Warning: If you haven’t watched the Season 2 finale of “Scream” yet, spoilers are ahead.
MTV’s “Scream,” the television show inspired by the successful film franchise, ended its second season on Tuesday night by revealing a final surprise prepared by season one killer Piper (Amelia Rose Blaire) and Kieran (Amadeus Serafini), a disclosure that gradually revealed itself as the finale approached. Choosing this path was perhaps the closest the show had ever come to recreating the spirit of the Wes Craven film series.
The season finale — the strongest of a very uneven season — finally celebrated Craven’s work openly. Making references to all of the previous “Scream” films, the episode offered fans of the original story a chance to relive it in more modern ways. An opening car crash scene was strikingly similar to a moment in the second film, and other instances and dialogue closely recreated portions of the other films. They served as an indication of what the show might have been had it chosen to embrace that “Scream” heritage sooner.
Craven was already an iconic horror director when the first “Scream” movie was released in 1996. Through these films, he was able to redefine slasher films, turning it into a pop culture touchstone. “Scream” gave a much-needed injection of energy to a genre that had been struggling to find innovative ways to engage audiences. The franchise’s first three films are still among the highest-grossing horror movies of all time.
When MTV announced plans in 2012 to develop a weekly television show inspired by the movie, expectations from fans were high. (With a delay in production, the series didn’t premiere until 2015.) Opening with an homage to the film scene originally made famous by Drew Barrymore, the series followed Lakewood residents as they attempted to cope with a murder that served merely as an entry point to analyze the town’s troubled past.
But the show struggled to extend its slasher story across multiple episodes. Reviews were mostly lukewarm, and the show wasn’t able to carry the same novelty as the Craven films. Weak acting, unrealistic dialogue and a lack of wit left most critics unimpressed. But audiences tuned in, and social media buzz around the show was high. The show’s Season 1 finale drew 756,000 viewers –not particularly impressive numbers, but enough for MTV to renew the show for a second season within a month of its premiere.
Season 2 picked up several months after the first season’s final confrontation with the killer, and invested heavily in the psychological consequences of those traumatic events. The show attempted to go deeper into the human connections and their history with Lakewood. “Scream’s” season opener was certainly more daring and innovative — allowing space for initially generic characters to start becoming more well-rounded — but still felt short-sighted, failing to explore stronger side-stories in favor of a straight-forward and predictable plot.
Having “the boyfriend as the killer” — with hair strikingly similar to that of Skeet Ulrich’s “Scream” character Billy — after many had ruled him out, was not only a clear reference to the original films, but also evoked Craven’s spirit of making the viewer question one’s own belief systems before having them shattered. With the original “Scream,” that happened during the course of one single film. The series, however, took two seasons to do so.
Attempts by “Scream’s” writers to broaden the show’s reference pool and include homages to other horror films did indeed give a wider audience reason to tune in. Not all of those references were clear — except perhaps the episode “The Vanishing” — and the show continued to struggle with defining its target audience.
While “Scream’s” central characters, dialogue and storylines suggested it was targeting young audiences (the same ones watching MTV’s “Teen Wolf”), the show might have achieved greater results had it courted slightly older viewers who grew up with the original “Scream” films. The show needed to be daring and make bolder choices throughout the whole series if it hoped to live to the spirit of Wes Craven.
That lack of focus may be reflected in declining viewership numbers. Despite that, fans have already started online petitions requesting MTV to renew the show for a third season. They claim ratings misrepresent a show’s impact, particularly its international appeal.
In the finale, Kieran is alive and sent to jail by the end of the episode, where he receives a call by someone claiming to be Brandon James. Unlike the film’s Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who killed every single version of the masked killer that chased her, Emma (Willa Fitzgerald) decides to let him live. While it shows she may be ready to deal with her past, it also leaves plenty of room for the story to continue.
Should MTV bring back “Scream” for another round, it might address the expectations horror audiences and fans of the “Scream” feature initially had with the show. But perhaps it’s best knowing when to stop and at least offer viewers a coherent ending.