Review of the Original Sin series premiere of Pretty Little Liars: Oh, Mother

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There is a good chance that Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin will be a hit with the audience. It’s witty, confident in its aesthetics, and absolutely clear about the genre cliches it’s leaning toward. Both the main group of “little liars,” as well as the Millwood residents that surround them, have a stellar cast. What Original Sin does better than anything else, though, is show that it understands all the odd and wacky aspects which made Freeform’s flagship a pop cultural sensation from day one as an offshoot of what was perhaps the most pioneering adolescent series of 2010.

image credits: collider

That said, allow me to introduce you to the next generation. When it comes to Original Sin, it’s not just about the suffering of a single group of adolescent girls in small-town Pennsylvania, but rather the trauma that may be carried down from generation to generation. This is why we’re going to meet the new old generation. For co-creator Lindsay Calhoon Bring, the concept of “the sins of the mother being punished upon the kid” is a more accurate description.

When the pilot’s opening titles are through, the first of numerous bold-print chyrons appears: DECEMBER 31ST, 1999.

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The year 2000 is here, my dear friends, and you better get ready. Since we’re working on a spooky PLL, there’s also a sobbing, battered teen girl hurtling through a rave-like warehouse party, pleading urgently for rescue. What was her first and last name? In the person of Angela Waters (Gabriella Pizzolo). What’s the issue with her? Unfortunately, this is a mystery to us! Davie (Ava DeMary), the leader of the five teen females at the centre of the dance floor, has made Angela a no-show. To the horror of the assembled throng, Angela ascended the warehouse’s rafters, screaming “Can you see me now?!” before jumping to her death. SlAsh tally: 1

Imogen (Bailee Madison) and her mother Davie (Carly Pope), now an adult, are having a peaceful meal at a kitchen table that seems like it was last refurbished more than two decades ago. It’s so bad that Davie even makes Imogen drink milk now! Milk from cows! It’s time for supper! Gross, to paraphrase Imogen. The doorbell rings, and Imogen rises to answer it, showing a medium-sized baby bump in the process. In other words, the main character is a teen mom who is (supposedly) a single parent, and she has the full support of her own single mother.

Snarky blonde Mallory Bechtel (who played Imogen’s bitter ex-BFF Karen Beasley) is waiting behind the door. First, she must deliver an envelope to Davie she discovered on their front door, which she intends to return to Imogen before the two put a last, cruel bow on their old friendship. The message on the front is addressed to DAVIE. A crimson Y2K warehouse rave flyer is creased inside, with the phrase GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN scrawled in black sharpie. THE PAST IS IMPOSSIBLE TO EVER FORGET. NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT.

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As a warning and an allusion to the deadly Y2K warehouse party that we just watched, Davie is alarmed by the message he just received. We don’t know why exactly (just like we don’t know why Imogen and Karen aren’t friends anymore or what the history to Imogen’s pregnancy is), but Pretty Little Liars is a franchise known for its slow burn, so we’ll get there soon.

Davie’s terrible, violent death in the family’s upstairs tub (a tableau Imogen and Karen find together after travelling in horrified sync down a flooded upstairs corridor that seems like a cut scene from The Shining) isn’t a surprise, and Millwood, PA’s officials declare it an obvious suicide. There are two SlAsh counts here.

Imogen is now a regular guest of Davie’s old friend, Sidney (Sharon Leal), whose daughter Tabitha (Chandley Kinney), a geeky film fan with an after-school job at the local arthouse theatre, is a classmate of Imogen’s, but one who she’s plainly never spoken to at any great length… This new home setup isn’t very foreboding, but suffice it to say that the atmosphere is rather “chilly.”

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In any event, now that we’ve met two of the series’ Final Girls*, the introductions to the other three are underway. On her way to the school’s private (?) ballet studio, Faran (Zaria) utterly ignores Karen, who is in the middle of her Spirit Queen campaigning, anxiously attempting to catch her attention. Mice (Malia Pyles) nicknames Karen “Basic Barbie” as she attempts to humiliate her for gazing at the Spectrum Club banner for too long. Last but not least, Karen’s twin sister Noa (Maia Reficco), on her way to the nurse’s office to have her ankle monitor examined and execute what appears to be a daily drop-off of fresh pee. Shawn (Alex Aiono), her lovely, handsome football player lover, is there to keep her sane through the humiliation.

It’ll be at a library table towards the conclusion of the episode where Imogen and Tabitha are serving detention they didn’t deserve and plotting a method to pay back Karen for placing them there. Slasher A, a masked killer trying to wreak havoc on their lives, isn’t the only threat they face. They must also endure the daily annoyances that come with being an adolescent girl in Millwood, PA.

All of this humiliation begins for Tabitha in cinema class, where her white-mustachioed teacher has no sympathy for her attempts to navigate the curriculum, which is exclusively male and white. Where is John Singleton? Ava DuVernay, please appear! While you’re not in class, you can catch up on your favourite shows on any screen you like. It helps that Tabby has Chip (Carson Rowland), her clearly enamoured best friend. But being white and male as a teenager doesn’t give him the clout he needs to stand up against their teacher or Wes (Derek Klena), the Orpheum Theater manager who has a thing for Tabby (though this one, at least, is presented as Bad).

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Faran, on the other hand, begins with “ballet” and ends with “Black.” The episode begins with her seemingly having everything she wants: she’s cool enough that Karen wants to be her friend, not the other way around, and to top it all off, she’s been given the main part in the production of Black Swan that her school class is preparing to stage (sure!!). In the meantime, though, from the moment Karen approaches her after class to offer a cautious congratulations (“…I mean, they probably had to make you the Black Swan? After that (“Because you’re…”), things only get worse. A razor blade is hidden in the toe of a pointe shoe, and Karen accuses Faran for placing it there, so she loses the main role as well.

In the instance of Noa, the root cause of her troubles is the U.S. government’s failed drug policy. In addition to the ankle monitor and daily pee checks, we learn that the sheriff (Eric Johnson) who is even more of a power-hungry sexual predator than Rosewood’s Detective Wilden is also the father of the Beasley twins, and we’re not told why he gave Noa that punishment, is making her do community service cleaning up trash and graffiti. Slasher A is caught in the act of forcing one of the community service line’s juvenile boys to give him a blow job on the day we first meet Noa at her “work,” and when she goes to report it to Sheriff Beasley, she accidently captures him. It’s gloomy. Even more dreary: Slasher A injecting THC into her urine the following morning, which she interprets as “keep your mouth quiet or else” vengeance.

At first glance, things appear to be easier using the mouse. In the computer lab, a very pleasant, extremely cute boy called Ash approaches her, taps her on the shoulder, and asks her to the next Spectrum Club meeting. She’s stunned into mingling. After a few hours of flirting, Ash decides to friend her on a messaging app, which causes her to shriek with excitement and twirl around in her work chair. It’s fortunate that Slasher A doesn’t attack Ash right away. They do, however, put a dead rat in Mouse’s bag the next day, and somehow he is the one who gets punished for doing so

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Imogen, on the other hand, has Karen actually breathing down her neck, attempting to make her feel even more useless since she’s a pregnant adolescent and a recent (scandal-adjacent) orphan. There is still some mystery around Karen’s fury, but we have enough information to speculate that it has to do with her boyfriend and Imogen kissing at a party not too long ago. Proportional replies from you, Karen! Jeez.

In the ladies’ toilet, “kind” classmates softly ask Imogen what she’s going to do now… you know, about the baby. This is worse than Karen’s blatant bullying. “Will you have to do it by yourself? Is it possible for the father to help? Yes, I believe he was a lifeguard. A flashback shows Imogen alone on a cold, deserted beach with an empty bottle of vodka as she begins to feel the beginnings of a panic attack. Just as suddenly, she finds herself at the school nurse’s office with her head in her hands trying to explain to the staff that she has decided to terminate the pregnancy because her mother is no longer there to support her. Because Imogen already understands — at six months along, there is no other alternative than ultimate adoption — the nurse’s gentleness is commendable. Because of this, the school nurse went and told the school administrator what Imogen had been inquiring about, even though she doesn’t have an official OB-GYN in private. Looks quite horrible to me!!!!! It’s not only because Imogen is summoned to Principal Clanton’s office by Robert Stanton, who suggests that she consider moving schools since her presence “is triggering for other children,” and this ostensibly private talk with the nurse is given as proof.

Assuming that “Karen Beasley” was meant by Clanton’s comment about the “other students,” Imogen decides to take matters into her own hands, confronting Karen in the cafeteria about her bitchiness (and, as a bitter side note, her boyfriend’s cowardice). She then vows to run for Spirit Queen, just like her mother, in order to ensure her own survival at Millwood High School. They show up at school the next day with new campaign posters in hand only to discover that a large number of Vote for Imogen posters had been put up the night before… plus the fact that all of Karen’s have been vandalised.

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When all five girls are in detention together, they complain about how unfair it is. They eventually pin the blame on Karen, who they believe has been anonymously sending them text messages throughout the episode. As a result, they begin to strategize about how they may avenge themselves on Karen for her bullying behaviour. As a natural consequence, Imogen addresses the camera directly, in extreme close-up:

SquAd is a detective

Despite the fact that “The Liars” was an easy shorthand for the show’s core four characters, “Final Girls” feels like a more appropriate collective noun given the slasher framing of Original Sin and the fact that this new generation has thus far proven themselves to be almost pathologically forthcoming.

You are cordially invited to return to the kind of arts education and cultural experiences that can only take place in a small Pennsylvanian town hell-bent on terrorising its teen girl population. Among the highlights of this episode are: (1) a competitive Black Swan performance by the town’s only (and dilapidated) high school’s almost-pro ballet programme, (2) an advanced literature lecture that begins with a comparison between Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter, (3) references to Ari Aster, David Fincher, Akira Kurosawa, Ava DuVernay and John Singleton at the expert level, and (4) a dressed to kill/body doubt crossover.

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Our school’s mascot is… the Steppenwolves.

… Slasher A lures the school janitor to their wicked lair (on school grounds, of course) around the 45-minute mark, where they viciously slaughter him. After then, it’s not talked about again! But it looks like his death (let alone disappearance) has gone unnoticed. As long as Slasher A gets a little more bloody murder as a reward, that’s all the programme has to say about it. Sure!

There are literally tens of thousands of words written by me on the subject of Pretty Little Liars ClassicTM. You are free to read whenever you want!

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