Pretty Little Liars "Close Encounters" Review: Spencer Has the Yips

By Nick Campbell

Jan 22, 2014

Pretty Little Liars S04E16: "Close Encounters"

Tough week at the old ball park for Spencer Hastings.

Rarely do you see Spencer whiff as enthusiastically as she did during "Close Encounters." The whole Toby/Radley thing, boring as it's been, was completely mishandled: She got caught reading the documents in her dad's briefcase and failed to consider Toby's feelings of closure against his desire to get to the bottom of a mystery that may or may not exist. I'm sure not everything is as it appears to be, but what a defeat after she threw her whole weight into that swing.

She sat on the couch and bawled after Toby told her to stay out of it. It seemed like the right emotion at the time, but now that we think about it in hindsight, what was so heartbreaking about Toby wanting to close the case, no matter what his actual reasons are? What was it about that moment that it would make sense for Spencer to crumble like she's been begging Hanna to for two weeks?

I venture to guess that it's the loss of the puzzle that justifies the tears. While I can't say that this is exactly what the show had in mind for rationalizing a dramatic turn for one of the few actors in its cast who can convincingly sob on camera, I can say that Alison's return has had a sad effect on Spencer and how she defines herself. We talked last week about the girls and how Alison's disappearance became who they are. While all the Liars share a sad little chunk of that assertion, Spencer owns the lion's share.

Now that Alison's alive, what's left? To find A? I can see Spencer shrugging at that idea. It's old hat. Not to mention the fact that A isn't so much leaving behind threats instead of bait. So Spencer has to Nancy Drew elsewhere. She demanded that Papa Hastings come clean about what's going on with Mrs D. She's trying to make what happened to Toby's mom a thing. Those might be legitimate puzzles, but no one is interested in those truths. Which led us to her mightiest whiff of the episode: scuttling Alison by showing up where she wasn't needed.

We also discussed recently how interesting it is that the girls are now questioning whether Ali was actually as good to them as they remember, even giving Emily props for starting the charge to pull away from their absent clique leader. Unfortunately, it was all for nothing after she played a game of telephone via Shana. Emily was Alison's favorite. Emily was always the one Alison could trust. All that heartbreak Em felt just days before was gone after learning that Ali wanted to talk to her and her alone.

Obviously, Spencer sees that situation another way. Shana's a liar, Alison's basically evil, and all of this stinks of A. You could see Spencer's gears cranking while she talked with Emily on the porch. "Why would Ali only want to meet with you?" Emily is the most gullible of the four. Hanna would put on the bitch-face (different than Pete's bitchface), Aria would stumble onto the answers through some sort of blissfully ignorant Socratic question, and sitting in a room with Spencer is like voluntarily chaining yourself to a table across from Brenda Leigh Johnson, Jack Bauer, and Carrie Mathison. So, of course, Emily is the one you target. It's brilliant. Her words, not mine.

But, in the event that the world doesn't line up with your cynical take on things, you can get yourself into trouble. Spencer might still be right about Ali trying to slice up the Liars, but she didn't exactly come off a soothsayer when tarted-up Emily lost her chance to get the full validation she's been craving. You had to start questioning things when Spencer decided to become so clumsy to spook Alison, why she was almost defensive when trying to convince everyone that A could literally be anyone they know. Why does she keep digging so furiously when everyone else doesn't really seem to care who A is anymore? Ali doesn't think the non-swimmer Liars can be trusted. Spencer did her best to fit that part.

Speaking of people who don't really seem to care who A is anymore but really, really should, Aria decided to take some of Spencer's advice and cave to the idea of being in love with her teacher again (maybe Spencer has the yips). There was that brief window of opportunity a while back when they could've stepped out of the dark corners of their gray area and into the light (well, maybe a shady patch that's light-adjacent) but that seemed to be the time when they called it quits, when he wasn't a teacher and she was ready to date a nice set of abs. Now that he's her teacher again, it's game on.

I understand as a human that it should be tough to tell Jake that she's decided to return to Sacred Ground instead of dating a handsome if slow peer (maybe? How old is Jake?), but it's hard for me to feel bad for the simpleton. First, there was as much chemistry between them as there is in distilled water. Second, as soon as Aria said she was going to see where this thing with her creepy teacher goes, he should have thrown himself a second line. This is not a thing you want to be implicated in, Jake. This is not the adventure you're looking for. The fact that you know that she's afraid of someone in her life should be the reddest of flags. Find some hills. Run to them.

But Jake can't get enough. He bought her some Forever 21 jewelry at a fancy boutique in Harrisburg, for crying out loud. The fact that he saw Ezra being a jackass in public to a minion/associate/soccer mom might be the worst thing that happened to him. He was scot-free. And then he had to warn Aria off the maniac he saw in the streets. You foolish, foolish man.

Let's talk about this outburst. It seems like the evidence for Ezra being A is escalating, which worries me that he's not A, no matter what the promos and my crawling skin try to tell me. A has never been this transparent, and there's no threat to A that things should start unraveling now (except Alison being so close). There's obviously something terrible happening, but I'm already girding myself for the disappointment that we're reliving Toby through Fitz, that he's wrapped up in something he didn't want to be involved in and that his misguided love for Aria is honestly because his arrested youth and cloying romantic idealism that betrays common decency.

Basically, Ezra Fitz is prime Joe Carroll material.

So what is he so angry about and what is he hiding from Aria? How could PLL possibly explain away such obvious villain behavior? Had this one-sided screaming match at this mysterious Real Housewife of Rosewood taken place in his cabin, I would've expected him to finish the conversation with, "You've disappointed me for the last time," and then press a button to drop her into a pit with bloodthirsty sows (just one chamber in that underground dungeon/work-live space he has under the floorboards). But I'm sure by season's end we'll find out the real, rational, not-A reason why he did that. Because while I. Marlene King may be able to shrug off #Haleb 'shippers, there'll be an army at her door when the #Ezria 'shippers are slighted.


– I think we've all come to the decision that A is more than one person, but the show is giving us clues about who's leaving what messages because one says "kisses" while the other doesn't?

– That awkward moment when your girlfriend's dad discovers his daughter at your house and the only thing that stands between you and him is a towel and the sheen of a hot shower. "Fine, I'll sign the settlement."

– Let's talk briefly about the Hanna/Travis thing because it's the one thing from this episode that doesn't have much to do with the show's premise (yet). This was another week of mourning for the Blondest Liar as she dealt with the death of #Haleb. She cleaned her closet and tried to rid herself of the things that remind her of that ghost-loving orphan. She even took a page out of the Spencer playbook and attempted to jump on the bones of the nearest guy who would have her. I dig that. And I don't love Travis, but I don't mind him either. They're forcing manners, charm, and a grounded personality on this actor. I'm only hoping he'll grow into it. I did like the cheesy flirting and innuendo. Oh, and the hustling.

– Then Ashley took Hanna to a gallery that lets you throw plates at a wall, which I thought was some kind of ridiculous substitute for a shooting range but I guess it's a thing.

– Aria made a great point at the Brain Trust meeting (during which Spencer basically posited that literally everyone they know could be A, including Paige): Unless you're Veronica Mars, why would you move from the Georgia coast to Pennsylvania to help solve the mysteries surrounding your shady friend? Emily said that it's Alison's cult of personality, but I'm going to have to call point Aria on that one.

– Why is it that these clandestine meetings can never take place at a nice suite in Rosewood's fanciest hotel? It always has to be some closed or abandoned warehouse that someone somehow has access to. Just seems like PLL could probably make them feel less like drug deals.

– When Jake went for that kick, I thought we were going to see some of that Anderson Silva broken leg action, but they went with knives in the bag. Slow-witted as Jake might seem, how many of you can say you kicked into a knife and still got to your feet? Seriously, Aria. You need to drop that zero and get with the... slightly greater than zero.

– Your Moment of A: Some Hoodie with the combination to a school locker finds a copy of The Tempest (Hanna's?), pulls out a picture of who we assume to be very young versions of Ali and Shana from the pages, and then burns the half with Shana. What if the fire set off the sprinklers at the school? Man, would s/he have egg on his/her face!

What'd you think of "Close Encounters"?

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  • itsmemadie01 Jan 25, 2014

    Three reasons why Ezra is (should be) A
    1. He can have a reason why he has to date students instead of girls his age other than he is a perv
    2. He can have an interesting backstory since we all know Malcom and rich family drama didn't click well last time
    3. So that finally, his character will have a PURPOSE. He has been there since episode 1 and he is STILL a useless and cringeworthy character ever since.

  • ChrisKessinge Jan 23, 2014

    So i've been tossing around 800 different theories with this show. I have to confess, that while i do still mildly enjoy the show, I think it's time for it to come to an end. I love a good mystery as much as the next person, but I don't feel that PLL gives enough to the audience anymore to even half way piece together an idea of what could be happening. It tends to run 6 or 7 episodes, and then bombard us with 100 plot points in the 8th.

    My biggest thing right now has been pointed out, if we know Ezra is A, why show the person in the hoodie? In my opinion, I think it's Mona actually doing her own thing. I think she is trying to beat Ezra to the punch against the girls. At this point, she is almost the most interesting character on the show, and I think she is really underutilized.

    Again just my own opinion of things.

  • NicholasCampb Jan 24, 2014

    There was never a chance that Ezra was a singular A, particularly since we know A as a syndicate of people now (the Hoodies working for, possibly, some kind of A Council). I don't feel like The Moment of A at the end of episodes negates EzrA though it does probably mean he's not the godfather. Maybe a lieutenant? Somewhere higher than a henchman but below the decision-makers. Things are sketchy with him and, judging from the dialogue and the shady things he does, it would be hard for them to replay those scenes in some later montage and for them not to be villainous. His only salvation from being implicated fully with the A Team is the same way Toby was saved: it wasn't his choice.

    Which is why I fear that backpedal. I don't doubt Mona is still involved somehow but I feel like we should point out Mona's fondness for Hanna, which hasn't gleaned her any additional information to exploit or endearment to the Liars. Could be an indication of someone trying to take it down from within. Kind of like Troy trying to take down Christmas. That's another theory being batted around.

    Mona is the Liar's most secret witness.

  • La-Lady Jan 23, 2014

    I got tired of it. I still watch just because I like Hanna and I want to see what happens to her. But I don't really care for the A-Thing anymore.... I mean it's been 4 years and they know ali is alive and blablabla everything so lame. I don't think that I would have let myself be sucked into this game in the first place...

  • nasedoofantar Jan 23, 2014

    Yea, the girls need to get smart about being in dark, spooky buildings and desolate country roads. Like, don't be in dark, spooky buildings. Probably a good idea to bring along bodyguards when they go anywhere at night too. And carry pepper spray & tasers. Maybe they could get some of that near-impossible-to-remove-dye that bank tellers hide in stacks of cash they give to robbers to unleash on any hooded person that confronts them. They should have an arsenal of anti-A weapons by now. And sturdy locks on their houses & bedrooms. Instead they tell each other to be careful & be suspicious of everyone. How is it that tech-savvy Caleb never set them up with motion-activated cameras outside their homes or satellite phones for when they (in)conveniently don't have cell service? How have they not waterboarded Mona for information on how see spied on & tormented them, how she came to be a part of the 'A' team? I'm sick of all the storylines that have nothing to do with Ali or 'A'. Maya & the guy who killed her, Hanna's dad & his replacement family, Aria's dad's ex-girlfriend, Pastor Ted, Caleb's dad, Emily's parents, etc. Aria's dad's hypocrisy of student/teacher relationships and his ignorance of never revealing that he argued with Ali the night she "died" is one thing, but Spencer's dad's self-righteousness is insufferable. Everything with him with him & Jason better lead to shedding some light on Ali's mom, and the stuff with Radley better tie in with Ali and/or 'A', like who was the patient who caused or witnessed Toby's mom's death. Apparently we're going to learn more people saw her that night and get a clearer picture of what happened, including why Spencer was awake & not in the barn when the other girls woke up. I hope they don't drag that out forever too.

  • NicholasCampb Jan 24, 2014

    They will. The fact that Spencer wasn't around when everyone else woke up will be important somehow so that'll be dragged out until the near end I would imagine. And I'm with you on some of these secondary storylines they give the Liars for when the A-story (pun fully intended) focuses on only one or two of the leads. Insufferable is a good word. Some are tiresome but they usually tie back into the overall mystery at some point. The unfortunate part is that the more interesting characters that I wouldn't mind seeing separate arcs for (Mona, Lucas, The Tiger Sweater) plays against the show's voice of limited omniscience. The secrets are important to be kept so they don't reveal plot too early. Small doses. So we get crappy arcs that tie in eventually.

    The only thing I can't hold with you on is Byron's hypocrisy. I feel like Byron, having experienced the troublesome nature of the relationship, should have expert knowledge in trying to steer her daughter away from it. It's also complicated by the fact that the adult is dating a girl that's not even able to vote yet. I'm just saying there are mitigating factors here.

  • torontogirl98 Jan 23, 2014

    If Ezra isn't A he has a whole lot of creepy to explain for, not to mention being a psycho and putting knives in Jake's punching bag. Seeing him on screen now just gives me a queesy feeling!

  • La-Lady Jan 23, 2014

    it's already creepy to be dating a teenager so what did you expect him to be? ^^

  • torontogirl98 Jan 23, 2014

    I don't know before he just came off as more of an idiot for dating Aria but now his behaviour is on a whole different level

  • loomis8813 Jan 22, 2014

    How does Ali have so many secret hiding places and why does every building in and around Rosewood seem to be abandoned? Emily went to the church to drop off stuff for a "bake sale" yet no one was there, even at the martial arts studio Jake is always alone and A was some how able to go in unnoticed and install knives. The economic downtown must really be hitting that town hard.

  • NicholasCampb Jan 24, 2014

    It looks so empty in Rosewood because everyone is too busy peeping through the windows.

  • CaitlinRice Jan 22, 2014

    For someone who earlier in the episode was talking about about how easily Alison could sway people, Emily certainly was easily swayed. I could understand wanting to meet her to get the answers you've been wanting, but throw yourself at her why don't you?

    Aria is a complete idiot but what else is new?

    I have never believed that Spencer is just fine after her breakdown last season. I think the only reason that she was able to pull herself into any semblance of togetherness was so she could get to the -A team from the inside. But now, with the knowledge that Ali is alive, she has lost a lot of that drive and latched onto the mystery of what happened to Toby's mom. Now she's lost that as well. I think that without some mystery to keep her going and with Ali (purposely or not) chinking away at their friendship, Spencer is going to unravel. And it will be great. Cause Crazy Spencer is the best.

  • NicholasCampb Jan 24, 2014

    Spencer Hastings tumbling down the rabbit hole of her own uptight craziness. I want it. You want it. It's what the people demand.

  • vespa4 Jan 23, 2014

    To be fair, I dont think Ali was lying or trying to sway Emily when she said, "I dont know if I can trust the others" cause when you think of her list of suspects in who tried to murder her its: Spencers sister, 2 of her boyfriends both of whom Spencer had a thing with, and Spencers current boyfriend, Arias dad and her boyfriend, even if Paige turns out to be dodgy, Ali knows Emily loves her enough to trust her and dump the psycho if Ali tells her too. So I can see why she might have issues trusting the others.
    And yeah, Spencers still definitly a bit crazy :S

  • CaitlinRice Jan 24, 2014

    I'm just saying that all it took was for Ali to say, "Hey I wanna meet with just you" and she jumped back on Team Ali. Emily was already swayed before Ali said anything about not being able to trust the others.

  • LaurenYetter Jan 22, 2014

    I think the fact that the person at the end is still in a black hoodie and gloves, proves that Ezra isn't 'A'. Otherwise, they would just show Ezra creeping around instead yeah?

    In Spencer's defense, Emily almost always makes bad decisions and puts herself in danger, so how was she to know this time Emily would be right? But it was pretty conspicuous that Spencer decided to make herself known even though she clearly had a good eavesdropping spot before then.

    I had a sand grain of hope when Aria was confronting Ezra, but, naturally it dissolved into whipped cream brownies... The old 'knives in the punching bag' trick... I like how they were isolated in a small area, and Jake still managed to kick them square on. Also, the whole time Jake was back, I literally could not remember the actor that played him... they could have recast him and I wouldn't have asked questions; or noticed.

  • noelrk Jan 22, 2014

    Oh, I do enjoy when we're of one mind on a show, Nick.

    I, too, thought about the sudden swerve of Emily's behavior while watching:

    Emily last week: "Why are we even looking for Ali?"

    Emily this week: "Which jacket looks best for my clandestine meeting with Ali?"

    And, yeah, Spencer had a no good, very bad episode this week. TIME TO BRING BACK THE TIGER SWEATER.

  • NicholasCampb Jan 24, 2014

    Every time I see that tiger sweater I feel like I've missed it every day of my life.

    It's an unfortunate about-face for Emily. Because if you trust the writers, you have to believe they always planned the contradiction, putting those words in Emily's mouth instead of, say, Hanna, because Emily's mind is the most easily changed by her environment. So while we think we know what road we're on, where Emily is chasing enlightenment, she was always going to cave to Ali. And suddenly we're stuck on this disintegrating timeline where Emily has a backbone, her own thoughts, and a resilience that doesn't come from naive silliness. And that's on us.

    Noel, we are the fools.

  • jstitely1 Jan 22, 2014

    Jake's got himself into a world of hurt. I actually do feel bad for him, even if it was stupid to tell Aria instead of running, because he was trying to do the right thing. (And anything that hastens an Ezria breakup makes me happy, they stopped being interesting once they turned what should've been a brief affair into this "epic" love.)
    Spencer has annoyed me since the second half of season 3 when she became all about Toby, so it doesn't surprise me that she annoyed me this episode. Go Hannah for showing that any guy would want her and Caleb is an idiot for wanting Miranda.
    And last thought before this gets too long, its a problem to me when the most likeable character is the manipulative bitch Alison.

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