Pretty Little Liars / Screen

Pretty Little Liars dives into a lackluster new plot and a new (old) menace as Alison returns to Rosewood in “Whirly Girlie”

When Spencer reunites with her mother after her time spent away, Veronica accuses her of poor judgment. Well, at least someone said it. The way these girls think is nowhere near the level of their combined intellect, and if often makes them look positively stupid. We’re on season five, and it’s been two years in the show’s timeline since Alison went missing and the girls have spent at least one of those years being stalked and tormented by not one but two people. In that time they’ve grown, and in the show’s quest to keep its status quo alive, it seems to be sacrificing not only its character development but its plot. To be fair, Pretty Little Liars is never going to be known for its extra-tight and well-considered plotting, and it began with the girls’ poor judgment leading to a variety of troubles for them. But that was then, and this is now, and the girls (and the show) are falling into old habits.

Abandoning the scene of Shana’s death (even though they’re all in agreement that Shana’s death was both accidental and necessary) and returning to Rosewood is a problem from the outset of the episode, but “Whirly Girl” is based around that singular event and the girls trying to cover it up. Aria struggles with having killed Shana, dreaming of her and hearing violins, and threats from a new technological tormentor send her spiraling as she fears she’ll be found out. Her guilt about it is well-played by Lucy Hale, but the plot is still nonsensical. The Liars’ previous lies have been about protecting themselves in cases where they would be certainly blamed, but Shana’s death isn’t one of those things. If they’re all in agreement that Aria’s actions were justified (Shana was going to kill them after all) why are they so desperate to keep it a secret  even when it becomes clear that they’re going to have this information held over their heads by someone new?

When the girls return to Rosewood, they get on the same page about Ali telling the police the truth about everything from blinding Jenna to Shana’s attack on them at the theater, and it’s actually a relief to have this be suggested. Which makes it even more disappointing when it flames out and Alison lies after receiving a text (which we don’t find out about until later) that reminds her that the truth will hurt more than help, she lies instead. It’s a terrible lie, too, and Holbrook is obviously suspicious of her many inconsistencies. And the other Liars are just as put off as am, particularly Spencer, who’s not all that gung-ho about being sucked into Alison’s deceitful spiral all over again.

The rest of Alison’s return is just as bumpy with Jessica being missing and Jason not having the reaction one would expect of a brother being reunited with a thought-dead sister. Though Kenneth is looking to make Alison’s return to town as smooth as possible and helping her forget the past two years of her life, Jason is paying nighttime visits to Alison’s bedroom where he doesn’t speak and Alison pretends to be asleep, and during the day, he’s relatively casual about her reappearance while the rest of Rosewood is in upheaval, everyone speculating about Alison’s return. When Emily and Spencer find proof that Jason was in New York, even more suspicion falls on him until it eventually culminates in Jason and Spencer exchanging words about Jason knowing that the Liars and his father believe he’s to blame for Alison’s disappearance, and with Jessica gone there’s no one to protect him. I’ve given up on trying to make sense of anything Pretty Little Liars tries to do with its overarching mystery, and the show’s more fun to watch if you stop trying to figure it out. Jason’s been accused of so many things over the length of the show that at this point he probably didn’t do anything and is now just paying the price of not being Kenneth’s biological son.

Though this marks Alison return to Rosewood, the episode doesn’t spend much time with her. The Liars are still central, while Alison functions more as conduit for furthering the mystery. We see Alison because we need to see Jason creeping into her room in the night, and we see her at her grave because we need to learn what Mona’s up to now. We even see her with the dog because we need the dog to dig up Jessica’s body later. The few times we see Alison when she’s just being without mysteries chugging along behind every scene are during her first talk with her father as he promises to help her readjust and closing out the episode as she stands among the milling cops as her mother’s dead body is taken away. Her relief at being home and her sadness at her mother’s death are the few moments we get when we’re not supposed to be questioning what’s going on with her. These are moments when she’s just another Liar, but they’re occasional enough that Alison still retains her own mystery and it remains clear that her return doesn’t automatically make her (or her storyline) as transparent as the others.

It’s not an accident (it probably is an accident) that the episode kicks off with Alison defying the agreement made among the group. In some ways it’s a fakeout (more likely it’s foreshadowing) because Alison had a pretty good (by this show’s standards) reason for lying. But it’s impossible to forget how manipulative and cruel Alison can be, how she spent her time in Rosewood making everyone from strangers to acquaintances to her closest friends and her own family, miserable. And it’s impossible to forget how she controlled the Liars, and how their connection to her is what got them sucked into the terror that makes up the show now. So her deviation from the plan, as well as hers and Spencer’s heated conflict, is setting the stage for more sparks to fly between them. The Liars have changed a lot since Alison’s disappearance, and they’re not the same girls who will fall into doing things her way and letting Alison treat them badly. Unlike before, they’re united in their friendships with another and secrets shared, not secrets Alison’s held over their heads and lies she’s been telling them.

The only solid (dare I say excellent?) part of the episode is Mona, who renews her connection with Mike as she leads a bandwagon for whistles to be given to all the town’s young female residents, talking up safety and the like in the wake of Alison’s reappearance. It’s fun to see Mona’s obvious deceit, since we know her to be heading up her own movement against Ali already and knows the truth about why Ali left. Moving Mona and her machinations into the open is looking like it’s going to be a recurring event this season as Mona eventually sheds her sweet exterior when she encounters Ali at her grave. She responds to Ali’s request for friendship with a stony glare and the news that she sent the text to Ali and is no longer going to be hiding behind a vowel. She’s going to make Ali wish she’d stayed dead on her own name.  Is it weird that I’m already finding Mona more compelling this season than she’s ever been before?

Stray Observations

  • I know Spencer says they’ve been framed as pathological liars, but… they may not be pathological but they are liars. They lie too much. Way too much. Nobody’s framing them with that.
  • If you all could have heard the disgusted sound I made when Toby reappeared with that bad hair…
  • With Toby’s return he pokes holes in Melissa’s story about him getting her from London. He didn’t see her in London at all, but he saw Wren who is living in Melissa’s London apartment. Fingers crossed Wren stays in London.
  • I don’t know what this thing people have about people in town being happy or sad to see Alison dead, or in this case alive? The Liars were shocked when people weren’t all that sad about Alison’s death being confirmed (I know this because I just rewatched the first season), and now they’re acting so surprised that there are people (like Jason) who aren’t thrilled to have her back? How quickly they forget that Alison was (is?) the worst. 

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