Pretty Little Liars / Screen

Alison’s still shady, older men are still gross and Noel Kahn’s actually pretty cool Pretty Little Liars‘ “March of Crimes”

For such a savvy girl Alison Dilaurentis is pretty stupid.

Not in the conniving, scheming sort of way (she’s excellent at that) but just with general self-awareness. Besides Hanna’s discomfort with Alison being back, throw in what Alison did to Ashley, and it makes no sense (aside from Alison being immensely self-absorbed) that she’d expect anything close to friendship from Hanna at this point. While Alison’s questioning the growing fractures in their group, she still remains ignorant about the fact that most of their issues have her at their root. The one issue that doesn’t is Aria and Hanna, and that’s the only one Alison suspects to be about her. Jenna tries to sum it up when Alison asks how she turned Shana against her, and Jenna simply replies that she didn’t have to do anything because Alison did it for her. 

In the immortal words of Cristina Yang, “being aware of your crap and overcoming your crap are too very different things” (I’m doing a Grey’s Anatomy rewatch), but Alison’s not even aware of it. She’s just as convinced that she’s changed as she wants her friends to be, but she continues to hide things from them and terrifies Hanna’s mother in the name of keeping her lie afloat, but she remains confused about why Hanna doesn’t want to be around her, why Spencer’s spying on her and why Shana decided that Alison was so despicable a person that it would be more just to kill her. All Alison can tell the girls is that they’re all in this together now, and with Tanner continuing her interrogations, that one of them sinking means they all go down. It’s not at all inspirational, but try telling Alison that. The Liars are flies stuck in her web, just like the rest of the world, but we’ll come back to that.

After realizing that maybe it’s not typical for friends to lie about their friend’s mom’s fiance hitting on them, Aria informs Ella that her soon-to-be husband is a skeezeball, and what do you know? Ella’s already aware. After learning of Zack’s international grossness, Aria offers an “apology” to Hanna that isn’t much of one. Not believing Hanna is one thing, blaming her for whatever Zack may or may not have done is another, and Aria went way overboard last week. This is all we’ll get though so I’d rather just pretend this never happened and bring Hanna back into the group.

In the midst of all this, Caleb heads to the Brew to defend Hanna’s honor, punching Zack when he produces a note allegedly written by Hanna (that he’s been carrying around in his pocket for future reference I suppose), but that was actually written by A. I’m interested in exploring a darker facet of Caleb and Hanna’s relationship, but this alcoholism storyline is killing me. Seeing just the glimmer of their former collaborative relationship, with Caleb offering his support to Hanna and hearing Spencer’s earnest feelings on them as a couple makes me want to return to when the two’s interactions were mostly sober.

Spencer and Emily are on better terms, collaborating on their investigation into Alison and her suspicious activities. Despite her earlier feelings on Alison’s innocence, Emily’s the one who takes the lead in getting to the bottom of Alison’s connection to Noel, breaking into Noel’s car and finding photos taken during Alison’s “death” and a recording of Alison and Shana. Meanwhile Spencer’s trip to the eye doctor leads to another note from A and a sighting of Jenna and her new best friend Sydney.

Pretty Little Liars loves its red herrings, but Sydney had potential to actually be a pretty decent foil for the girls. Despite the ridiculous dropping of Emily’s questioning of her last episode, there was a lot of material that could have been squeezed from her. Having Spencer see her at the eye doctor albeit through dilated eyes was a creative move of drawing out Sydney and Jenna’s connection without the Liars’ knowledge which quickly gets overridden by Emily turning up and seeing the two for herself. Even the explanation offered by Sydney later is weak (assuming she’s telling the truth): she met Jenna while volunteering at the school for the visually impaired and helped Jenna recover from Alison’s visit a long time ago, and now she’s here to provide moral support. But wait, she didn’t expect to actually like Emily.

I’d like to pretend it’s all a lie since Sydney’s blustering awkwardness when speaking to Emily doesn’t gel with her cool exterior during her collusion with Jenna and Mona a few episodes back, but who knows with this show? At least Emily isn’t falling for it and promises to make Sydney’s life miserable with her new assistant coaching position. Emily’s been on a constant journey of becoming more forceful, but this is the first time we’ve actually seen her being close to scary. Considering the escalation of events this season, Emily’s more vengeful personality is actually very refreshing.

There’s only so many seasons we can go with these girls not taking their A issues more seriously. They’ve been hit by cars, almost blown up, locked in boxes and nearly sliced and diced, but only one of them has decided to learn self- defense. Though Emily’s not going to be roundhouse kicking anyone anytime soon (please hold the fight scenes PLL, you are no good at them), Spencer gives Noel a decent whack with a fire poker that made me very proud. When Noel crashes her attempts at hiding away the photos and the recording (both of which prove that Alison was never kidnapped), the two hash out their mutual issues. Noel’s pissed because his stuff was stolen (that’s fair), and Spencer’s pissed because Noel’s been helping Alison further her dangerous and damaging plans (also fair). But they find common ground in their mutual distrust of Alison. Noel hoped to use the photos and recording as insurance for when Alison decided he was of no more use to her, and now Spencer’s got the same idea.

Noel’s another character the show’s seemed to have little to no direction with, but I’m kind of into this current iteration. I want to know what Alison’s using to keep him on her side (risking arrest by breaking into people’s houses, almost getting blown up, running around NYC while Shana’s using the Liars for target practice, etc), and I find myself liking him more now that I know that he’s not falling for Alison’s lines either and is just waiting for the moment she shows her true colors. He’s another pawn wrapped up in Alison’s game who she may sacrifice should the need present itself, which Noel suspects she may have already tried to do with the explosion.

And at episode’s end another someone emerges as a potential victim of Alison’s self-preservation. You’d think Rosewood P.D actually arresting someone would prove to be a point in their favor, but they continue to be the most ineffective police force in fictional history. To be fair, the man they have in custody confesses to being Alison’s kidnapper and knows the entire lie she offered the police (courtesy of that tape she made, that A now has). We can assume this man didn’t walk into the station and admit to everything because he actually thinks he did it, but that A is pulling his strings.

But if Alison goes through with naming this man as her captor, there are a myriad of events that will end up doing more harm than good even to Alison herself. A’s certainly not trying to help so if Alison goes along with the story and A decides to reveal the truth, that’s going to be a problem. Not to mention the fact that Alison will have no one to blame her paranoia and discomforts with her captor apparently imprisoned. And oh, there will also be the small matter of an innocent man going to prison.

Oh, I love when PLL gets like this. We’re nearing the summer finale (only three episodes left until the hiatus), and I’m very impressed, for the most part, with how they’ve handled Alison’s return. The mystery however meandering and overcomplicated, is still Pretty Little Liars at its best.

Stray Observations

  • In an episode where Caleb told Hanna that it shouldn’t embarrass her that Zack’s gross and disgusting and hits on teenage girls, Aria said that Ezra wasn’t a creep wandering the halls of Rosewood High (even though he certainly did prowl around in search of Aria).
  • Only on PLL would someone listen to a secret recording on high volume in their car with the windows down and bother to look offended at the possibility of someone listening.
  • I was wondering where Byron was during this whole ordeal. He was at a conference, and he turns up to comfort Ella in the wake of her broken engagement. Byron’s stupid, but he’s certainly a step up from Zack so him comforting her was very sweet.
  • No one explained why Sydney and Jenna were wearing the exact same outfit.

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