Well, here’s a thought I didn’t anticipate having come out of this, the final episode of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin: I think this show was too long!
I know, I know — basically, all I’ve done for the last three weeks is moan about how ridiculously constrained every element of Original Sin has had to be to fit multiple mysteries and the backstories of 13 main characters into a mere ten episodes. And now here I am, declaring that ten episodes were too many? It’s like Principal Clanton chloroformed me and trapped me in a candlelit school or something. Madness!
The thing is I do still think Original Sin has been punishingly constrained — which is to say, way, way too short. It’s just that now, I also think it’s been too long. Why? Because approximately once every two minutes during the season (and possibly series) finale, I caught myself thinking, Okay, but what about that xyz thread that was set up abc episodes back? — all of which only resulted, by the time this episode cut to black, in my having racked up a list of dangling plot threads that had lots of promise but no follow-through.
I’ve tacked a not-exhaustive list of the most egregious of these below, but the takeaway is that with only ten episodes to play with, Original Sin wasn’t ever going to be able to give any of them the space they deserved. At the same time, most of these threads were introduced in the first place because the season had ten episodes to play with and a predecessor with 160 episodes worth of story to riff on. Talk about opportunity!
And so what we ended up with was a season (and maybe series) full of false starts, all leading up to a grand finale that was so overstuffed with both the old ideas it needed to wrap up (Davie’s death, Angela’s final straw, Tabby and Imogen’s rapist) and all the new ideas it had been gearing up to introduce (Archie and Clanton and the root of Sheriff Beasley’s sins) that it was ultimately a reflection of the rest of the season: too long, too short, and frustratingly incomplete.
Which is all to say, I could easily write another 3,000 words about what happens in this episode. But I could also write just three sentences. So let’s try to split the difference and take this final (possibly forever?) episode’s biggest arcs in turn.
Might as well start at the top of the episode: It’s 1999, it’s New Year’s Eve, and we’re outside Angela’s house. What we hear before the camera moves inside is Rose Waters being awful to Angela about everything. Her face! Showing off her body! It’s no wonder she was attacked, she tells her own daughter — she brought it on herself. And her “friends”?? Ha! As if.
Given that the last few episodes have tripled down on Imogen’s theory that, out of some warped sense of guilt, a frail older Rose might be the one behind Slasher A (if not literally the one behind the mask), this cold open is clearly meant to get us thinking along those same lines. Like, we’ve had it outlined pretty clearly that everything the Y2K Mom Squad did to Angela in the months leading up to NYE was capital-B Bad! But what we’ve simultaneously had underscored in thick red pen is how much more cutting it is when your parent is bullying you.
Alas, while it turns out to be a very bad parent with a warped sense of justice behind the whole Slasher A scheme, it’s not Rose (who, in another dangling plot thread, we never even end up meeting), but rather Principal Clanton. Who, it turns out, was secretly Angela’s (and her doubly secret abused brother Archie’s) dad and who had to watch her be tortured to death by Davie and the rest of the Y2K Mom Squad back when he was a young vice-principal while they all were students. Why he and Archie have chosen this moment to start wreaking their revenge isn’t totally clear — possibly because the Final Girls are all finally old enough to be under his purview as Millwood High students? But the point is he blames the moms for Angela’s death more than he does Sheriff Beasley — so sorry, girls, you all have you pay.
In the broadest sense, Clanton’s not going to find much pushback from the Final Girls as he might expect, as they start this episode so pissed to discover that their moms were still lying to them about the details of Angela’s death, at least in regard to Sheriff Beasley being Angela’s rapist and Davie’s high-school sweetheart. But while it’s totally reasonable for them to be fucking pissed at their moms’ continued bone-deep aversion to accountability, they’re going to collectively draw the line at the drugging, kidnapping, and bloody sacrifice Clanton’s got planned for the game’s final round. And sorry, Clanton, but not even the big reveal that Davie drove Angela to the brink by punishing her for Tommy’s sins by convincing everyone in the school to ice her out so hard she’d effectively be “erased” is going to convince the Final Girls that any of this is justified.
I mean, that’s some true nightmare shit! And it’s no wonder the Y2K moms and any of their classmates didn’t want to talk about it. But there’s a gulf of difference between rebuking someone for their cruelty and enacting bloody, torturous vengeance. (With a few unrelated murders on the side, as a treat!)
In any case, Slasher A didn’t kill Davie; Davie killed Davie. And that’s something Imogen is just going to have to make some peace with.
Cutting back to the top of the episode, our worries about Faran’s dad having ended up in racist police custody are quickly assuaged: Corey got him out; he wasn’t charged; it felt “more like a warning” than anything.
But while the Final Girls of “Chapter One: Spirit Week” might have taken that warning as intended and backed the hell off, the Final Girls of “Chapter Ten: Final Girls” have seen some shit, and so Faran immediately meets up with Kelly — who’s barely surviving what amounts to house arrest under a dangerously spiraling Tom — at that one spooky swing set to spill all the Slasher A/Angela Waters/Sheriff Beasley beans. This breaks Slasher A’s “rule,” but honestly, no one that unhinged is going to have a coherent policy on “rules.” Which is to say that the nightmarish final PUNISH THE GUILTY tableau at the school was going to happen regardless of whether or not any of the girls spilled any of Clanton’s beans. Similarly, Sheriff Beasley was always going to spiral deep enough to enact a family murder-suicide, regardless of how firmly Kelly tried to stand up to him, and Chip was always going to try to make excuses for his actions being justified, if and when he was ever called out on it.
On which point: In a revelation that would have lost me real money had I bet on it last week, it turns out Chip absolutely was The Guy, for both Tabitha and Imogen. I hate it!! But also: Well done, writers. You successfully subverted all our Toby-trained* expectations. And now that Imogen and Tabby had confronted him and he’s admitted to a couple of truly heinous acts, within the hearing of Slasher A (surprise!! Not dead!!), oh man, is it clear that Chip’s not long for this world.
It’s not surprising, then, when he shows up as the first of the “bullies” Clanton and Archie have planted at the school to be “punished” by the Final Girls. Nor is it surprising to see Grieving Steve planted for Mouse or Marjorie’s creepy drug dealer planted for Noa. It’s a little weird to see Mme. Giry planted for Faran, as she’d taken a real turn in the last couple of episodes, standing firm behind making sure Faran didn’t try to cheat her healing process (and even moving Giselle to the next calendar year to accommodate her recovery!), but see again that point about how much anyone should trust the “rules” of the unhinged.
In any case, while Tabby may not end up punishing Chip in the bloody way Clanton suggested, neither do she and Imogen want him — or, for that matter, Sheriff Beasley! — to get away with it. But unfortunately for both men, fate intervenes before either can see any judicial justice, first with Mother Beasley stabbing her husband in the gut when she overhears him threaten Kelly with that murder-suicide thing and later with Archie breaking out of the hospital and finishing the job, first slashing Sheriff Beasley open in the hospital room next door, then heading to Chip’s house to catch him unawares on Christmas Eve.
SlAsh count: 2
Good Friends (& Killer Cardio)
Which I guess just leaves us with the last major theme of this finale: solidarity.
Despite starting the season as a loose collection of loners, the bonds between Final Girls — Kelly, critically, included! — have been galvanized by the events of the last ten episodes. They are stronger together than they are apart, sure, but they are also stronger when they’re apart because they know they’re always together in their souls. That’s building power, baby! That’s organizing!
And it’s also a sharp inversion of the kind of negative solidarity Davie fostered by being Queen Bully in 1999. The bond holding the Y2K moms together for the last 20 years was thick but brittle. The bond the Final Girls have, meanwhile, finds its strength in its forgiveness.
I know this sounds cheesy! Especially for a show that started with a bloody suicide and has now ended with Imogen having a knock-down, drag-out knife fight with a proven slasher twice her size. But that’s how Pretty Little Liars uses the wildest twists and tropes imaginable to tell a simple truth: It is hard to be a teen girl in this world, and the only way through it is with love and honesty and solidarity. (Plus, you know, a solid cardio routine … just in case.)
So perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the note Original Sin ends on: Imogen forgiving her mom for her complexity, all the moms promising all the girls whatever kind of support they’ll ever need, and Tabby and Imogen promising each other to always love each other, whether or not this really is “the end.”
And then, of course, we cut to the reveal that Archie’s gotten free and killed Sheriff Beasley and is about to kill Chip, thus opening up the possibility of more A mysteries to come …
Now that’s the Pretty Little Liars I know and love.
• A brief list of Original Sin’s most egregiously dangling plot threads/questions:
- What was so much worse about Tyler — about as far from Angela Waters as a character on this show could get — that he deserved death, but someone like Greg didn’t?
- Why did that janitor have to die in Chapter One?
- Were either of their bodies ever found?
- Why have Tyler’s dad accost Tabby, on Thanksgiving, if Tyler’s death wasn’t ultimately going to be made public before the Slasher A mystery was resolved?
- Noa’s sketchy inhaler, Shawn’s sketchy “supplements,” and the implied complicity of every adult involved with Millwood High athletics in what was clearly a wide-scale doping scandal — why!
- The sale of Imogen’s old house and the settling of Davie’s outstanding debts — desperately important or completely forgettable?
- Mouse having lied to Ash about her dad and introducing him to a mentally unstable stranger — zero consequences!
- On that note, literally everything having to do with Mouse’s biological dad.
- Also, literally everything having to do with whatever led to (and followed from) Elodie stealing her surrogate baby.
- Also, literally everything to do with the Honradas’ marriage.
• *Toby Kavanaugh having famously been introduced as a “too nice to be real” red herring in the first season of PLL, only to end up being one of the Liars’ staunchest allies against the whole damn world for the next six seasons.
• Of all the plans Tabby and Imogen might have landed on to confirm Chip’s guilt, confronting him alone in an empty theater and lying about having DNA proof might have been … the worst one? I mean, it was successful! And it gave both Bailee Madison and Chandler Kinney an opportunity to do some devastating work (Imogen’s delivery of “This year has made us very, very good liars” and “that’s PSY………CHOTIC” will never leave me). But that it worked? That’s some writers room tomfoolery.
• Okay, I know I need to talk about the self-indulgent little #Ezria Easter egg that tied up Imogen’s whole pregnancy arc with a neat little Pretty Little Liars bow, but honestly, I’m just so mad about it I can hardly see straight! Aside from the bullshit megavillainization of its only trans character, #Ezria was that series’ most offensive creative decision. Having not only their marriage but their calculating, sympathy-inducing canonical infertility be Original Sin’s big wink to the institution it owes its existence to makes me want to lay down, forever.
• Anyway, here’s my novel-length recap of the Pretty Little Liars series finale, which goes into much greater length about why making #Ezria synonymous with a PLL HEA is Bad.
• Finally: I think Pretty Little Liars stories just need to be allowed to sprawl, man. Trapping these six compelling characters (plus charmers and ready emotional accomplices Ash, Henry, and Shawn) in what ended up being little more than an expertly crafted PLL-themed snow globe is just a bummer for all of us.
• SlAsh Count: 2 (Though there’s no way Archie would have killed Chip but left his now-complicit parents behind, right? So maybe … four?)