Thursday, July 28, 2022

REVIEW: 'Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin' - An Unexpected Tragedy Creates More Turmoil in Imogen's Life in 'Chapter One: Spirit Week'

HBO Max's Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin - Episode 1.01 "Chapter One: Spirit Week"

In 1999, a group of friends is rocked by the sudden death of one of their own. Twenty-two years later, their daughters are pushed together by a mysterious foe.

"Chapter One: Spirit Week" was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Lindsay Calhoon Bring and directed by Lisa Soper

It has only been five years since Pretty Little Liars ended on Freeform after seven seasons. A lot has changed in the television landscape since then. That drama was still influential for its young demographic. It was a huge hit. As such, it was never surprising when executives wanted to expand on that potential. Two spinoffs were made but each only lasted a season. They both had connections to the original series and featured characters from that world. This new drama promises to be a complete reinvention. Some of the tropes are very familiar. Some pay homage to the format of what the original show was. Some play to the various hallmarks of the horror genre. It's doing enough things differently in order to justify telling this potential story over again. Plus, the ways in which teenagers communicate and interact with the world is different now than a decade ago when the original show began. In fact, this premiere showcases the every day terrors the new group of Liars have to deal with on an ongoing basis. Imogen, Tabby, Noa, Faran and Mouse have plenty of reasons to be worried before they start receiving cryptic texts. That's just the natural burden of navigating life as a young woman. People judge them solely for their gender. Imogen is made to feel like she doesn't belong because she's six months pregnant and her mother recently died from an apparent suicide. Tabby is told her artistic expression serves as radical indoctrination that hasn't been approved by the school board. Noa is made to feel small because she has a criminal record that limits where she can go and what she can do. Mouse is alienated because she finds more comfort online than in the real world. And Faran is deemed inferior simply because she has the audacity of being a Black ballerina in her all-white class. These pressures are real and extreme. They inform the lives of these characters. That's true without reflecting on the generational trauma that plagues Millwood. This place is a relic of its past. The steel mill no longer offers the same prosperity it once did. Moreover, the action calls out the parents of each of the young Liars to showcase how they too were responsible for a tragic event that happened when they were in high school. Imogen and Tabby didn't know their mothers were friends until Davie's death. That creates a safe space for Imogen to live in. She has that immediate connection. She's also at a complete loss. She doesn't know how this happened. She's only offered a cryptic clue. It meant so much to her mother. And now, the mistakes of the past may only be coming back to haunt the new generation of Liars. This premiere does close with the five of them coming together in detention determined to kill Karen for seemingly targeting their lives with an absolute viciousness that is way out of line with what society can tolerate.

This premiere sets out to showcase how the five Liars share identical experiences before they actually come together and hatch this plan. That requires certain beats to be repeated in order to capture the lies that bond them. It's the action calling out how their mothers were the ones who refused to help a friend in dire need during a dance 22 years ago. That callback has to occur in each specific case. It's calling attention to it. None of this can then be seen as random. Someone wants the offspring of these women to come together for a specific reason. It's all wrapped up in horror trappings. Tabby notes all the conventions that have dominated the genre. She wants to inspire her classmates to seek out contemporary and diverse film voices. She is admirable with her goals. Everything is still ultimately twisted in order to keep these Liars in the sights of someone who means to do them a great deal of harm. Now, that's incredibly on-the-nose when it comes to a mysterious figure leering at each of them from a distance. Several of them actually catch a glimpse of this person. They don't have any meaningful interactions. Instead, that honor belongs to the school custodian. He acknowledges that no one is suppose to be at the school that late. He investigates. That leads to his death after finding a secret lair full of horrifying items. A plan is laid out to terrorize Karen throughout the day. No one likes her. She causes constant pain for those she perceives as standing in her way of success. She blames others for her not being the best. She upholds a sense of perfection that can't be challenged in any way. Her father is tough on her. He doesn't prop up her ego. She doesn't come from a loving and nurturing home. The Liars know she is ripe for cancellation. It's up to them to hold her to that. Of course, they project their own insecurities onto her. It's easier to blame her for the disruption in their lives. It's the only thing that makes sense. Plus, they rile each other up. Noa has no proof that Karen was the one who forged her test results. It's easy to walk away with that assumption because of their past interactions. Imogen suggests Karen doesn't need much in order to target someone with absolute precision. She believes she's perfectly capable of making these threats. She will do that harm to herself so long as it comes at the expense of others. That's absolutely twisted. It's the narrative the group spins. It's an enraging narrative. One that empowers them to take action. It's also them being controlled by forces outside of their awareness. They have a story that matters to them. It's up to the audience to see the larger picture even though everything is purposefully left fairly vague over how these connections have to be made.