Trouble follows, hunts, stalks, tortures, and haunts the Liars, and by now we’ve grown accustomed to the pool of anxiety and paranoia in which the girls constantly swim. We’ve seen them get drugged, spied on, thrashed across rocks, shoved into tables, institutionalized, and massaged by clammy, virginal Lucas-hands. A seems profoundly skilled in hitting the Liars where no one can see the bruises, and we’ve watched them experience just about everything that can possibly happen to teenage girls without them ending up dead or the victim in a Rosewood SVU investigation. And we’ve even seen our fair share of dead ones.
Pretty Little Liars may have desensitized us to hyperbolic high school cruelty. Episodes where A only sends a couple pithy threats and a Radley patient hollars at Aria—we all collectively yawn. Ho hum, we say. No one’s house exploded. No animals dug up a dead body. Aria didn’t kill anyone. Maybe next week we'll see some action. We’re just waiting for something that will turn our stomachs or make us jump out of our seats. We’re waiting to be upset.
Well, "Scream for Me" was a pretty upsetting episode.
Nothing catastrophic happened. Spencer and Emily found some clues about Bethany and Mrs. D after “Big” Rhonda dished about her former roommate ("Aunt Jessie" used to take Bethany on horse-riding trips—in a bribery kind of way). Hanna and Caleb are still drinking the ghosts away. And Ella chose the most self-important maid of honor this side of Dalia Royce.
The upsetting part came not through our usual if shape-shifting Mystery but through the series of betrayals that just seem to happen whenever the Liars are around. Like Zack, Ella’s fiancee, caving to the Pedo Virus that infects every grown man in Rosewood. Everyone with a penis is a suspect, yes, this is true. But there were a few exceptions to the rule. Andrew, horny as he is for the school’s highest-strung occasional-pill-popper, is at least hot for a girl his own age and seems to be miles from either A’s or Mona’s squads. Detective Holbrook, suspiciously absent of late, also seemed to be the polar opposite of his predecessor, aka Detective Badcop McCreepyPants (né Wilden), in that he was friendly, competent, and uncomfortable with the romantic advances of a high schooler.
Zack seemed to be on the same path: a dude that was around to make Ella happy and to be an excuse for Holly Marie Combs to disappear for episodes at a time. There didn’t seem to be any reason to accuse Zack of impropriety or having Ezra Eyes. But then, back in town for just two weeks, he starts to massage the small of Drunk Hanna’s back like it was going to unleash a genie that grants scumbag wishes. Though it’s not surprising (sigh, Rosewood), it was disheartening to watch this character derail so abruptly. And his dogged pursuit of Hanna (jumping unexpectedly into her car when she was eating alone in the rain -- dude) makes it so much worse.
Then everything is ten times more horrible when her friends show how little respect they have for her. You may not be coming on the ride with me that Hanna is good and Ali is the worst, and that’s okay. We’re all entitled to our opinions of how the show is doing with its characters. I wouldn’t want to begrudge you your distaste for how Hanna has been carrying herself lately. She does not seem to be interested in comporting herself in a way that negates her less-than-favorable standing. It seems like most of the scenes she’s in should be soundtracked with “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett.
Wherever you stand on her self-destruction, her friends handle her coming clean about Zack like piles of garbage. It’s not slut-shaming but it’s feels like it. It starts with Hanna telling the truth to Spencer and Emily, who never think to ask her if she’s okay or why the SOB still has kneecaps. Instead, they think it might all be in her head. Maybe she misinterpreted it. Maybe things didn’t go the way she felt they did or maybe she’s just confused. You know how girls are. They get so turned around about stuff and they’re so sensitive. You get a bit of the drink in you and you suddenly lose any ability to recognize a creepy situation, despite the fact that all the Liars have been engaged in so many creepy situations with older men that it should basically be like Spidey Sense.
After Spencer and Emily leave her high and dry as friends, and she suffers another attempt by Zack to capitalize on the “vibe” he was feeling (I thought that was a weird way to phrase “boner”), Hanna tells Aria about this man-child and Aria leaps immediately to say that Hanna is “the problem.” She’s always the problem. Aria then changes the subject about how Hanna almost blabbed to Emily’s mom the truth about Ali. Then: “What’d you do, Hanna? Did you invite him into your car?”
Obviously, their friend is self-destructing, to a knowable point where they’re talking about it to each other and to her, and yet, there’s no rush to save Hanna. There’s no concern like there was for Spencer (pills) or Emily (pain cream). Just blame-shifting when Hanna comes to them with an actual problem. And despite the fact that the Liars have all started sharing with each other more and have, more or less, stopped keeping secrets from each other, her friends choose not to believe her. She must have misinterpreted things or, worse, if it’s true, she brought it on herself.
It's a betrayal. Meanwhile they’re all supportive of their needier friend Alison. They run to her aid and browbeat each other to make sure she’s as comfortable as possible. Although, from the looks on Emily’s and Spencer’s faces once Ali lets them in on a little secret later, the level of sacrifice made for Ali might not last too long either.
Ali’s still scheming. Never falling for Hanna's evasive techniques when Ali asks to sleep over, she goes right to Ashley with her sob story to stay there. She scores the bath salts Hanna has asked to use "a million times." And, most importantly, she set up a fake break-in to scare Ashley enough to be her pit bull, the first of the Liars' parents to be entirely on Ali's side. Good or bad, because she’s still manipulative or because she’s trying to survive in a world that seems to want to erase her, she’s still plotting with the network that kept her alive when A couldn’t find her and keeping secrets from her friends. That she had Noel Kahn break into the Marin house, lurk in the shadows with a knife, and escape before Ashley could do anything about it, all so one of the parents would stand up and fight for her instead of investigating the plot holes in Alison’s story, is a troubling scenario for a bunch of Liars who thought they were all in this together.
While some might use that as evidence that Ali is still the same conniving terror she was before she went on sabbatical, there’s also plenty of evidence in the episode that she’s also legitimately scarred and that her efforts to manipulate her situation is only because that’s how she knows to protect herself. The show continues to put off fully redeeming Alison by letting her exist in this push-and-pull gray area where she wanders from friend’s house to friend’s house with wet eyes after a harrowing journey while also scheming, manipulating, and puffing up her chest to other local bullies and sceptics.
”Scream with Me” was an episode filled with despicable things and most of them weren’t even from A. Yes, A locked Spencer and Emily in the horse stall, hoping they’d get kicked to death by a spooked equine. But even that just felt like an action beat, a necessary pinch for the audience between the talky-talky betrayals happening all over the place. You may have been bored for most of the season thus far but you have to admit this episode at least tried something different. And what it evoked was truly icky.
– All four girls are in choir? Is that a skill these ladies have that I missed? I know PLL was setting the table for the show's recently announced Christmas episode by having them sing holiday hymns, but did all four have to be in the choir? Drunk or not, I just don’t see Hanna having any desire to do that.
– With all due respect to Toby and his new police academy dreams, Tanner is the best cop to walk the corrupt streets of Rosewood. She doesn’t trust Alison—firstly because she’s human, and then also because she's an investigator who understands that what Alison made up doesn’t exactly fit the timeline (detectives are always going on about the timeline). I just wish her partner hadn’t disappeared so that she might have a few more resources to put into figuring out that the DiLaurentis family is MESSED. UP.
– Sydney is the worst operative deployed by either Mona or Jenna. Even Lucas could hold it together for one day to remember the conversations he’d had with the Liars without needing to read a script. “Let me talk about this thing you must’ve seen in New York.” “I told you we never went to New York and you said no one told you we did.” “Um, so this thing in New York that you saw.” “But I just said—” “Error error melting down lips deflate power off.”
– Sydney: “Either you’re an amazing liar or I am a total idiot.” It must be the latter, because Emily is only surpassed in terrible lying by Aria. Her lies are so transparent that she could be telling a three-year old about Santa Claus and the kid would be like, "There's no such thing, is there?" Because she's that unbelievable. Cool that Emily was voted assistant coach, though. Way to go, Em!
– The was a crispy cake stuck in Hanna’s hair. Also: I’m pretty sure, at least for me, that it’s always “half-past I’m hungry.”
– For a patient who was going so Litchfield on Aria, I’m a little disappointed that all she asked for was some Flaming Hot Cheetos and a root beer. Thinking too small, Rhonda. Aria has handled more demanding blackmail requests in her sleep.
– So, I guess E. Lamb is gone. Does that mean he’s going to Army Wives or Vampire Diaries?
– Toby and the police academy. "The cops in this town are either bungling or corrupt. Wouldn't it be refreshing to have someone inside that building who actually cares?" Fair point, but what a weird storyline. Maybe he’ll bring back the doo rag so he can go undercover as Prison Toby. And Spencer’s initial reaction to Toby wanting to join the Rosewood PD: priceless.
– Spencer figured out how to get out of that horse stall like she was MacGyver and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't've had the guts to take a shot from a horse like she did. Life to her is just one big action RPG.
– Your Moment of A: A hoodie in the Hastings house fondles a riding helmet with the Hastings crest (of course the Hastings put a crest on their riding helmets) and knows about a secret compartment in the couch. Is it Melissa? Is it Papa Hastings? Is it Girl with Pink Backpack #1 from the Emily and Spencer walk-and-talk? Who knows? It could literally be anyone!
What did you think of "Scream for Me"?
AIRED ON 8/30/2016
Season 7 : Episode 10