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Pretty Little Liars S04E014: "Who's in the Box?"


There are probably a lot of sad people out there. Such faithful viewers watched this episode and felt crushed, defeated, like there's no room for love in this world. How? How could this have happened? How can one believe in magic and happy endings if dreams can be dashed so effortlessly, so callously, so unsympathetically? O cruel fate! O twisted stars! How dare you convince us of romance just to rob us of it in such a way! Well, for those people, PLL creator I. Marlene King has this simple consolation:

The presumed end of #Haleb was doomed to occur with the couple's physical separation across writers' rooms, so much so that I was a little surprised at how unceremonious Hanna's literal kiss-off was as she sent Caleb to help out a girl just a Mypos accent short of a perfect stranger. I figured there would be a little bit of turmoil with separating, even if the characters themselves weren't aware of the inevitable, at least for the viewer. Then I figured they would drag it out a little bit—especially since, after painfully dragging myself through Ravenswood, it became abundantly clear they were going to let Miranda haunt her way into Caleb's heart.

So they shifted the blow to the Pretty Little Liars premiere. Caleb showed up in Rosewood and tried so hard to be distant at first, only to cave to Hanna's feminine wiles—which, of course, start with being corporeal. The show(s) haven't fully established all of Miranda's paranormal abilities but they're probably not going to compete with Hanna having hands and lips and, you know, tangible body parts. At least not yet. I mean, Sally didn't even realize she could move stuff until the end of the first season.

For those of you who aren't double-dipping in PLL and Ravenswood, you should probably know that this Miranda, breaker of Hanna's heart, is dead. Once the Liars left Ravenswood during the Halloween special and let that little birdie of show fly on its own, it seems like Pretty Little Liars became staunchly dedicated to never again letting the supernatural invade their show, as if it was genocide and the writers were members of the United Nations. They are the United Nations of keeping magic and sorcery far away from Rosewood. So that's why we had a lot of Caleb claiming things are complicated, a rather pedestrian and cliche distraction for a television relationship usually employed by a casually disinterested man who wants to let a lady down easy. Not necessarily because that disinterested man is actually cursed (like an actual curse) to be in love with a whiny spirit who emo-ghost-writes emails to Hanna while Caleb deals with a host of other complications Ravenswood flings at him. So while I wished Caleb wasn't telling Hanna about Miranda being a ghost because he knew Hanna would just poke a couple holes in a sheet and haunt him just as well, it was probably because they're ready for these shows to not be mixed.

All that being said, the farewell, the real one this time, was still a little disappointing. While Hanna stayed strong for the most part, it never really felt like these were two people who loved each other who were saying goodbye. Caleb didn't look all that twisted up about it (until he put on that simply awful crying face in the car) and Hanna was willing to be more confrontational and to demand more answers from the very real threats in her life than she was from the evasive love of her life. And while I was glad to see Hanna stay stoic with her final "goodbye," I couldn't help but feel like the relationship was wasted without incident. The one pairing that wasn't tainted by legal gray areas, dabbling in the dark arts of A, or trying to drown someone in a pool was torn asunder with all the ceremony of saying goodbye to a dear old aunt. It was troublesome.

But, heavy as it was for Hanna's character and her trajectory through the upcoming season, the death of #Haleb was not what this episode was about. The Liars have a new sense of purpose after the ace that was played during the Halloween special. Ladies and gentlemen (probably mostly ladies), Alison is alive. And that gives new life to a horse that was long thought to be beaten beyond death. No longer do they have to look for Alison's killer so much as they have to try to make Rosewood safe for Alison to come out of hiding for longer than five minutes at a time. And they have a place to start, thanks to Hanna's theory: If Alison was pulled out of the shallow grave before the gazebo workers found a blond-haired body, there had to be a body, which means someone is missing, which means there's a new trail that could lead to A or whatever. They basically put their hands in the center and, on three, shouted "Find the patsy!"

Everyone except Em. It's not often that Emily has an interesting story that's more than just her whining or being victimized for her betaness. Now that Alison is around, she's reluctant. While Aria and Hanna were quick to rationalize finding a way to relieve their lost friend from her anxiety (I've always assumed Spencer only really cares for the puzzle), Emily was stuck on how this could all be some terrible game and that Ali is still messing with their heads. And that's the reaction that makes the most sense to me.

Alison is messed up. From the flashbacks, there's a psychopathology for narcissism, sociopathy, and, probably, abuse. But the effect was that she was a terrible human being to everyone around her, sometimes especially her friends. Em is of softer stuff than her fellow Liars, and finds it harder to deal with the emotional terror she suffered at the hands of Alison. But never has what Em is going through been so well vocalized as it was by Bizarro Hanna—I mean Clare.

Clare is one member of the Bizarro Liars, girls who look similar to our Liars but who are not our Liars. They have their own ringleader, a missing/presumed-dead girl Hanna found to support her theory) who was an abusive trollop just like Alison. And though Hanna in this episode showed a great amount of stoicism and an enthusiasm for finding Ali, Bizarro Hanna would rather Sara Harvey (Bizarro Alison) be dead. All the stuff that I would think the Liars would feel after having so many condemning memories of their best frenemy, Bizarro Hanna put into words. The Liars are defined by Alison. The bully and her death are the reason why they're still friends. She's gone but she's not gone. It does suck the life out of them. Spencer has been derailed by her obsessions with A and Alison. Hanna has had enough distractions in her life caused by Alison and her hunter to last a lifetime. It's may very well be that Aria's entire being is consumed by that same hunter. And Emily's track is changed forever.

It was refreshing to see that conversation happen, an admission that all their lives are far, far poorer because Alison is still in them. No one has grieved. No one has gotten closure. It's a little weird that Emily chose to get past Ali's terrorism once she absolutely knew that Alison was alive, but whatever. It may be the most honest emotional reaction to what's been happening to these girls in quite some time. Certainly more honest than whatever it is Spoby was doing.

Can we all agree that Spencer and Toby's quest to hunt down the president of a major healthcare company to get Toby's mom's medical history cleared up is one of the most boring and annoying storylines on the show right now? Nobody cares? Okay, great. Moving on.


Because we should talk about the conversation on this show that had the most teeth. In an episode where #Haleb broke up and an alternative emotional reaction to Alison was brought to light, you wouldn't imagine that a brief conversation between Mona and Ezra would be all that impactful. But that was before we all know about EzrA and now, it seems, Mona's hip to it, too.

That it took place in front of the cupcake shop couldn't've been more perfect. The site of one of the most memorable punishments A ever put a Liar through, Mona described her "Dickensian" life to EzrA as if he didn't already know what the meeting was. It was Two-Face meeting The Scarecrow. These are villains ensconced in something like a turf war. Had this been a spy flick, both of them would've had napkin-covered Berettas in their laps, pointed at the other person's crotch. So quickly, too, was the upper-hand switched. Mona thought she had Ezra pinned with her hunch that he wasn't without sin, name-checking the different literary works that incriminated him. When she referenced The Count of Monte Cristo and he asked her, "Do you think you're entitled to that much revenge?"—it doesn't really get much more subtle than that on this show. Ezra took over the conversation and Mona basically scurried away from the talk peeing her capris.

Mona may have been able to get Hanna to pound some cupcakes, but EzrA seems like he's in the big leagues. Does Mona have a cabin in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, a storm cellar entrance that almost certainly leads to a dungeon, and the blind devotion of a 17-year-old? She does not. Not only could he be her mentor, he might actually have been the one pulling her strings. You may be hyper-intelligent and pretty sneaky, but you're in the bush league compared to whatever EzrA seems to have cooking, girl. Bush. League.

Ultimately, this was an okay episode with an emotional centerpiece that kind of collapsed on itself. But it made everything else in the episode that would've otherwise been pretty meh seem that much better. So there's that, right? The promo for this season showed quite the number of twists and turns, like Spencer pulling an A message out of Hanna's tooth. If that's not a case to brush and floss, I don't know what is. With this new game afoot, I'm curious to see how everything pans out.


NOTES

– I don't know if we're pretending that Lucy Hale music video didn't happen in the middle of the episode but I have three points to address. (1) That voice does not sounds like it belongs to Aria Montgomery. (2) Who the eff is using maps made of paper? (3) Only that "mmm mmm mmm / like a melody" part is going to be stuck in my head for days and for that, Hale, you cannot be forgiven.

– Hanna saying "GAZE-bo" instead of "ga-ZEE-bo" made me laugh but then made me think. I know that they've said the word gazebo before. And it's not like Hanna reads, so where would she come up with that pronunciation? 

– That disappointment in a Hanna one-liner was quickly covered by Spencer admitting that she has an "actual theory." This episode actually had quite a few one-liners in it. Those are what I miss most during the action-y or weepy episodes.

– Hanna's XTSER (?) search turned up a lot of Alison posts when she was looking for girls that'd gone missing. Something I'm sure we're all familiar with; it can be quite trying when you try to look something up that might have been tangentially mentioned sometime during the last three and a half seasons of this show and all you get is PLL fangirl shrieking through caps-locked forum posts. I feel you, Hanna.

– "Besides, the water in Australia runs backwards and I cannot deal with that." Hm. Sounds like a convenient exit for later to me.

– "Creepy is as creepy does." Well, at least Mona knows.

– "Did we just get dared?" "Double-dog dared." Don't worry, Emily. Everyone knows you don't actually have to do anything until you're triple-dog dared. That ish is binding.

– Mrs. D: crazy, or totally knows her daughter is totes alive? Should be a fun work environment for Ashley.

– The bells toll for #Haleb while they sit on the bench. I got it, PLL.

– I think we can all agree that this tweet is what is wrong with America.

– There may be no creepier line uttered on this show than Ian Harding's delivery of "It can be our secret" while in the EzriaCabin. I think that's actually from the Butterfly Kisses brochure.


– Hanna opened Alison's diary. NEWS FLASH: She was totally mean! She also says that if secrets had a Pentagon, she'd be the acting director. She wasn't so great with the analogies. Guess she didn't pick up on any of the English stuff while Ezra was stalking her.

– Your Moment of A: a Hoodie in boots and gloves enters EzriaCabin, set to step down into the dungeon. I mean, it has to just be a cache of doll parts, right?

What'd you think of the winter premiere?


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