That bus pulls into Rosewood and the Liars get off, only to see Alison find herself facing a decision. She looks out at her four damaged friends and considers what it would mean to be back in this silly, soapy town. What would being back afford her? A warm bed? A stable life? Four walls that aren’t rusted and covered in roach doo-doo? Maybe. But you have to assume, after two years of wandering around the tri-state area in paranoid nomadic homelessness, that she also considered the far heavier bad stuff.
Would she have known the specifics as she stood on that bus step? No. No one could. Because they’re all too ridiculous. I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve had an episode with sequences that were so forced and dialogue that was so inconsistent. That’s a generous descriptor for the episode, "inconsistent." There were so many peaks (most of which came from Hanna), but the valleys were so very deep. Chasms of sudsy, laughable, word vomit. Consider Mama Hastings’ answer when Spencer asked whether Melissa was back from London.
”Oh, yes. And don’t expect any souvenirs because all she brought back was attitude."
That was followed by the longest pause I’ve ever heard someone take on television. If this episode had been a live sports broadcast or aired during the golden age of radio, it would've just been dead air and someone would’ve been fired. It was the kind of awkward pause so cavernous and desperate it makes you want to just crawl off somewhere and die. Mercifully, she finished her thought.
WHAT. IS. THAT? Here’s the thing. Troian Bellisario, who’s been on a roll lately with her rational if short screeds about the state of the TV and film industry and its effect on young audiences and actresses, recently took to The Hollywood Reporter to implore members of the Television Academy to not ignore primetime teen soaps when mulling their Emmy nominations. It’s something worth discussing, how these wildly popular shows with depth to their storytelling and a very specific genre school of acting only seem to be awarded orange surf boards and plaques attributed by “the people” and not “a discerning group of your professional peers.” And Pretty Little Liars, foolish as it may be to many of us, usually maintains a level of quality that supercedes its brethren in polish, chemistry, and complexity. Usually. This was an unfortunate week, days after Bellisario's plea made its way to the masses, for PLL to air an episode that introduced a Chekhov's Dog in the first 20 minutes and had Jason, you know, there.
Now, with all that being said, this show does know how to have fun. Hanna pulling items out of the fridge as she was about to embark on a journey of nervous binging that we haven’t yet seen and asking about whether the giant brick of cheese in her hand would melt (to which her exasperated mother responded, “All cheese melts, Hanna”) was so funny, as so much of what Hanna says is. She is the Sawyer, the Sheldon, the Badger, the Roger Sterling of PLL. She is clearly the writers' favorite person, the one they like to gift with all the best one-liners (Spencer is a close second). And it’s a great example of how the show can be funny without forcing injections of cornball. You don’t have to crowbar in campy bits; you can maintain its trajectory and keep the humor without dipping into narrative tomfoolery.
Aria spent the entire episode living out an orchestral version of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by imagining Dead Shana’s violin-playing morning, noon, and night. Emily tried to keep the peace and defend Ali even though everything around them is falling apart. And Spencer, in an all-too-short bit of enlightenment, ignored a phone call only to find the Jason sitting by himself in the dark. And all of them are killing me by assuming Shana’s death is the death of A.
One the hardest things to swallow in this episode was how everyone still maintained that Shana must've been A. It was most disappointing from Spencer, who should've been the first to realize that Shana had no beef with the Liars per se, only the monster in their midst. Why would that be the same person sending them on high-stakes scavenger hunts and punishing them for crimes that don’t involve Alison? It doesn’t add up. Last week's premiere left me convinced that Shana is a red herring. This episode made me feel like PLL is trying to pull a fast one. If Shana is indeed supposed to be that frightening woman Mona was so scared of, that would be the greatest travesty perpetrated by the show to date. Because Shana comes off as just a woman on the brink for love, while Mona is a bad, bad lady.
Alison stood in the mausoleum with her grave and the body of the woman people said was her, hoodie over her head like a babushka (unlike Hoodies who wear their hoods like, well, hoods), and told Mona about her contrition. She’d been to Hell, she said, and it was easy getting there but coming back was hard. She didn’t apologize, but she did remark that she’s paid some amount of penance. And Mona looked at those sad little eyes and told her Alison is going to wish she’d stayed dead. Mona feels she doesn’t have to hide anymore. She can be very open about her distaste for the blonde scourge. She’s a grassroots villain. If hatred for Alison is church, Uber A is the Vatican—but Mona is a ramshackle house where the people actually go, the one that touches peoples lives, the one with the distilled, localized, and potent message. She’s mobilizing. And that’s scary.
Because, most importantly, with a single text message, Mona was able to get Alison to lie where it was least welcome. After a “pact” was agreed upon by the Liars where they would all start telling the truth, no matter the consequences, starting with what Ali did to Jenna oh so long ago and continuing all the way through what happened to Shana, Alison had one look at that text and spun a completely different yarn to Holbrook about being kidnapped for two years. Now all the Liars are back to lying about everything. It’s all snowballing, their stories being constructed on the fly. Even though there was a reason for it, a threat, they are, indeed, all back on Planet Alison. Bringing her back into their lives is only making things more complicated, not bringing any joy.
So, in that moment standing on the step of the bus, deciding whether to alight in the town of her ruin, Alison probably couldn’t understand the specifics of what two nights in Rosewood would entail. But she felt there was at least a chance of disaster, for her and/or her friends. So she turned back, her one last chance to slip away into the darkness and save herself and the women she’s brought down with her. But Emily, poor silly Emily, pulled her off and told her she doesn’t have to run anymore. Because A is dead. And there are no more threats. And Rosewood will be safe as long as they start telling the truth.
Now, two nights later, Mona has a new cult prepared to take her down, Spencer seems willing to be the voice of reason in cutting ties with her, and Chekhov's Dog has found her mother buried in the backyard (alive, if you recall). Was that warm bed worth it?
– Did episode director Joanna Kerns make an Abbey Road reference here in the opening of the episode? Between this and so, so many extreme close-ups, Mrs. Seaver is making some bold choices.
– Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the first time Papa diLaurentis has showed up since the Mona Code-heavy episode “Crazy” back in Season 3. Not John Slattery gave an inspired performance for a father who insists he’s an engaged father but has only been around three times in four (and change) seasons. Though he also came off creepy, along with every other dude in this episode. “Everyone with a penis is a suspect” in full effect.
– Jason is really running with that EWAPIAS ball. Sit alone in the dark some more, dude. That’s how normal people live their lives: in the shadows, ready to scare young girls. He’s also texting in secret (he hid it when Alison comes out to sit on the porch) and, of course, visiting that older apartment building in the “bad neighborhood”—the one filled with frightening, lispy old men. Probably Jason’s future.
– Aria was reading Paradise Lost and wore a shirt that said “You’re No Good.” Maybe a touch heavy-handed.
– Whistles and apps for everyone! Please tell me Mona’s whistles play a role later in the season.
– Toby’s back! Get a haircut, hippie.
– Did you completely forget that Emily killed someone once? I totally forgot. Also: Looking back on “Crazy,” do you remember the Mona-Code for MAYA KNEW? “Miss Aria, You’re A Killer, Not Ezra’s Wife.” Is Mona psychic? If she is, I think everyone should just give up now. You’re not going to beat a pre-cog with a cult following.
– I didn’t say enough about this last week, but one of my favorite scenes was the one where the girls recalled life before A like soldiers at war remember what it’s like to be back on the homefront. Aria wasn’t there for that conversation, so this week was her turn to reminisce about how things used to be before she was cyberbullied and tampered with by a grown man using her for a book. You know, the good old days.
– Chekhov’s Dog is named Pepe. In case you just thought I forgot.
– Mona and Mike are back together! Is anyone ‘shipping them? Or is Mona too sinister to ‘ship? Or is she too cool for Mike? To wit, Mona on how to use a whistle: “You put it between your lips and blow.”
– Emily: “What’s going on? Why can’t I eat dinner?” That sure sounded like a Hanna line. Good one, Em. But Hanna would not to be outdone. After Chief Suspect Jason got angry and scared the girls outside Hanna’s car, Emily told Hanna to follow him when he drove off. Hanna: “You follow him. I have to change my underwear.”
– With A being “gone,” the Moments of A aren’t around anymore. But each episode of Season 5 has ended with someone in a hoodie being filmed from a high angle. Sad Alison is sad.
What'd you think of "Whirly Girly"?