As a man well beyond the age and gender demographic for this show, there are a few things I rely on to steel myself against the ridicule of my friends and family NOT watching a show whose titular characters are both "pretty" and "little." One is that, deep within the camp and adolescent drama, there is a mystery to be untangled and a puzzle to piece together. Two: That mystery or puzzle has a 65 percent chance of being a spectacular train wreck. And three: PLL makes some impressive allusions.
Harper Lee, Ibsen, Gilbrad, Arthur Miller, and a great quantity of authors fill the blackboard behind the teachers and the hands of the students on this show. My GoodReads list is filled with PLL picks, sometimes to my occasional embarrassment. But it's only because they wouldn't understand!
I bring this up because the quote on the blackboard in "Mona-Mania" offers some perspective as to who is involved in the A team and why. If you missed it, it's from 1984 by George Orwell (admittedly, a common book to read in high school), where an apology for betrayal occurs:
"[T]hey threaten you with something, something you can't stand up to, something you can't even think about. And then you say, 'Don't do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to so-and-so.'"
The character (I'm trying not to be spoilery here) continues on about how the mere admission that you'd rather see a terrible thing happen to someone else than have it happen to you helps you cope with what you may have done to that other person. A line that didn't appear on the blackboard: "And after that, you don't feel the same towards the other person any longer."
That seems to be the part that most of the members of the A team haven't gotten to yet. Lucas and Toby are clearly still tripped up on their respective ladies, Hanna and Spencer, but are contributing to their torture. Blackmail is a key bargaining tool, so far instrumental to both Lucas's inclusion in the Cheap Black Hoodie Squad and to Byron possibly having killed a sixteen-year-old girl. So it stands to reason that everyone participating in the A team is there because they're being held there by some awful thing they did.
So they join up, pick up their stock-issue hoodie, and torture these girls because they'd rather Hanna, Emily, Spencer, and Aria feel the mental anguish than have to suffer it themselves. It's a twisted way to position these people. As we've seen, basically every man on this show has some blackmail-able skeleton in the closet.
That "don't feel the same" part has shifted, instead, toward the Liars. These are cagy women now, steeled against the constant onslaught of bullying. Girls who were so scared of what A could do to them have to now remind themselves not to be cocky. Emily, our fragile little petal, chased down a hoodie (named Toby) in the woods when she saw one. And, the thing is, if it weren't for Paige pointing out how brassy that is, we wouldn't've thought twice. "Get him, Emily!" we would've cheered. Not, "hey, you're in the dark, by yourself, with nothing to protect you but Paige's inconsistently large chin. Run away!"
Think about how far these girls have come: Aria dug around in her family and teamed up with Meredith, Hanna confronted Mona head on, Emily was like a released hound when she saw A, and Spencer—well, it's hard to tell if Spencer has raised her game or not since she's always kind of like that.
Unfortunately for the Liars, and hopefully good for us, is that Mona's pretense is thin and everyone is prepared for her to be openly hostile toward the girls. Spencer's realization that she doesn't have to hide behind A anymore since everyone knows about it is a scary thing. As long as there are others who were convinced by her video (no matter how ridiculous it was) or are too scared to stand up to her, she can maintain her reign of terror, even if she's only second banana. I fully expect that by the end of the season, these girls are going to be so tough and resilient that a broken-bottle deathmatch could erupt in the hallway and, afterward, the remaining Liars (Aria would definitely go down in that scenario) would retire to the bathroom to talk about how Mona is kind of a skank. Not that they've used "skank" to describe someone frequently or ever. But that's just how flippant they could be nowadays.
The basic conclusion you could draw from "Mona-Mania" is this: While the boys are cowering in fear of their young lives being ruined (and, let's face it, these are teenagers so their fear is probably hyperbolic compared to reality), the girls are getting brassy and fearless against the bully that has them all under her thumb.
– Intentional or not, the writers did a really good job or showing Mona being terrible at pretending to be weak and vulnerable. For someone who's maintained a professional sense of subterfuge for so long, she's really bad at coming up with excuses. The vice principal let me use the computer lab? Harold was stalking me because I talked to him a couple times? You had a lair at his motel. A FULL-ON LAIR.
– "Is being captain brainiac really that important?" No, Hanna sweetheart. But you have to consider your audience. It's not about being the captain for Spencer. It's about winning and destroying all comers, shaming them so hard that they cry. Maybe they pee a little. Spencer would love it if they peed a little.
– I hear a lot of talk about Mike but I don't see a whole lot about Mike. Is anyone taking action about how involved he is with A?
– I hate that my television education (re: sitting in front of one for my entire eyes-open existence) tells me that, when a girl feels "queasy" but hides it within the larger, unrelated conversation, it means that she's pregnant. I've already had to come to terms with Ezra having spawned with Alex Mack. I can't take the Ezria baby. It's too gross.
– "I have dinner with my boss" is the worst excuse for a teenager to make his exit that I've ever heard. Along those same lines, Lucas's test answer scam is better than the gambling debts arc but not by much.
– How often is Mona going to offer Hanna baked goods? We get it. You got her to eat a bunch of cupcakes. Geez. Talk about living in the past.