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Summer School Takes a Page From One of Pretty Little Liars' Darkest Chapters

Welcome back to the dollhouse.
  • (Screenshot: Pretty Little Liars: Summer School)
    (Screenshot: Pretty Little Liars: Summer School)

    Summer in Millwood just keeps getting more and more twisted. In Max’s Pretty Little Liars: Summer School, which picks up directly after the events of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin, Imogen (Bailee Madison), Tabby (Chandler Kinney), Mouse (Malia Pyles), Faran (Zaria), and Noa (Maia Reficco) aren’t exactly having the holiday of their dreams. As if being stuck in summer school wasn’t bad enough, they’re being tormented by a mysterious new villain named Bloody Rose, who might be even worse than last season’s “A.” 

    Although the series shares a name and universe with ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars — which was loosely based on the mystery books by Sara Sheperd — Max’s teen drama is a horror/slasher series and has a darker overall vibe than its predecessor. However, that’s not to say the 2010 show didn’t also have some horrifying storylines. Episode 6 of Summer School, “Hell House,” takes a page from one of the darkest chapters in the OG series: the dollhouse saga. 

    In the original Pretty Little Liars, Aria (Lucy Hale), Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Hanna (Ashley Benson), and Emily (Shay Mitchell) were abducted and held prisoners in A’s underground lair (aka the “dollhouse”) for over three weeks. The liars were locked in exact replicas of each of their bedrooms, where they were monitored by cameras 24/7, microchipped, tortured, and forced to play twisted games in exchange for food and water. 

    Summer School serves up its own version of the dollhouse this week in “Hell House.” When Kelly (Mallory Betchdel) invites everyone to her cult-y church’s Redemption House event — which just so happens to take place at Imogen’s old house, where her mother died by suicide — the girls naturally have a bad feeling about it. Mouse’s boyfriend Ash (Jordan Gonzalez) believes it’s really a hell house, a haunted house-like attraction with themed rooms depicting “sinners” being punished and condemned to Hell.

    When the group decides to check out Redemption House for themselves, what they encounter ends up being more disturbing than they could have imagined. The various displays directly mirror traumatic events from their lives — one room shows a teenage girl being preyed on by an older man over video call (a callback to Mouse) and another depicts teens being drugged at a party (referencing the night Imogen and Tabby were raped by Chip). 

    In the most horrific exhibit of all, Kelly recreates Imogen’s mother’s suicide. “I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have done this to myself!” she cries out as fake blood oozes from her wrists, Imogen watching in horror. “I don’t want to go to hell!” Even worse, Kelly does this in Imogen’s mom’s actual bedroom.

    Although the girls aren’t held captive here for weeks, the episode feels just as twisted as the dollhouse storyline. In the OG Pretty Little Liars, the liars were locked in exact replicas of their bedrooms, which were so detailed that Hanna couldn’t even stand to sleep in her real bedroom afterward. The rooms in Imogen’s old house are carefully crafted and personalized in a way that’s reminiscent of A’s calculated dollhouse design. Both A and the church members psychologically torment the girls and prey on their trauma. Kelly may claim Redemption House will “save” the Millwood residents from going to Hell, but the triggering displays are effectively just a form of torture. In the dollhouse, A tortured the liars with messed-up games; in Redemption House, the girls are tormented with reminders of their traumatic past.

    In a way, “Hell House” may be even darker than the dollhouse episodes. What the OG liars endured was horrifying, but a lot of the torture wasn’t actually shown on screen — they only spent two episodes in captivity, and most of what they went through was revealed only through conversations afterward. Meanwhile, Summer School shows viewers absolutely everything. When Imogen watches Kelly pretend to bleed to death on the bed, her mind flashes back to the gruesome moment in the pilot where she found her mother’s bloody body in the bathtub. 
    And of course, the horror doesn’t end there. 

    As if Imogen hasn’t already been traumatized enough, she also gets ambushed by Bloody Rose, who tries to stab her to death. The episode ends with a bombshell as Imogen reveals who she saw behind the mask: her mother.

    Obviously, this whopper of a cliffhanger leaves us with a ton of questions (and so does that casual reveal that Kevin from Riverdale is Greg’s cousin). It will certainly be interesting to see how the writers wrap up this season — but if the final two episodes are anything like “Hell House,” we’re in for a bloody good time.

    New episodes of Pretty Little Liars: Summer School drop Thursdays on Max.

    Kelly Martinez is a TV Reporter based in Los Angeles. Her previous work can be found at BuzzFeed and People Magazine, among other outlets. She enjoys reading, spending time with her cat, and explaining the plot of Riverdale to people.

    TOPICS: Pretty Little Liars: Summer School, Freeform, Max, Pretty Little Liars, Bailee Madison, Chandler Kinney, Maia Reficco, Malia Pyles, Zaria