The MVP: Zaria Reaches Peak Final Girl Form in Pretty Little Liars: Summer School

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The MVP: Zaria Reaches Peak Final Girl Form in Pretty Little Liars: Summer School

Editor’s Note: Welcome to The MVP, a column where we celebrate the best performances TV has to offer. Whether it be through heart-wrenching outbursts, powerful looks, or perfectly-timed comedy, TV’s most memorable moments are made by the medium’s greatest players—top-billed or otherwise. Join us as we dive deep on our favorite TV performances, past and present:

If you haven’t yet found a reason to press play on Max’s Pretty Little Liars continuation, then I’ll give you five: the performances of Liars Zaria, Bailee Madison, Chandler Kinney, Malia Pyles, and Maia Reficco. Each of these women bring something so spectacular to these roles, delivering tour-de-force horror performances each and every episode while playing wonderfully into the delicious melodrama the series thrives within. But in the latest episode, Season 2’s “Chapter Fourteen: When a Stranger Calls Back,” it’s Zaria who truly stands out in her portrayal of Faran during her brutal test from Bloody Rose. 

As of Episode 3, the season’s villain, Bloody Rose Waters (a bastardized, mythologization of “A” Archie Waters’ real-life mother), has begun giving each “final girl” a test that they must pass in order to prove themselves worthy of the title—and live to tell about it. Poor Mouse (Pyles) had her birthday hijacked by her test, being whisked off to the abandoned Ricky Ricotta’s, where Bloody Rose lit the place on fire, locked all the doors, and chased after her with a knife. She escaped by the skin of her teeth, and walked away with a horrifying warning for the other Liars: she’s coming for you, too. In Episode 4, Faran decides it’s time to face Bloody Rose head-on; she’s in the best shape of her life, she’s not scared of some Spooky Spaghetti cosplayer. So when she gets a call from Bloody Rose herself, she grabs a box cutter and goes to face her test. 

When she arrives at the creepy meeting location, Bloody Rose demands that Faran lift a steel beam for two whole hours—if the beam touches the ground, someone she loves will die. While Faran doesn’t know yet that Bloody Rose has already amassed a body count over the course of the season, she’s not going to take any chances. What follows is a truly brutal test, one that puts both Faran and Zaria through the wringer, physically and mentally. As Faran shakes and sweats, slowly sinking to the ground under the weight of the beam, it’s Zaria’s anguished but determined face that anchors the scene. 

Faran has been plagued by feelings of inadequacy her whole life, bolstered by her mother’s overbearing need for her to be the most perfect dancer. Her mother forced her to have an invasive (and ultimately unnecessary) surgery on her back, and even tried to convince her daughter to undergo another procedure to cover the gnarly scar left by her first time under the knife—all in the name of bringing perfection back to a body that she deemed flawed beyond reproach. So when the timer goes off and the beam hits the ground, Faran’s exhausted elation as she yells into the sky, “I fucking did it!” feels less like a taunt towards Bloody Rose and more of a triumphant cry towards her mother, her own internal fears, and all those that have doubted her and made her feel weak throughout her life. Bloody Rose’s test was demented (obviously), but in some small way, Faran’s endurance and survival of that challenge was what she needed in order to fully cement her newfound confidence and strength, proving to herself more than anything that she is a force to be reckoned with. 

But, of course, the torment was only just beginning, as Bloody Rose steps out of the shadows, brandishing her knife and stalking towards an exhausted Faran. In what is undeniably the best line delivery of the season so far, Faran breathes out “You gotta be fucking kidding me.” It’s the fire and determination behind Zaria’s eyes that continues to elevate this scene, as she takes a deep breath before engaging in full-on fisticuffs with a knife-wielding Bloody Rose, her own box cutter in hand. The fight choreography is some of the series’ best, as these two grapple, and Bloody Rose gets a clean slice through Faran’s arm. As she stumbles towards the locked gate, the tension is undeniable as Zaria screams and almost manically begins to scale the fence, all while Bloody Rose stalks slowly toward her. It’s the final shot of the episode that cements this scene as one of the series’ best: Faran, sweaty, exhausted, panting, steels herself while looking directly into Bloody Rose’s frightening eyes through the links in the fence. 

Horror films often allow their casts to showcase powerhouse performances as these characters are made to endure more than the human body and mind could possibly handle throughout their runtime. In Summer School, especially as a continuation of Original Sin, the horrors didn’t stop after the brief 90 minutes most horror films run for, but rather have continued for months on end in these girls’ lives, which only serves to elevate the stakes, scares, and exhaustion of these frequent final girl moments. Zaria showcases through this truly brutal performance that Faran, while obviously traumatized and tired from the torture she continues to face, is stronger than anyone has ever given her credit for, including herself. It’s a masterclass horror performance, from the physical endurance needed to pull off such a visceral scene to the complex layers inserted into this already incredibly well-rounded character; Zaria should absolutely be in every conversation surrounding breathtaking final girl performances from here on out. 

And if my word isn’t enough, Zaria’s co-star Chandler Kinney gushed to Paste about her chill-inducing scenes: “[Zaria] killed that. She literally hit the gym before doing it, she put in work. And every part of that, from the stunt sequences to the way that it was edited with the music, the cinematography through the fence! [Chef’s kiss].” 

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Anna Govert is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and her unshakable love of complicated female villains, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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