Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin
While the streaming-media grapevine may have spoiled the whole series yesterday by positioning Warner Bros. Discovery CEO–slash–HBO Max murderer David Zaslav as a potential antAgonist even scarier than Slasher A, we’re still only halfway through the myriad mysteries at the heart of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin’s inaugural (and hopefully not last) season. And since there are few things more faithful to the PLL brand than forging numbly on in the face of certain madness and possible death, let’s dive right into “Chapter Four: The Fe(Male) Gaze”!!
First, though, a message from 1999: Frosted lip gloss is in! Also in? Peer pressuring your less-cool friend to smoke a cigarette she has zero interest in, then making her take the blame when you’re caught by Freddy the Janitor. Not cool, Marjorie! Although at least now we know that making innocent teen girls take the fall for her bad drug-related decisions was at least a pattern of behavior she started establishing long before she put Noa in a position to have to do the same. Cool.
Slasher A must also think this is cool because when we cut back to adult Marjorie (Elena Goode) mid-shift at Millwood Hospital, the Y2K Mom Squad member of the week has a blood-red gift bag delivered to her desk. Inside, a ratty old teddy bear wearing a T-shirt that reads MOTHER OF THE YEAR and holding a pill bottle scrawled with the word ADDICT. Given that the rest of the flashback to 1999 reveals that this is the same bear teen Marjorie gave Angela as a “thank you” (not apology) for taking the blame for the underage smoking, I’m sure this will go well.
At the school, the Final Girls are in their last detention. Imogen’s phone rings, which gets her in trouble with the romance-loving librarian, but she gets a pass when she explains that it’s her doctor, so … Unfortunately, any relief we might feel at hearing that Imogen has better medical support than a single school nurse who doesn’t know the meaning of the word private is short-lived, as it turns out “my doctor” is code for “some random millennial dude who went to school with my mom.” It turns out that this is what Imogen has spent the last two weeks losing sleep over: tracking down everyone she can who was enrolled at Millwood in 1999 in the hopes of getting any insight into what Angela Waters’s death way back then might have to do with her mother’s alleged suicide.
This obsessive game of intergenerational phone tag will ultimately go on for (at least) two episodes, vying for control over Imogen’s psyche with the task of clearing out the last of her and her mom’s things from the old house so it can finally be sold. On the latter point, Imogen manages, in a single afternoon, to both (1) not be killed by Slasher A, who’s actively lurking in her basement, and (2) scare off the young couple who just signed the paperwork to buy the house by telling them in sweet, venomous detail what happened to her mom in the upstairs bathroom. On the former point, meanwhile, she manages to bug so many of the Y2K Mom Squad’s classmates that we’re quickly treated to the tensest take on “Who’s on First?” I’ve ever seen, with Tabby’s mom, Sidney, cornering a diaphanously dressed Imogen later that day to tell her to KNOCK IT OFF ALREADY.
Sidney: Time to move on!
Imogen: Hard to move on; my mom is dead.
Sidney: I meant from Angela Waters!
Imogen: What are you all hiding?? Why does no one want to talk about Angela Waters?
Sidney: Your house needs to be sold! Pick out what you want to save and say good-bye!
Oh, Sidney. You’re not doing the Y2K Mom Squad any favors obfuscating like this. I mean, it doesn’t take a TV genius to know that a much worse story about what you did to Angela is coming down the line, but your friend is dead. Keeping secrets from your collective teen daughters is not the play! Which, while we’re at it — Imogen, take notes. Sure, you may think that waiting until you’ve solved the Angela mystery to go to the moms about Slasher A is the way to go, but again, your (ex-)friend is dead. Not only that, you saw her get pushed! Keeping secrets is NOT the play.
On that note, let’s turn to Faran, who, like Hanna Marin before her, has yet to meet an awkward truth and/or wild theory she isn’t immediately ready to shout about to the first person who will listen. This week, that brand of loud honesty manifests in her laying out, in precise detail, her growing suspicion that Kelly isn’t Kelly but Karen pretending to be Kelly. Her evidence? Well, first, “Kelly” moves her ballet things to Karen’s locker, then she suddenly becomes a better enough dancer that Madame Giry assigns her to help get Faran back in Black Swan shape after her two-week detention, then — and perhaps most critically — she both pushes back at Faran’s insinuation that Karen said Faran only got the lead because she’s Black (“Okay, but Karen didn’t actually say ‘Black,’ did she?” which is a nit only Karen would know she could accurately pick), and then uses the passive-aggressive phrase “Be a queen, girl” to shut the conversation down.
This evidence isn’t nothing! However, it’s not the other Final Girls whom Faran lays this theory out for, but rather Henry (Ben Cook), the cute ballerino she has a crush on, whose inherent goodness finds him trying to talk Faran into cutting Kelly an inch of slack while she’s still grieving her sister, and whose dance class relationship with “Kelly” she wants to exploit to test her theory. “And if you’re wrong?” he asks. “Then I’ll let it go,” says Faran in the least convincing tone imaginable.
When Faran’s not building a mental case against Kelly this episode, she’s stepping in as a period-perfect Marion Crane for Tabitha and Chip’s latest film-class assignment, which has them reinterpreting an iconic scene from film history — in this case, the shower scene from Psycho — in a way that makes it relevant to today. “And none of that transphobic panic shit either!” Tabitha stresses, calling out the entire later run of Pretty Little Liars in one decisive blow. “Horror, from the point of view of the female gaze.”
Faran gets the role of Marion mostly by process of elimination: Mouse hates horror (girl, same), Noa has her ankle monitor, and Imogen, of course, is busy haunting her own house. For the role of Norman, though, Tabitha decides to get creative. Because while she has a perfectly good teen boy (Chip) already working on the project with her, she decides instead to hit up Karen’s misogynist (and exhibitionist) dick of an ex-boyfriend, Greg, who does not take her “safe set” ground rules at all seriously. Initially, this is just annoying. He’s a thoughtless (white cishet) teen boy, making the exact thoughtless (white cishet) teen-boy jokes anyone who’s met him would only expect. But by the time they’re prepping to do his character’s coverage in the boys’ locker room late Friday night, he’s dropped his underwear and is going (glee)fully nude, despite Tabby’s strict instructions.
Again, this isn’t a shocking development! But Tabby has clearly been trying to prove some unknown point to herself this entire time. I mean, the fact that she’s ended up in the boys’-locker-room showers for this film-class project after weeks of secretly filming naked boys during school hours from that exact spot isn’t a coincidence. So when Chip and Faran fail to take her side after Greg screws her over in the exact way anyone could have anticipated he’d screw her own, she has a minor breakdown and has to leave the building. This would be rough enough, but when some new-to-us flashbacks of a blurry bonfire party keep her outside longer than the other teens were willing to wait, Chip “steps in” to “help” and films the rest of the shots so Faran and Greg can go home … which shouldn’t take a genius to understand was the wrong thing to do, both in service of the specific vision behind this project and as a friend, but apparently Chip isn’t a genius!
Also not a genius in this episode, unfortunately, is Noa, who breaks the first rule of the Final Girl club by leaving the safety of her apartment not even an hour after getting a threatening text from the known murderer who’s stalking her. I mean, I know it’s bad to blame the victim, but Noa! No pizza is worth dying over! Especially on the last night of wearing your ankle monitor.
In any case, we’ve finally come full circle to the taunting Slasher A was doing of Marjorie at the beginning of the episode, which bore unexpected and depressing fruit in the second act when Sheriff Beasley, after tearing apart Noa’s room as a farewell fuck-you check-up to “celebrate” her last day under his thumb, presented her with a little paper cup of pills and Marjorie immediately blurted “Those aren’t mine!!”
Rough stuff! Only barely rougher than the fact that Noa digs around her mom’s purse the next morning and finds a bottle of Oxy that’s not even prescribed to her. Which, unfortunately, Slasher A both knows about (a bug in the apartment? Sheriff Beasley in cahoots??) and wants to use to (figuratively) hang another of Angela’s former tormentors. This they do by full-on chasing Noa through her apartment building, terrorizing her long enough for her to realize that the only way to break free is to follow Slasher A’s implicit instructions to call the hospital and report, weeping, that her mom is stealing drugs.
To repeat: ROUGH. STUFF.
But Imogen? She has a plan …
• Faran: “Sorry, I can’t muster up pretending to like Kelly like everyone else! I’m just not wired that way. Also? She’s not even a good dancer.” Like, honestly!!! Hanna Marin, meet your legacy.
• Imogen’s Ouija spirit board breakdown/monologue, the one that starts with “Did you die alone?” and ends with “You know what, mom, FUCK YOU!! I HATE YOU!!!”? Absolutely gutting. Also, in terms of Imogen’s character development, long overdue.
• Tabby: “To quote Chucky: Friends ’til the end.” Her best unnecessary film reference yet!
• Also, not much mention of Mouse in this recap, but that’s because pretty much her only scene was being cute with Ash and making plans to sneak out on Halloween to hang out with him. One can only hope that pays dividends in the next episode!
• SlAsh Count: 0