Let's get through the dumb crap so we can talk about the good stuff.
There were two things in this episode that made me want to walk out of the room. One was the possibility (and, now, inevitability) of Ezra joining the workforce as someone people can trust around their children, and the other was the bizarre stuntcasting where Emily got to hang out with her celebrity idol like she was in an episode of Scooby-Doo.
Over the last few weeks, Emily has been the surrogate rallier of troops while Spencer suffered her many, sometimes repeating, stages of grief. Emily hijacked Paige's mission to the costume shop, went looking for Toby in all the wrong places, and has kept Aria and Hanna's flighty attentions on the task at hand: Find A, Toby, and some answers. So this seemed like the perfect time to bring in four-time Olympic gold-medalist Missy Franklin for a stop at The Brew.
The only reason I can think of as to why this could be a good idea narratively is to make sure Shana gets in good with Emily, an interesting turn since we know from the Pretty Dirty Secrets web series that Shana's tight with the A crowd (and has ties to Ali, Cece, and Jason). But I'm pretty sure the show didn't need to bring in an Olympian to endear a pretty, bicurious swimmer to Emily.
So we had to sit through two awkward scenes where Emily and a non-actor athlete made excited small talk, and they were the polar opposite of everything else in the episode. Every other time we saw Emily she had Hurt Baby Deer Face while trying to figure out what was up with her friend. It was bizarre, almost like "meet Missy Franklin" was a rider on someone's contract. And that contract did not belong to Shay Mitchell.
What we can take from those painful scenes is that Shana is just one example of the possibility that the Liars are moving on. Emily had a brush with her future and some light flirtation with newer, hotter, didn't-try-to-drown-me pastures (though they're probably also straight-up evil pastures). Hanna might be moving to New York with her mother. And Aria finally scrounged around for something beneath her romantic principles and found a way to lie about whether she loved Ezra.
And let's go back that other ridiculous thing for a minute: Ezra being considered for substitute teaching in the Rosewood school district. Now, even the whiff of someone dating a school-aged anyone, while teaching or not, should be a red flag. Rumors like that don't haunt the teachers with very clear boundaries. But the principal took it to Aria and asked her the important questions, informally, to see if there was any truth to the rumors. Aria very clearly told her no in a way that appeared to surprise ever herself.
It's almost been like watching Aria wake up from a spell these last few weeks as Ezra has embraced being the baby daddy to someone else's mama. The biggest problem with Aria for just about the entire length of the series has been that her character is only associated with being Ezra's girlfriend. I want to see more of her defining herself. But I think her conversation with the principal was less about Aria surprising herself with her independence and more just another secret that can be leveraged against her.
There is one person who isn't moving on, though. At least not in the same way that the other girls think they are. And now we're getting to the good stuff.
Troian Bellisario has been killing it by defining a before and after version of Spencer. The buttoned-up, type-A Spencer has drowned in this raging water of emotion, epiphany, and wit. Her time at Radley, even if it was just for this episode, has easily been my favorite part of the season thus far. It's not only been enlightening for her as a character, but it's been immensely enlightening for us as an audience.
We are starting to see that whatever is happening to these girls has its early beginnings in the oeuvre of the blonde bitch they used to worship. While Ali's diaries seemed important before for what amounted to suggestions of clues based on the questions the Liars were asking, Spencer's flashback opened the door to this being something bigger and badder, something that has to be carried on. Are they volumes of a manifesto that serves as the working document for the A team? Are they a detailed history of a conspiracy? It's like Rubicon up in here.
That Mona has the diaries (in a handy e-reader edition) should be no surprise, since she's supposedly carrying on the legacy Ali left behind (or at least helping to carry on that legacy). She told Spencer, in the language so very familiar to conspiracy-based thrillers, that she has the answers to questions Spencer hasn't even brought herself to ask. Things are bigger, broader, and more complicated in ways none of the Liars have thought to fathom. The Ali-inspired superstructure has more moving parts than we as an audience can know.
But that wasn't even my favorite part of the episode. My favorite part was the group therapy session at the end.
Recall that the first shot of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" was a mirror image: Mona putting on lipstick and looking back at Aria, Hanna, and Emily, specifically Aria and Hanna. It was a reflection, a way to see something without having to look directly at it. When you look directly at a person, you have to deal with his or her humanness, create a society with that person. Reflections are two-dimensional images that may not be completely fair, but are easier to inspect and maybe easier to identify then when you have to assemble the pieces of recognition for a real person where the data is ephemeral. Images and likenesses are very important to A, particularly since A never interacts person-to-person and likes to deal in the impermeable.
Spencer's monologue at the end of the episode was the rhapsody of a person who's been to the brink and seen the void. She has nothing left. She's made her peace with death but continued to live. Her words were those of someone who feels they're living on borrowed time. She's changed dynamically since learning Toby was A, and Mona's assertion that she and Spencer are the same echoed in Spencer's tearful realizations. "What do you have to change inside to survive? Who do you have to become?"
Spencer has seen that there's more to the mystery than the identity of a bully. There's something bigger and fiercer than texts and blackmail. It's dark and macabre. From this vantage, after Sullivan reminded Spencer not to apologize for her "lack" of problems, that her problems are just like those of everyone else in the group (more specifically, that these girls are just like her), Spencer could see something in a clearer light.
There are five women in the group in addition to Spencer and Sullivan, but reaction shots only came from three: a short-haired blonde who shivered like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club; a scowling, sickly looking brunette with frizzy hair and the glower of a woman who just killed a bird or two; and an almost brazen young woman who appeared to be the most comfortable in the group, one who even traded glances with Sullivan.
When Spencer saw the vision of her friends there, it was no mistake for how they were seated with respect to the other women. They were in the opposite order of the women they reflected. Take it as the as foreshadowing of future trauma or intuition for how the Liars feel, but don't mistake Spencer's seeing her friends as the hallucinations of someone breaking down. She sees the reflection of her fellow victims in the anxiety-riddled and broken women around her.
You can see why a Missy Franklin stuntcast (is that even a stuntcast?) is laughable here. You have all the Liars on the brink of transition, Spencer in the middle of a metamorphosis, and now the end of this season is marked with that one time an Olympian stopped by Rosewood. It's weird, right?
– Really, Liars? You think Spencer spent the last two days at her favorite bookstore or that weird college lab theater? You may know Spencer better than the police, but you may not be much smarter.
– Eddie Lamb, along with Andrew of the decathalon, might be the only non-evil dudes in Rosewood.
– "Excuse me, Pastor Ted. I'm Detective Wilden and I'll be creeping out your ladyfolk today."
– I like that Byron and Ella are thinking of a master plan to naturally crush Ezria under the weight of Ezra's responsibilities. Because, clearly, they're the ONLY SANE PEOPLE IN TOWN.
– Three reasons why Hanna is the best: "Nothing works underwater. It's a scientific fact." "There's a downside to being too smart." "Sometimes you poke the bear. Other times, the bear pokes you."
– Do all the lesbians in Rosewood swim? Is that a thing?
– Was that Bruce the Watermelon Baby on the Mobile Lair's dashboard?