Pretty Little Liars / Screen

Speaking Ill of the Dead: Pretty Little Liars ‘Who’s In the Box?’ Review

When Ali revealed herself to be alive in that awful Halloween episode, we were denied the Liars’ reactions to her livelihood (besides shock) because it came at the episode’s end.  There were a multitude of questions surrounding Ali when she was dead so now that she’s revealed to be alive, there are even more.  One of those questions gave Pretty Little Liars‘ winter premiere its title,  “Who’s in the Box?”.  If Ali wasn’t buried, then who was?   For a minute I thought PLL might actually answer a question as soon as it was posed, but that’s not PLL‘s style.  We won’t learn who’s buried in Ali’s coffin until next season at the earliest.  It’s hard to review episodes of PLL on their own as there are never any bad episodes (except for said Halloween special) just episodes that advance or do not advance the season long arcs.  PLL is a show best viewed in a large installments where things build up to a grand finale, and “Who’s In the Box?” was the beginning of season four’s back half so it had a job to do of putting a lot of things in motion.

There’s so much to be mined from the major plot points of Ali’s survival and Ezra being A, but the one at play at the moment is the response the girls have to Ali’s return.  As most of the show’s early seasons focused exclusively on how terrible Ali was to people, the revelation that she’s alive is bittersweet.  This is a girl who honed Emily’s sexuality, Hanna’s weight and Spencer’s and Aria’s family troubles as weapons against them, but now she needs their help.

Though all the girls have issues with Ali, it’s Emily struggling the most.  While the other girls decided to focus on making Rosewood safe for Ali’s return, Emily remained reluctant and in a very bad mood.  In their search for the girl buried in Ali’s coffin, the girls met Claire (Skyler Day) whose friend Sara the Liars thought may have been buried in Ali’s place.  Turns out Sara was just like Ali: terrible.  So terrible that Claire wished Sara was dead before she disappeared and was jealous that the Liars no longer had to live with  the crippling  possibility of Ali’s survival.  After that, Emily confessed to Paige about her and Ali’s kiss and realized that Ali was incapable of love and didn’t care about anyone but herself, only taking advantage of everyone else’s love for her.

Though I expect nothing less than the Liars rallying to help Ali, it’s very important that PLL not forget what a terror Ali was to everyone, especially the Liars.  Just because the girls are going forward with solving the Ali mystery, that doesn’t mean they have to forgive and forget all that Ali did to them.  Ali being thought dead and now being alive doesn’t absolve her of her treatment of other people.  Emily deciding to let go of Ali, and really let her go, is an important moment for the character especially because it’s coming with the news that Ali is still alive, a time when the girls are actually close to be reintroduced to their friend and taking steps to hold onto her harder than ever.   Ali being alive opens up a lot more doors for the girls that weren’t where when she was dead.  A dead Ali could never hear from the girls how much she hurt them, but now that she’s alive there’s a chance for the Liars to tell Ali what a bad friend she was to them.

Meanwhile Ezra laid it on thick as he tried to rekindle his and Aria’s romance.   Now that Ezra’s given Aria a key to cabin, their new spot, he and Aria are back on and also a secret.   It’s a weird turn for the couple to take, going back underground and hiding their relationship while Aria’s still involved with Jake.  I guess PLL is trying to take advantage of the creepy factor of Ezra being A and being romantically involved with Aria.  I suppose it wouldn’t feel as urgent if Aria and Ezra were just friends while that particular bomb was about to be dropped.

Making Ezra A remains an excellent call, and Ezra’s scenes with Mona were indicative of the kind of excellence the show is capable of with its villains. Though the scene was  tinged in the ridiculous and the campy (including heavy-handed symbolism of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), PLL made a good decision in putting two A’s in a scene together.  Despite her change in motives, Mona can still be a very dangerous enemy or a powerful ally.  When she was A, Mona knew everything, and that hasn’t changed as she knows Ezra isn’t who he says.  In this show there are many Jekylls and Hydes, but at the moment Mona and Ezra are at the top of the list, both of them having experience in living within lies and donning masks to fool other people.  This similarity makes them uniquely suited to understand one another.   Ezra’s threat to Mona about her lack of fear making her both powerful and vulnerable will hopefully not be a one-off.  There’s no doubt Ezra will go to great lengths to preserve his secret, but Mona’s a formidable opponent, and wouldn’t mind watching him and Mona clash before the Liars get clued in to Ezra’s true motives.

Taking a break from Ravenswood was Caleb who returned to break up with Hanna.  It didn’t look like that was his intention when he showed up and started waxing poetic about how much he missed Hanna, but that’s how it ended.  It would take some knowledge of Ravenswood to understand Caleb’s reasons for going back and leaving Hanna behind, and PLL assumed all their viewers took made the leap to Ravenswood.  If you are watching (as I am) then Caleb’s protests that he and Miranda aren’t connected in the way Hanna thought felt like a cheat since we know that’s a slightly murkier concept than Caleb made it out to be.   That being said, I’ve always liked Haleb’s angsty scenes, and tonight was no exception. That is until Caleb started crying. Kudos Tyler Blackburn for not being afraid to  ugly cry, but it lost its effect without any tears coming out.

Least satisfying (but also having me raise my eyebrows in a WTF kind of way) was the revisiting of Toby’s mom and her suicide.  I can’t even remember how this story ended before PLL‘s hiatus so you can imagine how underwhelming and unnecessary going back to it was.  Perhaps it’s because the “suicide” moved so far away from the A drama and now it feels even more disconnected with a big, terrible company and Spencer’s dad getting involved to shut down Radley for good.

Random thought:

  • I forgot Spencer had a dad.  He’s not as awesome as Veronica. Bring back Veronica! I don’t understand how someone mentioned the law and didn’t call Veronica.  Or is Spencer only allowed to have one parent per half-season?
  • I thought Jenna was going blind again. Doesn’t that mean she can’t drive?

Leave your thoughts in the comments.


2 thoughts on “Speaking Ill of the Dead: Pretty Little Liars ‘Who’s In the Box?’ Review

  1. Pingback: Pretty Little Liars: “She’s No Angel” | Channel Chelsea

  2. Pingback: Pretty Little Liars</em: "Game On, Charles" | Channel Chelsea

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