I feel like I was just George-R.R.-Martin’d and there wasn’t even a wedding.
For a full week, the episode promo for "Taking This One to the Grave" had teased us that someone would die. We’re all fully aware of how this show likes to raise its stakes to the stratosphere during finales. Series creator Marlene King even posted the dictionary definitions of “fatal” and "finale" to her Instagram, in case we needed a refresher. But I’m not sure I was ready for this. I definitely wasn’t ready to see the body.
We're used to seeing these kinds of teases and assuming that whoever bites it will someone who doesn't show up very often or isn’t integral to the show. You know, someone like Byron—who, beyond his recently blocked fedora showing, has been around as much as a Rosewood winter. Or Travis, who PLL decided wasn’t needed anymore after Ravenswood was canceled and dispensed of, like, so fast. Or even one or both of those weird twins from Alison’s first stop on her high school apology tour; though they have just as much right to claim A as anyone else, this show likes to creep people out, and few things are creepier than dead twins. But it wasn’t any of them.
"Taking This One to the Grave" administered a heavy dose of Mona’s perspective. For most of the series, she’s been the inscrutable beacon of death stares and accusations (some of them just), but this finale focused on her humanity, maybe even her mortality. First we saw her with her francophile showing, reading a book (Le Grand Meaulnes) while listening to a French songstress sing from a record player. Sure, she was surrounded by her creepshow dolls, but otherwise it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. This reformed villain was simply enjoying a quiet evening at home.
The rest of the hour gave the impression that the only reason she was involving herself in any of PLL's shenanigans was that the Liars were sucking her in. The episode had a “one last job” feel to it: Collect the evidence you need to connect Bethany Young and Alison DiLaurentis and find out where the Liars stand after Ali’s lie detector session. She risked herself for these women who didn't really include her in the group when they were expressing their solidarity for the police’s interest shifting to Spencer. She provided them with key information despite their outward distrust in her. She let her mom serve them cookies. Yes. Mona has a mother. How sick is that?
It was another point of emphasis on the “the Liars have it all wrong” rule, though PLL has purposefully maintained that enigmatic presence throughout the series as one of dozens of red herrings. We haven’t seen an episode struggle so hard to humanize, an episode so determined to redeem, since Paige and Queen Wilden of Hearts tussled on the Halloween train lo those days ago (two seasons, by our reckoning). To my head and heart, "Taking This One to the Grave" was successful enough in this regard to make the ending of the episode that much more horrifying. The writers' attempts to show Alison as a human haven’t been nearly as on-the-mark.
The Ali lookalike (I’m assuming it wasn’t Alison, because the show refused to reveal the hoodie’s face but was very keen on having us note the blond hair) stalked Mona like prey, and it felt off. It was troubling to see all that blood and the aftermath of a ruckus in the living room. It was bemusing to listen to Holbrook explain to the press that this was a homicide (BEFORE sitting down with Mona's mother to tell her one-on-one; bad form, old chap) except with no body. But none of that seemed as dire until the Moment of A scenes.
We’ve talked about Soap Opera Rules before and how they especially apply to Pretty Little Liars. Not seeing Alison’s body was, perhaps, the best example for how everyone one is alive until it's proven to the audience beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are dead. It turned out that Alison was alive the whole time. Shocker. Seeing Mona’s body crumpled up in the back of that hoodie’s car sure was a disconcerting instance of the other side of the Soap Opera Rules coin. And not just because she was lying with the Baby Jesus.
This is a show that skirts the undeniable truth so often that I've come to expect some kind of vagary in every major event, a way for the writers to back out. But her body was in that trunk, that face staring back toward the audience in that unfocused way that connotes someone is 21 grams lighter—yet I still waited for her to blink. The camera zoomed in on her eyes and I checked to make sure they were the same color as Mona's eyes. She didn't move. She didn't speak. She was cold and lifeless and dead, and it was almost as if the show wanted to tell us, “We know you’re onto us about not showing bodies and bringing people back. Well, now we’re going the other way. This is the body. No tricks. No smoke. Deal with the loss.”
It’s interesting that Mona was reading Le Grand Meaulnes. The inciting event of that story is a chateau party where the teens are free to do as they please. They can play, make mistakes, get involved with one another, follow their hearts with complete freedom. They get to play adult for a short time, engage in adult things, and be foolish without punishment for as long as the festivities last. The namesake character is this romantic idealist who is constantly trying to get back to that party, desperate to find the chateau again and to reunitewith lost loves. He wants to return to the place where he acted like an adult with the heart of a child. It’s very “not a girl, not yet a woman.”
Rosewood is basically a massive chateau party, allowing the Liars to do foolish things that should fall beyond the concept of children. Some of their behavior is a result of their own decision-making, but most of it a byproduct of A's puppeteering. Mona in a Bathroom Conversation detailed her theories about the game, how the Liars fit as pieces on the board, and who was controlling them (Alison). It was the set-up that Spencer had been so desperate to see, though at the time, neither she nor Mona had evidence that it was actually like Mona said. These girls are guests at a chateau party of A’s design, where the only person for whom there are no consequences is A.
With Mona in that trunk and Spencer arrested for the murder of Bethany Young, things are a little more intense heading into Pretty Little Liars' upcoming Christmas special—which is replacing the show's annual Halloween event this year in terms of new footage/story; the Halloween outing will be a look-back clip show. So, we’ll have to wait a little bit longer than usual to get some answers. Time finally marched on as Alison and A enacted their plans, and the show hinted at a page on the calendar that hasn't been visited during our watch of the series. It may feel like we have a long way to go before seeing what happens to Spencer, whether the show can back out of this Mona thing, or what Alison or A will do next. But fear not. Winter is coming.
– It appears that, while Holbrook was away, he enrolled in the Creepshow School for Gifted Rosewood Males. He's a lot scarier when he’s not playing good cop to Tanner’s bad cop. Secret talks with Alison. Third degrees for everyone else. Not waiting for Tanner, which seems important. If he ends up dating Alison, I’m leaving.
– Mona: “Have you ever been so focused on something that it takes over everything else? Turns you into someone that you’re not?” The line marked the second time in two weeks that the characters tried to pithily distill what PLL is all about. That’s, like, the opening sentence of a pitch document.
– Much as I loved the Mona character, I didn’t like when she was fed language that’s supposedly used by teens. I don’t want to believe that anyone actually says someone’s “gone full socio” or abbreviates “hurry the hell up” as “hthu.” Call me old-fashioned.
– Cindy and Mindy are on Alison’s side now, and everyone was calling Mona “Crazy Mona.” Seems like one of those inspired names that Ali comes up with to not only diminish her opponents with modifiers, but also to demoralize them by not even taking the time to come up with a moniker that requires any amount of creativity.
– As Mona detailed the Liars as game pieces: Spencer is Smart, Emily is Loyal, Hanna is Admiring, and Aria is Compassionate... unless you’re a bird or a boy not named Ezra.
– OMG Alison and a new set of Bizarro Liars:
– I’m exhausted by PLL's efforts to make Ezria legitimate. The Montgomerys invited him over to dinner? Is he not still a teacher? Is she not still a student?
– Harrisburg must have some bang-up police academy for Toby to be a cop in a week. Or six minutes. I don’t know how long it’s been since he and Spencer had that conversation.
– Hanna: “Read her boobs. The girl loves Christmas.” In another instance of the Liars playing grown-ups (what teenagers do you know who take the reins on decorating for the holiday?), there was a cute scene with Emily orchestrating lights, snowmen, and a nativity scene. While this is something of a new thing for us to learn about Emily after knowing her for four and a half seasons, it's not like we've really had the opportunity before. I’ll allow it.
– I'd almost forgotten that the nurses at Radley wear outfits that suggest they’re either straight out of 1950s or tending to crazy people on American Horror Story:
– Hanna can’t even spell SAT and she did well on the test? I like her optimism that she wants to attend Stanford and the Ivy League despite the impression that her grades are in the crapper. Admissions officers only look at test scores, right? Although Hanna certainly has the material for one heck of an essay. All the Liars do.
– The big find is that Mrs. D was having an affair with Bethany’s father. Word's still out on how Bethany’s father fits into everything, but since he’s probably a man who lives in Rosewood, my spidey sense tells me he’s probably so creepy.
– Ali is building an army at an abandoned farm? Who has time to scout all these locations in Rosewood? The recession must’ve hit suburban Pennsylvania hard.
– When Holbrook came to arrest Spencer, couldn’t she have given him a pocket watch or insisted that she just has some bad habits? It seemed to work on Toby.
– After two season of being afraid of timelines, we have them all over the place now. It’s Thanksgiving, which means everything that’s happened to the Liars in the last two seasons has officially occurred over the course of the one month since Halloween. Toby will be out with a broken leg for a month, which will hobble him until Christmas. OMG can Toby please have been in that car accident just so he can be Tiny Tim during the December special? I can’t wait.
– Your Moment of A: Hoodie walked up to Emily’s nativity scene and replaced the Baby Jesus with a Mona doll (then rested the Baby Jesus doll atop Mona’s dead body). The implication is that she was martyred, sacrificed for the sake of the others. Maybe a rallying cry for the Liars to move on from #WorldWarA and embark on some A Crusades (#ACrusades)? She was the girl who knew too much. But now we’re left with the question of whether she actually knew how to connect Alison to A, or whether she was just on the right track and had to be smoted before she knew all of it. Or maybe someone really did go “socio” and was itching to kill again.
– Your Moment of A, Part 2: A is crafting again, this time with a snow globe of the Liars. I’m assuming that’s just a nod to the Christmas special and not some kind of Citizen Kane reference.
What'd you think of "Taking This One to the Grave"? What's your take on Mona's death?