Pretty Little Liars / Screen

The Liars finally cut the cord tying them to Alison in “A Dark Ali”

It happened! It. Happened.

“It” being the Liars finally deciding that Alison’s no longer worth their time and that they need to focus more on preserving their own safety and livelihood rather than keeping her secrets. It’s a momentous moment. We’ve never seen the girls consciously and purposely separating themselves from her. Her disappearance did that for them the first time, but now the girls are actually choosing themselves over Alison, aware of how much trouble she’s caused them, and will cause them again, if they don’t take action.

Alison’s problem isn’t that she’s a bad person. That was her problem before, but her problem now is that she’s self-centered. It’s a marked difference from what the show’s been showing us with the remaining Liars, who have been drawn together by their experiences with various tormentors, who are constantly having to sacrifice for and support each other. Sacrificing for other people isn’t one of Alison’s strong suits. Even thinking about other people is difficult. She’s always playing her own game and doing her own thing even at the expense of other people.

Even with the long list of collateral damage when it comes to Alison, the Liars are the ones who are always being dragged along down the thorny path she’s forged for them. But finally, they’re not taking it anymore. With Cyrus Petrillo in jail and confessing to Alison’s bogus kidnapping, it’s on Alison to identify him and doing so would surely plummet the girls into a trap. Though “A Dark Ali” revolves around the days spent waiting for Cyrus to either be released or for Alison to identify him, it also focuses on their varied responses to the options before them: trust Alison not to identify Cyrus or take Noel’s photos and recordings to Tanner and expose Alison’s lie.

Spencer advocates for the latter. When she finds that her secret hiding spot was breached and the recording of Alison’s confession stolen, she suggests that the Liars tell Tanner the truth. They’ll have Noel’s photo and recording to back them up, and telling the truth now will save them from whatever consequences will come when the truth comes out some other way. It’ll mean telling the truth about Aria and Shana (though they should have done that already), but if they explain that it was self-defense hopefully Tanner will believe them. Spencer’s apparently the only one who’s been paying attention these past few seasons. Their situation is only escalating further, and if they get caught in this lie then it’s going to be way worse than people finding out about Hanna’s shoplifting or Spencer kissing her sister’s boyfriend. But Emily’s throwing her support behind Alison, believing she’ll do the right thing and let Cyrus walk free if it means keeping them from falling victim to another one of A’s schemes. It’s kind of sad to see how much faith Emily puts in Alison, when it’s clear she’s going to be disappointed.

Meanwhile Hanna’s trying her hand at a normal life, putting aside hers and Caleb’s boozy ways in favor of jogging, healthy eating and chorus auditions. Hanna’s an interesting inclusion to Spencer and Emily, who are both wholly invested in Alison’s drama albeit for different reasons. Hanna just doesn’t want to care anymore. She does care of course, but it would be much easier if she didn’t. Even with everyone aware of her momentary drinking problem, there are few people who seem to really grasp how damaging Alison being back has been.

And one of these people is Mona who collapses at the auditions due to a panic attack, one of the many she’s been having since Alison’s return. Mona’s both a fun ally and a fun adversary, and I’m always happy to see her especially when it means that she’s proving how skilled she is. Compared to her, the Liars are positively amateurish, following people around in their cars while Mona simply hacks into their phones. I wish the show had gone this direction, of Mona and Hanna finding something akin to common ground in their shared issues with Alison being back, sooner. It would have been more dramatic and satisfying to see Hanna turning to Mona (whose own trustworthiness is still up in the air) during those days when she was distancing herself from Alison and contemplating having to leave the other Liars behind as well. Mona’s someone who really does understand how harmful a person Alison is, and while her methods may be extreme, she certainly doesn’t passively accept that Alison’s surely going to wreak havoc.

Spencer also has words with a member of Mona’s army: Melissa. When her security camera reveals Melissa handing over a package to an unseen man, Spencer finally confronts her. They’ve come a long way since those early seasons of fighting over whatever man was currently in Melissa’s life, when whether Melissa cared about Spencer at all was a question that often had to be asked. That’s not the case anymore. Despite Melissa’s own sketchy methods, there’s no longer a question of whether or not she cares for her sister. She confesses to allying with Mona in the hopes of showing Spencer how “toxic” Alison still is and hopefully getting Spencer to put some distance between them. Though she stops short of giving Spencer details for what may be coming, she suggests that Spencer come with her when she leaves Rosewood because it’s no longer safe for either of them, but before she leaves she makes a video for Spencer telling her the truth.

Though it’s obvious from the outset what Alison will do, the episode makes a compelling argument for her choosing to defy the Liars’ wishes and identify him. It gets tainted with Alison’s usual moral greyness by the episode’s end, but Cyrus being the one to give Alison that mysterious scar on her leg presents an understandable reason for Alison to identify him. She wants revenge, and this is her chance to get it. But of course it’s not that simple.

This season’s been toying around with Alison’s character too much to know for sure what her feelings are on anything. For everything that she says and does, it’s plausible that it’s all true (excepting everything about being kidnapped), but it’s also likely that it’s all an act. The only truth we find in Alison rests in the things she chooses to hide, like when she lied about hers and Mona’s altercation a few episode ago. Everything Alison does is based on what she knows will be other people’s reaction to her, and this makes pinning down her character especially hard. Alison’s acting all the time, and it’s only on rare occasions that we get a glimpse of who she may be.

It’s like this when we see Alison with Emily. Their relationship is just as hard to identify as everything else surrounding Alison. At times it looks like Alison genuinely cares for her, but at others it looks like she’s just manipulating her. Her face when Emily writes her off after she identifies Cyrus appears genuine, and at that moment no one was around to see it. Considering Alison and Emily’s relationship, and Emily being the “hardest to disappoint”, maybe Alison actually did feel contrite about it (though this becomes debatable with later events).

There’s something about what an earnest person Emily is, despite being a designated PLL, that makes it hard to let her down.The biggest lie we ever saw Emily tell was about her sexuality, an especially understandable secret to keep. Other than this Emily’s tried her best to be honest despite their circumstances even when the other Liars seem to pick up new things to hide with ease. Emily’s consistently loyal to the people she cares about, and that’s what makes her remain firm when she tells Alison that she can’t identify Cyrus. Emily’s probably the sweetest of the Liars, but she’s also the least forgiving. When she confronts Alison, she makes it clear that she’s beyond disappointed and won’t be wasting anymore time helping Alison when she refuses to help them. Then she hops aboard Spencer’s plan.

Then there’s Alison, now on her own (though she doesn’t yet know it), meeting with Cyrus, released right before Tanner heard Alison’s identification. And this is the moment everything about Alison gets fuzzy. She’s obviously still looking to preserve her story, and now that she’s positively identified a man who confessed and there’s a warrant for his arrest, Alison’s story is bulletproof.

It was an extreme action to take, and it really should work. The only reason it won’t is because of Alison’s lack of foresight when thinking. Or at least her inability to think about other people. Besides A’s skill at revealing their secrets, Alison didn’t once consider that the other Liars may finally be tired of her. She ignored all the signs (Hanna’s disdain, Spencer’s objections, Emily’s pleading, Aria’s…Aria) that she was pushing her allies further and further away, that this could very well be the final straw. To be fair she has no idea that Spencer has proof that will blow up Alison’s entire story, but she’s never thought for a second that any of the girls would turn against her to protect themselves.

Stray Observations

  • Aria’s such a weak link lately, just from a storytelling perspective. Since PLL‘s decided they can’t have her anxiety-ridden over Shana’s death for every episode they put her right back into their default storyline: Montgomery parent drama and problems with Ezra. There are a variety of reasons Aria should question Ezra’s trustworthiness, but because Ella’s ex-fiance was a skeezeball isn’t a good one. Not to mention I’m over all of Aria’s stories having to parallel whatever romantic crisis her parents are going through.
  • Caleb and Hanna were so cute this episode. I’m not convinced Caleb’s no longer a boozehound, but maybe the show will just pretend that the entire storyline never happened. I’d like that.
  • Is Alison A? I mean, in some ways she is. She is the one who brought Cyrus there, but is she the one who blew up Toby’s house (Noel thinks so) and stole the recording from Spencer’s? The final scene of A was of her folding hoodies and a candy stripper uniform (like the one she wore when she visited Hanna in the hospital).
  • This was such a great episode, but I’m hesitant because I wouldn’t be surprised to have next week backtracking on the whole thing and having the girls unable to tell Tanner the truth.

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “The Liars finally cut the cord tying them to Alison in “A Dark Ali”

  1. Pingback: Pretty Little Liars asks if Alison is A in “No One Here Can Love Or Understand Me” | Channel Chelsea

    • Hanna really is the most forgiving one. You can see it a lot with Mona in particular. She still sought Mona out even after she was revealed to be A, wanted to help her stay in Rosewood when she might have been transferred to another city. Aria was so out of line I would have definitely held a grudge about it, but it really isn’t like Hanna to hold onto that kind of thing so hard.

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