My recapping buddies and I were talking recently about how you can’t watch a serialized story built around a mystery and expect to not be disappointed in the end. Like Lost, for example. I still know people who want to burn down JJ Abrams’ house over the Lost finale. Or Veronica Mars. The first season of that show was maybe the greatest inaugural season of any murder-mystery show ever. But as soon as the bus careened over the edge of the cliff in series two, you knew it was an accidental metaphor. Because to keep fans coming back to shows like that, you’ve got to make the mystery bigger and bigger by asking more and more questions, and the danger is that you’ll never be able to answer all — or even most — of those questions in a satisfying way.
But here’s where Pretty Little Liars wins: You and me and even my cat, we’re all beside ourselves with glee about the “A” reveal next week. But honestly, it doesn’t matter who “A” is. Not really. Because while PLL was weaving a yarn about a murder-mystery, it was also making us fall in love with these characters. If the Liars had gone wandering off in the dark in a graveyard in the pilot episode, we’d have rolled our eyes and hopped up for a snack, but now we’re all scooting closer to the TV when that shit happens and legitimately hollering at them to at least bring a flashlight.
Also, though, these writers know how to play us right. First of all, they keep shouting out to us in small but significant ways. The way the characters keep saying “The Jenna Thing” out loud. Ashley Marin calling us back to the pasta box bank a couple of episodes ago. The writers are dialed in to what we’re saying, and they’re speaking to us in the language we’ve helped them create. And Monday night’s giant reveal, it wasn’t just awesome because it was shocking; it was awesome because every single person on the creative team was winking at us. The writing, the directing, the editing, even the music supervision, it was like they’d crafted this thing they loved so much and couldn’t wait to show us.
It was, hands down, one of the most enjoyable episodes of TV I have ever seen in my entire life. And the creepiest. And just so gratifying. I mean, it’s an absurd show, right? Just f–king insane. But it’s also sweet and scary and unnervingly real at times. And at its core, PLL is a story about a group of young women learning to seize and wield the power society has tried to convince them they don’t have. The power of their sexuality. The power of their intellect. The power of their friendships. And, in the case of Aria Montgomery, the power of the souls of ancient kings, which she keeps safely stored away in a jar of enchanted salamander eyeballs in her jewelry box.
In addition to her daily dosage of Adderall, Spencer has popped a couple of pain killers because when a burning building blows up in your face, sometimes you feel a little bit sore the next day. She wakes up to find Alison rummaging through her shit, which you know happened on the regular when that girl was alive, so it takes Spencer a minute to realize it’s not real Ali, but Zombie Ali who’s rooting around in her backpack.
Spencer is like, “Ali, listen, I am so sorry it’s taking us like ten years to solve your murder, but stuff just keeps exploding and we keep getting called off on all these little side missions. You wouldn’t believe how many holes there are in this town full of murder weapons and therapists.” Alison ain’t mad. She flirts with Spencer in that way she has, the one that makes a girl feel like she’s the most important person in the world — which in Spencer’s case: true, actually — and tells Spencer not to be so myopic. That’s kind of like telling the sun not to be so shiny, but Spencer agrees to try to look at the larger picture and wrap up this murder investigation before any more hooligans show up asking Aria to fly anymore tinker-toy airplanes.
If anyone knows what it’s like to makeout with Ali’s ghost, it’s Emily, so Spencer confides to her that Ali dropped by for some late night cat burgling and canoodling. Spencer is kind of convinced Ali really was in her house like Emily is kind of convinced Ali really did kiss her just outside that barn like Hanna is kind of convinced Ali really was chilling out in her hospital room dressed like a candy striper. The only person who hasn’t been visited by the Ghost of Queen Bees Past/Yet To Come is Aria and that is because her boyfriend is an even bigger lez than Ali and the Sapphic Law of Thermodynamics prevents that many feelings from being in the same place at the same time. Emily’s like, “Ali is holding our brains hostage. Also, the way my girlfriends keep disappearing, I think maybe she’s holding my vagina hostage. We really should solve her murder.”
Then off she goes to kick out the tenants from her house so she and Pam can move back in. On the way she gets a text from Maya: “Thanks a lot for telling my parents I’m not dead, traitor!” And I mean, I guess Maya got a brain transplant from the same place Jenna got an eyeball transplant, because what the actual heck is wrong with her right now?
Hanna is in the kitchen organizing her homework from the night before. I love how any one of these Liars can pull a blind girl from the jaws of death in the middle of the night and then be expected to show up at school the next morning, fresh-faced and with a complete essay about, like, the recurring motifs of punishment psychology in Dostoyevsky’s novels. When I was in high school, if I helped an old lady to her car with her groceries after about 8:00 at night, I’d just take the next day off due to heroism. If I’d legitimately saved one of my classmates’ lives, I’d have just gone on home and played video games for the next two years until someone mailed me a diploma.
Despite the fact that a cell phone would have come in real handy when she was on literal fire the night before, Ashley’s still taking the hard line with Hanna about her phone. When Hanna’s purse rings, Ashley just reaches on in there and pulls out the phone Mona gave her and throws it in the dishwasher, like the Marins do. Mona comes sauntering in the back door and I think propositions Ashley for some good old fashioned May-December romance, but Ashley is like, “I am too much woman even for you, Mona Vanderwaal.”