Pretty Little Liars "Dead to Me" Review: This Spencer Is a Gift

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Pretty Little Liars S03E18: "Dead to Me"

This is my favorite Spencer.

In the comments on last week's review, there was some backlash against Spencer's reprioritization of passions as she dealt with her first love being party to her very real enemy. She used to be the person who constantly reminded the Liars that they were responsible for figuring out who killed Ali—the chief instigator for clue-getting capers and the brains to Emily's naivete, Hanna's overwhelming adolescence, and Aria's dead-behind-the-eyes looks. While I think that Pretty Little Liars tends to favor Aria, Spencer is the glue that binds this clique together, making sure they keep their collective eyes on the prize. The prize is besting A, which also means finding Ali's killer.

Her about-face is sudden, but with so many ridiculous things happening on this show (Dr. Sullivan's non-sequitor hypnosis suggestion being one of the more laughable ones this week), I feel it's justified, particularly with someone so obsessive and invested. If it were Paige, it would've been a few weeks of poor Emily. If it were Caleb, Hanna would've written him off and maybe keyed his car. If it were Ezra— let's face it, Aria's time will come. But Spencer's the one who's been thinking about it every day, all the time. Had she the space, there'd be a Homeland-esque corkboard wall with yarn and highlighters and tacks (oh, the tacks!) pinning every man and every slightly suspect lady around a giant question-mark'd face to represent A.

So, finding out the love of her life is a henchman for her Osama bin Laden isn't just devastating in that hard break-up kind of way; the history of betrayal breeds a bitter cold in her veins. It's pulling her outside of A's little box.

When Mona spoke to Spencer about the decathalon, Spencer mentioned that none of this is a game to her. Mona, still in character, brought up Toby cheering for her (I really hope that's not a euphemism) if Spencer couldn't make it to the competition and nailed her on not bringing her A game. The conversation was just barely subtextual because it's becoming clear that Spencer isn't into keeping up appearances anymore. She wasn't trying to maintain the allegory of their conversation. She was directly warning Mona. This isn't a game to Spencer, and when something isn't a game, that means no one has to play by the rules.

Thus far, playing A's game has meant the Liars feeling threatened enough by notes and a seemingly omniscient presence that they can be manipulated into doing things they wouldn't normally do. I phrase it like that because not everything A blackmails the Liars into doing is ethically reprehensible. Ezra should probably know that he has a kid, if for no other reason that he can get the eff off the show for a little bit and take stock of a life that contains a lot of statutory rape.

Although, Ezra's probably just using the excuse so he can find somewhere else to dress up like the Queen of Hearts.

The point is that A is playing a game and the Liars, though constantly resisting A's attempts to control them, end up falling into the traps anyway, just like Aria suggested early on in the episode. But Spencer is repulsed by the game now. Trying to pick up on clues A leaves for you is trifling. What do you do to thwart the person trying to manipulate you with threats of exposing lies? You tell the truth. And you tell the truth (or a version of it, the version you believe) in such a dramatic and inopportune way that you burn everyone around you with how barefaced you are.

I don't know if Pretty Little Liars will continue on this track where Spencer is able to operate outside the reach of the A's long arms, but I hope it does. Nothing-to-lose Spencer is the shot of that the show didn't know it needed. When she opened the door and found ruins, I almost cheered. Because it meant Spencer has absolutely nothing more important in her life than to bring this A syndicate to its knees.

Which may mean bringing Alison to her knees (PHRASING). For the first time since Season 1 (correct me if I'm wrong), someone brought up the idea that Ali might not only be alive, she might also be the one in charge of the A team. I've been loyal to the soap-opera rule that, unless the audience sees a body, the character in question is not necessarily deceased. While we have a long way to go before proving Alison is the woman in the red coat, she seemed to be everywhere else in the episode.

Obviously she was in Emily's vision during her time at the Circus of Psychiatry ("So you see the weapon—now cluck like a chicken!") but I saw her more in the Caleb/Jamie storyline. Caleb visiting his childhood home provided very little for me. I know the big win for the story is that Caleb might know who his father is, an absence he's been whining about more often than Art Alexakis from Everclear. But Jamie being his father doesn't add anything to Caleb for me, doesn't make me like him more or make me interested in his backstory.

What it does do is connect the story of an absentee father who watched over his son in secret to the story of a possibly living Alison Di Laurentis. Hanna and Jamie batted around the idea of a person disappearing but not being able to come back because lives move on. Alison was a shepherdess to the Liars in life, except instead of keeping them alive and leading them to greener pastures, she used them to cut her teeth on elaborate mind games and tarnished their reputations with a history of manipulation and general horribleness to her common man.

If Alison isn't dead and she has been watching her friends from afar, she's watched them hold onto her memory but move forward with their lives. Emily, Aria, and Hanna maintain their position that "Ali was our friend" without further examination into whether or not that's true. Spencer, in light of Toby's betrayal, is more like Caleb. She only remembers the bad times and the abandonment. With Toby involved in all this, it makes her question everything she's been obsessed over.

I hope the show maintains this thread and keeps Spencer on the fringe of A's game, if only because everyone else's storylines right now are so dull.



NOTES


– "Are her bones holy relics?" Spencer, while being the one who maintained the hunt for Ali's killer and the attempt to thwart A, has never really gotten along with Ali. It's interesting for her and the rest of the Liars to diverge so much. Emily (who crushed on her), Aria (who shared terrible secrets with her), and Hanna (who worshipped her popularity) do, in fact, treat Alison like a fallen messiah sometimes.

– Wes, though smarmy at times, doesn't seem nearly as creepy as the rest of Rosewood (and certainly not as creepy as his brother). That makes the number of boys in town who aren't total creepshows two: Wes and the guy who showed compassion for Spencer when Mona won emperor of the decathalon.

– Dr. Sullivan's non-sequitur, from Emily pouring her heart out about the feeling of killing a person to the question of hypnotherapy, was hilarious. "So I plunged the knife in and I could feel the life drain out of him—" "Hey, do you like pie? I was just thinking of pie." How about listening instead of suggesting kooky ways to have Emily provide exactly the same information she's giving you now?

– Also: of COURSE Emily is suggestive enough to be hypnotized. And then suggestive enough to conflate what happened on "that night" with her idea of how Alison was murdered. Emily killing Alison almost made her interesting for a brief shining moment.

– Is Caleb so messed up that he would destroy a baby picture of himself? Who tears up baby pictures? Why would you be afraid that he would do that?

– I'm not sure I understand the implications of Spencer carving a name onto Toby's mother's tomb. Because he's next? Because she wants to get him into some kind of trouble and everyone would assume Toby wrote his own name? Am I missing a necessary literary illusion here?

– The writers made a big deal about asking for ID when the hoodie was trying to buy booze, so I guess they're cramming down our throats that one of these hoodies is a grown-up (or has a fake ID). You have to assume this one is Ezra, right?

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