I still think Slasher A might be Angela Waters’s relative, and Imogen’s old house might also have been Angela’s first. Two things can be true at the same time, right?
Now that we’re halfway through Original Sin’s short first season, it’s probably a good time to take stock of what’s working in this slasherific PLL revamp, what’s not, and what, for the love of Mona (a.k.a the God of Rosewood), is Slasher A’s deal?
In terms of what’s working in Original Sin, it is way more than I anticipated! This is surprising, especially after the series’ exuberantly gory, almost schlocky attachment to genre over story in its first couple of episodes. Once the Final Girls became a cohesive friend group and the basic bones of the Angela Waters/Y2K mystery became their focus, all the little idiosyncratic details you’d want out of a Pretty Little Liars project more or less settled into place. The Final Girls are having confabs! They’re chasing down bonkers (and dangerous) leads! They’re kissing crushes! They are, perhaps most importantly, sharing their secrets and bonding. And what’s more, since Imogen started chasing down the story behind Angela Waters’ death in episode three, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina-esque visual language that so defined the series at its start has faded into something more like an aesthetic signature and less like a narrative crutch.
On these fronts, “Chapter Six: Scars” is arguably Original Sin’s strongest episode to date.
Final Girls confab? We’re treated to an excellent one in the library following Imogen and Tabby’s visit to “Crazy Joe” in the old abandoned trainyard. It’s a perfect snapshot of this new quintet’s dynamics: Faran being delightfully blunt (“Okay but can we trust a guy who lives in an old train car?”), Mouse attempting to keep everyone safe (“Is there any universe in which Creepy Train Guy is A?”), Imogen cheerfully disregarding all good sense (“Oh, absolutely!”), Tabby slipping in at least one classic film reference (Thelma and Louise), and Noa mostly just being happy to be there.
Bonkers leads? I mean, see “Creepy Train Guy” (a.k.a Angela’s weirdo ex-ish-boyfriend) above! But also, Imogen and Tabby end up road-tripping to Radley (now a hotel?), in Rosewood (now with multiple streets!), to see Eddie Lamb (now played, in what I want to be a clue but is probably just actor availability, by someone other than Reggie Austin), who’s not only got a decades-old visitor’s log in his possession but is happy to show it to any random teens who come looking. It’s no Tippi the Code-Whistling Parrot, but it’s pretty good.
As for kissing crushes, well, take your pick: Faran and Henry’s still-mostly-just-flirty lunch the day before she’s once again given the Black Swan lead; Mouse and Ash’s more-than-flirty cosmic bowling date; Noa and Shawn’s heavy makeout session/emotionally complicated heart-to-heart; Greg and Kelly’s [sic] heavy makeout session/traumatically charged crossing of wires. (Obviously, only the first three of these set-ups are adorable. That last one is assault!) For an episode that has to cover two timelines, three emotional car crashes, and one impromptu Alanis Morissette singalong, fitting in this much kissing is impressive.
But where “Scars” really excels is in how intentionally it establishes, at long last, some cold, hard facts about the various secret traumas the Final Girls are working through.
In some cases, the insight we get from these new facts is just a variation on an established theme: Noa’s mom being called out as an actual addict, say, or Mouse establishing that her secret involvement with so many strange, grieving adults is indeed part of a misguided mission that she’s only now understanding might backfire.
In other instances, though, the facts we’re given are almost entirely new: Faran’s childhood scoliosis had been mentioned by Mme. Giry in an earlier episode (wielded like a threat to keep Faran in line), and we’d been given hints that her mom had done something to turn Faran against her. But it’s only now that we’re learning that the way she “recovered” from her childhood diagnosis was through a series of invasive, painful surgeries her mom ordered against their doctor’s explicit recommendation, all of which left a very large, very prominent scar running down the center of her back. Similarly, while previous episodes had alerted us to the fact that Tabby was likely assaulted at a summer bonfire party — and while we’ve also known there had to be some big twist to Imogen’s pregnancy from the moment it was revealed — the chilling, horrifyingly similar specifics behind each girl’s trauma are only being spelled out for us now.
In service of giving those last two stories the space and attention they deserve, “Scars” does something really smart and opens in the present day, with Tabby and Imogen sitting on Tabby’s bed, ready to bare their souls about having both been sexually assaulted over the summer. That Tabby ultimately shares more of her story than Imogen is ready to doesn’t matter — or, rather, it does, but only in the sense that it reflects the writers’ investment in letting each girl be as true to themselves as possible. Tabby is forthright, and at the end of her rope; Imogen is deeply sympathetic but still too wounded to relive her trauma, even to the heart-friend Tabby has become.
In saving Imogen’s story for later in the episode, “Scars” gives Tabby room to breathe and lets the writers build a precise narrative rhythm. But while this isn’t incidental, it’s also not the point. In allowing each girl to tell her own story, in her own time, with the other so fully present that they both end up feeling safe enough to go and have a genuinely chill and fun bonding experience at the Radley Hotel later that night, Original Sin is demonstrating its capacity not just to be kind to its characters, but also to provide a model for the kind of solidarity teen girls should be giving each other IRL — a bit of subtle but meaningful didacticism that’s as much a part of the PLL brand as talking parrots. You love to see it!
But for all that “Scars” reflects so much of what’s working with Original Sin, it reflects just as much of what isn’t — namely, that there’s just not enough time for the series to tell even half of the stories it wants to.
I mean, Pretty Little Liars only had to juggle four Liars, two mean girl antagonists, and a handful of crushes/siblings, and even it struggled with cramming everything in with 20-episode seasons. Original Sin not only has five Final Girls, two mean girl antagonists, and a handful of crushes to keep track of (no siblings yet, alas), but another five mean girls and one poor victim in the Y2K half of the storyline. And all with only ten episodes to make any headway!
There’s just not enough time for Original Sin to build the slow-burning emotional arcs that did so much to anchor the bananas A shenanigans in the original Pretty Little Liars. Instead, they have to cram in what they can and cut the rest, and every arc suffers. Like, I could see that it was cathartic for Faran to confront her mom at the end of this episode, but because we hadn’t known until this week that either the surgery or the betrayal that led to it even existed, that catharsis doesn’t make it past the screen. Similarly, while I can see the writing on the wall about Stephen’s nascent obsession with Mouse, the fact that we’re still in the dark about her backstory means that my anxiety is being informed more by the thriller formula than by anything specific about Mouse.
And that’s all set aside for the slow-roll development of the Y2K Mom Squad storyline! Which, given how intense the reveal was this week of teen Corey’s (Kristian Moseley) malicious contribution to the long-con trolling of Angela back in 1999 — and yet how little time we got to spend with adult Corey (Zakiya Young) in the present day before she meets off-screen disaster at the end of the hour — would so obviously benefit from the narrative possibilities that twice as many episodes would allow that it hurts my mystery-loving heart just to think about it.
Which brings us to … what’s Slasher A’s deal? Who can say at this point?! They’re murdering bullies, sure, but they’re also terrorizing a group of innocent girls who not only do not know what their moms did back in 1999 but would completely disavow it if they did. There’s no method to this madness! And worse, there are no suspects — certainly none, at least, whose psychic hold over the Final Girls could even come close to matching what Alison DiLaurentis had over the OG Liars.
Also, I’m still salty about the janitor being lured to his death in the pilot for seemingly no reason beyond upping the body count. Give me more meaning, Original Sin!
• “Some were sent to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, over in Riverdale.” So Mona Vanderwaal and Cheryl Blossom living in the same universe is canon now!
• It was obviously fun to watch Imogen and Tabby singing along to Alanis Morissette while almost perfectly mirroring the official “Ironic” music video (snowy road and all), but those can’t be cheap music rights!
• That said, I did take note of Imogen “ironically” pointing at the ring on her own wedding ring finger while singing it’s like rai-ai-ainnn on your wedding day! Hm!
• Ezra’s Books: Thanks, I hate it!!!!
• As several readers pointed out in the comments of last week’s recap, “The Night He Came Home” is a direct reference to the Halloween franchise. Like, really direct. Like, the tagline on the original Halloween poster direct. I apologize for the egregious horror-history oversight. (Editor’s note: I am also sorry.) I am Mouse; Mouse is me: I don’t like horror, and it’s come around to bite me in the ass!
• SlAsh Count: 0?