Friday, June 21, 2024

Cast and Showrunners of “Pretty Little Liars: Summer School” Talk Finale, Fandom & Final Girls [Exclusive]

Beware – Major spoilers for the finale of Pretty Little Liars: Summer School below.

Summer break is on the horizon for the cast and crew of Pretty Little Liars: Summer School as the shocking season finale has recently aired, revealing the mystery behind Spooky Spaghetti and Bloody Rose. The entire season was a wild ride, with each of the main characters narrowly escaping their own demise in death traps orchestrated by Bloody Rose, all leading to a dramatic final confrontation that positioned Tabby (Chandler Kinney) as this season’s final final girl.

Before the finale aired, I had the opportunity to catch up with Summer School showrunners Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lindsay Calhoon Bring, as well as the entire main cast of liars, on all things related to the finale, hopes and dreams for a potential season 3, and what it means to be a final girl.

From the top, it feels most important to address the elephant in the room–the reveal of Bloody Rose and her co-conspirator. “What we originally landed on was that Bloody Rose was going to be our slasher villain this season, but it was TBD who would be under the bandages,” says Sacasa. “About a third of the way into the season we asked, ‘Is Bloody Rose working alone? Are they cultivating Spooky Spaghetti?’ We thought there needed to be a partner in crime behind the scenes.”

Wes, the disgruntled manager of The Orpheum, was the puzzle piece that fell into place. “We knew we wanted Tabby as our final final girl this season, so it made sense for everything to coalesce into a movie,” says Bring. “We found ourselves like Tabby in episode 7 going back to the drawing board, putting every name on the board and investigating every single one of them. We found that Wes and Mrs. Langsberry had this connection to Tabby, Chip, and the idea of this film being made.” The culprits were very close to taking a different direction though. “We talked about Wes as a potential amazing body-drop this season,” says Bring. “We even wrote a scene for that death in episode 6, with Bloody Rose killing Wes in The Orpheum.”

Pretty Little Liars Summer Camp - Bloody Rose - Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

While Bloody Rose/Mrs. Langsberry was acting as the executioner this season, Wes ended up taking on the role as the true mastermind, having created Spooky Spaghetti as an elaborate scheme to torture the girls and create his own ultimate horror film. Tabby’s ascension into true final girl status of the season felt natural in that context. “Roberto and Lindsay do a good job at keeping us in the dark about storylines,” says Kinney. “At first, I wanted to know everything, but then it’s a great challenge as an actor, because you have to be so brutally and viscerally present. Like a game of trust and surrendering to the moment. I kind of knew I would be the last woman standing, but I didn’t know how.” Maia Reficco, who plays fellow liar Noa, shared very similar sentiments. “We shoot the show one episode at a time and don’t know what’s happening after, so we get to experience every moment so vividly present. Just like in life how you don’t know what’s going to happen five months from now, you don’t know what’s going to happen five episodes from now!”

Channeling the final girl energy to shoot the finale wasn’t so simple though–in the middle of production for Summer School, the industry had shut down due to the 2023 Hollywood writers strike. “I was relying on the momentum of the season to carry me into that moment,” says Kinney. “When you’re in production, it’s kind of like an incubator. It’s a really intimate, private, intense creative process that you really surrender to. We were barreling towards the finale and then we got shut down due to the strikes in the summer and didn’t return to the finale until late November. In the meantime, I could feel it in my chest–I was like ‘Can I live in this state indefinitely? I don’t know how long [the strike] is going to go on.’ Getting the call to go back, I felt like I needed to find it again, but you’d be surprised how stepping into an environment can really take you back to a moment. It’s a very sensory experience.”

During the climax of the finale, there’s a cathartic moment where, as Tabby brandishes a pitchfork, a cocky Wes taunts her. “What are you going to do? Kill me?” Before he can finish his next sentence, Tabby charges at him without hesitation and impales him, ending the night and her endeavor. Kinney reflected on how that moment was Tabby’s true final girl moment. “That moment with the pitchfork where she doesn’t even hesitate–everything leading up to that point where it’s been a journey of her reclaiming her power and her truth, standing in it, and willing to die for it…having been put through so much trauma, she’s like “No. One of us is making it out alive. And it’s going to be me.’”

In the last 10 minutes or so of the finale, we’re given some time to reflect on Wes and Mrs. Langsberry’s impact not only the liars, but Milwood as a whole. In examining Wes’ motives, the finale feels very Scream-esque in its meta exploration of horror as it relates to the real world and how it taps into current real-life anxieties. “Even though there’s the campiness and horror of the show, we do our best to ask really thoughtful questions,” says Bailee Madison, who plays season 1’s final girl Imogen. “If you strip back the PLL of it all, with something like this in our day and age, you just need one unhinged person to make something happen. The simplicity of that is terrifying.”

Malia Pyles, whose character Mouse arguably played most into Wes’ hand by being so invested in the community of Spooky Spaghetti, shared similar sentiments. “Spooky Spaghetti has been such a great vehicle for this season. We’re seeing how the internet can manipulate–there’s this mob mentality with the Spooky Spaghetti proxies. In a lot of ways, it’s so true to life that with trauma and situations that feel out of your control, it’s so easy to go into fiction.” Bring expanded on this question in a similar avenue as well, saying, “People get really obsessed–even like Mouse with Spooky Spaghetti–its like its own horror story right there with how easy it is to reach and affect people in a way that you couldn’t before.”

To a less extreme extent, I couldn’t help but connect the themes of internet culture and the fervor of fandom portrayed in Summer School to the real life Pretty Little Liars online fandom, particularly with reactions to the choices that the main characters make throughout the season. Many were quick to point out things like Noa’s treatment of now ex boyfriend Shawn, of Faran’s budding romance with Greg, or even Mouse’s obsession with Spooky Spaghetti as tragic flaws that indicated regression of their character arcs, which ironically paralleled the way that the internet in the show was dogpiling on the girls.

“On one hand, I respect everyone’s opinions,” says Reficco. “On the other, I think it’s so easy to judge a 16 year old girl. A really big part of these girls’ journey is messing up. It’s about being 16 years old and not knowing how to deal with emotions and relationships…and at the same time, getting chased by murderers!” Madison weighed in with similar thoughts. “The show does a good job trying to keep these girls’ moral compass together…but we’re also 16 years old. Sometimes you have to watch a show that’s going to piss you off. That’s going to have you questioning or wondering things. I eat up the negative and positive remarks – as long as people are talking. As an actor, it’s not fun to play someone perfect! It’s not human and it’s hard to relate to.” Pyles put it succinctly. “The beauty of this show and IP is the complexity of these characters and how female characters don’t have to be perfect, cookie-cutter good girls. They’re put into extraordinary, absurd circumstances and wouldn’t react in a perfect way. So it’d be cool to see Mouse do some fucked up shit on the Internet!”

On the other hand, Zaria, who plays fellow liar Faran, weighed in on the topic on a more optimistic note. “I’m really appreciative of our fans because they’re so invested in a way that I’ve never experienced first hand. It’s really nice being able to talk to them online, connect with them, and see how much they love our characters. It’s really special that everyone has their favorite, and everyone is someone’s favorite.” Sacasa and Madison shared similar perspectives. “Pretty Little Liars has always been so engaged with social media, so to be able to push that to the extreme was really cool,” says Sacasa. “I grew up the biggest PLL fan, so I was part of the live-tweeting sessions,” says Madison. “We’ve been accepted into that phenomenon of fandom, which is such a joy.”

Currently, aside from the reactions to the finale, the buzzing around all corners of the Pretty Little Liars fandom is one main question: Will there be a season three for the Milwood liars? While nothing is confirmed, I was excited to hear the hopes and dreams for a potential season 3. “The thing I’ll say is that we obviously love horror films and homages, but,” shares Sacasa, “what we really haven’t done on PLL yet is a musical episode yet.” Expanding on this, Bring shared, “Obviously no decisions have been made yet, but we have so many stories to tell. I will say Roberto and I love holiday horror, and there’s a handful of holidays we haven’t hit yet that would be ripe for horror. Valentines Day would be an amazing episode.”

In terms of the liars, answers were both similar and varied. “Let’s start by getting a season 3 first – that’s my dream!” shares Reficco. “In the meantime, I hope Noa is just drinking ice tea, tanning, laying on the rooftop, having fun, and being in love.”

On behalf of Mouse, Pyles shares, “She’s gone through a gauntlet of different things and I don’t think she’s healed overnight. I wonder if her traumas will start to manifest in her behaviors. The beautiful thing about Mouse is how innocent she is, but there’s only a certain amount of innocence you can maintain when you’re going through stuff like this, so I’d love to see her shift and change.” Zaria held similar feelings for Faran. “I would love for her to delve into her vulnerabilities and find inspiration, and show the different dynamics of what it means to be a Black woman, a strong woman…a woman that’s just trying to survive a serial killer at the end of the day!”

Pretty Little Liars Summer School villain

Both Kinney and Madison believe that a season 3 would be where this new iteration of Pretty Little Liars will really hit its stride. “We’re just getting started,” says Kinney. “I’m so excited for Tabby in this finale and what this could be for her in a season 3, because that fire has now been lit in a way that hasn’t been in a couple of years for her. She’s really returning to a lot of who she is, and I want to see that side of her come out more.” In a similar vein, Madison shares, “It doesn’t feel like the show is done yet, or even in its prime! My hope for Imogen is that she lets loose a little bit. Is she kind of off the rails in a party-zone kind of way? I also have a pitch that there’s a time-jump!”

Lastly, my discussion with the showrunners and cast would feel remiss to not focus on the central theme of the season and show as a whole: what the concept of a Final Girl means to each of them.

“As cliché as it sounds,” says Reficco, “I think a final girl revolves around that female instinct to keep moving forward. Horror and film maximizes it and allows us to showcase that survival instinct that’s embedded in us as women–that societal pressure to be resilient and push through.” Pyles’ answer was most similar to Reficco’s. “We’re all final girls in our every day lives just because there’s so much working against us as women. A final girl is someone who is resilient, has a good heart and a sense of morality and justice. Because I don’t think there could be a Final Girl without care and love for the people around her to give that motivation to keep going.”

Kinney drew upon her experience as a final girl in the finale. “The one thing running through my mind was, ‘I gotta make it to the end. I’m going to survive. I have to make it to the end.’ I think that is grit, mental fortitude, total embodiment of strength mentally, physically, emotionally. And it’s reclaiming of power. You have to have that certainty that you are the one that is making it out alive.”

Madison, who not only had her Final Girl moment in season 1, but also famously in her role as final girl in The Strangers: Prey At Night, shared, “Fights to the end, gives no effs, and capable of murder with a slight psychopathic mentality is needed to put up with these insane things time after time. You have to be able to unleash some sort of…not even fight-or flight, something a step further than that in order to keep going.”

“A final girl gets stronger at all of the hurdles that are thrown her way. It’s someone who is unflappable, who can’t be broken, and will make it to the end of a horror film, drama film–any film–by absorbing all of the adversities and coming out on the other side stronger,” says Bring. “I don’t think there’s a better answer than that!” says Sacasa.

Perhaps the only better answer could be Zaria’s succinct summation of a Final Girl.

“A girl that, despite all odds, gets up one last time.”

Summer Camp cast of Final Girls

The post Cast and Showrunners of “Pretty Little Liars: Summer School” Talk Finale, Fandom & Final Girls [Exclusive] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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