The Curious Timeline of Pretty Little Liars: 6 Theories to Explain the Show's Bizarre Slowness

By Nick Campbell

Aug 19, 2014

Last year, as Pretty Little Liars closed out the first half of its fourth season, the spookular folks of Rosewood's sister city, Ravenswood, sent around flyers and put up posters advertising a celebration that required attendees to wear “period costumes” (thus creating a premise for the Ravenswood-launching Halloween episode). The camera swooped down to reveal the when-and-where details of the event, but the only info contained on the posted bill was “8 in the evening.” No date—just 8ish on you-know-which-day. It was one of those quirks that could probably be chalked up to Ravenswood magic or the residents' hive-mind collective creepiness (does everyone own a period costume they can don at the drop of a top hat?), but I remember watching and thinking, “Ugh. Why can’t they just include a date?”

To add to the discombobulation, Ezria recently recalled the trajectory of their relationship—as has everyone who's been thinking about used-to-be-dead Alison—and in the process confirmed that it’s been two years in PLL time since Ezra walked his high-school-aged mark back to a bar bathroom and started the greatest love affair the world has ever known. But it’s starting to become more apparent lately that we don’t exactly know when we are. It’s been a good long while since we’ve seen the Liars out of school, since the show has celebrated a real-world holiday, or even since the production designers have offered a rough estimate via constellations in the night sky of where the show is in time. The last specific date we have for the Liars came in the 2012 Halloween episode, “This is a Dark Ride,”—October of their senior year. And in June (of our reality timeline), series creator Marlene King insisted during a Reddit AMA that it’s still fall in Rosewood during the Liars' senior year, which started in Season 3. Thus, since Adam Lambert showed up to awkwardly hit on Aria’s Daisy Buchanan, we’ve tuned in for almost two full seasons that only span a month or so, total, in Rosewood time.

Spencer’s pill addiction, the rise and fall of Ravenswood, the break-up and make-up of Haleb, Ezra being revealed as a surveilling creepster, Ella’s entire doomed adventure with eventual-pedo Zack, Ezra getting shot by Shana, Aria’s poisoning, Ezra healing from that gunshot wound, Spencer finding out that Toby was a hoodie, and all the twists and turns of Paily—all of it supposedly took place before the first Pennsylvania snow.

How can we explain all these events happening in such a small window? Let me offer some theories:


1. Anxiety Stretches Time

What we may perceive as the passage of time is really just an illusion. Just like when you’re scared and it feels like seconds tick by more slowly, these anxiety-riddled young women are in a constant state of fear, living in a world where time seeps forward like molasses. You may think you see them going to bed and waking up the next morning, but those are really just 20-minute stress-naps after the body has shut down due to fight-or-flight fatigue.

Explains: The slow passage of perceived time.

Does Not Explain: Ezra’s Wolverine-like healing ability.



2. Rosewood Is Under the Dome

Chester’s Mill has a speed problem that's even worse than Rosewood's; the small New England municipality has been home to an ax murderer, two water shortages, and multiple manhunts, all within just over two weeks! So maybe whatever is speeding up the crazy in Maine is also letting A have his/her way with the Liars in Rosewood. There hasn’t been a plague yet and there’s no political power struggle over who’s in charge of the greater Rosewood-Ravenswood metropolitan area, but give it time. We’ll figure out who that Dome Egg person is yet.

Explains: The speed at which highly plotted events occur consecutively, why there’s been no snow so far this season.

Does Not Explain: The Liars’ warp speed travel to other cities.


3. Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox

It basically says that between any two points there are an infinite number of subpoints. So, say you want to walk to the kitchen to grab some cheesy poofs. The distance may seem short, but before you get there, you have to walk halfway there. But before you can walk halfway there, you have to walk halfway to the halfway point. But first you have to walk halfway to halfway to halfway. And so on. This is why people have butlers.

If there’s a finite distance between Halloween and Christmas—and there is; we have calendars that tell us so—an infinite number of events can take place between the two dates before we can make it to December 25. So that’s why we're currently experiencing such a jam-packed month of sudsy proportions.

Explains: Why so many things can happen in a month, why the passage of time is of no consequence.

Does Not Explain: Who gave me the right to manipulate a time-honored philosophical tradition to explain the timeline of a teen soap.


4. The Liars Are Super Seniors

Because these girls are so busy solving puzzles, running from shadows, and ducking the lingering gazes of Rosewood men, their careers as high-school seniors have been summarily “extended” in accordance with their ridiculous truancy records. What we believe to be another season within the confines of a single senior year is actually a bunch of episodes taking place within their senior half-decade.

Explains: The time needed for events to occur, why the school hasn’t disciplined the Liars’ for never, ever being in class anymore.

Does Not Explain: Why no one has even spoken of college since they found Tippi the Parrot.



5. The Record is Skipping

What keeps Ravenswood weird and allows Rosewood to drift through its own timeline independent of our conception of passing days and weeks is a giant electromagnetic presence deep below the the Pennsylvanian countryside. The A syndicate is actually a network of people from the future who also live in the past, and they're here to maintain this timestream so that events run their proper course. A has no desire to actually torture the girls; he/she/they just needs to ensure that certain events happen as they should. Or maybe they don’t. Some of them just believe that whatever happens, happens. Just go with it, Lafleur.

Explains: Why A is still torturing the Liars even though they haven’t really done anything wrong in a while without A’s prodding.

Does Not Explain: Who the people in the outrigger were.


6. We're Dealing With Titans of Star Stuff

Everyone in Rosewood is actually an ageless god for whom the mortal conception of time does not apply. The Liars' “senior year” is actually a million billion years in our understanding, and Rosewood exists in a cosmic vacuum on a plane beyond everyone’s normal conception of time, and the only person who can comprehend such an idea is Neil deGrasse Tyson, who tells the writers what happens in the Pretty Little Liars universe each week through a complex system involving spectroscopy and the whispers of the tardigrades in a drop of dew.

Explains: Why time and life are meaningless.

Does Not Explain: Why anyone should care whether Caleb eats fried zucchini and brownies for dinner.


Think you’ve got a better idea? What’s your theory?


  • Comments (46)
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  • Huskyguy30 Aug 20, 2014

    Thinking about this show with any realism hurts. If we're being honest, the amount of psychological and physical trauma these girls have been through in such a truncated period of time would've landed them all at Radley in solitary confinement. These bitches would be cray cray. The fact that the show has them THIS put together at all would mean they are severely disassociative and/or just as sociopathic as their tormentors. But, it's TV and entertainment! We can all watch teenage girls get psychologically tormented beyond belief for fun. We ALL belong at Radley.

  • christinawoodruff58 Aug 19, 2014

    I'm going with Zenos dichotomy paradox. But if you think PLL is bad, you should look at Teen Wolf. We've had basically five season and four years in real time, but only one year has passed in the show.

  • nasedoofantar Aug 19, 2014

    One has to remember that PLL is basically a soap opera, where the slow passage of time is the norm, suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite, small children age rapidly so they can have their own story arcs & their parents don't appear as negligent, teenagers drive brand new luxury cars, extended character absences allow allow the show to make a fuss about it when they return, parents are so absent it's no wonder their children get in so much mischief, cell phone service is lost when you need it most, police are somehow more inept than in real life, court cases, incarcerations, & executions are expedited, and while former romances still leave a mark you can still get a cup of coffee with someone who once tried to kill you.

  • CaitlinRice Aug 19, 2014

    Generally, I can be pretty lenient with timelines. But PLL definitely tries my patience in that department. When I think of everything that has supposedly happened in a span of 2 months it's ridiculous.

    Granted, I don't expect a show of this nature to be fully grounded in reality. That would be dull. And I do want to see things happen to the characters. Again, the show would be absolutely boring if anything ever happened.

    The problem ultimately stems from the I Marlene King and the other writers. They have a lot of story left that they want to tell. But they realize that the stories won't really work once the girls graduate (if they even manage that - Spencer's the only one who probably has a lock on that anymore). Any teen-centered show struggles once you put the leads in a college environment (and there is no universe where I realistically see all 4 going to the same school), so the writers know they have a limited amount of time to work with.

    And, honestly, there is no show once we know the identity of Uber A. Once we know that, there is nothing driving the show forward anymore. So we're just expected to go with it. But it's definitely getting harder and harder to do so.

  • Ian281099 Aug 19, 2014

    I've only seen a few episodes of this show, thanks to my younger sister, can someone please explain to me why can't the girls just go to the police or tell their parents to move.

  • NicholasCampb Aug 19, 2014

    There won't be a satisfactory answer to this but I'll take a stab at it.

    For a while, the reason that they couldn't go to the police because there were several members that were involved in the bullying plot (aka "there's no one we can trust"). Once those members were cleared out one way or another, we got a couple of honest detectives (honest as far as we know) but, because the girls are harboring a fount of secrets in their once-dead/now-not friend and some other incriminating things that've happened over the past few seasons (mostly prodded by those bullies), they're afraid of the police for different reasons.

    Telling their parents is a little more troublesome. It probably comes under the "A hurts anyone we tell" clause of the Liars' (a collective term for the protagonists) and A's tacit agreement. Also, moving doesn't necessarily allow them to escape of A incorporated, which has also made its presence known in local area towns, Philadelphia, and as far away as California.

    That being said, the Liars have come up with an idea within the last couple episodes to come clean to the police and beat A to the punch. There are a few mitigating factors out there that could interfere with that plan but, rest assured, everyone has thought the same thing as you.

  • Ian281099 Aug 19, 2014

    So, what your saying is that at first they couldn't go to the police because the cops were in on their bullying, and then, when they could go they had already committed some crimes they didn't want the police to know. Why couldn't the liars say they were coerced to do those crimes, I mean, don't they have the emails and texts that A sends them. Obviously, I'm analyzing this show I don't even watch too much, but I'm pretty sure a teenager under those circumstances would have either told the police, their parents, a shrink, or killed himself.

  • NicholasCampb Aug 20, 2014

    No, your projections are understandable. That's the missing factor from not watching the show is why these girls always seem to do the thing that hurts them. That factor is the the fear and anxiety caused by bullying. A (the bully, used as a singular but is certainly more than one person) seems to always be one step ahead of them so any obvious choice (tell a parent, tell the police, just ignore the bullying) is mitigated by that constant fear that it's a trap. Everything is a trap. The answer to everything, weak in some occasions and humbling in others, is that these people are trapped in a very strong culture of fear. And you can imagine how helpless and small people could feel after two years of anonymous bullying.

    Or I might be over-rationalizing it myself.

  • CaitlinRice Aug 19, 2014

    That is the eternal question of this show.

  • Me- Aug 19, 2014

    tv.com

    the ultimate trolls

  • jtgreat_20 Aug 19, 2014

    its okey. glee's senior year last for 2 season too....

  • mzzdelinquent Aug 19, 2014

    as somebody who has never watched a season of this 'teenage murder mystery as to why its still on tv' mess... these articles never give me the notion that im actually missing out on anything good.

    in fact, i get the feeling, nobody is sure how they make an episode last 40min..let alone have a meaningful season.

    based on all the posts & feature article's... they really are making up this story as they go along.. and not in a good way!!..

    am i right?.

  • Me- Aug 19, 2014

    nope, you're a pointless jackass who should continue not watching

  • mzzdelinquent Aug 19, 2014

    i value your well formed & rationalised argument.

    community college is paying off for you.. keep at it.

    :)

  • Me- Aug 19, 2014

    the no-life, moron troll says what?

    and stupid enough to hate on Lost? LOL
    why am I not surprised in the slightest.
    you're a walking stereotype, loser.

    embarrass yourself even further if possible and stick with godawful crap like breaking bore, kiddo. that seems more your speed X )

  • Me- Aug 19, 2014

    it is rationalized, genius.

    you're a clueless troll with no ACTUAL logic or facts of worth

    it's no secret that there were a couple thousand just like you
    who said the same nonsense tripe about Lost years ago, and yet you were all proven to be wrong over and over again

    so big congrats to you, kiddo. keep up the butthurt hate ; )

  • mzzdelinquent Aug 19, 2014

    oh wow.. a 40-year old basement baby who DEFENDS PLL & LOST..

    im sorry... i just cant compete with your level of stupidity.

    I JUST CANT sink to a level where you have expertise.

    LOST!!.. really???
    SMH!.

  • NicholasCampb Aug 19, 2014

    It's all relative. I don't think they're making EVERYTHING up as they go along, just some things and usually well in advance of them taking place on the show. They have a structure in mind. Or at least Marlene King is very good at making people believe they have that structure in mind.

    It's a genre show that's intimately familiar with its core audience. It's all fun and game to point out some of the inconsistencies but, in the long run, these things don't matter to the devout (or matter very little). There are some good to great things that this show does that transcends genre (some of the meta one-liners, better-than-average carrot-on-a-stick narrative structure, hoodie selection) but, overall, it's a show that operates in that YA gray area of dark themes and teen drama. If you're looking for Breaking Bad or Mad Men here, you won't find it. But it has a certain level of respect it deserves for longevity, popularity, and the ability to create fervor despite being nearly five years into a plot where the antagonist is still anonymous.

  • BereniceAndrea Aug 19, 2014

    You do have a great point, but I'm pretty sure by now (and quite sad by it) that the actual mystery behiind this show, Who A is and why it's torturing them, is not something they planned from the get go and will eventually, when they decide it's time to end it, or the network does, or it begins to lose its audience, we'll end up with another gossip girl situation in our hands: dropped at the last minute because of course, a lot of what happens today on tv depends on the fanbase that can really be present through social networking, and just like gg, will not make sense because it wasn't plan from the beginning, which even though I understand from a commercial point of view, I think it's a shame ...

  • NicholasCampb Aug 19, 2014

    I guess that's the hope, right? That we can trust the showrunners to make good, no matter when the fickle forces at work in the television industry decide that PLL is no longer a viable commodity? For what it's worth, Marlene King insists that there's an answer and she knows who Uber A is and that it's good (her emphasis, my paraphrase). Though Damon Lindelof said the same thing and we can see how that turned out. About Lost. Not about Uber A. That'd be ridiculous

  • BereniceAndrea Aug 27, 2014

    Hahahahaha, yeah let's just stay possitive for now.

  • othsmallsuplost Aug 19, 2014

    You're right, it is weird but the weirdest part is that they said "A crazy ride" was supposed to be during fall on their senior year and yet, there was another Halloween episode to launch Ravenswood. So they did a Halloween party in the summer?! Hahah!

  • sergeantandre Aug 19, 2014

    Our perception of time in this show is wrong. It's like we are trapped UNDER THE DOME or LOST on an island. BUT this show is not fantasy, it should be reality and this one of the reasons why I had to cross PLL off my dead-pool list weeks ago. It's not enticing to me anymore so I called in the WOLVES....


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