It’s the most wonderful time of the year in Millwood! The paper ghosts have been torn down, and the pumpkins have all been turned into pie. After an exceptionally rough autumn, Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin’s steadfast group of girls were hoping for a lighter holiday season—especially after they stopped hearing from “A,” the masked killer that had been following them around for months.
But Christmas is never as cheerful as you hope it’ll be, and even the soft glow of twinkling lights isn’t enough to calm Imogen, Tabby, Mouse, Faran, and Noa. “A” has returned, and he finally makes his intentions known in this life-or-death game of cat and mouse.
If you tuned in to the four-week event that was Original Sin’s first season on HBO Max, your head might still be spinning after those final three installments. With seven already jam-packed episodes before them, it’s hard to believe how many secrets the series’ writers were able to save for its denouement.
Ahead of the season’s finale, The Daily Beast spoke with co-creators Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lindsay Calhoon Bring about those twists, those deaths, and where a Season 2 might pick up with Millwood’s most troubled teens. If you haven’t finished all 10 episodes by now, it’s safe to say there are major spoilers ahead.
The tightly kept secrets held by Millwood’s teens and their parents are all coming to light, and no one is safe from the lethal power that they hold. After Imogen and Tabby bonded over their shared trauma on their road trip to Rosewood, they’re emboldened to begin putting the pieces of their assaults together.
After a lengthy (and hilarious) process of elimination by cleverly using the annual Thanksgiving blood drive to test the DNA of most of Millwood High’s male students against the DNA of Imogen’s baby, the Liars are left with just as many questions as they started with. That is, until Tabby’s mother, Sharon, plants a seed that starts to make them suspicious about those closest to them. Statistically, Sharon tells them, you’re more likely to be assaulted by someone you know.
Imogen and Tabby follow a trail of clues to conclude that they were potentially both assaulted by Chip, Imogen’s new love interest and Tabby’s longtime co-worker at Millwood’s movie theater. When the girls confront Chip, expecting him to deny everything, he confesses under pressure. Suddenly, “A” appears from the shadows, and Imogen and Tabby make the brilliant move of saving their own lives by telling him that Chip is their rapist; they experienced the same thing that Angela Waters did 22 years prior. This news sends “A” after Chip into the dark of the night.
But “A” isn’t done with them yet, as they find out when they’re lured back to Millwood High for the gripping final sequence. When they arrive, they’re greeted by “A” and Principal Clanton. The pair have been working together to torment the girls, just as their mothers tormented Clanton’s daughter Angela two decades prior. “A,” who turns out to be Angela’s brother Archie, was the muscle, while Clanton was the brains. Refusing to apologize for their mothers’ misdeeds, Principal Clanton sets “A” after Imogen, who runs to her childhood home, still empty after her own mother’s guilt-laden suicide months ago.
In a climax worthy of a big-budget horror slasher, Imogen and “A” duke it out, giving actress Bailee Madison a chance to prove that she’s worthy of Scream Queen Legend status. After Imogen stabs “A” in the neck with a butcher knife, she passes out and wakes up in the hospital. Tabby is, of course, there waiting for her best friend, ready to tell her that Principal Clanton has been taken into custody. The bad news: “A” and Chip are both still alive. Even the good news that Sheriff Beasley—who has been torturing the town and the Liars after they found out that he was the one who assaulted Angela in 1999—was killed by his wife can’t assuage Imogen’s lingering fear that this nightmare might not be over.
In the season’s final moments, “A” escapes police custody at Millwood General Hospital, in an essential worker bloodbath. Meanwhile, Chip and his family seem to be having an unusually cheerful Christmas Eve, despite their son being accused of sexual assault by two of his friends. While it’s no surprise that a rapist would be smugly walking free, there’s still time for Chip to get one last-minute Christmas present: a knife to the face, courtesy of “A,” who shows up at his door.
“There is, in my mind, a difference between endorsement and heightened horror wish fulfillment,” Original Sin co-creator Lindsay Calhoon Bring told The Daily Beast ahead of the finale. “I think a lot of characters who get their just desserts [in this series] are wish fulfillment.”
“The reveal of Chip, we talked about [that] a lot,” Bring continued. “We really wanted him to die, we wanted him to be a victim, we wanted him to go out. We wanted Sheriff Beasley to die. We didn’t think we could redeem those characters. In this horror genre, with a slasher who has got a knife, I want to see those guys dead. I want to see those rapists dead. That was really freeing for us. In a show without that element, we probably couldn’t get away with it.”
“It’s true that, at this point, they’re so beyond redemption,” fellow co-creator Roberto Aguirre Sacasa chimed in. “You don’t want a long trial about Chip. You just want ‘A’ to kill Chip on Christmas Eve! You feel a little bit bad for Chip’s parent’s the next morning, but hey.”
But the genius behind Original Sin’s carefully constructed characters is that Chip’s death isn’t just a small component of this shocking finale, the real takeaway from this episode is that this is first and foremost a survivor story. One of the strongest and most surprising things about Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin has been the careful handling of sexual assault storylines. Two of its main characters were abused by the same person; Angela Waters’ assault catalyzed her suicide and therefore the emergence of “A.” Together, it would be easy for Original Sin to fall back on using these characters’ trauma as a thrown-away plot device—but it never does.
“We do want complicated storytelling,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “On one hand, you have something like Euphoria—which we’re huge fans of—which is all mess and all darkness. And then you have something [else] that’s much more sanitized and neutered. We were trying to find the balance between that. Let’s push past these confrontations and see what the consequences are.”
Another fantastic part of Original Sin’s portrayal of sexual assault is how it handles the nature of the act itself. The show never deigns to show its heroes in distress, and instead fills in only the most essential details to allow us to empathize with Imogen and Tabby without unnecessary sequences that could trigger the viewer. “In terms of violence and sexual violence, we had a lot of conversations, and we went through a lot of versions for things to not seem exploitative, gratuitous, or fetishistic,” Aguirre-Sacasa said.
Even though “A” might be intent on killing rapists, he was also instructed to enact revenge on the Liars for their parents’ two-decades-ago transgressions. It would seem that “A,” like most great slasher villains, has a chip hot-glued to his shoulder and no true allegiances other than to a little bloodshed. And with him on the loose so close to New Year’s Eve—the 22nd anniversary of the night Angela killed herself—might the (not-yet-greenlit) second season of Original Sin pick up right where the first left off?
“This is such a cop-out answer, but so much of it depends on what time of the year [we start shooting],” Bring told us. “If we end up shooting in January when it’s snowing, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah we’ve got to continue it.’ My instinct is to let a little bit of time pass.”
“That said, [we were hanging on to] this idea that our last episode would end on New Year’s Eve,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “And we finally got to it and it was like, ‘I don’t think we’re gonna be able to get it!’ That anniversary was a big deal, and we got very, very close. But it was something that was like, until the bitter end, we’ve got to end on New Year’s Eve.”
“We were one week away!” Bring said, laughing.
Aguirre-Sacasa nodded in return, adding, “To our credit, we got pretty damn close.”