Ravenswood Season 1 Review “Pilot”

Pretty Little Liars Season 4 Episode 13 Grave New World (1)

On the premiere of “Ravenswood,” the spin-off of “Pretty Little Liars,” there was a lot to download, so I’m going to do my best to sort it all out for you. First of all, it’s come to my attention that some people are watching this that don’t actually watch its sister show, which is fine. You won’t find any spoilers for that show here, unless the time comes where it becomes necessary, at which point I will let you know when I’m going to do that, so as to not spoil you on that show. That said, in my “Pretty Little Liars” reviews, I traditionally write them as if you’ve already seen the episodes, so if you go and read them, and you haven’t seen it, you’re going to get spoiled, so fair warning. Likewise, I’m going to be writing this column as if you’ve seen “Ravenswood,” so if you haven’t done that, go do so, and then come back after, because here there be spoilers!

All of that said, as those of us who watched both know, there were some tie-ins, so I’m going to address only those that pertain to “Ravenswood,” which those of you who don’t watch “PLL” should appreciate, as it will keep you from having to watch it and believe me you, you don’t want to do that, as it was super-spoilerific for anyone who doesn’t already watch the show. Those of you who do, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs, as I won’t be telling you anything you don’t know. Look for the stars (**) to know where to resume!

So, back on “PLL,” we had Caleb (Tyler Blackburn), who dates Hanna (Ashley Benson) on that show, on a bus bound to Ravenswood, where some crazy “S” is going down (no relation to “A”), and he’s going to look for Hanna. He meets the mysterious Miranda (Nicole Gale Anderson), who kind of appears seemingly out of nowhere. This happens while he’s asleep.

Also on the bus is a creepy guy with a bag of chips Miranda covets. She sits next to Caleb even though the three are the only ones on it besides the driver, and they bond over being orphans who have bounced around the system. She found out she has an uncle in Ravenswood that she never knew about- or so she thinks- and is en route to find him. At some point before they get to Ravenswood proper, the creepy guy bails, not long after he catches Miranda trying to snag his chips!

Miranda opts not to get off at that same stop, even though it’s closer to where she’s going, for understandable reasons, and gets off with Caleb instead. They go their separate ways, and Caleb goes in search of Hanna and Miranda goes to her uncle’s. Miranda finds Hanna inside her uncle’s mansion, stuck inside a phone booth-like enclosure and lets her out. No one else seems to be up and about in the mansion. They find a roomful of coffins and deduce they’re in a funeral home: Hinchley, Trumbull & Collins, from a placard. Miranda’s last name is Collins, so she knows she’s in the right place.

Miranda also has a flashback and realizes she’s met her uncle once before, a long time ago, at her parents’ funeral. She wonders how he could have abandoned her after such a horrific tragedy and left her to foster care. Hanna gets them out of there and out of the house and they meet up with Caleb. They realize that there’s a family crypt for the Collins that has a secret tunnel that runs underground and goes into the mansion, which is how Hanna got inside in the first place. There’s also a Miranda Collins grave with a picture that looks just like her, only from a different era.

Miranda also shows Caleb a flier she found at the funeral home: it’s an “In Memoriam”-type brochure that features a man named Burt Ambrose…who just so happens to be the guy on the bus, who was very much alive at the time. Or was he? Caleb goes to leave, but Hanna insists he stay and look after Miranda, as they just can’t leave her alone in such a creepy place. They naturally go back to the graveyard, because that’s what you do in a Halloween episode of “Pretty Little Liars” and Caleb notes that there’s an awful lot of children buried there. Then, as if things couldn’t get creepier, he sees a headstone with his name on it, and picture, just like they saw with Miranda. End of relevant info from “Pretty Little Liars.”

** Okay, everyone, now we’re on the same page! From here on out, I’m going to treat this as if you have seen the show, so there’s no more need for recaps. The “Ravenswood” pilot was pretty creepy and intriguing overall. Miranda’s uncle was super-weird and the behavior in the Collins house was all completely off. It would seem that the house is haunted, possibly by a female child that was the victim of a flood that ravaged the town back in the late 1800s.

At one point, in a nice role reversal of a standard horror movie trope, Caleb was attacked in the tub by the spook- or so it would seem. It’s possible someone was just trying to scare him off, as the “ghost” also freaked out Miranda. But from what we saw, it appeared to be the real deal, so unlike “PLL” we seem to be firmly entrenched in an alternate reality where anything can happen, a sort of Fantasyland, but not the good kind.

Mr. Collins was clearly not too interested in Miranda sticking around, and wasn’t very forthcoming on information about her parents. His caretaker, Mrs. Grunwald, was slightly more forthright, but no less creepy. As Caleb put it: “Every time she looks at me, I feel like someone is taking a potato peeler to my skin.” Nice line, that. I also liked Miranda’s comment about the house itself: “It has its own weather.” Don’t all haunted houses? Still, I don’t recall anyone ever putting it quite like that, so that was pretty cool.

Miranda eventually does get a little info, courtesy of some scrapbooks, and we see Grunwald encourage Collins to set things right, and that it’s not too late, whatever that means. Collins does praise Miranda’s mother for being imaginative, and having the good sense to leave the house, unlike him, but that’s about all we get from them.

We got a little more from Remy, who works at the local newspaper run by her father, who’s pretty cagey, too, though not as creepy as Collins & Grunwald. Their family is still reeling a bit from the return of Remy’s mother, who managed to survive a skirmish in Afghanistan that killed everyone else and is feeling survivor’s guilt as a result. Together, with Caleb and Miranda, they discover that she’s not the first, and that their ancestors, along with two others, died about a week after the return of war heroes that survived seemingly insurmountable odds.

The other two ancestors are brother and sister Luke (Brett Dier) and Liv (Merritt Patterson). One used to be popular but isn’t anymore, since he withdrew from society and started acting out and getting into fights. (Caleb saves him from one, and makes an enemy in the process.) Meanwhile, Liv is Homecoming Queen and doing okay, but both are being ostracized because the town thinks that their mother killed their father under shady circumstances. So does Luke, hence his being withdrawn. Someone goes all “Carrie” on Liv at a local parade and dumps red paint or something to that effect on her dress, running it and humiliating her, but she’s no Carrie, and she runs off, Luke in tow. They meet up with Caleb, Remy, and Miranda, and we have a doozy of an ending when they see a woman in black in the road, swerve to avoid it and into the brink they go.

I’m assuming that they won’t be killed outright, judging from the preview of next week’s show, but that’s what we call a grabber of an ending, folks. If that didn’t make you want to keep watching the show, I don’t know what will. From the looks of it, there’s going to be a sort of “Final Destination”-type scenario where either “death” aka the “woman in black” seeks to kill them anyway, as was supposed to happen in the first place, or the town itself conspires to, because it was meant to be, which is sort of like what happens in the classic short story “The Lottery,” which if you haven’t read it, is sort of like the old-school “Hunger Games.”

In a nutshell, if someone wins the lottery, they are fated to die in order to appease the gods or whatever, and ensure the overall good fortune of the town. It’s possible Caleb and company could be the necessary sacrifice needed to benefit this particular town, or also possible they are the price to be paid for saving the various war vets over the years, which means it could well be Remy’s father that caused his own daughter’s death, or potential death. I’m assuming they all survive for now, but it was alluded to that someone dies, so we’ll just have to wait and see who that is. I could also be way off, and those are the sort of things the show just wants us to think.

I was also reminded of the old movie “Carnival of Souls,” but I’m going to hold off on that theory for now, as it would be extremely spoilery if I’m right. That said, if you want a possible line in on what the show may be up to, I’d suggest you check out the aforementioned sources. (Be sure and watch the old “Carnival” not the dreadful remake. You can find it here, for free on YouTube.)

That’s about it. On a side note, these reviews won’t be nearly as long in the future, and will be much more review-oriented than summary-oriented, but it was sort of unavoidable for the pilot. So, if you’re looking for a blow-by-blow of each episode, you might want to look elsewhere.

I liked the pilot just fine overall. I’m really glad they abandoned that washed-out, grey-ish film technique they used when the town made an appearance on an earlier episode of “PLL.” It worked within that context, but it would have gotten old on a week-to-week basis. I like that “Ravenswood” seems to be its own thing, and not at all like the show that spawned it. It’s definitely less grounded in reality, and clearly intended as more of a horror story than a murder mystery like “PLL.” As a huge horror fan, I’m very much down with that.

What did you think of the pilot episode of “Ravenswood”? Were those of you who don’t watch “Pretty Little Liars” confused by certain things, or did it work for you? (Hopefully, the above stuff helped you out on that front.) For those who do watch “PLL,” how did you think it stood up to that show? Do you prefer the more realistic approach or the more fantastical one “Ravenswood” takes? Let me know in the comments section and I’ll see you next week!

About The Author

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. His impossible dream is that "Twin Peaks" will one day be resurrected and pick up where it left off. Until then, he drowns his woes in anything remotely similar, from "Buffy" to "Lost" to "Pretty Little Liars." This has not always been a good thing-cough, "Ringer", cough- but now at least it can help pay the bills.