What makes Hanna so refreshing and so cringeworthy is that nothing will stop her from doing something completely, embarrassingly stupid. Not pleas from her boyfriend, not her friends yanking on her arm, not even an authority figure threatening her into being submissive. No, Hanna will do what Hanna thinks is right, no matter how ridiculous and foolish it may be.
So it's no surprise that she decided to try to take her mom's murder rap. In a move that feels like it came straight from the mind of Barry Zuckercorn, Hanna decided that the state wouldn't do as many nasty things to her as it would to her mom, so she was going to shoulder the blame. It was somewhere between self-sacrificing and self-destructive, which is totally in line with what Hanna's been like the last few episodes. Pretty Little Liars has done a pretty decent job of letting our girl settle somewhere close to rock bottom. Caleb's still around (for now) but the destruction of Hanna's home was enough for her put on that "nothing to lose" game face Spencer donned last season. She's ready to do something drastic. She's ready to martyr herself to put an end to the madness.
Unfortunately, even though this show is called Pretty Little Liars, none of our Liars are particularly skilled at lying (we saw several instances of how they much they suck at fibbing throughout this episode, from Emily's victim-shrieking at Ezra to Spencer's "What folder?" to Beckett). Mostly they just do it in excess. So where does Hanna turn when she needs to spin Rosewood's greatest yarn, one that has to convince the authorities in spite of all their evidence and an investigation? Mona Vanderwaal, at your service.
There's no one who's going to help you convince the world you're someone else like someone who's had an alter-ego, and Mona's life as A had prepared her for this moment. The Vanderwaal School of Lying is one of the more interesting plot points of this season, not so much because of Hanna being willing to sacrifice herself, but because of the community between her and Mona and the science behind the lies. We've enjoyed a peek into what makes A tick, how to make even the objective subjective. It's how A tilts the field, because A can take even normal or pedestrian situations and make them look criminal. After all, it's how Hanna's simple shoplifting stint became (after three seasons of evolution) Ashley trying out her look in orange.
So they built the lie from scratch, using ingredients of the case against Ashley and fudging the details. The lie fantasy started off hazy (literally for us, as PLL used motion trail filters and odd camera angles) while Hanna solidified the details and made vague the things she couldn't explain away. Finally, everything cleared up once they got the convincing story straight and Hanna was ready to do the deed. Oh, but there is one way to keep Hanna from doing something stupid: Do it before she has a chance.
Mona beat Hanna to the station and confessed to Wilden's murder with their concocted story before Hanna has the opportunity to do it herself, in effect paying that "ultimate price" that the episode promos were talking about—which I suppose is not "death" in Rosewood given that you're never sure if anyone is actually dead. Mona has been met with derision and skepticism by the Liars and their significant others in every appearance she's made this season, which makes sense given the history of torture and bullying. We as an audience have seen Mona make strides in trying to help the girls overcome this new threat, but there's no way she can ever be trusted. Will this sacrifice be enough to make her one of them? I mean, it's all she ever wanted.
"The Guilty Girl's Handbook" basically rested on Hanna and Mona, but stuff happened to the other Liars, too, I guess. Spencer continued her quest to punish everyone around her who might possibly, maybe, be associated with A. She grabbed a folder that held evidence that Wilden covered up the mysterious death of Toby's mother, so she went to hassle Eddie Lamb at Radley again. That poor guy. He seemed like maybe the only good person in the entire institution (well, except for what could be evincing a crush on a high school girl), only to be grilled by Spencer. Eddie should just spill everything he knows like Mona did at the beginning of the season. Just put him in a rocking chair and give him a montage so the poor guy can help his patients in peace. At least he got some cookies out of it. Spencer also quasi-flirted with her mother's new intern, another grown man hitting on a high school girl. Are there no women in their early- to mid-twenties in Rosewood? Is that the problem? The ratio is so lopsided that the older men need to imprint themselves on the younger ladies since they're such a commodity?
Speaking of which, Aria invited Jake back into her life because of some weird scenario where Mike's natural shiftiness made her nervous. As far as I can tell, that was the only real issue. She was scared for Mike because of something he said to Jake once: "It's hard to focus on the game when your own teammates are playing against you." And while the peeling out in front of the house may've been cause for brief alarm, Aria blew it up into a full-scale panic. It's true that MIke is into something shady, but should Aria have been so worried as to invite the meathead rebound back into her life? Especially when he's being such a creeper?
And then there's Emily. What do you do with Emily when you don't have much of a story for her? You give her a guest star. Rumer Willis popped up as Zoe, the maybe-into-girls-maybe-just-really-into-Emily supervisor on Em's charity trip to Haiti. She invited Emily to more destinations around the world during her pre-frosh summer but this served only to make Pam cry because, well, because her life is in shambles and it's both directly and indirectly her daughter's fault. Emily didn't send a car through the window but she did steal Wilden's key without replacing it (though I assume she fixed that once she went by the station—I can only hope), and she did throw a giant hissy fit in the front lawn to confirm the suspicions of gossipy neighbors. Now Pam Fields, a supermom since coming to terms with her daughter's sexuality, is a suspected child abuser, an obstructor of justice, not to mention she's broke and homeless. Thanks, Em. A couldn't have done a better job.
All of the stories between Spencer, Aria, and Emily amounted to very little compared to the heft of Hanna and Mona's love story, which was honestly the focus of the episode. Mona turning herself in leaves us with more than a few questions. Is this her way of sacrificing herself to prove that she's on the Liars' team now? Was Mona and Hanna's convincing lie actually what happened to Mona? Did Mona off Wilden? How will we ever get Team Spemona to crack the A case if Spencer can't hang out with Mona to solve the puzzle?
– Everyone keeps saying that Not Rish is a great lawyer, but other than Ian's fake confession note getting Garrett off, her batting average is pretty low. Maybe the Liars should start looking for ex-attorneys who work with A on all the details of a bulletproof case. It seems that not even a great lawyer can help these people. And where is Papa Hastings?
– Aria, that is not an appropriate dress to wear to school. That's barely appropriate outside of a Maxim cover shoot.
– Kudos to Ezra for asking about A again. It seems like no one else in town seems to remember how these girls were bullied just a little while ago, and that the weird circumstances that happen to them (like cars being flung in their direction) might be an extension of that bullying. But then, when asked, Emily essentially uttered the equivalent of "I walked into a door" by explaining away the vehicle in her living room with a most unconvincing performance only suited for a victim of a crime. I don't blame Emily for sounding like a victim. I blame her for trying to deflect the obvious.
– When I heard the collect call message from prison, there was a brief moment where I thought I'd accidentally started watching Orange Is the New Black instead of Pretty Little Liars. Someone warn Ashley not to talk smack about the food.
– I'm sad to report that I didn't connect the Samuel Beckett joke to jumping through time until I saw it on the internet (Troian Bellisario's father is the creator of Quantum Leap). I thought of the playwright first. I'm a little ashamed.
– Jake will kung-fu a ho.
– Hanna's life creed: "It's complicated and I don't do complicated."
– Nice Insidious 2 promo. That almost felt organic. Too bad we've been conditioned for years that media properties are almost never mentioned within the context of a show unless they're about twenty years old or we're watching Community.
– Caleb: "Prison for kids is still prison." With all the prior suspicion around Hanna and her being on the precipice of graduating high school (putting her within months of being 18), do we think she wouldn't be tried as an adult?
– Not Rish had a point about making Toby move on, especially if Spencer were to apply that notion to her life. PLL seems to be about hiding from past mistakes and inhabiting them rather than trying to shed them and move on. A wants the Liars to remember, and the Liars fall for it every time. Spencer is too obsessed with the puzzle to move on.
– Your Moment of A: Hoodie drills through a floor. That was some pretty golden light for nighttime. Also it seemed like a weird perspective to spy. What's the play here? To lower the property value? Maybe A is into the long game.