Thursday, August 18, 2022

REVIEW: 'Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin' - "A" Summons the Liars for the Trial Against Their Mothers in 'Chapter Ten: Final Girls'

HBO Max's Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin - Episode 1.10 "Chapter Ten: Final Girls"

As "A" doubles down, the friends must work quickly to uncover the link between Angela Waters' death, their mothers, and their mysterious foe... before it's too late.

"Chapter Ten: Final Girls" was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Lindsay Calhoon Bring & Michael Grassi and directed by Lisa Soper

Heading into the finale, the Liars believed Sheriff Beasley to be "A" and Chip to be Imogen and Tabby's rapist. One of those is actually correct. Chip confuses to assaulting Imogen and Tabby. The friends are completely bluffing when they confront him. They are trusting Tabby's instincts. He has been a good friend to both of them. And yet, his need for proximity ultimately became too suspicious. That moment provided power. In fact, so much of this storytelling wants to enact the revenge fantasy that Tabby hoped to depict in her short film. She is presented with the opportunity to carve initials into the man who attacked her. She didn't subject herself to that torture. None of the Liars want to be playing their tormentor's game. They have been compelled to do so because of what their mothers did twenty years ago. This season was purposefully vague with every detail about what happened to Angela. Even when the moms offered the truth, they still kept secrets. That's true until the very end. Some massive reveal had to be reserved for this climatic hour. It states that Angela's sexual assault wasn't the cruelest moment of betrayal leading up to her death. Instead, it was the way her bullies got the entire school to erase her from existence. That doesn't quite explain how she showed up at the rave looking like a complete mess. It's mostly just inferred as her wanting to belong with these people despite their constant torture of her. Her mother argued against it. She knew these teen girls weren't going to change. No one believes that even all these years later. The moms are still expected to behave the same as they did when they were in high school. That's a silly idea though. It's what sticks in the mind of the person seeking revenge for what happened to Angela. The slasher who has been stalking everyone around town is actually Angela's brother, Archie. No one knew he existed because he had a face only a mother could love. Meanwhile, Principal Clanton was behind-the-scenes pulling the strings all along. As an educator, he is trusted with the well-being of the young minds who enter his school every day. His actions for years are a direct betrayal to the merits of the profession. He agreed never to recognize Angela as his daughter. He's just as guilty as everyone else. However, he wouldn't have been a good parent. He subjects his one remaining child to be a serial killer. He encourages those impulses. Everyone is terrified of that towering figure. Clanton has a gun and forces a confession. He lays out this elaborate display of the truth. It's all about confronting bullies. It's still the principal forcing five of his students to be terrible people solely because of their genetics. His logic doesn't make any sense. Of course, no one should expect a show from this creative team to line up perfectly with everything that has come before.

All of this amounts to a series that is too cheeky with its references and incapable of telling genuine stories. Brief moments had immense power. However, so much of the narrative was focused on the awful things done to people. It was never about them existing in this world and being allowed to flourish as themselves. It was reduced to people's personalities being defined by Tabby constantly asking about their favorite movies. The show called out the tropes of the horror genre. And then, it would perfectly mimic them. That shows a consideration for the art form and a respect for what it has done over the years. It doesn't offer something exciting and new. The storytelling always has to call out how it's actually connected to something else. And so, brief allusions are made to this show being set in the same universe as The CW's Riverdale as well as the original Pretty Little Liars. The couple adopting Imogen's baby are two prominent characters from the former show. Of course, they aren't actually seen onscreen. It's meant to be nothing more than a neat homage. It doesn't connect to the history of horror and torment. That was suppose to be the whole point of the show though. Instead, it was basically the moms were bullies. Their behavior was teased every so often. A lot of heavy lifting is left for this finale to do. Even the conclusion finds every character of merit who has been stalked by "A" making a bold declaration of how their lives will change moving forward. For the young Liars, it's mostly them feeling a relief for it all being over so they can kiss their boyfriends. Imogen and Tabby are excluded from that but find peace elsewhere. Meanwhile, Corey decides to move back to town, Elodie returns home promising to go to marriage counseling and Marjorie prepares to go to rehab. It's all too neat. They all survive this fateful encounter. It's perilous for a brief moment as Imogen goes into labor while "A" is chasing her. She seeks refuge at home once more. She finds strength to confront this attacker. She prevails. This finale is all about people having the courage to do what needs to be done. That means hurting those who abuse their power. Not everyone is on equal footing in that regard. Moreover, it's too easy just to simply kill them. The show wants genuine weight to the trauma inflicted on these characters. It undercuts the message by making the solutions too simple. And then, it calls attention to none of this being over. That's certainly what Imogen hopes. That may only prove how her instincts can't be trusted. She has strong support in Tabby. She knows the horror conventions. It's odd to pose that question about a sequel and for Imogen to deny the possibility only for the narrative to then cutaway to the hospital as the reign of terror from "A" continues. It establishes the inevitability of more story should HBO Max order it. This season was trying to do too much by presenting an elaborate story that connects generations through trauma. That was an admirable mission. It mostly flopped because it failed to allow any character to breathe as their own unique individuals beyond the demands of the plot and the need to produce multiple shocking reveals each episode.