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Pretty Little Liars S04E16: "Close Encounters"

Tough week at the old ball park for Spencer Hastings.

Rarely do you see Spencer whiff as enthusiastically as she did during "Close Encounters." The whole Toby/Radley thing, boring as it's been, was completely mishandled: She got caught reading the documents in her dad's briefcase and failed to consider Toby's feelings of closure against his desire to get to the bottom of a mystery that may or may not exist. I'm sure not everything is as it appears to be, but what a defeat after she threw her whole weight into that swing.

She sat on the couch and bawled after Toby told her to stay out of it. It seemed like the right emotion at the time, but now that we think about it in hindsight, what was so heartbreaking about Toby wanting to close the case, no matter what his actual reasons are? What was it about that moment that it would make sense for Spencer to crumble like she's been begging Hanna to for two weeks?

I venture to guess that it's the loss of the puzzle that justifies the tears. While I can't say that this is exactly what the show had in mind for rationalizing a dramatic turn for one of the few actors in its cast who can convincingly sob on camera, I can say that Alison's return has had a sad effect on Spencer and how she defines herself. We talked last week about the girls and how Alison's disappearance became who they are. While all the Liars share a sad little chunk of that assertion, Spencer owns the lion's share.

Now that Alison's alive, what's left? To find A? I can see Spencer shrugging at that idea. It's old hat. Not to mention the fact that A isn't so much leaving behind threats instead of bait. So Spencer has to Nancy Drew elsewhere. She demanded that Papa Hastings come clean about what's going on with Mrs D. She's trying to make what happened to Toby's mom a thing. Those might be legitimate puzzles, but no one is interested in those truths. Which led us to her mightiest whiff of the episode: scuttling Alison by showing up where she wasn't needed.

We also discussed recently how interesting it is that the girls are now questioning whether Ali was actually as good to them as they remember, even giving Emily props for starting the charge to pull away from their absent clique leader. Unfortunately, it was all for nothing after she played a game of telephone via Shana. Emily was Alison's favorite. Emily was always the one Alison could trust. All that heartbreak Em felt just days before was gone after learning that Ali wanted to talk to her and her alone.

Obviously, Spencer sees that situation another way. Shana's a liar, Alison's basically evil, and all of this stinks of A. You could see Spencer's gears cranking while she talked with Emily on the porch. "Why would Ali only want to meet with you?" Emily is the most gullible of the four. Hanna would put on the bitch-face (different than Pete's bitchface), Aria would stumble onto the answers through some sort of blissfully ignorant Socratic question, and sitting in a room with Spencer is like voluntarily chaining yourself to a table across from Brenda Leigh Johnson, Jack Bauer, and Carrie Mathison. So, of course, Emily is the one you target. It's brilliant. Her words, not mine.

But, in the event that the world doesn't line up with your cynical take on things, you can get yourself into trouble. Spencer might still be right about Ali trying to slice up the Liars, but she didn't exactly come off a soothsayer when tarted-up Emily lost her chance to get the full validation she's been craving. You had to start questioning things when Spencer decided to become so clumsy to spook Alison, why she was almost defensive when trying to convince everyone that A could literally be anyone they know. Why does she keep digging so furiously when everyone else doesn't really seem to care who A is anymore? Ali doesn't think the non-swimmer Liars can be trusted. Spencer did her best to fit that part.

Speaking of people who don't really seem to care who A is anymore but really, really should, Aria decided to take some of Spencer's advice and cave to the idea of being in love with her teacher again (maybe Spencer has the yips). There was that brief window of opportunity a while back when they could've stepped out of the dark corners of their gray area and into the light (well, maybe a shady patch that's light-adjacent) but that seemed to be the time when they called it quits, when he wasn't a teacher and she was ready to date a nice set of abs. Now that he's her teacher again, it's game on.

I understand as a human that it should be tough to tell Jake that she's decided to return to Sacred Ground instead of dating a handsome if slow peer (maybe? How old is Jake?), but it's hard for me to feel bad for the simpleton. First, there was as much chemistry between them as there is in distilled water. Second, as soon as Aria said she was going to see where this thing with her creepy teacher goes, he should have thrown himself a second line. This is not a thing you want to be implicated in, Jake. This is not the adventure you're looking for. The fact that you know that she's afraid of someone in her life should be the reddest of flags. Find some hills. Run to them.

But Jake can't get enough. He bought her some Forever 21 jewelry at a fancy boutique in Harrisburg, for crying out loud. The fact that he saw Ezra being a jackass in public to a minion/associate/soccer mom might be the worst thing that happened to him. He was scot-free. And then he had to warn Aria off the maniac he saw in the streets. You foolish, foolish man.

Let's talk about this outburst. It seems like the evidence for Ezra being A is escalating, which worries me that he's not A, no matter what the promos and my crawling skin try to tell me. A has never been this transparent, and there's no threat to A that things should start unraveling now (except Alison being so close). There's obviously something terrible happening, but I'm already girding myself for the disappointment that we're reliving Toby through Fitz, that he's wrapped up in something he didn't want to be involved in and that his misguided love for Aria is honestly because his arrested youth and cloying romantic idealism that betrays common decency.

Basically, Ezra Fitz is prime Joe Carroll material.

So what is he so angry about and what is he hiding from Aria? How could PLL possibly explain away such obvious villain behavior? Had this one-sided screaming match at this mysterious Real Housewife of Rosewood taken place in his cabin, I would've expected him to finish the conversation with, "You've disappointed me for the last time," and then press a button to drop her into a pit with bloodthirsty sows (just one chamber in that underground dungeon/work-live space he has under the floorboards). But I'm sure by season's end we'll find out the real, rational, not-A reason why he did that. Because while I. Marlene King may be able to shrug off #Haleb 'shippers, there'll be an army at her door when the #Ezria 'shippers are slighted.


– I think we've all come to the decision that A is more than one person, but the show is giving us clues about who's leaving what messages because one says "kisses" while the other doesn't?

– That awkward moment when your girlfriend's dad discovers his daughter at your house and the only thing that stands between you and him is a towel and the sheen of a hot shower. "Fine, I'll sign the settlement."

– Let's talk briefly about the Hanna/Travis thing because it's the one thing from this episode that doesn't have much to do with the show's premise (yet). This was another week of mourning for the Blondest Liar as she dealt with the death of #Haleb. She cleaned her closet and tried to rid herself of the things that remind her of that ghost-loving orphan. She even took a page out of the Spencer playbook and attempted to jump on the bones of the nearest guy who would have her. I dig that. And I don't love Travis, but I don't mind him either. They're forcing manners, charm, and a grounded personality on this actor. I'm only hoping he'll grow into it. I did like the cheesy flirting and innuendo. Oh, and the hustling.

– Then Ashley took Hanna to a gallery that lets you throw plates at a wall, which I thought was some kind of ridiculous substitute for a shooting range but I guess it's a thing.

– Aria made a great point at the Brain Trust meeting (during which Spencer basically posited that literally everyone they know could be A, including Paige): Unless you're Veronica Mars, why would you move from the Georgia coast to Pennsylvania to help solve the mysteries surrounding your shady friend? Emily said that it's Alison's cult of personality, but I'm going to have to call point Aria on that one.

– Why is it that these clandestine meetings can never take place at a nice suite in Rosewood's fanciest hotel? It always has to be some closed or abandoned warehouse that someone somehow has access to. Just seems like PLL could probably make them feel less like drug deals.

– When Jake went for that kick, I thought we were going to see some of that Anderson Silva broken leg action, but they went with knives in the bag. Slow-witted as Jake might seem, how many of you can say you kicked into a knife and still got to your feet? Seriously, Aria. You need to drop that zero and get with the... slightly greater than zero.

– Your Moment of A: Some Hoodie with the combination to a school locker finds a copy of The Tempest (Hanna's?), pulls out a picture of who we assume to be very young versions of Ali and Shana from the pages, and then burns the half with Shana. What if the fire set off the sprinklers at the school? Man, would s/he have egg on his/her face!

What'd you think of "Close Encounters"?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 3/24/2015

Season 5 : Episode 25

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