Pretty Little Liars Summer School: Is the real Bloody Rose actually the trauma the Liars made along the way?

In so many stories, the true prize is the friendships formed on the journey. We can't help wondering if PLL: Summer School is planning to surprise fans with a similar (but more painful) twist.
Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max
Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

In both the original series and the 2022 spin-off, Pretty Little Liars has always had an element of whodunnit to it. The characters and audience alike are desperate to unmask the person (or people) who have been terrorizing them. But it seems possible that Pretty Little Liars: Summer School is looking to turn that concept on its head.

The first series had a clear set of mysteries for the audience to try to solve. What happened to Angela Waters in 1999? Who is A? Why are they targeting the Liars? But the new season has been considerably less clear with its plot, and ambiguity is the key feeling, not dread.

With that in mind, one idea has been nagging me as I try to figure out who this season's A is: What if there actually isn't one at all?

Yes, there have been attacks in the last few episodes, but it's not as wild of a theory as it might seem on the surface. This season has felt disappointing because it keeps setting up dangerous situations without really following through on them. But maybe that's the point. People who survived as much trauma as the Liars did in season one would see danger everywhere, just like an audience who has been led to expect a horror plot this season.

But what if it's all a big misdirection? The many disconnects I have been feeling this season might be intentional, and they might actually be brilliant if this theory turns out to be true. There's definitely someone messing with the Liars, but the life-or-death nature of it all seems like it might be psychological, not physical.

Here's our theory, based on the first four episodes, on why "Bloody Rose" is actually a manifestation of trauma, rather than a typical villain.


Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max, episode 3 /

What we know about Summer School's villain, Bloody Rose

Before we can explore the possibility of there not being a villain, it's important to break down what we know about the villain that the season has set up. Bloody Rose is a character based on the real Rose Waters, created by the users of SpookySpaghetti. In the aftermath of the Millwood Massacre, people began making up stories about Rose in a similar vein to Slenderman and other crowdsourced cryptids.

According to the stories, Bloody Rose is the mother of Archie and Angela Waters. After being abused by his mother for years, Archie skinned her face to make his mask. The details of what happened next are shaky. One story suggests that calling her name five times in a mirror that Angela once looked in (at 12:01 am) will summon her ghost.

The truth about Rose Waters is even more complicated. It was revealed in season one that, after Angela's suicide, her mother brought a knife to the school, seeking revenge on those who hurt her daughter. This got her sent to the Radley Sanitarium, where she stayed until it was shut down. Eventually, she ended up homeless.

The person behind the "Bloody Rose" mask is almost certainly not Rose Waters, who was still living at a homeless encampment in town. However, many fans theorize that there are multiple people involved in the Bloody Rose attacks, so it's not off the table.

In this season, the person(s) behind Bloody Rose have made a few major moves. They killed teenagers Sabrina and Nick, who were looking for Rose, as well as Kelly's frenemy Sandy. They also made multiple phone calls to the Liars, including a video call to Mouse, and set up Final Girl tests for Mouse and Faran.

From the audience's perspective, it seems likely that one of the newly-introduced love interests is behind the mask. After all, they have access to at least one Liar's phone number and have demonstrated some questionable behaviors. However, it's also possible that, like season one, Bloody Rose is actually an adult tangentially in their lives, like Dr. Sullivan, Mrs. Beasley, or even Mrs. Langsberry (Chip's mother).

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max, episode 3 /

But no sighting of Bloody Rose is verifiable

While the show is eager for its audience to think about who Bloody Rose Waters might be, it's entirely possible that we are up against the visual version of an unreliable narrator. Across the first half of the season, there are no scenes with Bloody Rose that don't have a possible other explanation and no sightings with external witnesses.

In episode one, the final scene features Bloody Rose killing two teenagers that broke into a cabin in the woods. This is a similar scene to the end of episode two, where Sandy is stabbed to death. However, no bodies are found in either instance, and while all three teenagers aren't around, there is a stated explanation for Sandy's absence.

While these killings may well be real, this season features multiple fake scenes, many which are either short films or visualizations of stories posted on SpookySpaghetti. In addition, there have been several nightmares shown on screen in a similar vein. Because of that, it seems plausible that the 'killings' are either SpookySpaghetti scenes or products of the Liars' imaginations.

Episode two includes two other Bloody Rose sightings, which are also easily explained away. First, Imogen sees Bloody Rose across the street while she's waiting for the bus after work. However, she believes it's a hallucination because she has had similar hallucinations before and was scared before seeing her. Later, Mouse's grandmother screams after seeing Bloody Rose outside, but she has a history of sleepwalking and is implied to have some form of dementia.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

Episodes three and four up the ante by having Mouse and Faran personally witness Bloody Rose during their Final Girl tests. These are harder to explain, but not impossible.

Mouse sees Rose, but only after she is given a massive dose of adrenaline from the threatening letter. Mouse's trauma reaction to the events of season one was to become obsessed with SpookySpaghetti and the myths around Bloody Rose, so of course that's the image her mind would immediately jump to. She also was quick to believe Imogen hadn't been hallucinating, implying that she was eager to see new threats, even if there wasn't evidence that they were actually there.

In a similar vein, Faran was priming herself for a fight throughout episode four. Her trauma response was to make herself as strong as possible, and her response to Mouse's attack was to try to seek out and take down the new villain. Notably, she didn't actually see Bloody Rose until after completing her test. This is important, because she was at her weakest both mentally and physically when she saw Rose.

The actress (Zaria) is 5'3", and working by proportions (and a lot of unnecessary math and research), we can say the girder was approximately 2.9 meters long and thus weighed around 212 kg or 467 lb. Faran is strong, but that's virtually impossible for a woman her size to lift, much less keep up for two hours. She would realistically be delirious by this point.

Examining all of these instances, it's possible that the audience (and characters) have never actually seen Bloody Rose Waters. The fact that Imogen's dream version of Bloody Rose in episode 3 matches the version Mouse and Faran see during their attacks means that either the version of Bloody Rose she saw at the bus stop is the same as the one taunting the girls, or that neither version is real at all.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

Bloody Rose knows far too much about how the Liars see themselves

Adding to the fact that Bloody Rose is only seen in unusual circumstances, there is the fact that she seems to know far too much about the Liars and their own self-perceptions. The tests are based on the idea that they are, as Tabby says, final girls. But the details of each incident are incredibly personal.

Mouse's attack preys on her insecurity about her birthday being ignored, which makes it easy to get her to the right place and the right time. From there, she is forced to hide and then escape a deadly fire. This is similar to her attack in the hall of mirrors in season one, and it plays on her fear that she won't be able to see another attack coming until it's too late.

Faran's attack is even more specific, because it weaponizes her fear of being "the same weak, little, broken, scarred Faran." These aren't taunts made by an external party; they're words Faran has used to describe herself.

If she failed the strength test, Bloody Rose promised that "someone you love dies," which directly reflects Faran's comment that, if she didn't show up alone, "someone will get hurt." Faran is no longer worried that someone will hurt her, but she is terrified that someone else might get hurt because of her—like when Sheriff Beasley endangered his wife and daughter—and she won't be able to stop it.

Many fans have theorized that the incredibly personal nature of the attacks means that Dr. Sullivan either is Bloody Rose or is aiding her, because some of the details are incredibly specific. However, it could also be explained by the Liars unconsciously torturing themselves, creating a monster to prove that they can survive any new threats that come their way.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max, episode 3 /

What about the physical evidence of her presence?

The Bloody Rose sightings are questionable, at best. The nature of the Final Girl tests seem far too perfect for a stranger to concoct. And beyond all of that, this season has made a habit out of building audience paranoia, just for the tense moment to turn out to be caused by perfectly ordinary events.

The last possible hole in this theory is the physical evidence of Bloody Rose's activities. The audience has seen multiple physical things that appear to have been created or manipulated by Bloody Rose. So where do those fit into this?

The first piece of physical evidence is the roses that were in the Liars' vacinity. However, many of these were given alternate explanations in the show itself. For example, Tabby believes that her rose was a gift from Christian (which is certainly plausible, since he planned a whole movie premiere for her).

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School on Max /

Imogen's rose was placed inside her desk, but since there were no assigned seats, that would have been difficult to pre-plan. Mouse's was at the pawn shop, which could have multiple explanations. Admittedly, Noa and Faran's roses are most suspicious, as they were in personal spaces (locker and gym bag). But both have at least one romantic interest who could have left it for them.

The calls are even easier to explain away. For one thing, it was shown that there were innocent unknown callers, like the call from PIFT to Tabby. In addition, their private phone numbers were posted to SpookySpaghetti, meaning the calls could be coming from anybody who wanted to mess with them.

A similar phenomenon could be happening with the video call for Mouse. The visual of Rose is distinctly different from the way Bloody Rose looked in other scenes, so it's entirely possible that it was done by someone completely unrelated, who just thought it would be fun to mess with her.

Turning to the attacks, all of the physical evidence of Mouse's attack (the rose, birthday cake, and letter) would have been destroyed in the fire. Episode five will probably show that the evidence from Faran's attack will be gone when they go back too.

The only enduring piece of physical evidence will be Faran's cut, which she received while fighting Bloody Rose. If she doesn't have that cut next episode, that will pretty much prove this theory correct. But even if she does, she was at a construction site full of dangerous materials, including the boxcutter she brought and the barbed wire fence she climbed over.

When all is said and done, there is no evidence that can't be explained away without Bloody Rose being involved.

It's entirely possible that Pretty Little Liars: Summer School is what it claims to be. Bloody Rose very well might be a murderer intent on attacking the Liars, and she may turn out to be any number of people in the girls' lives.

But the alternative would give the show an opportunity to do something really interesting. After facing the kind of trauma the Liars did in season one, anyone would be paranoid. If this theory is correct, then this season demonstrates just how powerful trauma can be: triggering flashbacks, hallucinations, and paranoid delusions.

This is not just another "What if it was all a dream?" theory. It is a theory that would explain the uneven tone of this season, which was not a weak horror plot at all but actually a well-constructed exploration of how trauma can manifest itself. Maybe the real Bloody Rose is the trauma that plagues the characters along the way.

Want to explore this theory yourself? Check out the full recaps from season one and all four episodes of Pretty Little Liars: Summer School so far.