Unmasking Bloody Rose: How Pretty Little Liars: Summer School Crafted Its Year 2 Slasher Villain

The series’ showrunners break down how they landed on the character beneath the mask, and the cast share their best suspects and reactions to learning the truth.

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Unmasking Bloody Rose: How Pretty Little Liars: Summer School Crafted Its Year 2 Slasher Villain

With the finale finally upon us, Pretty Little Liars: Summer School’s biggest question has finally been answered. As Tabby (Chandler Kinney) faces her ultimate test in the captivity of these killers, the other Liars—Imogen (Bailee Madison), Noa (Maia Reficco), Mouse (Malia Pyles), and Faran (Zaria)—are forced to watch from afar as they finally learn who their season-long tormentors have been. 

Bloody Rose Waters, the slasher villain that has been stalking, killing, and lurking in the shadows during the series’ second outing, is none other than Mrs. Langsberry (Carey Van Driest), Chip’s mother. But, of course, she wasn’t working alone, and the grand mastermind behind both Bloody Rose’s murderous plots and the Spooky Spaghetti website/cult was Tabby’s boss Wes (Derek Klana), the scorned filmmaker who has been managing the Orpheum movie theater since Season 1. 

However, as all Pretty Little Liars fans know, while the unmasking of the villain is fun, the journey to get to that moment is even better. With a fandom rife with devoted theorists, showrunners Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lindsay Calhoon Bring prioritize keeping as many options open as possible with their board of suspects—which actually meant not fully deciding who the villains were until it came time to write those final few episodes. 

“When we started this season, it took us like a week or two or maybe even three to land on ‘Oh, our slasher villain is going to be Bloody Rose,’” Aguirre-Sacasa says. “What we did not know was who would be under the bandages. We knew we had suspects; we knew we had Mrs. Langsberry, we knew we had Mrs. Beasley, we knew we had Dr. Sullivan.” And from there, an accomplice started to materialize, “Maybe about a third of the way into the writers’ room, we were like, ‘Is whoever’s Bloody Rose also cultivating Spooky Spaghetti?’ Like, is Mrs. Beasley—does she even have the Internet? And it felt like, ‘Oh, there might be a partner in crime,’” Aguirre-Sacasa continues. 

“We knew that Bloody Rose was this archetype, this bastardization of Archie’s mother, so we always thought it would probably be a mother, but even as far as Episode 6, we considered killing Wes. We thought he would make an amazing body drop—a Bloody Rose kill at the theater we thought would be incredible,” Bring laughs. “Much like Tabby, we had all our characters on the board and we were doing our own police investigation of ‘Who could do this? Who said what in Episode 2 and 3? And what are all the reasons someone would want to go after the girls and Tabby?’ And Wes and Mrs. Langsberry together started to make a lot of sense. They’re both connected to Chip, they’re both connected the most to Tabby. […] So knowing we were going in the direction of all of these tests having been secretly filmed, everything leading up to the ultimate horror movie—as Wes said, his magnum opus—we thought a filmmaker working opposite Tabby made the most sense, so it just kind of worked.” 

“Given the themes we were exploring, given the themes of Tabby as the final Final Girl, given Wes’ relationship to Tabby, given the fact that he was connected to Chip, they worked together, he was a disgruntled horror filmmaker. […] It felt like it [was] organically just leading us to Wes, even though we didn’t start there, for sure,” Aguirre-Sacasa adds. 

When pitching Season 2 to Max after their initial pick-up in 2022, both Aguirre-Sacasa and Bring recall sharing a completely different set of villains, and as writing progressed on the season, their ideas were constantly shifting between notes calls with the network. “It got to the point where they were pitching us like, ‘What if this person did it?’ And we’re like ‘No…,’” Bring laughs, “‘We’ll get there! It’s not that person, though—don’t worry, you’ll have your villain!’”  

And even beyond the writing team, the cast themselves spent the season speculating who was behind the mask, as the showrunners kept the identity a secret from them for the duration of filming, up until that final episode. 

“Fun fact about how we shoot our show, we know nothing other than what we’re shooting,” Reficco explains, “It’s so much fun to get to play with the girls and play Nancy Drew on our side and try to unveil who the killer is, as the audience will in the future.” 

As for the cast’s sleuthing, it’s unanimous that Zaria was the one keyed-in from the jump. “I guessed to Jordan [Gonzalez], who plays Ash, I guessed Chip’s mom! And Jordan said, ‘No way, Zaria.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I’m done guessing.’ But I had it!” She laughs. Pyles was one of those nay-sayers as well: “Zaria called it really early on, and I think I was of the camp like, ‘No way, it wouldn’t be Wes and Mrs. Langsberry.’”

“I toyed with the idea of Mrs. Langsberry for a minute,” Madison admits, “But really strictly because, obviously, that connection is so personal for me and [Chandler’s] character. […] There was a moment where I was like, ‘Is it the boys?’ And Chandler and I went back and forth, we were like, ‘There’s no way they would do that to us again?'” Aguirre-Sacasa backs up Madison’s call: “We wanted to not have the girls’ boyfriends be the villains to [avoid] further [traumatizing them].” 

Reficco admits with a laugh, “I was really far off. I thought it was Dr. Sullivan.” 

A popular answer was actually Kelly’s (Mallory Bechtel) deceased twin Karen, whom it seems the cast is eager to resurrect—one way or another. “I really thought it was going to be Karen,” Pyles explains, “Maybe her ‘Margaret White mother,’ as Tabby says, was hiding her… maybe there was another prayer closet somewhere in the Beasley house that she was biding her time in, and [then] she was released into the wild. That would’ve been really, really spectacular.” She laughs, “I think there’s still room for that!”  

“I really am a fan of Karen coming back in some capacity, just because Mallory is so brilliant in both roles, but Karen is just wicked in another way, and I think she needs to make a return to Millwood, in some capacity,” Kinney laughs after stating that Karen’s return would be a really cool twist. But as filming went on, Kinney was solid in her own Mrs. Langsberry theory: “Honestly, Tabby tipped me off. Because she was on to Mrs. Langsberry—she literally put a star next to her name!” 

She continues, “Because she is such a horror movie aficionado, she is an expert in this genre, and so I think she has the largest frame of reference and great instincts. And two seasons of horror movie references paid off, led up to this moment. That actually saved her life, thank you very much!”

Whether they guessed it or not, the cast were all in shock and awe at the double reveal, and especially for how it tied so deeply and satisfyingly into Tabby’s storyline. Pyles gets to the heart of why this diabolical duo was perfect for Tabby’s final girl moment: “[To] have [her] go head-to-head with her greatest love and her greatest fear at the same time was so good.” Madison adds, “It felt really fitting, and it felt like, tying those two ends together for Tabby’s character at the end, pinpointed the [specificity] of her own trauma by bringing Wes in, too.” 

But more than anything, the common through-line is the joy the theorizing culture of the Pretty Little Liars fandom brings to the experience of watching this show, especially in anticipation of these huge finale reveals. “I think one of my favorite parts of doing a show that’s part of such an iconic franchise is that there are so many people that get invested and that are trying to piece it together the same way that we do when we’re shooting, so it’s so much fun to get to read. I really do love the whole theorizing aspect of it all,” Reficco says. 

Madison adds, “I really am so grateful to be part of a show with showrunners and with a writing team that really do know how to place people in the spots they need to be placed in to keep the experience very fun and very alive and spark conversations. It’s been such a trip to see people’s opinions this year, it’s so fun to watch!” 

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School is now streaming on Max. 

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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