Pretty Little Liars / Screen

Pretty Little Liars clears Jason’s name and navigates Alison’s new lie in “Surfing the Aftershocks”

Another season, another funeral.

Though we don’t actually see Jessica’s funeral, we are treated to the Liars funeral attire which is probably the most appropriate it’s ever been. Alison’s matronly dress is the one that might cause a stir, since it’s Jessica’s dress and also the one she wore to Alison’s funeral.  “Surfing the Aftershocks” maintains Alison’s role as cipher after it opens with her confined to her bed by grief. Keeping her shrouded in mystery as she navigates her return to Rosewood is fitting, as everyone’s stuck reacting to her now, the Liars especially who now have to figure out how to cover the tracks of Alison’s latest lie. This is how it’s always been, the Liars dragged into Alison’s web and then fighting to stay afloat which means trying to deal with the two rocks that could sink them with their knowledge about what really happened in New York: Mona and Ezra.

Only one of those people is likely to keep quiet: Ezra, back in Rosewood and recovering. Though he’s also annoyed about being sucked into Alison’s deceitful vortex, he’s going to be keep the secret from the timebeing. Mona’s the wild card. Whether she tells the truth or not, whatever action she takes is going to be taken because it can benefit Mona. Her machinations aren’t given much depth this time around, though she’s still trying to prod a reluctant Paige into joining the anti-Alison club, and Mona pops up a few times to make minute jabs at the Liars and in flashbacks to Hanna’s days post-Alison’s disappearance, as she allowed herself to be transformed at Mona’s hand into a replica of Alison.

It’s hard to really say if Hanna really was changed by Mona, who went so far as to insist Hanna try on a shirt Alison left behind at Hanna’s, because the only Hanna we’ve known is this one. Hefty Hanna’s not so different aside from wearing baggy clothes and unwilling to stand up for herself so Hanna having an identity crisis doesn’t gel that well. It’s good in theory, since Hanna did rise to claim Alison’s place in school as the It-Girl, both in appearance and personality, but she shook that off pretty quickly. The story does yield some nice moments, like seeing Hanna and Mona’s friendship take form as Mona crafted Hanna into a replacement for the departed Alison. It even leads to a nice exchange between Hanna and Emily, as Emily recounts coming out and how it was her finally becoming who she’d always been. The certainty Emily has about identity isn’t shared by Hanna who ends the episode with a trip to the hair salon while Mona watches through hazy glass.

While Hanna’s trying to find herself, the real Alison’s just as cryptic as usual, only revealing herself when she’s without an audience. We see her grief after Jessica’s death, but at the funeral home she disappears for a private moment. When she goes to Ezra’s apartment she knows that there’s more to the manuscript than what he gave Aria, but she breezily asserts that Ezra should keep it safe, should Aria need it one day. Her facade falters only slightly when she encounters Peter Hastings on the street, but she’s obviously rattled. She plays it off as best she can, assuring him that she knows Rosewood better than anyone, and can always escape if necessary. Even though there are still things to unravel about Alison, the only sure thing is that she’s also a target, and is therefore afraid. It’s how Alison goes about dealing with that fear that makes her a mystery.

The Liars return to school in this episode for the first time following news of Alison’s return, and apparently they’re being stared at. Not really, since the only person who stares is Sydney (Chloe Bridges) a new girl on the swim team who’s Emily’s biggest fan. For “Aftershocks”, she functions more as a bridging mechanism for an estranged Emily and Paige than anything else, eventually leading to their official breakup, which was surprisingly good and well-acted by both Shay Mitchell and Lindsey Shaw.

“Aftershocks” also clears Jason as a suspect, replacing him with Peter who, by the time the episode is out, doesn’t seem all that dangerous. Once Hanna and Emily find that Jason has an alibi for his time in New York, and Spencer confronts him with Jessica’s unsent email, Peter becomes the prime suspect. It’s a more logical leap than many that have been made in the past. If Jessica wasn’t protecting her son, perhaps lingering romantic feelings made her want to protect Peter? It’s not like Peter’s going out their way to look innocent,  telling Spencer to keep her distance from Alison and her family, a sentiment first suggested by Melissa. When Spencer confronts them, all it does is make Melissa look suspicious and reaffirm my theory that Peter is the PLL dad you want to have when you’ve done something bad and want to keep it buried. We already know the Hastings are willing to go to great lengths to hide their daughters’ bad behaviors, and Peter refuses to let Spencer in on Melissa’s secret to keep her from having to lie about it later.

Before Jason leaves town, he asks Spencer to consider whether she wants to have all the answers and confirm her own “nasty” suspicions or if she wants to be happy. It’s not in Spencer’s nature to leave a mystery unsolved, but would she be happier not knowing? Wouldn’t all of them be happier not being privy to some of the information they have? With Mona knowing all along that Alison was alive, it throws question on her friendship with Hanna, Aria wishes she didn’t know that she killed Shana, Alison’s lived with the knowledge that her mother buried her alive and has been protecting her attacker since, and Peter’s trying to save Spencer from the burden of knowing Melissa’s secret. It’s been awhile since PLL’s handled its main conceit (teen girls, the lies they tell and the secrets they keep) as well as “Aftershocks” managed. After last week’s disappointing episode, this one was a welcome relief and reminded me why I bother watching this show in the first place.

Stray Observations

  • Alison makes some small references to old times. Between mentioning Hanna’s weight and analyzing Aria’s attraction to Ezra, it’s likely we’ll be back to old times with Alison sooner rather than later.
  • I can easily see Sydney becoming some kind of stalker. I hope the show won’t do it, but I wouldn’t be surprised with how infatuated she is with Emily already. And it would allow the show to reignite Emily and Paige’s romance, too. That’s probably what’s going to happen, isn’t it?
  • For the moment I’m pretending that Aria and Ezra aren’t happening. It’s easier on my nerves this way.
  • PLL dads in order of preference are: Wayne, Peter, Byron, Tom. Now you’d think Byron’s the worst, but because his terribleness is incidental (and usually related to Meredith) he’s better than Tom, who remains out of the picture and only turns up to be terrible. And like I said, Peter will cover up your crimes, and Wayne will scale buildings so he’s the clear winner.

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