Pretty Little Liars / Screen

Pretty Little Liars ruins a surprise with the predictable “Taking This One to the Grave”

Leading up to this fAtal finale, I started wondering not who the possible death would be but who I’d care about dying. Since all of the Liars are surely going to live (despite Spencer being ominously absent from the opening scene), the death was more likely to be one of the supporting characters. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be Ezra, a hope that got dashed with his appearance in the opening moments. It could be Paige, now reconciling with Emily and suspicious of the creepy twins following Alison around. Or perhaps Toby, about to graduate from the police academy. Or maybe it’s Caleb, now over Ravenswood and now assisting with the hunt for answers. Or maybe it’s Mona, allying with the Liars when her own army abandons her. It takes about ten minutes before it to become glaringly, disappointingly obvious who’s going to bite the bust.

To help with Alison, the Liars turn to the one person who has the skills to combat Alison: Mona.

Between the fact that Mona’s the only supporting character whose death would actually affect me, throw in our casual reveal of her concerned mother, her early acceptances to various colleges and her alliance with the Liars, Mona’s entire life flashed before my eyes within the first few minutes of the episode. With her army having deserted her, Mona’s forced to work with the Liars in their plans to stop Alison before she can end the game and destroy them in the process.

For an episode that made the identity of the dead character such a big deal, you’d think someone would have thought to try and make it a little more surprising. Instead the episode hit all the requisite beats that one hits with a character who will perish within the hour. She was given a family, apologized to the Liars for what she put them through, and was proven to have a promising future (early acceptances and full rides to Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth) so of course she died in the end.  And there were just moments of anxiety for Toby (who ended up in a car accident) and Paige (following Alison and the creepy twins to an abandoned barn) meant to provide some moments of concern for them before the episode got back on its path to killing Mona.

Mona’s been one of the shows most compelling characters. Ever since she was revealed to be A the first time around, there’s something exciting about seeing her onscreen. This season especially has really proven how formidable an ally and enemy she can be, and I’m disappointed to see her go (while dead weight like Ezra hangs in there still). “Taking This One to The Grave” is a strong indicator of Mona’s strengths and all the reasons she’ll be missed. She steals police files to find out what Alison said in her polygraph and breaks into Radley with Spencer, and she does it all perfectly (albeit overdramatically). She’s so much fun to watch, particularly when she’s working alongside the Liars, with all their baggage and prior issues, that I’m most disappointed we didn’t get more out of it and had it all shoved into a single episode in a cheap attempt at making her death more shocking. it would have been that way without the episode laying it all out, but doing so sapped it of all its fun, and I watched the episode just waiting for them to confirm that it was indeed Mona who was killed.

But before all that, there’s Alison to be dealt with, and she’s not dealt with at all. Now that the Liars have cut her off, she’s hardly onscreen at all except when summoned. Otherwise she’s just as hard to pin down as every other A suspect over the years, and it’s a strange switch from the early episodes where Alison was being integrated into the group and the show. Now it’s like she was never given those solo scenes at all where no one was around to witness her manipulations. But now they’re being swept away as “Oh, Alison’s a sociopath who doesn’t feel anything so of course she’s like this”. I do believe that Alison had her motives for rounding up the Liars to form her posse (who get replaced by another similar looking foursome), and that she’s not interested in them now that they’re no longer interested in her, but for the show to shrug off what it’s spent these past few episodes doing is cheap.

As for Alison’s polygraph test, she only tells the truth as she recalls hers and Spencer’s tense altercation that night. Still, it does its job and strengthens the police’s suspicions that Spencer killed Bethany in the hopes that it would encourage Alison to keep Spencer’s pill habit a secret. The polygraph also confirms that Alison didn’t, or at least has convinced herself well enough that she didn’t, have anything to do with Bethany’s murder. I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully tired of Spencer being a suspect in everything. Remember that one time the police were convinced she’d killed Alison?

But I digress. The Liars head to Radley to find the connection between Alison and Bethany, culminating in a semi-embarrassing sequence of Mona and Spencer sneaking in dressed as nurses while Hanna says “Code: Go” as if that’s a code and not a command (and Mona came up with that? I refuse to believe it). Anyway, it’s still nice to see them all playing their parts. Aria’s gotten much better at the undercover thing, and Caleb pulling down the visor to hide from Holbrook was funny though Emily’s interactions with Alison were bland but necessary.

Doesn’t every PLL finale promise answers? Doesn’t it always stop short on giving them? I’m sure I read somewhere that this episode was supposed to reveal Bethany’s killer, and I  guess it sort of did, while leaving it open to be altered down the road. Bethany’s probably one of the show’s weakest stories (though Toby’s mom will always be number one). It’s hard to care about a girl we’ve never met, and despite the show’s best effort at bending over backward to make her important, she still feels like just an avenue that has to be explored since Alison was resurrected in the writer’s room. Let’s throw in that Jessica was having an affair with Bethany’s father hence her paying so much attention to Bethany. Then say that Alison knew and was jealous so she lured Bethany there so she could kill her. None of it resonates and none of it matters, making it hard to connect to when the show asks us to.

Mona’s the one to come to all these conclusions about Alison’s jealousy and her murderous response, and she dies for it. A hooded blond girl (who we’re supposed to believe is Alison, but of course we have to leave that open) sneaks in and kills her, spattering her entire house with blood and stuffing Mona’s body in her trunk. Then the baby Jesus in the Fields’ nativity scene gets replaced with a Mona doll because of course. It’s so PLL to go for mild sacrilege, but it’s very out of character for them to kill Mona off so definitively. I thought (and hoped) Mona could have survived when her body wasn’t found in the house. This is a show that dragged out whether or not Ian was dead for like, awhile, but it certainly didn’t waste time killing Mona and confirming her death.

Stray Observations

  • I guess we know why Rosewood PD is so terrible. They just run their cops through the academy in a matter of weeks.
  • Thanksgiving is underway, and Christmas is coming, too. I’m ready for that Christmas episode.
  • But what are the seasons in Rosewood? Pennsylvania is not the warmest place on earth, but everyone’s decorating for Christmas in light jackets.
  • Can we stop exchanging Holbrook and Tanner like they’re interchangeable? It makes no sense that most of this season has featured Tanner right up until now when she’s suddenly….on vacation or taking a sick day or something. And I still can’t take Sean Faris seriously.

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