Previously on Pretty Little Liars, Emily cycled through the five stages of grief and discovered a sixth way to deal with loss: ecstasy-fueled grave-robbing. Spencer emptied out her savings account and purchased The Lost Woods Resort so her obsession with re-creating A’s lair could consume her without interference from Norman Bates. Hanna visited Mona Vanbetterthanyou at Radley Sanitorium and read her some magazines and wondered out loud which thing, exactly, made her BFF gun down her ass with an automobile. And Aria got new hair and makeup and started dressing like a human being. It was the weirdest thing this show has ever done.
Having studied The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird with the meticulousness of American Literature PhD candidates, the senior English class of Rosewood High School has moved on to Hedda Gabler, which is a really intense play for a group of 17-year-olds to deconstruct, but a most perfect allegory for the Monas and Jennas of this show. See, because no one can ever decide if Hedda Gabler is a villain or a victim, a manipulative sociopath who gets bored and dicks around with everyone’s minds and lives for giggles or a premodern feminist who challenges rigid societal/gender roles with her feminine wiles and also with blackmail. Basically, Hedda Gabler is just Henrik Ibsen asking: “What if you wrapped Alison DiLaurentis up in a petticoat and dropped her off in Norway in the 19th century with a gun?”
Hedda, Act II: “For once in my life I want to feel that I control a human destiny.”
Løvborg, Act III: Yes, Hedda, and when I made my confessions to you—told you about myself, things that at that time no one else knew! There I would sit and tell you of my escapades—my days and nights of devilment. Oh, Hedda—what was the power in you that forced me to confess these things?
Hedda, Act IV: “Everything I touch seems destined to turn into something mean and farcical.”
You are forgiven if you didn’t spend any time at all meditating on the Hedda Gabler thing due to the fact that Emily opens up her bag and instead of finding a pencil, her hand grasps a necklace made of human teeth talking about “Dead Girls Can’t Smile.” She gasps, I gasp, the camera goes full-blown Hitchcock/Vertigo Effect like the world is collapsing in on top of her. Any other person would have bolted from the room or passed right the hell out, but Emily is Canadian-caliber polite even during her most nuclear meltdowns. She goes, “May I be excused, please, Ms. Montgomery?” And then she runs screaming from the classroom.
The Liars meet up with her in the Ladies Room of Regrets and Recriminations and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decide if the teeth have, in fact, been extracted from the skull of a human being. And, I mean, you don’t need to know that, dummies. Look at Aria’s face right now. Look at it. Is she holding an accessory that is too busted even for her? Yes? Then you’re in trouble. They cram into a stall and scuffle over the necklace while expositing everything they’ve learned about “this A.” (Roofies, kidnapping, grave burgling, etc.) Emily breathes into a paper bag and says she can take the fall for everything if they want to dime her out to the Rosewood PD now that A has upped her game to zombie dentistry, but the Liars won’t hear it.
Hanna and Aria get so caught up in slapping each other they lose control of the necklace, which results in: a) More masterful framing from Norman Buckley, and b) More clumsy disposal of felony evidence with the Liars fingerprints all over it.
Also, I’m just going to shout out Pretty Little Liars editor Robert Lattanzio right here. My girlfriend is a film editor and it is a thankless job a lot of the time, but editing shapes everything about a show, and whether they’re doing comedy or suspense or action or dialogue/reaction shots to dialogue (all very different skill sets!), these PLL never misses a beat, literally. This scene right here is a perfect example. The pacing gets more and more frantic as the Liars bicker faster and faster, all individual shots of their individual opinions about how to stop getting murdered, and it’s intense and it’s hilarious and it’s solo, solo, solo and then the Dead Girl Tooth Jewelry is getting flushed right down the toilet and then — boom! — caged in, together again.
I’m sorry, I’m getting carried away, but this is a visually stunning episode, and as some of you noticed when you tried on The Secret Life of the American Teenager to check out Molly Ringwald‘s coming out last week, PLL ain’t no average teenage soap (story- or picture-wise).
In the courtyard, the Liars run through the usual list of suspects while Jenna walks around waving her arms in front of her, knocking over garbage bins and punching people in the head and falling down, all, “Pardon me, excuse me, so sorry; I’m blind, you know.” Spencer has, of course, been tracking Jenna’s summer migration patterns, and she finds it wildly suspicious that Jenna didn’t arrive home from “music camp” until the day school started. Aria’s like, “Probably she took a side-trip to hell, where she … went even blind-er?” It’s all lip gloss and popsicles until Spencer drops the hammer and says she’ll go back to prison to interrogate Garrett this afternoon if Hanna will do the same to Mona. The fact that Spencer doesn’t understand the distinction between those two scenarios makes Hanna so mad she storms away …