Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, suicide.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin had big shoes to fill. Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars was a phenomenon, and their season finales were always major television events, with the audience eagerly awaiting answers to all their burning questions. Original Sin’s tenth and final episode, which aired alongside Episodes 8 and 9, lived up to every expectation, in both execution and message.
Ahead of the final three episodes, Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin gave fans a lot to ruminate on. Still being haunted by the presence of “A,” the Liars team up in order to tackle their own demons ahead of the final showdown. In an incredibly empowering storyline, Faran (Zaria) stands up to her mother, finally confronting her about the invasive back surgery she was forced to have. Mouse (Malia Pyles) continues down her own unsettling path, constantly pushing back against her mothers’ over-protection. Noa (Maia Reficco) continues to put pressure on her mother, and attempts to talk some sense into her boyfriend Shawn (Alex Aiono) about his own addiction.
The series’ second mystery comes to a head when Tabby (Chandler Kinney) and Imogen (Bailee Madison) enlist the help of their fellow Liars, as well as Kelly Beasley (Mallory Bechtel), to catch the single man they believe is responsible for sexually assaulting both of them. While they eagerly await the blood test results, the Liars move ever closer to discovering the identity of the elusive “A,” and finally figuring out exactly what happened to Angela Waters in 1999. Unlike its predecessors, Original Sin’s incredible finale gives fans exactly what they want: A-nswers.
Original Sin, mixed with its teen drama and horror elements, tells a story that speaks to a number of poignant topics, delivered so brilliantly through the show’s overarching story and its villain. In the episodes leading up to the finale, the answer to the series’ non-“A” mystery finally comes to light: Tabby’s coworker Chip was responsible for raping both Tabby and Imogen.
In Episodes 8 and 9, the sometimes over-the-top film references are redeemed, with a knowledge of pop culture playing into one of the most chilling commentaries in the show. When Tabby and Imogen visit Chip’s house, attempting to find Imogen’s missing underwear from the night of her assault, they find something else: a secret stash of rape revenge horror films hidden in the back of his closet. When Tabby pulled the crate into frame and I Spit on Your Grave came into view, I immediately flinched. The use of Chip’s interest in those films, which could be potentially written off as just an interest in a certain genre of horror (as it was earlier in the show by Chip himself and Tabby’s creepy boss Wes), was instead used to make a commentary about rape and how it’s portrayed on screen.
Original Sin successfully told two stories about assault and its aftermath through Tabby’s ever-present anxieties and Imogen’s complicated feelings about her pregnancy, highlighting how it affects all aspects of the victim’s life. In Episode 6, Tabby’s fantasy sequence of her potential date-turned-assault with a guy who simply approached her in Rosewood underscores how she now lives in constant fear of every single guy that approaches her, believing out of self-preservation that they will take advantage of her. Similarly, Imogen’s ill-fated desire to access an abortion late in her pregnancy highlights how she almost couldn’t imagine bringing her rapist’s child into the world without her mother by her side. The show achieved all of this without ever actually showing the kind of rape scenes that a guy like Chip would get off on, which is a feat worthy of praise.
In the end, the parallel stories of Angela and Tabby and Imogen serve as a clear example of how a proper support system could change everything in regards to sexual assault and its aftermath. In 1999, Angela had no one in her corner; ignored and bullied by her peers, she felt there was no other choice than to take her own life after being assaulted. For Tabby and Imogen, on the other hand, they found solace first in each other, and then within the rest of the Liars, which allowed them to end the season not completely healed, but ready and eager to move forward with their lives, stronger together. Taking these incredibly nuanced and important topics in this show and presenting them to its audience of young adult viewers authentically is a difficult undertaking (as other teen shows have unfortunately proven—hi, Thirteen Reasons Why), but Original Sin has shown through its expert handling of those touchy subjects that it was absolutely up to the task.
Then, in Episode 10, “A” is finally revealed, and the series’ central mystery is solved. Principal Clanton was behind everything, working with his son Archie (our creepy “A”) to avenge his daughter Angela’s death. Though, instead of targeting the man actually responsible for Angela’s rape, which led to her suicide, Clanton turned his murderous sights on the Liars’ mothers. Obviously they were truly horrible to Angela in high school, but Archie’s avoidance of Angela’s attacker, Sheriff Beasley, was the perfect commentary on the double standards placed on women, and the anger that is often misdirected towards them. While, of course, it was paramount that Sidney, Elodie, Marjorie, Davie, and Corey understood the severity of their mistreatment of Angela, “A” and Clanton’s hyperfocus on them (and their innocent daughters) rather than Sheriff Beasley highlights how men are oftentimes able to avoid retaliation, with women being easier targets for misogyny-driven hatred. And, with Davie’s own suicide paired with the other mothers’ own persistent guilt, it’s clear that they had already punished themselves enough for 20 long years.
In addition to its interesting commentary on assault and misogyny, the most impressive part of this season finale is how incredibly hopeful it is, despite its striking amount of death and trauma. The final take away from the Liars’ showdown with “A” is that people can learn and grow, and we should allow them to do so. Clanton and Archie refused to acknowledge that Davie and the other moms had changed, but Imogen’s experience with her mother indicated that she truly had transformed into a kinder, more loving woman. Unlike Sheriff Beasley (who was still using his power and status to force himself onto people), the mothers proved that people do have the capacity for change. We shouldn’t be defined by our mistakes or by the way we acted in high school, and Original Sin co-signs that message. Much like their mothers, our central Liars change too, opting not to get revenge on those who hurt them—in stark contrast to the revenge against Karen that brought them together in the first place.
Not to be outdone, Bailee Madison claims the title of scream queen of the year in this finale. Original Sin takes the classic slasher chase scene and final battle and cranks the dial. It’s difficult to watch as Imogen flails and lands on her pregnant belly as she fights for her life against “A.” Though, it’s also unbelievably satisfying to see her and her baby survive, and the episode’s Christmas party wind-down acts as a balm after the stressful eleventh hour.
This finale also feels like a love letter to fans of the original series, with the messed-up school test harkening back to the Dollhouse from Season 5. And of course, Ezra and Aria being the ones to potentially adopt Imogen’s baby was incredibly sweet. Even though I have my issues with that relationship (and the show even throws some shade of its own towards it—Sidney is ten times the parent than Byron Montgomery ever was), this connection warmed my heart in a way that couldn’t be helped. It also opens the door for potential appearances down the road by Aria and Ezra, and hopefully more familiar faces in a potential second season.
Overall, Original Sin’s finale—and first season all together—was extremely surprising in all the best ways. Of course, it was addicting and intriguing right off the bat, but the series’ commitment to its poignant commentary solidified it as essential viewing. There is so much more to love about this show than I have room to express here (like Faran’s empowering reclamation of her own body, Mouse coming out of her shell, Noa’s journey of self-respect, and whatever is going on with Kelly and her Karen-centric issues), but for now I’ll have to settle for highlighting just how much this show feels like a rebirth of excellent teen TV; a show not afraid to get weird, but also a far cry from the more brainless attempts at appeasing the ever-illusive early-20’s audience. Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin respects its viewers, its characters, and itself, making for a reboot/sequel actually worthy of carrying on the mantle of its successor.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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