The first five blood soaked episodes of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” left big shoes for its latter half to fill. While episodes 1-5 were filled with flashbacks galore, character introductions, and a trail of corpses in A’s wake, episodes 6-10 plants us much more in the present, with explorations of the conflicts facing both the liars and their parents, and a deeper dive into the investigation of A. While the back half of “Original Sin” improves upon some of its preceding episodes’ shortcomings (most notably, giving Zaria, Malia Plyles and Maia Reficco more time to shine as Faran, Mouse and Noa respectively), it was also inflicted with the slasher curse of not quite sticking the landing. While the revelations are shocking, it stretches reality a bit too far at times to tie up all of its loose ends, leading to an ending that feels a bit rushed.
With all that said, beware of major spoilers below!
Starting with the positives, “Original Sin’s” back half is where its characters shine the most. Capitalizing on the foundation set from previous episodes, the cast of liars are given more breathing room to explore and evolve from the conflicts that they’re facing. Faran’s complex relationship with her mother stands out in particular–a coming-of-age arc, as Faran reconciles with the physical and mental consequences of her mother’s choices. We’re also given more clarity surrounding Mouse’s fixation with grieving father, Steve, which turns out to be a coping mechanism she uses to grapple with a missing paternal figure in her life. It’s one of the more raw and tragic takes on parental relationships in the show, especially with the heartbreaking scene of Mouse’s biological father coldly rejecting her by literally shutting the door in her face.
Another standout worth noting is Mallory Bechtel’s ability to seamlessly leap between channeling Karen and Kelly between scenes–so seamlessly that your head will continue spinning even up until the last episode wondering which sister is still walking the halls of Millwood High, and which one is six feet under. It contributes to the air of mystery leading up to the finale, along with uncovering the identity of the person who sexually assaulted both Tabby and Imogen, the true fate of Angela Waters, and ultimately, the person behind the mask lurking around Millwood as A.
While the mysteries are gripping, the final foot of the journey is where things get a bit shaky. In short, “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” likely could have benefitted from another episode or two to give it the space it needed to more neatly tie up its loose ends. For example, the liars’ plan to obtain DNA from the male students at Millwood High (and the subsequent montage of them extracting sweaty jockstraps from the boy’s locker room), while entertaining, almost felt like a bit of a deus ex machina plot device to conveniently narrow down suspects within one episode. When Noa’s mom suddenly has a “friend at the lab” who is willing to compare the DNA of high school students with the DNA of Imogen’s baby, it starts to feel the show is stretching reality a bit too much to keep the plot gears turning quickly.
The uneven pacing also spreads to the final reveal and climax of the season–within the 50 minutes of the finale, we learn that Chip had assaulted Imogen and Tabby, we discover that Angela has a twin brother all along named Archie, all of the liars’ parents are kidnapped by A, Milwood High is transformed into a fucked up torture chamber, Principal Clanton is revealed as the mastermind controlling A (which I’ll come back to shortly), Imogen gives birth to her baby, and A escapes. It’s exciting and answers a ton of questions, but it’s also a bit of whiplash. Whereas so much of the show carefully sets up complex conflicts and dynamics between all of the characters, the last stretch barrels through to the credits without fully developing all of the revelations.
And, to address the most important part of the finale, the reveal of Principal Clanton and his son Archie as the duo making up A: my reaction was lukewarm at first. I had put the pieces together in earlier episodes that A was likely a family member of Angela, but Clanton seemed to come a bit from left field. However, upon revisiting earlier episodes, a couple red flags pointing in his direction seemed more apparent: his interesting choice of the phrase “she [Karen] will be punished accordingly” in episode two, with her death later in the episode, and the fact that A’s lair seems to be in the school without anyone realizing it are two of the clues that seemed obvious in retrospect. It warmed me up to the reveal a bit more the longer I sat with it, but regardless, I’m sure many will find it polarizing.
In a way, it’s successful because it made me crave more. I’m attached to the cast of liars–they’ve all evolved and had high stakes in foiling A’s plans, and I’m curious to know how each of them will move forward from the events of the season. It’s an improvement from the original series as well, as it feels much more conclusive and cohesive instead of leaving the identity of A as a cliffhanger. My only reservation is that I’m not exactly how a smooth transition into another season of “Original Sin” can occur. It gives the impression that in the rush to tie up all loose ends, complete all character arcs, and fit all of the reveals into the last couple episodes, the story feels very complete as is. Imogen says it herself at the end of the finale: it feels over, over.
Despite this, I’m still hoping for another season. Aside from pacing issues in the back half, “Original Sin” remains one of the most successful slasher shows I’ve seen to date, and I was glued to my seat waiting to see how all of the pieces would fall into place by the end. The writers may have to do some gymnastics to naturally introduce a new batch of conflicts for the liars to face in a new season, but the good news is that they effectively characterized the group in season one enough that I’d love to see them tackle new mysteries in Milwood. Besides, this wouldn’t be the first time a new A could be introduced. In the meantime, I’ll be watching my phone anxiously like I’m waiting for a text from A to see if “Original Sin” will be renewed or not.
My rating for the entire season of “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” overall?