Pretty Little Liars: Summer School episode 2 struggles to make audiences care about the characters (Review)

The second episode of PLL: Summer School had the potential to hit the ground running after all the exposition in episode 1, but it struggled to get audiences invested.
Courtesy: Max
Courtesy: Max /

Thanks to a double-premiere, fans of the Pretty Little Liars franchise got the opportunity to watch two new episodes on May 9, 2024, which should have been enough to hook them on the new season. It's a strategy that worked well when the series debuted. But season 2, so far, has struggled to hit the same standard.

If the first episode (recap here) was playing catch-up, Pretty Little Liars: Summer School episode 2, "Summer Lovin," should have been the episode to grab onto the audience and make them desperate for more. Unfortunately, episode 2 wasn't overly successful, largely because of poor stakes. There are ways to successfully balance personal and life-or-death stakes, but this episode struggled to create engaging conflict on either level.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School. Cr: WBTV /

Bloody Rose Waters is a much weaker villain than Archie

Throughout the first two episodes of season 2, it's shown that Bloody Rose Water is an urban legend that people have become obsessed with. However, the audience doesn't really get to feel the intrigue or the fear because she doesn't have much of a presence, despite now having three known kills.

When the masked killer was introduced in season 1, he was terrifying. The look alone did a lot of the job, but his morality made him endlessly more interesting. Archie Waters didn't kill for fun. He had a code, based on whether or not people hurt those around them.

Thus far, however, Rose has no explanations attached, and therefore nothing for fans to grab onto. On top of lacking intrigue, she doesn't feel overly threatening. Her victims have been those who were in vulnerable positions, and there's little evidence that the killer(s) are pulling the strings behind the scenes.

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Because of that, the only thing to really connect with is the question of who is beneath the mask. Conveniently enough, this episode provided a suspect for nearly every character based on who they gave their cell phone number to. But the build-up is too repetitive to be effective.

When the Liars got their first A texts, they were personalized based on who each girl is and what mattered to them. That showed an investment in getting to know and play with the victims. Bloody Rose, however, has pulled the same move repeatedly. All her known victims were stabbed, and each of the Liars got a mysterious rose and a phone call from an unknown number.

Differences are what make something interesting, but Bloody Rose is one-note, and that made this episode boring. She'll need to either develop a personality or start being more specific in her attacks for it to be anywhere close to as scary as Archie was in season 1.

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Episode 2 created interesting personal conflicts, only to resolve them too fast

Aside from the classic "Who is A?" question, episode 2 had a major focus on interpersonal conflicts and self-perception, which is a great direction to go down. As Imogen says in this episode, she has a long list of reasons to not want to be the same girl she was last year.

However, that kind of identity crisis could have easily covered an entire season of character growth. Instead, she was caught by her friends immediately and fully embraced her true self in less than one episode. By going so fast, Imogen feels more erratic than traumatized.

The lies that are building up in each main relationship are more interesting, simply because they are taking their time. At some point, Henry will have to find out that Faran was cleared to dance, which is something that can be used against her. Noa already hurt Shawn by lying to him about her mother, but she's also keeping secrets about her previous relationship with Jen.

Cr: WBTV /

The relationship drama has a sense of tension, because the secrets must someday come to the surface. However, the core emotional arcs, which were the best parts of episode 1 (review here), already feel like an afterthought.

It's hard to show the strain of day-to-day activities for characters who have survived a massacre, but that's why people like these kinds of shows. The characters should be going on a journey throughout the season, responding differently based on what they have endured. So far, though, the conflicts feel shallow, and bad habits or personal struggles that have been ongoing for six months in-universe manage to be resolved with one good heart-to-heart.

VERDICT: This episode successfully laid the groundwork for the upcoming mysteries of season 2, but it was done in such a heavy-handed way that it was hard to invest in the character's struggles.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School streams new episodes Thursdays on Max.

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