Pretty Little Liars Season 4 Premiere Review: Same Lies, Different Season

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Pretty Little Liars S04E01: "A Is for A-L-I-V-E"

Yes, the Liars have every right to be a little paranoid after suffering three seasons worth' of Mona shifting through her many personalities and torturing them with an organization and resources the KGB could only dream of. Of course, being with Mona mere hours after falling into an A trap where everyone almost died in a fire might put you on edge. These girls have every right not to trust the girl who's been challenging and manipulating them for the last—well, how long has it actually been?

But what I'm saying is that the Liars should look on the bright side. How awesome is it to have a buddy who knows everything about you and is desperate to get in your good graces now that you're all in the same boat? Did you see her get coffee and pastries and just rattle off everyone's orders? She has extra sets of your car keys in case you lose yours! She knows what you're thinking before you do because she's been psychotically stalking you for years! Even PRISM thinks she's been a little invasive!

Honestly, this version of Mona, the hyper-intelligent, reticent, unsocial-yet-determined-to-prove-herself-to-her-fellow-condemned version, is the kick in the tookus this series needed after letting Spencer close out Season 3 with a whimper. Supposing that Mona's honestly on the outside of the A Team now, we have an actual Bruce Wayne for our Batman analogy: Someone who's good with gadgets, can be popular and bubbly by day but calculating and ruthless by night, and pretty much made a name for herself in a black costume.

Makes you kind of wonder what the Liars are now that Mona is on their side? What can they do that Mona hasn't been able to accomplish with her inside information and doused-with-Chemical-X level of brainpower? Serve as bait?

One episode deep into Season 4 and that's basically what the Liars are: a playground upon which Mona gets to see the other side of the bullying. After so much bravado last season (particularly before Spencer withered into a pathetic wisp), the Liars seem to have lost their edge, backed into a corner by their antics. The disappointing thing is that no one seems to be learning any lessons.

The last message A sent them was "The truth will not set you free"—which, other than being one of PLL's few Biblical puns, rings more like empty intimidation in light of the sage rebellion Spencer exhibited in her mourning-for-Toby stage. Stop harboring secrets, and A will have nothing. Stop lying. Tell the truth. Call A's bluff.

Instead, they're playing into all the little traps, they have no vision as to how to protect themselves (wearing gloves while touching incriminating evidence shouldn't be considered "Hannibal Lector smart" at this stage), and they're grasping at the low-hanging fruit. At best, Mona is going to help step up their game. At worst, Mona's going to be dragged down by Ali's flighty friends.

Case in point: Everyone else seems to have their own non-A concerns, despite getting so close to Red Coat that they saw her face (and then immediately dismissed it because she looked like Ali). Emily wants to run away to California with Paige to escape A (because that worked out for J. Love in I Know What You Did Last Summer 2: I Know Harder). Hanna is one-track-minded on the video of her mom hitting Detective McCreeperson and not trusting Mona with the evidence. And Aria, as usual, is still struggling with her past abuse.

Season 4 is trying something new with Ezria: separating the two and addressing how hideously wrong it is that they were ever together. Moved-On Ezra is a lot easier to stomach than Pedo Ezra. He seems to be laughing a lot more, smiling for people, going to a stranger's funeral (seriously, why was he at Detective Creeperton's funeral?). Other than taking a job at Rosewood High (I guess Ravenswood isn't hiring), Mr. Fitz seems to be a lot more grown up than when he was doinking his student. And the situation has allowed Aria, for what seems to be the first time, to frame their relationship in terms of ethics and legality. She may have been in love, but coming out of the spell, she's realized she might have made a huge mistake. Seeing other people would probably be a good idea.

Spencer's still on the trail, like you knew she would be, and she's the biggest proponent of our Soap Opera Rules theory. Spencer's never seen a body, and she just saw a girl who looks just like Ali. If it looks like your manipulative best friend and you've never seen your manipulative best friend's dried-up old bones, then it might still be your manipulative best friend kickin' around and manipulatin'. Toby's let's-change-the-subject and girl-you-crazy conversation style whenever Spencer tries to speculate should make Spencer suspicious, since it's what he used to do when he was a Hoodie. But it's important to remember that Spencer is also the girl who basically built a bus from scratch in order to throw her friends under it last season, just so she could be with him.

But outside of those developments, "A Is for A-L-I-V-E" was a fairly mediocre season opener. PLL's premieres are where we look to see all the dominoes set up and, other than the clip of the Liars taking the police video from Wilden's car and A adding a new doll to her dollhouse, there's not much to the new dynamic or any new goals for the Liars to pursue. The objective remains the same: Find A in spite of our flighty dalliances with adolescence. The Liars don't seem to have any additional leads despite what should've been a very revealing season finale for them (even if it wasn't revealing for us), nor are the stakes any higher. I like that Mona is part of the team now, but everything else fell a little flat.


NOTES

– After watching just a few minutes of the episode, I asked myself, "How many ways are they going to pack DON'T TRUST MONA beats into the first act?" I'm glad it ended with Mona's coffee-run turnaround and my favorite line of hers for the whole night (referring to how she drove Emily's car without taking her keys): "Yeah, I have my own set."

– The game of Third Degree felt like a lot of fan service for people whining about not getting answers (the rest of us are jaded by The Island). So we took a spin through some important if not terribly enlightening details of the Liars' recent history. In case you missed any of it: Mona didn't get the Wilden's car out of the lake, but she did plant it at Hanna's house the time she learned about the video; Shana knew Jenna before she came to Rosewood and Mona thinks Shana's into Jenna; Shana and Jenna are both afraid of Melissa; Cece visited Mona at Radley and Mona thought it was Ali (she was on a lot of meds back then); Lucas gave Emily the massage in Season 2 ("Touched by an Angel"); Mona recruited Toby when he got the job in Bucks County; Mona didn't push Ian off the bell tower but she wishes she knew who did.

– Poor Creeperton McBadCop. Who's going to skulk around Rosewood now that the A Team has lost a good chunk of its Hoodies and Wilden's a dead pig? It's not going to be Holbrook, Detective Too Good to Be True. I do like how he addressed Wilden's take on professionalism as bordering on pedo-stalking, but Holbrook's going to end up dead or a bad guy, right?

– The wind blowing the tarp away from the body so everyone could gander at the corpse was classic Rosewood PD. They must get their training from the law enforcement on The Following.

– A certainly went through a lot of trouble finding five elementary school kids with uncanny Liars likenesses so they could carry around dolls and throw around the name "Alison." I mean, the casting, getting them all to live in the same place or at least agree to the story that they reside in the same trailer park as Mona's lair, and then depending on them to deliver their lines... that's some serious long-game commitment, my friend. She even gave them almost-inappropriate clothing to wear. Just like the Liars!

– Speaking of inappropriate clothes, is mesh over your cleavage enough modesty for a funeral?

– Ali's mom is a creepshow. There's something wrong with Mrs. D.

– Why can't Emily's parents be in the same place at the same time? Is there a two-parent limit per episode? And Creepy Mrs. D took up one of the slots? I noticed that we didn't see sick Ella or even hear tell about what Byron is up to.

– Did Ezra's advice to Aria sound like a reworded "you need to get under someone to get over someone," or is that just my bias toward him being the worst?

– So, in the middle of Aria's daydream nightmare, I figured out it was a dream because the principal said it was a felony for Ezra to date a student, at which point I recalled our ongoing discourse here about whether or not he was committing statutory rape when he was consecrating his bed (since the show is set in Pennsylvania, it turns out he wasn't). So I guess what I mean to say is, thanks for spoiling it with your stupid rational discussions, you guys. Way to go.

– Why did Hanna have her mom's phone?

– zOMG. That last shot of the Queen of Hearts looking into the mirror! Half of it was burnt off! We have our Two Face!

– I know I talk about Lost a lot and I'm trying to get into a program to help me quit. But it's interesting to look at the parallels between Mona and Ben Linus. Bringing a former adversary—one who's manipulative and has a history of hurting you—into your community is risky, but it makes for great storytelling.


What'd you think of the premiere?

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