Thursday, July 28, 2022

REVIEW: 'Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin' - The Pursuit of Revenge Destroys Everyone Who Wants It in 'Chapter Two: The Spirit Queen'

HBO Max's Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin - Episode 1.02 "Chapter Two: The Spirit Queen"

As Imogen and her newfound friends plot revenge against a mutual nemesis, Karen and her twin sister Kelly hatch an insidious plan of their own.

"Chapter Two: The Spirit Queen" was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Lindsay Calhoon Bring and directed by Lisa Soper

This story started at a dance. A young woman reached out for help and was rejected by her friends. That evening concluded with her tragic death. And now, those circumstances tragically repeat themselves. Karen is also propelled up to the rafters to make a point. In her mind, she's recreating the iconic image from Carrie to embarrass Imogen. It's her desperate attempt to regain power. All of this exposes the bullying throughout the high school. So much of it is informed by what the Liars are forced into becoming. Imogen can't appreciate the connection she shares with her mother about both being crowned Spirit Queens. Instead, she only feels ashamed for sharing an embarrassing video of Karen. Her new friends create the perfect plan to ensure the visual doesn't last online forever. They are considerate in that way. They know they have to be careful. They don't want to ruin Karen's life. They aren't actually trying to kill her. That's the ultimate destination though. It's what Imogen professed at the conclusion of the premiere. The end of this episode provides all the narrative symmetry to reveal the true stakes of the plot. All of it has just been teasing of the drama. The pacing has been slow and deliberate. It's also necessary to get into this newly formed dynamic. The Liars weren't a group of strong friends before they landed in detention together. Those bonds have strengthened quickly. They all feel it necessary to be at the dance to support Imogen. They can't allow Karen to ruin yet another thing in their lives. Of course, they are still dealing with the punishments from the last crimes. Their parents are horrified by what their daughters allegedly did. The Liars see Karen as the true sociopath. She even shares the videos of her misdeeds. She delights in the suffering of those around her. That's what the Liars project onto the situation. Karen denies being the one to set all of them up. They don't believe her. Imogen has a few fleeting moments of empathy. She feels bad about what she did to Karen. She doesn't want her to get hurt. She cares about her when she's wasted at a party and when she's alone in a cemetery. She has to protect her friend even when Karen wants nothing to do with her. Imogen can step outside of that dynamic to feel the importance of protecting Karen in an unsafe world. Imogen still contributes to the suffering though. The Liars all agree that it's necessary to strike back against Karen. No one is forcing them to behave that way. This is their own unique idea. They have the resources to execute it perfectly. Sure, Wes gets complaints at the theater. Tabby doesn't suffer any consequences though. The authority figures around the Liars pretty much all want to exploit them in some way. Wes has a toxic crush on his employee while Sheriff Beasley exerts his influence to get away with whatever he wants. It's up to the Liars to take the moments they can truly delight and have fun in. That's already a part of their dynamic. They were still brought together for nefarious purposes.

It's not until the conclusion with Karen being pushed to her death that the killer declares a name. "A" wants the Liars to know Karen was innocent of the crimes they blamed on her. Moreover, the danger they're in is more extreme than they could have ever imagined. They are being targeted for a specific reason. "A" turned them into the bullies their parents apparently were in high school. That informed Davie's impulse for her daughter to be better than her. Imogen doesn't believe she has lived up to those expectations. She's not closer to her mother despite sharing this crown. Imogen wanted to give it to Karen. That apology never occurs. People are too caught up in their own worlds to care about the larger picture. The audience can never be distracted in that way. The action points out every time the killer lurks nearby. So much of the terror occurs on the surface level. "A" is this imposing figure with a horrified face made with sewn together human skin. It's a horrifying image. It also places that character at a distance. "A" always looms and is all-knowing. They carry the secrets of the past while the Liars are completely in the dark. Moving back and forth in time is necessary to understand their current behavior. A party six months ago has the distinction of likely being when Imogen got pregnant. It also confirms how the Liars have had various points of intersection throughout their lives. Imogen and Karen were once friends. That dynamic has gone away. Something new and even more toxic has taken its place. That's all they could focus on. Tabby showcases such an appreciation for the past as it plays out through filmmaking. She wants to know how her friends engage with cinema. That's her way of connecting with them. She connects with those stories. She doesn't know the history that also informs the past. The parents are worried. Those tragedies have yet to reveal themselves fully. Mouse even notes her moms want to keep her young for as long as possible because of something that happened to her. That's a story that brings up pain. These Liars have the capacity for shame. They feel bad about what they've done. They still carry secrets moving forward. That hasn't changed. Their lives have simply been invaded by this new presence. The circumstances are eerily familiar. Blood pours from Karen's body just like it did two decades ago with Angela. The audience can see those parallels. The horror is very real for the present-day Liars. They are the ones being targeted. They have received the threats. They know the extent to which "A" will go to deliver this message. It's only just beginning. Nothing can serve as a distraction from that theme for too long. Of course, the Liars all have their various romantic interests they must interact with as well. Those relationships are varied too while also promising secrets that will unfold as the season progresses.