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