Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”: Tabby

This is the second post on “Pretty Little Liars:  Original Sin”, where I’m going to talk about Tabitha or “Tabby”, a character that I found incredibly annoying and that also didn’t actually manage to use that sort of character for one of the things that that sort of character is usually used for, making her not only an annoying character but even worse a wasted character.

Tabby is the horror aficionado of the group, and since this is a horror movie this would make her the Genre Savvy character of the group.  In general, what we’ve seen these characters used for is to lampshade the horror tropes — especially the ones that don’t really make sense without being lampshaded — or to use their Genre Savvyness to provide exposition, or to use that to break the Fourth Wall and address the audience as a horror movie audience or even to provide red herrings as they talk about how all of the things that are happening map to horror movie tropes and so they predict what will happen next by that, only to have the work subvert the tropes and do something completely different.  The movie that I most remember doing this was the explicit horror movie parody in the original “Scream”.

Tabby does not do any of this.  Instead, her horror movie knowledge is pretty much only used to have her make fairly constant references to horror movies as part of her everyday life.  Thus, she doesn’t save them for the instances where they fit into the work itself and so it really comes across as her being someone who is a bit of a poseur, dropping these references into her speech to show off how much she knows about horror movies despite the references not being all that deep or obscure or showing any real insight or in-depth knowledge of horror movies.  Such a person and thus such a character is, of course, just incredibly annoying, especially to people who know a bit more about the topic than the average person does.  However, it only gets worse when you realize that the purpose for her character doing that is not to allow the character to show off her knowledge, but in line with the other references in the show it’s really for the writers to show off their knowledge … which only reveals that their knowledge of horror is not all that deep.  So the character is not used to its proper purpose, and instead is left as a vehicle for shallow references that are meant to impress but end up just annoying people due to their shallowness and frequency.

This carries over to the film class that is perhaps her biggest plot point.  From the start, she is given a list of movie scenes that she can film, and she immediately complains that it doesn’t feature modern scenes or scenes from progressive movies like “Get Out” (which she gets shown as a double feature with “Us” at the movie theatre where she works).  This is the sort of thing that Kat from “Ten Things I Hate About You” did, and it’s just as annoying as it was there, except that here they don’t have a black teacher to push back on all the things from other groups that were left out as well.  This leaves them clear to try to present the teacher as being obstructive and conservative, except they blow that as well.  When Tabby complains about the list, the teacher says that this was the list that the staff and the school board agreed to in a way that suggests that he wasn’t happy about it either.  Maybe he still wouldn’t have put her preferred scenes or movies on the list, but it does seem like he wanted other things on the list that were put aside because they might have been too controversial.  Later, when she wants to do another scene that he thinks might be problematic, he listens to her explanation of why she wants to do it and agrees to let her do it, only to have the principal overrule it because it cleaves too close to discussion of rape and so might be controversial and inappropriate.  And yet on at least a couple of occasions the group complains that the teacher is the one who doesn’t want to allow it when every scene with him suggests that he’s more on Tabby’s side than he’s able to admit, and no one ever defends him in any way.  That only makes Tabby and the girls look worse.

And, of course, Tabby’s supposedly really incredible ideas tend to show a lack of understanding of the movies she’s talking about in the first place.  For her first scene, she traces a line of objectification in horror movies from “Scream” all the way back to the originator in “Psycho”.  To start with, “Scream” was a horror parody and while I don’t really remember a scene that would be similar to the shower scene in “Psycho” if there was such a scene it would have been parodied and lampshaded, and so at least not intentionally a scene that added to the objectification of women.  And the reason I see this as a shallow interpretation is because given the parodies that followed it “Scream” is indeed seen as being a more standard horror movie, but everyone with any deeper knowledge of the series knows that it was always a parody.  But, of course, for me making the shower scene in “Psycho” the paradigm of objectification is getting the movie entirely wrong.  A case could be made that it was one of the first scenes and one of the most famous scenes that in some way mixed sexuality and horror, but the character was clearly not objectified and while it was a violent scene it wasn’t a slasher scene either.  And what makes it worse is her supposedly wonderful scene is to shift the male gaze to the female gaze by inverting Marion Crane and Norman Bates, putting him into the shower and having Marion kill Norman.  Again, the scene isn’t about that sort of “gaze”, but even if it was what her inversion of the scene misses is that at the time of the killing it wasn’t the male Norman who killed Marion, but instead was the female of Norman’s mother.  The scene is specifically shot to say that it was Norman’s mother, as is the aftermath, and we only find out that it was really Norman at the end, and even then it’s made clear that at the time Norman really was his mother.  So this isn’t a real inversion at all and so doesn’t actually say anything meaningful about the scene.  Moreover, the entire theme she was going for is one that has been done before and so isn’t as original as she seems to think.  If she had instead inverted the scene where it’s Norman and Marion talking in the dinner scene and her luring him in to the shower to kill him, that at least would have been a somewhat interesting inversion of the original scene — with her being the killer and him an innocent — even if that had been done before.  And her later scene is no more original or logical (even as it’s less memorable, since I don’t really remember it).  So all this shows is that Tabby does not really understand horror movies as well as she thinks she does.

Now, they could have actually run with this in a couple of ways.  One way to do that would actually have worked in her rape plotline, since we are first introduced to that during her first scene, and show that the reason these are so shallow is because her main purpose — mostly subconsciously — is to work through her issues with the rape as opposed to doing a really good horror story, and so she is really rationalizing those relations to justify doing what she wants to do.  This would make the rape plot relevant and justify showing it where she did.  The other way would be to show that she really is a poseur.  Have it be the case that her (absent) father liked horror movies, and while she didn’t really like them she watched them to share something with him, which left her with a shallow but expansive knowledge of events in horror movies.  Talking about this after he was gone gave her something that most people — let alone most girls — couldn’t talk about and so made her special.  But it wasn’t what she really wanted to do, and in line with her (also annoying) penchant for spouting progressive buzzwords it was really the case that she wanted to do and wanted to watch more progressive works, but felt that she needed to follow on with her “horror” theme.  This would also be justified by arguing that the reason she likes “Get Out” and “Us” is not because they are incredibly good horror movies (which I, at least, didn’t think true of the former) but is more because of the progressive ideas they deliberately try to espouse (which I think might be why so many critics like them).  At the end, she could realize this and still like horror for the closeness it gave her to her father while understanding that both in her personality and in her artistic sentiments she’s really more into progressive works than horror works.

Tabby is a horror aficionado who doesn’t know very much about horror, and a creative artist who is neither creative nor artistic, and so all she really does is spout progressive buzzwords and make shallow horror movie references, both in the most annoying way possible.  A character that could have done so much for the show ends up being one that does nothing for the show except annoy the audience.  Or, at least, me.

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