There’s a not a lot to expect from the episode in way of substance. It’s a one-off so even when it has an advantage over Halloween episodes by taking place right in the middle of the show’s present timeline, it still doesn’t feel like very urgent an episode. It feels very much like a collection of PLL tropes: messages from A read aloud, hooded people with a knife, grown men being creepy with teenage girls, stupid aliases, a party with shiny clothing, and an itty bitty bit of evidence that could help but will likely get lost or stolen right when it’s time to use it. It’s not bad (but it’s not good), but during a hiatus it’s nice to dip back into the PLL pool, if only for a moment.
PLL has a lot of fun with its more experimental bits, black and white episodes, allusions to Hitchhock and now Dickens. Alison is the obvious choice for A Christmas Carol (since no one is quite as terrible as she is though even Scrooge stopped short of murder you know), and the episode, and Parrish, have a lot of fun with the experience. But it’s very short and weirdly presented, and the episode would have probably fared better by committing more to it. Throwing in some interactions between Alison and ghost Mona are fun (because Janel Parrish makes them so), but there’s really no reason to think it’s going to mean anything.
So Alison’s a terrible person? Yes, we know. Is Alison ever going to change that? Not likely. Even when she’s being haunted by her dead mom and getting a glimpse of her dead body (dead at a young age with no one to care) before being dragged to hell, it’s kind of like….okay. The show’s made Alison into it’s big bad now, with everyone certain she’s A and Mona’s killer (which she’s probably not), but it would be just like PLL to rewind on this later.
The show’s done much better with Mona, whose motivations (if not her methods) have always been understandable while Alison’s been walking a fine line between evil for evil’s sake and more recently, for some kind of skewed self-preservation. We see Alison’s first brush with deceit as she discovers two identical dresses hidden in a piano (what a stupid hiding place), presumably one for her and the other for Bethany. Jessica makes her lie about what she saw so her father doesn’t find out and boom “the monster is born.” If these things are supposed to be reveletory, they aren’t. It certainly doesn’t change anything we don’t already know. This is a girl who literally anyone would have wanted to kill, and the only thing worth watching is manic Mona.
Another unfortunate side effect of being a special episode is that no one really gets anything satisfying to work with as the episode is broadly constructed. Alison throws an Ice Ball and invites everyone so we everyone including Jenna and Sydney, Lucas, and all the Liars’ pretty little significant others (no parents though because whose parents are around during Christmas, right?). None of the Liars get a lot to do and even Spencer, who’s in the terrible position of being charged with murder, doesn’t get to hit the emotional beats that would be present in a regular episode because it would take time away from seeing everyone else.
The whole Ocean’s Eleven of cast members teaming up to take down Alison would be endearing if not for how ineffectual they are at it. PLL has built itself on its characters bad decision making even in the face of homicidal frenemies so it’s nothing new, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t annoying. Even with a billion people out to get her, Alison still manages to come out on top, meeting with Cece (who she seems to genuinely care about) in secret and making out with Holbrook. Hanna and Spencer’s search of Alison’s house yields results and their brush with a knife-wielding A ends just fine (why do this show’s villains carry around pointy objects they don’t intend on using?) despite Hanna foolishly leaving her phone downstairs so she misses everyone’s warnings about it.
The only people on their game are Sydney and Jenna who get with the program and join Team Alison if only to secure their own safety. Jenna knows what happens to people who refuse Alison, and even though she also thinks Alison killed Mona it’s safer to join Alison’s new collection of minions than resist. Also doing the right thing are Paige’s parents who want her to move to California because Rosewood is, you know, the worst place on earth.
- Spencer: “Different name, same bitch.”
- Hanna (to a small, wannabe Alison): “In Rosewood, bitches get buried.” Probably not appropriate to say this to a small girl in a church but okay.
- Sydney: “I promise you we’re not the enemy.”
Emily: “No you’re just sleeping with the enemy.
Sydney: “I’m not gay, Emily.”
Emily: “That’s not what I meant.”
- Mona: “Wake up, bitch! It’s Christmas, and I promise you don’t want to miss it.”
- Spencer’s disdainful voice while describing why Alison chose to go by Holly Varjak on her passport is wonderful.
- It’s about to be a whole new year, can Hanna please let go of these terrible black streaks?
- This show is never more tone-deaf than when it comes to Jenna. Even when Sydney says out loud that the only reason these girls hate Jenna so much is because Alison made them, it still doesn’t click.