks a guard’s neck. Based on what Kieran says, he knew this jailbreak was coming, but doesn’t know who’s behind the mask. But he doesn’t get to ask any more questions before nuGhostface brutally slits his throat. Two hours later, the special closes – as Noah wonders in voiceover who killed him if it wasn’t Alex/Tom – with Emma’s dad Kevin standing at Kieran’s grave, an inscrutable look on his face, and a “Mr. James” checking into a Lakewood motel.

Of the dangling threads, I’m the most curious about where they were going with Emma’s dad; this was a character I felt had so much story potential, but was surprisingly underused by the show. Also, while we’re obviously supposed to think it’s an alive Brandon James checking into the motel, I have to imagine the desk clerk wouldn’t have been so chirpy with someone with the same name as the local serial killer. Which leads me to speculate, one last time, that it was supposed to be Brandon’s brother Troy!

Finally, a few thoughts on the reboot, which I will be watching and reviewing for SpoilerTV. On one hand, I’m cautiously intrigued. The network experimenting with a binge release format is interesting, I’ve liked several of the new cast members – RJ Cyler, Keke Palmer, Jessica Sula – in other things, and I’m admittedly excited to see Ghostface Classic back in black. On the other, I did get invested in the Lakewood world and its characters and it’s a bummer that their story won’t be brought to a proper close. As I’ve said before in the comments, I think it would be easy enough for a franchise as meta as “Scream” to offer some closure in-show (for example, they could have the old continuity be a TV show a new character is watching), but that’s something to scream about another day.

Those are my Throwback Thursday thoughts on “Halloween.” What did you think of this “Scream” special? What dangling questions are you most disappointed won’t be answered? And will you be watching the reboot? Shout your heart out in the comments section.

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