The Pretty Little Liars: Summer School finale finally reveals the movie they wanted this season to be (Review)

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max
Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

This season of Pretty Little Liars has been occasionally difficult to get through, with multiple episodes feeling like filler when they could have been carefully distributing clues. However, I've tried to manage my expectations, with the assurance that everything would be revealed in the final episode.

Now, the finale of Pretty Little Liars: Summer School is finally here, and it provides the answers that audiences have been waiting for in a wild ride that slasher fans can definitely find something to love in. It's full to bursting with horror movie references, most notably to Scream 2 and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the reveals make a lot of sense.

I am happy to say that "Chapter Eighteen: Final Exam" is the best episode of the season, proving that there was a clear direction for the story all along. While it was fairly derivative, the actors put in award-worthy performances that kept me glued to the screen. My key question, however, is why they made a season of television when they clearly wanted to make a movie.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

This was the best episode of the season

Before I dive into my criticisms, I want to be very clear. I enjoyed this episode more than any other episode this season, and it had many moments that were even better than season one. Despite my harsher critiques, I do love this series. This episode made me feel incredibly justified in that love.

From the surface level, the finale was a lot of fun. It was full of classic horror movie moments, and it was a joy to see Tabby choosing which to indulge in and which to subvert. Unlike other self-aware horror franchises, it really felt like Tabby was the one with agency, rather than the director. And Chandler Kinney did a wonderful job, capturing the horror, the defiance, and the resolve needed for Tabby to survive her starring moment.

I also loved Imogen's arc this episode, although it's questionable why her friends did. It makes perfect sense that, after everything she has been through, Imogen would be willing to attack her boyfriend. Trapping him in a freezer might have been overkill, but it isn't out of character after her threats toward her dad's fiancee.

There were a lot of other moments that felt earned as well, which I want to highlight. Faran being able to save Kelly worked really well with her season-long arc, and it adds a new layer to their relationship. Tabby's attack included a callback to her desecration of Chip's grave earlier in the season. They even gave Jen the opportunity to contribute to the final fight.

Overall, it was a legitimately great episode. Fans of the Scream franchise or Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon will likely enjoy all of the ways that horror fandom contributed to both the primary villain and the primary Liar this episode.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

But it felt like it was meant to be a movie

However, I do have one big reservation to this episode, though it's honestly more of a critique of the season as a whole. While I normally would argue that modern shows would benefit from more episodes, this season is the counterexample. The finale showed exactly what story the writers wanted to tell, but unfortunately, they wanted to write a movie.

It felt like this entire episode was what the writers most wanted to work on, but how much nonsense did it take to get there? Tabby's struggle with people not believing that Chip was a rapist was obviously necessary, but that's about it.

Although the Redemption House episode was very effective, the cult-like church had no ultimate purpose in this episode, beyond providing bodies (living and dead) for the killers. None of Noa's plots mattered at all, beyond Jen teaching her how to hotwire a car. The Christian and Johnny plotlines were frequently the same, because they only needed one of them to do the job.

There were too many main characters for the story they wanted to tell, and that was made worse by each one having distinct love interests. It made it hard to invest in anybody too much, especially when the only people in actual danger were minor characters that only existed to be killed off.

It goes further than that, though. The girls being in summer school? Filler. Their summer jobs? Filler. Even the Bloody Rose plots weren't really necessary, because none of the people who were killed ended up mattering, and Bloody Rose wasn't the season's true villain anyway!

Knowing where the plot was going and what clues were needed to get there, it's more obvious than ever that this was a story that only needed a few hours. The sheer confusion around Bloody Rose, her motivations, and whether there were multiple of her running around all trace back to the need to fill time.

I enjoyed the story that PLL: Summer School wanted to tell, but I'm baffled by how they constructed it. Here's hoping that if a third season happens, the plot will be suited to the small screen, rather than a movie plot stretched to fill eight episodes.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

Many questions left unanswered

Because there were so many plot lines added to fill time in this season, the finale actually left a few loose ends. Mysteries that were set up earlier in the season were never answered, and people we were supposed to see as potential killers or victims ended up being completely uninvolved. While there is a lot that can be excused by the idea that the story needed 'red herrings,' they were not well-executed. Here are some of the characters, plots, and more that the finale ignored:

  1. Did Mouse's grandmother have dementia, or were people really messing with her?
  2. Where was Mouse's grandmother at the end of the episode?
  3. Why don't Christian's previous employers know who he is?
  4. What did Kelly's mother do to her in episode 4?
  5. Was Imogen's daughter actually in danger, or was that all paranoia?
  6. Did anything end up happening with Tabby's short film for PIFT?
  7. Where were Ash and Greg during all of this insanity?
  8. Why were all the parents so uninvolved?

While ambiguity is not necessarily a bad thing, these felt like plot holes, not deliberate uncertainties. I hope that Pretty Little Liars gets renewed, because some of these questions can still be explored in meaningful ways. For others, the time to answer them has passed.

These unfinished plotlines show what the writers felt was important and what wasn't. Unfortunately, the elements that weren't relevant to this episode's climax never got any real resolution, making them feel even less meaningful when looking back on the season as a whole.

VERDICT: This finale showed how great the writers of Pretty Little Liars can be, but it also highlighted just how bad the rest of the season was by comparison. This was clearly the story they wanted to tell, but that meant that other stories that were thrown in to pad the run time were never given satisfying conclusions.

All eight episodes of Pretty Little Liars: Summer School are now available to stream on Max.

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