Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game: Old Conflicts Die Hard

Pretty Little Liars S02E21: "Breaking the Code"
The Lying Game S01E18: "Guilty As Charged"

For the first time in too many weeks, Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game were both at their best on Monday. While the former brought some new characters into the fold, the latter focused on its core, with some of the most twisted manipulation yet. Let’s take a look at how the sister series played to their strengths.

Pretty Little Liars continues to bring up old conflicts: In this case, Ashley sleeping with Detective Wilden to help Hanna avoid a shoplifting charge. And this time Mona was in on the action, as “A” asked Hanna’s semi-loyal friend to expose the Marin family. We’ve spent plenty of time with our main liars this season, so it’s nice to have “A” tormenting someone else. That didn’t work out so well when it came to Caleb, but Mona is a lot more malleable and easily influenced—I genuinely didn’t know if she would rat Hanna out.

But Mona inevitably took responsibility for her own crime and let Hanna and her mom escape unscathed. So admirable, so completely unlike her. It’s important for Pretty Little Liars to flesh out these supporting characters and give us new reasons to care—Mona has always been fun, but she’s rarely someone we root for, even when she’s moping over a break-up. Here (as in the episode where she helped Emily get back onto the swim team), we got to see a more selfless side. And I’m guessing that just pissed off “A” even more, so let’s see how long Mona can go before she buckles under pressure.

Also more actively involved: Melissa. Suddenly Spencer’s sister looks like she might be not-so-innocent when it comes to the mystery of Alison’s murder and “A.” I’ve long suspected there was something weird going on with Melissa—her behavior with Ian never quite checked out—but now it’s obvious she knows a lot more than she’s been telling anyone. I’m hoping we get some of these answers soon: Until then, props to Torrey DeVitto for playing the morally ambiguous suspect on two of my favorite shows this season. (See also: The Vampire Diaries.)

If Melissa was somehow involved in Alison’s murder, was it just out of jealousy over Ali’s involvement with Ian? Or did she actually know Jason’s true parentage before Spencer did? It’s too soon to say, but given how close we are to the season finale, I think we’re inching toward a shocking conclusion. (I mean, this is Pretty Little Liars. That’s kind of an educated guess.) On the one hand, I want Melissa to be as dirty as Ian. On the other, can Spencer really take any more familial betrayal at this point?

In non-“A” news, Ella finally discovered that Aria and Ezra have continued seeing each other—and she didn’t entirely freak? I’m not sure I buy this development, but I guess it beats seeing Aria sob in her car. That was a total downer. Even if Ella does come around to this unconventional relationship, there’s no way Byron is going to go with it. And does Ella actually want Aria to be happy here, or is she just trying to be contrary because she’s pissed off at Byron? That couple seems to be on especially shaky ground lately. Er, again.

There were a couple other plot points worth touching on: the return of Paige—Emily’s first rebound girl—and Maya’s weird disappearance. The final scene was an ominous touch—is Maya dead or missing or on the run from the law? She’s been so awful in recent weeks that I don’t really care one way or the other, although I did like the scenes between Emily and Paige. Namely the way Paige tried to kiss Emily, and Emily backed off. The characters on these shows are usually way too quick to jump from relationship to relationship. Now where did Em’s last girlfriend go? Oh, right, Claire Holt is also on The Vampire Diaries. Damn it, CW, stop stealing these actors.

After a few less-than-thrilling episodes, The Lying Game resolved one of its most pressing storylines and managed to stir up a whole lot of drama. Have I mentioned lately that I love Sutton? She’s such a ruthless, manipulative liar: Somehow I find that compelling. Monday’s episode had Sutton pulling some major strings, but it also let the adults get in on the action.

Before we get into Sutton’s villainy, let’s talk about the big murder case. It looks like Ethan won’t be charged after all—his case was dismissed for lack of evidence, or (more likely) because Alec was worried of what would come out if he tried Ethan. I’m glad we can move on with the story, but I was hoping to find out who killed Derek, and I’m not sure ending the case is going to help that information get here any faster. Here’s hoping Rebecca actually does the decent thing and gets that incriminating photo of Alec to someone who can use it.

Incidentally, who sent the anonymous note and photo? The Lying Game is reminding me more and more of Pretty Little Liars, but I can’t even begin to guess who’s pulling the strings here. What was so strange was how caught-off-guard Rebecca seemed: I was pretty sure she was the one doing all the heavy lifting, but she was genuinely surprised by the warnings she received about Alec. And her reaction to that photo of Alec with the tire iron—which, by the way, Mads should definitely see—was actual shock. Maybe Rebecca’s plans are separate from, uh, whoever else’s. And unlike Pretty Little Liars, I don’t really have any suspects in mind here.

All of this ambiguity makes me appreciate Sutton, who was just kind of evil throughout the episode. Everything she did was completely reprehensible: posing as Emma to see Ethan, lying to Ethan that Emma slept with Thayer, lying to Emma that she slept with Ethan. Oh, what a tangled web she weaves. I don’t know if we’re supposed to like Sutton or just admire her complete lack of a conscience, but The Lying Game has vastly improved since she returned home. She may be on the outs with her best friend, but Sutton is clearly winning.

But wait, no complaints? If only, gentle reader. I will say it every week until The Lying Game does something about it: Laurel is sucking energy out of this show. She is just an unnecessary addition at this point, and I can’t believe we’re still wasting time on her “I have a band now!” storyline. I’m sorry, but when there are so many bigger issues at stake, who cares if she gets to go to Coachella at not? I actually feel bad for Laurel, because she’s clearly being neglected by a family who recognizes Sutton as the sister in need. But come on. Let her in on the secret, or ship her off to camp for a few months. I don’t care what time of year it is.

I’m on board with everyone else, though. I like that Rebecca’s motivations are increasingly complicated. I like that Kristin is standing up to Ted a whole lot more. And I like that Mads has taken a page from her brother and learned how to effectively chew Sutton out. I’m more attached than ever to The Lying Game—I just hope the upcoming season finale is able to satisfy while still leaving me wanting more.

QUESTIONS: Pretty Little Liars

– How long until Mona chooses her freedom over her friends?

– Can Aria and Ezra ever really get her parents' approval?

– Is Spencer the only Hastings who isn't full of crap?

QUESTIONS: The Lying Game

– Do you love to hate Sutton, or just hate her?

– How long until Ethan and Emma sort through the lies?

– Did Alec kill Derek, or was he just swinging that tire iron for fun?

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