Pretty Little Liars "A Is for Answers" Review: But No Answers on A
Once upon a time, there was this video game that had this crazy story set in a huge world, just gigantic in scope. But the production ran out of money and, in order to keep the project on-budget, the creators had the characters literally sit in rocking chairs and tell parts of the story they didn't have the money to make. Ten straight minutes of flipping through text boxes watching nothing more than a 32-bit dude in a ponytail tell you what's happening.
That old familiar feeling of mashing the X button to get through the the scenes faster crept up on me while watching "A Is for Answers," as Alison literally sat in a chair for most of the episode and provided the backstory we've been missing. But, instead of it being because Pretty Little Liars ran out of money, I have a feeling that this episode full of flashbacks was fueled by recent backlash toward the show.
We've been burned before. The mightiest example of a series ending before we got the answers we craved is Lost. Indeed, there were definitely times where I kind of wished someone would've just sat Jacob down and played Third Degree; Sawyer would definitely have gotten the identity of who was in the outrigger out of him. But the going accusation at the time was that Lost's creative team didn't know what they were doing, that they were drowning in story and had no idea how they wanted to end it. That there was no plan. That they were just making things up as they went along. And that eventually, they just slapped together an ending.
I don't believe that's the case (call me an optimist), but I don't think the fine people behind Pretty Little Liars like being the subject of similar assumptions. So they struck a compromise with the audience: We'll give you a taste of the good stuff if you let us keep A a secret. Because, honestly, how much life does the show have once the Liars figure out who A is? Half a season? An episode?
Watching the girls sit Ali down and coax her to tell them a story wasn't as frustratingly meta as that video game. After all, what would you have done if your presumed-dead-but-actually-just-disappeared friend reemerged and stuck around long enough to give you every answer she possibly could? It's just too bad a lot of what she said was stuff we already knew, even if we hadn't pieced it together on a timeline yet.
But we did learn a good number of things that we didn't know before: All those Alison appearances were NOT weird dreams (candy striper in Hanna's hospital room, at the fiery lodge, etc); Ali was the one who pushed Ian off the belfry (but didn't kill him); Spencer didn't LUX shovel anyone; Mrs. D is the one who buried Alison alive; and Mona is the one who helped Alison disappear. Oh, and Mona is real crazy. Like, real real crazy. Like, I don't know what's holding Mona in check from rising to supervillain status and developing her own weather machine, but I feel like it's that Hanna took her shopping and everyone in Rosewood should thank their lucky stars that those two girls shared some retail therapy because otherwise, Mona would be their evil overlord. Everyone in Rosewood must eat a dozen cupcakes in one sitting!
Anyway. If the members of the audience are stockholders in the business of Pretty Little Liars, they finally got a decent share of dividends this week, and I. Marlene King and Co. get to keep pushing forward. Answers like full-size candy bars. Mostly, anyway. But, then, there were those last five minutes.
After nearly an entire hour of establishing Alison as both a victim and a power player, after kicking off what will probably be a long process of restoring Ali's capital after witnessing her be horrible to people in everyone's flashbacks for four years, after stretching the Liars to their limits all these seasons later, Pretty Little Liars reduced the ladies to a bunch of shrieking little girls once A came to find them.
The actors who play the Liars are all in their mid- to late-20s now, so it's easy to forget that they're all supposed to still be minors. But we've watched all of them at some point or another grow a pair of ovaries and take care of business when they need to. The Liars have never been more impotent than they were at the end of "A Is for Answers." Let's walk through it.
For our purposes, we're going to call their attacker A, even though s/he was dressed as a Hoodie with a mask (so it could've still just been an underling). A attacked through the plate glass window with a gun and the girls screamed and ran up the fire escape. The roof had no exits (Em is probably the only one who could jump, Wonder Woman-like, from rooftop to rooftop), but it did only have two entrances: the one that Ezra would emerge from (why was he there? Was he peeping?) and the one A crashed through. No one decided to man the doors and tackle A upon A reaching the rooftop, which seems like a total Spencer or Hanna thing to do—take A down and then either let Aria kick-punch him/her or just let Emily use her sixth sense to find a dangerous weapon within a ten-foot radius and do some dirty work.
There wasn't any of that, though. Sisters were not doing it for themselves. Instead, they waited impatiently for A to arrive, only to find the baseball-hatted Ezra arriving first. He wrestled A for the gun while the Liars looked on and shrieked some more and waited for the man to save them. The gun fell Hanna's way and she picked it up. Suddenly, I felt like they could be empowered again.
Nope. Despite some pretty convincing demands that A take off the mask (as the episode promo sold us on), A merely acted like the veil was being lifted, said "Psych!" and then leaped over the gap to the other building. Hanna with the gun just watched as A jumped, climbed over the ledge on the other side, landed on top of the building, stood there and looked at the girls, and then casually, casually, exited through the door.
Maybe that's overly harsh on Hanna, expecting her to pull the trigger of a weapon she has no experience firing, especially since there's no backstory as to her being familiar with guns in any way that doesn't include burying them behind sorority houses. But watching A pretend like the mask was about to come off and then turning to dive across the buildings made me laugh out loud. It would've been one thing if the police had shown up and distracted everyone. But A just ditched them right in front of their eyes. The relaxed saunter inside was especially ridiculous, and made every one of those Liars look useless.
And they looked even more useless as they realized Ezra's pensive look wasn't because he was being all emo, but because he'd been shot. He milked it, apologizing as he fell unconscious, and the girls all had to scream for help because Noel took their phones away. They were impotent. They were helpless. They were exactly where they were before except now they had even more dangerous A bait hanging out with them. Yay?
It was disappointing to see such a weak ending to an episode that was essentially created for fan service. I know a lot of people will feel cheated because A wasn't unmasked, but the episode was truly dedicated to providing clarification, if not answers, to many a question. At the very least, it cleared up the timeline and helped narrow down the field as to who A is. The problem with a show like this is that there's a general impatience with knowing the answers, and that frustration often gets conflated with a malaise concerning the show in general. Pretty Little Liars isn't perfect. God help us, we can enumerate the actual problems with the series for hours. But how it reveals the core tenet of the show isn't one of them. Someday, Pretty Little Liars will get to the point like Bones or Chuck did, where the main serial conceit will wear itself out so much that A will have to be unmasked because that premise gets old. But not just yet.
– Spencer being mesmerized by Newton's Cradle might be the best metaphor of the episode. That Aria was annoyed by it makes it even better.
– The ticking time bomb seemed unnecessary. Obviously, the girls were going to try to get everything they could from Ali immediately. It's not like they were going to be all, "Oh, good to see you. Glad you're safe for now. Oh, don't worry about the details that've been ruining our life for years. We can go over that stuff at brunch tomorrow."
– So Noel wasn't working with NAT or A. He was just a jerk the whole time. If Ali likes the Liars (generally) and has no reason to distrust them (Spencer, for instance, did not take Ali out with a shovel), why do all the people who supposedly help Ali treat the Liars like dog crap?
– "Did you get lucky or did someone turn me in?" You signed your own name on a hotel ledger, CeCe. This one's on you and your terrible on-the-run skills. Not even an obscure Nabokov character name? Rookie mistake. Related: It took me a while to believe it but that actually was Vanessa Ray playing CeCe. It's just been so long that I didn't recognize her. We're going to call that Mike Syndrome.
– So Melissa knows who killed "that girl" on the night of Alison's disappearance. Papa Hastings seems summarily appalled. And this is a man who's had to put up with a lot of appalling things. Like Toby's slicked nude form mere feet from his daughter.
– Mrs. D is the one who buried Ali alive to save... someone. I mean, unless Mrs. D is able to Spider-Man across rooftops, she's probably not A, but that's some hysterical ish to bury your own daughter without even checking for signs of life. Not even, like, a mirror under the nose to see if it fogs up? I can see why Ali might not be terribly surprised that the Liars suspect Mrs. D of being capable of terrible things. I mean, if she's going to protect someone by hiding her own daughter in the backyard, it's got to be Jason, right?
– Ezra seemed really upset that Ali lied about her age (even though there was no funny business—Alison had a lot of relationships where they apparently didn't "do anything"). He specifically mentioned in the flashback how angry he was that she was in high school. I guess she broke the seal, so Ezra justified, "Well, I already dated one high school girl. I guess that's who I am now. Bring on the underaged babes!"
– Detective Holbrook has been watching too much Colombo. His "just one more thing" game needs work.
– Mona, you really shouldn't've let Ali fall asleep after she got knocked in the head so hard. That's super bad for you.
– It's unfortunate how much the producers tried to tie Ravenswood into Pretty Little Liars. I understand the move and the risk/reward, but now Grunwald psychically knowing where Alison was buried so she could be pulled out of the ground is forever part of the backstory. It's a dash of magic that is going to forever haunt the show.
– Your Moment of A: A Hoodie dragging Mrs. D through the backyard and burying her (presumably) alive. Seems more like revenge against Jessica than an A calling card. Whose side are you on, A? Maybe A will join the clique soon, too, after revealing that A is being tortured by, you know, B. Sorry, guys. It's been four seasons and I don't think I've ever made that joke. Thanks for reading and making Season 4 fun! See you in June!
What'd you think of the finale? Were the "answers" satisfying enough for your liking?
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