Unoriginal Sins – Pretty Little Liars: Episodes 4 & 5

After the last episode, it seemed Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin had found its focus: the mystery of Angela Waters and her relationship with the Liars' moms. So it makes sense that the fourth episode opens with a flashback to 1999 and teenage Marjorie (Sarah-Anne Martinez), mother of Noa, getting Angela (Gabriella Pizzolo) in trouble for smoking a cigarette that actually belonged to her.

So Many Mysteries, so Little Time

But it doesn't take long for another mystery to be (re)introduced. In the first episode, we saw Tabitha retrieve and look over footage from a camera she had hidden in the boys' locker room. As episodes four and five play out, we learn that something happened to her at a party last summer, something she seems to be investigating by spying on the naked boys.

And the mysteries keep piling up as the episodes go on. Faran becomes suspicious about Kelly's identity and begins investigating whether it was Kelly who died and that Karen is now pretending to be her sister.

Mouse has a secret relationship with an adult man who lost his daughter. The connection allows them to therapeutically roleplay father/daughter activities, like going over her report card and trick or treating together. But something feels amiss, and it seems Mouse may have done this with more than just one man.

We also have the lingering questions of what happened to Mouse as a child that makes her moms so protective and who Imogen's baby daddy is.

This chaotic mix of multiple overlapping mystery plots is undoubtedly reminiscent of the original Pretty Little Liars. Still, given Original Sin's ten-episode first season (which may or may not lead to a second season), it seems unlikely that all of these mysteries will get the time they deserve.

“Movie-splaining”

It's particularly disappointing that the mysteries don't have room to breathe, given the things the show decides to spend time on instead. The fourth episode heavily centers on Tabitha and Chip (Carson Rowland) recreating an iconic movie scene for their film class. Of course, in classic PLL fashion, they're doing Hitchcock.

Tabitha decides that they will create a gender-swapped version of Psycho‘s iconic shower scene. It's a fine idea, but Tabitha's excitement about it is at least annoying and at most aggravating to any horror fans. She says that with this gender inversion, she will be “breaking the last taboo,” which to her means “a hot male body penetrated by a female phallus.”

Setting aside the fact that there have been female killers in horror movies since the dawn of killers in horror movies, what's more frustrating is that Tabitha knows this. She cites Friday the 13th and that Jason's mother is the killer (Faran thanks her for “movie-splaining”). She has a Suspiria poster in her room, and several of Dario Argento's films feature women who kill men, including Suspiria.

Also frustratingly inconsistent is that in the making of this Psycho scene recreation, Tabitha allows her male star Greg (Elias Kacavas) to make two sexual comments toward Faran. And this is after she has established that she wants a safe set. If Tabitha is the principled young woman the show makes her out to be, she would at most have accepted one comment. But for him to make two and for her to let them slide feels like a light form of character assassination in service of furthering the plot.

It's also eyebrow-raising that Tabitha, who is black, makes no comments about the brilliance of her casting of a black woman and white man for the scene. She also wholly ignores the racial aspect later in a conversation with Chip (who is white) about how she wants a woman to shoot the scene to subvert the pattern of men behind the camera.

The show may have been cast race-blind after scripts were written, and that's why this doesn't come up. But that seems the only explanation for why race would go entirely ignored in these conversations.

So Much Talk, so Little Action

The conversations Tabitha has about her brilliance in gender-swapping the iconic shower scene is a continuation of the show's habit of interspersing buzz words with media commentary. But, once again, in a form more egregious than any of the other conversations about social injustices.

But we do still get those moments divorced from references. For example, Faran says to Kelly, “I thought Karen was the gaslighting microaggressor.” And she calls a misogynist jock “toxic masculinity smurf” in the fifth episode's Halloween party climax.

That climax is also the most ridiculous scene the show has included thus far regarding social issues. Tyler says “femi-nazi,” “homo,” and “retarded,” all of which feel at least a decade and a half out of date. And in perhaps the first mention of race, he asks Tabitha, “are you trying to win the award for angriest black woman?” It's a lot and doesn't feel well or poorly handled so much as it feels like the writers threw a lot of problematic language at the wall to characterize Tyler as a bad guy.

Yet, for all of the talk, Original Sin has still not crossed the threshold of representation that its predecessor did. In the original PLL, Emily (Shay Mitchell) has veiled conversations with Hanna (Ashley Benson) and explicit conversations with her parents about her sexuality early in the first season. Before the end of that season, she's kissing a girlfriend on screen. Original Sin feels like it wants to prove that it's got what the kids want in its politics. Still, it's not delivering the one thing many queer viewers rightfully expect.

Horror Hits

However, Original Sin continues to deliver tension, scares, and discomfort.

There are two fantastic moments involving the masked person that the Liars call A (it's unclear if the person in the mask and the one sending texts are the same person). Both sequences are simple but brilliantly effective camera pans emphasizing the spatial relationships between Liars and the masked killer. These camera moves allow the audience to see things our heroines can't and immediately create tension.

There's also a scene with the so-called A that breaks into an outright chase. The sequence is just as thrilling for its geography, which includes small apartment hallways and rooftops with significant distance between them as the horror of being chased by a masked assailant. The show also introduces a potentially supernatural element when the girls attempt to contact Imogen's mother, Davie using an Ouija board and seem to have some success.

But what's most unnerving are the scenes between Mouse and the adult man Steve (Alexander Chaplin), who lost his daughter. We see them meet, and he tells her she can call him dad, as he calls her Rachel (the name of his missing but presumed dead daughter). While the entire thing feels uncomfortable, it may be more Exotica than Hard Candy. But the tension and uncertainty of what exactly is happening here make these scenes wonderfully unnerving. And unlike Tabitha's gender-swapped Psycho scene, actually taboo.

Not Enough Time

The main problem with Original Sin isn't its insistence on referencing horror movies and making incorrect generalizations about horror history or its performative social issue conversations. It's that there simply isn't enough time. Introducing new mysteries is undoubtedly exciting, particularly Mouse's storyline, but there's not enough time for these mysteries to breathe. They aren't allowed to spread out and let the tension become an atmospheric staple for the show like the original's mysteries were.

But more than that, the girls don't get enough time to be friends. There's a beautiful moment at the Halloween party where Noa and Imogen are singing and dancing together, highlighting how few moments like this we've had so far. Pretty Little Liars was a show about a group of teens being terrorized and the many mysteries they had to solve. Still, it was also a show about a group of teens. Original Sin has offered some moments of friendship between the girls, but these scenes feel like the major casualty of the ten-episode season, and they're crucial to making an ensemble show like this work.

I look forward to continuing the series as its mysteries still have me hooked despite the many issues. And I hope the girls get more time to be friends in later episodes because the few moments we've seen so far are lovely.

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Featured Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.


Kyle Logan studied philosophy and now constantly overthinks music and movies.

He’s a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Cultured Vultures, Chicago Film Scene, Castle of Chills, and Filmotomy. Kyle has covered virtual film festivals including the inaugural Nightstream festival in 2020 and the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. Kyle is interested in horror films, animation, Star Wars, and Adventure Time, as well as older genre films written and directed by queer people and women, particularly those from the 1970s and 80s. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.