Pretty Little Liars: Mona in the Nuthouse, Jenna in the Hot Seat

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Pretty Little Liars: S03E02: "Blood Is the New Black"

At the end of last week’s episode of Pretty Little Liars, the new “A” left the girls with a threat—“Mona played with dolls. I play with body parts.” It reflected a darker “A,” if not a darker series as a whole. We’re still early in the season, but this week's episode, "Blood Is the New Black," seemed to live up to that promise.

We got some of the series' most unsettling images yet: a bracelet with (presumably human) teeth spelling out “DEAD GIRLS CAN’T SMILE”; a mostly catatonic Mona cutting herself with a pair of tweezers; Aria and Alison violently trashing Byron’s office. Yes, this has always been a show about a teenage girl’s murder, but it does feel as though we’re entering even murkier terrain.

But creeping horror aside, Pretty Little Liars continues to show other signs of improvement, with better pacing—we’re really moving along now—and stronger character development. I dig this show even when it’s not firing on all cylinders, but I’m so much more engaged now: This season feels like it’s going somewhere, even if the result likely won’t be another huge reveal. (We can’t unmask a new “A” every season, can we?)

Let’s talk about the pacing first: This show is not exactly known for speedy resolution to its mysteries, but it seems as though we’re finally moving forward at a steady rate. I assumed Jenna’s fake blindness would drag on for a while, so imagine my surprise when Emily regained an incriminating memory—it was Jenna who drove her to Alison’s grave when she was blacked out—and the girls quickly caught Jenna in her lie.

The fact that they didn’t immediately call her on it was an interesting twist, in that it gives our core four the upper hand for the first time in...well, ever. When have they ever known something Jenna didn’t? This again feels like a step forward for the series, a chance for Pretty Little Liars to play with its formula of our heroines terrorized by mysterious outside forces. We know Jenna’s involved—Emily’s recovered memory only confirms what we’ve suspected—and now we get to watch her get manipulated for once.

Rest assured, the girls are getting played, too. While Mona’s fragile mental state can’t all be an act, she must be holding back. “You’re getting them again, aren’t you?” she asked Hanna. “The texts.” Breaking her silence may have been a fluke, but Mona has always been a pawn, and she’s certainly aware of a larger scheme at play. Whether she’s keeping quiet out of loyalty or insanity is still up in the air; my guess is that it’s a little of both.

And what does Garrett know? Whatever it is, he’s unlikely to reveal it at his trial. Now that he’s lawyered up (with Spencer’s mom, naturally), he probably won’t be saying much of anything at all. It’s easy to assume that he was referring to Jenna when he said someone close to Spencer was fooling her, but on this show, things are never that simple. We haven’t heard from Melissa in a while. Anyone else still think she’s somehow involved?

One more thing to ponder as we wait for next week’s episode: Whose earrings did Alison find in Byron’s couch? At first, I was inclined to believe Ali dropped them there herself, just to stir the pot—or at least give Aria an excuse to trash her dad’s office. But maybe there’s more to it than that. What if Meredith wasn’t the only other woman in Byron’s life? Even that seems too easy—this is Pretty Little Liars, after all.

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