It was high time for a Scooby episode.
The first two episodes of the season were dominated by A bullying the girls and the girls suffering the consequences lying down. But, in a season that seems determined to provide a slow trickle of information to quell the increasingly grabby masses, we needed an episode where the Liars struck out on their own and started getting some answers. Not necessarily to mount an attack on A, but to sort out what they have. Unfortunately, Mona was M.I.A. But I guess that's necessary, since Mona would've no-doubt been able to shed so much light on everything the girls tried to Nancy Drew. And that's just too easy.
To further increase the handicap, the Liars were split up: Spencer and Toby had their own adventure and the Other Liars Brain Trust put themselves in unecessary danger.
Toby has been extra whiny about his dead mother lately, which unfortunately doesn't suit the boy—he's at his best when he's brooding in the woods or shirtless, so these fits of crying and pathos are painful to watch. But not really painful in a way that makes you feel feelings; this week it was more because the tears and surrender Toby exhibited throughout the episode were awkward, like he wasn't sure how humans are supposed to behave in such a situation.
Spencer is still around to help him, though, despite the fact that he's an embarrassing mess and that he just sold out all of his friends by giving A the Hatemobile in exchange for his mother's Radley jacket. Spencer, who is intimately familiar with throwing her friends under the bus for the silliest of reasons, worked with him to figure out a way to make his deal with the devil work out in his favor, to get some closure on a death that's barely been mentioned. The only way to do that was to return to Radley. When Toby expressed concern about Spencer at Arkham again, Spencer basically said, "We have to go back."
There was no new information to come out of their adventure at Arkham except that Spencer picked up a bunch of tricks during her brief stint on the A team, plus some concrete evidence (literally) that Toby's mom didn't leap to her death from the window described in the jacket because of a terrace/building flourish that wraps around the building. Although, from what I saw, it only disproves that Toby's mom didn't just trip out the window. It's not like she would've jumped and fallen on a pile of garbage a few floors down like Ted on Scrubs. I'm fine with there being foul play involved, but nothing here necessarily proves that there was.
While Spencer's steel-trap mind was basically on vacation this week, the Other Liars dealt with their own burdens, both alone and together. Hanna's unfortunate situation was just an extension of what is turning out to be her season arc: Ashley's involvement with Detective O'Creeply's untimely demise. Another father's gun went missing, which seems be an old trick from the A playbook (remember when the Hastings gun went missing?) and it's all too simple that Ashley would be the one to shoot Wilden. All signs point to it, which means it can't possibly be her. That being said, she's got a lot of 'splainin' to do.
The thing is, Hanna's in a suspicious headspace, especially since she bore witness to everyone she knows being implicated in Wilden's death. Detective Nicey-Nice seems to be okay (did he not get the memo that all adult males need to be played pedo?) but the Homeland board connecting the population of Rosewood like so many dots isn't reassuring, and no one would blame Hanna for being a little paranoid, especially when her mother is being ridiculously shifty. I mean, most of the grown-ups on this show are outlandishly shady, but Ashley is really putting it over the top. You have to assume she's also being bullied by A directly, instead of by proxy through her daughter.
Speaking of people who are shifty, Jake definitely got the memo about being as creepy as possible. He has that "Nate" vibe about him: suspiciously available and all too eager to ingratiate himself. Though he seems completely dead behind the eyes, I maintain that the only reason Jake would be ramped up so quickly is that he intends only doom to the Liars and theirs.
But Aria's more important story—outside of her horrifying choice in men—is that her mother, the forever-absent Ella, had to be convinced to go to Vienna for (almost) a year. While I assume it's more of a business thing than a planned story point, it does seem to be a common theme that A (or the universe) is trying to get all the parents out of Rosewood.
The only message from A in the episode was to that effect, sent to Aria (has she always had that janky phone?) when Emily and Pam had their fight in front of the school. Ashley's being handled, Ella is vanishing from the screen, Not Mariska Hargitay has been missing for months, and now Emily's mom is being put through the wringer for suspected child abuse.
We know that Emily's many personality quirks and bruises are systemic of her bullying, which makes for another case here to start telling the truth. Obviously, the show wouldn't be called Pretty Little Liars if these girls could tell the truth and be done with everything. But it's painful to (1) watch Emily lie (she's terrible at it), and (2) see that someone as basically supportive as Pam (now that she's come to terms with her daughter being a... a "swimmer") is being needlessly audited on her parenting abilities. Well, at least we'll be able to see Emily's parents in the same room together.
And that leaves the adventure the Other Liars Brain Trust went on together, in the dark. After dealing with so many shady characters who are tangentially involved with Ali's life among the shadows, you would think the girls would learn not to go weird places by themselves late at night, but nay, they also go anyway and submit themselves to the rigor of whatever creepshows they find in the dilapidated "workshops" where they find them.
This time it was Lime the artist who made a mold of Ali's face (how they recognized it as Ali's is a mystery to me), and it was all too scarily familiar to me, reminiscent of the death masks from Carnivàle (look it up, kids). They all looked especially frightened to be there without someone like Spencer to sic the creeper, and Emily let him make a mold of her own face, which seems like too much information for a character like him to have. He said she'd make a great Medusa, who is a monster, so... thanks? What's more is that they didn't really get anything from him except what we could already assume were context clues: a bunch of masks were made and the physical representatives of the A team tend to wear them when they're not running around as Hoodies. Then Hanna found a mask that looked like Melissa (I guess?), and it was confirmed that if Melissa isn't A, she's got some weird ish going on.
A Scooby episode isn't exactly a breather, but it isn't exactly action-packed either. It's more of a time for us to piece together the clues and for everyone to catch up in case people missed some of the rapid-fire details along the way. "Cat's Cradle" was slow and especially un-informational if you've been paying strong attention to the clues. So it was another sleepy installment, and didn't progress the story, but it did give everyone time to put things together.
– They seemed to exhaust all the banter in the opening of the episode rather than peppering it throughout the hour to spice things up. Hanna was particularly on-point, as usual: Ashley just "hit [Wilden] with her car a little" and "Just because Mona said it doesn't mean it's not true." Although my favorite line of the night did come much later, between Spencer and Aria: "Vienna is a long way to go for strudel." "Depends on who the baker is." You saucy gals.
– Caleb's back. He's doing stand-up, manly things. Meh.
– "They whose guilt within their bosoms lie imagine every eye beholds their blame." This is the latest in a theme of quotes suggesting that the blame is on the Liars themselves for everything that happened, and not on the people they're blaming for their problems. This quote in particular is from Shakespeare's "The Rape of Lucrece," about a woman who is violated and commits suicide, and then her paraded body incites the overthrow of the status quo to establish the Roman Republic. Interesting allusion for a town where Ali's death keeps coming up.
– Melissa was especially creepy in this episode. Something's about to go down with her and she's trying to spare Spencer, or so it seems to me. My guess is that Spencer won't catch the hint until it's too late.
– Who is this new A who signs her messages with "kisses" before A? It's disconcerting.
– Your moment of A: a hoodie looking at Emily's injured shoulder while listening to a record (pulled from a pretty sizable vinyl collection) of "Dem Bones." Touching vinyl and an X-Ray might be the only time the secret hoodie wearing gloves has ever made sense.