Previously on Pretty Little Liars, Spencer took away Mona’s girlfriend and so Mona took away Spencer’s boyfriend. Mona bested Spencer at her best thing (Academic Decathlon) and so Spencer bested Mona at her best thing (Adrenalized Hyperreality Olympics). Mona tried to kill Spencer, and so Spencer tried to kill Mona. Emily uncovered various clues, all of which pointed to Detective Wilden fathering a child with Ali, and the last of which very nearly ended in Jason getting crushed by a falling elevator. Hanna ordered a name badge that says, “Hello, My Name is Gaydar.” And Aria kissed her boyfriend’s brother due to poor self-control and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
The Liars figured there was no reason to stick around the hospital after Jason shrugged off his casts and neck brace and IVs and jumped out of the window, so they have retired to Rear Window Brew to debrief what they know so far about the back half of this season. For starters, both Wilden and CeCe were photographed on a boat with Ali, which means that one or both of them impregnated her and then killed her. Also, Big Red is the leader of the A-Team and she has blonde hair and is probably Alison. Spencer’s phone dings with a text message, which Hanna sneaky-reads, of course, because somebody has got to figure out how to pull Spencer away from the ledge of her life. Spencer’s like, “Oh, it’s just Wren. He drove me into the woods to prey on my insanity, but I outmaneuvered his impossibly sexy British arse and seized on his lust as a vehicle by which to kill Mona.” The Liars thank her for almost getting Emily chopped in half with her reckless attack on the Vanderbeast, and Spencer is thiiiiiis close to telling them that Mona’s not the only black hoodie in town, when someone starts hammering on the door of the coffee shop.
It’s Detective Wilden. First, he accuses them of breaking into the coffee shop. Then, he accuses them of helping Jason spread falsehoods about his upstanding morality. And then, he tells them to hop into his cop car and he’ll keep them all safe. And then, he tells Hanna he’ll be menacing her, solely and specifically, real soon. Season one, the Liars would have been quaking in their brown Tory Burches, but times have changed. Not only do they refuse to quiver under his glare and alpha male posturing, they all take turns mouthing off to him. (Well, except for Spencer, but she’s still in a heightened state of turmoil/arousal from her earlier altercation with Mona.) They close their ranks and narrow their eyes and tell him to go fuck himself. They know about the boat. They know about him and CeCe. They know it’s not actually a felony to pick up a shovel.
There’s a lot to love about PLL 3B, but I think this is my favorite scene of the season so far because it’s actually a metaphor for the whole entire show. Like, if there was such a thing as a television show grocery store, you’d find Pretty Little Liars on the junk food aisle, and the packaging would tell you it’s the story of four teenage girls who grab Fashion by the balls and kiss boys and tell lies and get the shit scared out of them on the regular. And that’s this scene right here on the surface. They all look hot as hell, two of them have guy troubles, someone creepy is knocking at the door.
But the truth of this show, the truth of this scene, is that it’s about four young women who have been told from the very beginning that they don’t have any power. It’s what A tells them, it’s what the police tell them, it’s what their fathers tell them, over and over. No power over what happens to their bodies, their minds, their actual lives. On the best days, it’s, “You girls hush and behave while the big, strong men figure out what to do.” (Wilden.) And on the worst days, it’s, “I made you, and so even your most personal business, your very sexuality belongs to me.” (Byron.) Right? And but these four girls, they said no to being victims, no to being powerless, no being tricked into hating their bodies and their desires and the sound of their own angry voices. Whatever else is going on inside their love for one another — whether it’s Spencer shutting down and pulling away or Aria catching Avian Flu from her own earrings — they stand together and refuse to apologize for the space they take up in the world.
It’s such a fun show, and so ridiculous sometimes, that it’s easy not to see how subversive it is. But when you think about it, when you think about this scene, when you make the text-to-world connections you learned about when you started reading in kindergarten, the thing you see is Wildens, Wildens everywhere — and four Little Liars who aren’t afraid anymore. Sometimes being queer sounds like the gender binary getting punched in the face. Sometimes being queer sounds like, “We don’t need your fucking permission to have a cup of coffee.”
Andy Reaser, who wrote this episode, is one of those mythological TV writers that actually loves the art of story and the power of women and the passion of the fans who watch his shows. He’s like a unicorn. (Watch out, Andy! Aria wants to make a coat out of you!)