“Don’t Look Now” may be Pretty Little Liars‘s first offiical post-bunker episode. The show is letting go of the traumatic events that happened there, or at least has let go of presenting them outside of the realm of Charles, A and whatever new torments he can unleash upon the girls. The aftermath, however, isn’t quite over. Spencer wonders if she hurt someone when recalling awaking covered in blood, her anxiety eventually leading her to buy weed, and the truth behind Aria’s haircut in captivity is discovered. But now it’s diluted by the show’s return to form with a dense mystery and more threats from a shadowy A. It had to happen sometime of course, but it’s hard not to be disappointed by the return to the status quo when “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience” made such great strides in coping with the girls’ issues after their escape.
PLL has its issues with itself, as far as making itself make any sense. There was no expectation of the Charles mystery being any less convoluted or unnecessarily complicated than any other mystery the show’s tackled. Alison’s father finally opens up about who Charles was, revealing that he was the Alison and Jason’s “troubled” older brother who they had confined to Radley after he tried to drown an infant Alison in scalding hot water. This is disturbing enough, in true PLL fashion then add in the information that Charles committed suicide in Radley as a teenager, and it’s just one thing on top of another. The show has no problem being creepy when it wants to be, but Radley Sanitarium has become a cringeworthy buzz word in the show’s vocabulary and now just seems like a way for the show to explain Charles’ torture. Even when we learn Charles is in fact dead, meaning that it must be a former Radley patient who knew him now picking up where he left off, the show’s still pushing a narrative with a “crazy” person at the center of everyone’s troubles.
I’m hesitant about the show doing so, when it’s already been pretty wonky when it comes to mental health. Neither Mona’s nor Spencer’s stays in Radley got the respect they deserved, though Spencer’s was certainly better than Mona’s. Going back to it now just feels like an easy explanation. Charles sets his sights on Alison and her friends because he’s “crazy” and locks them in a bunker because he’s “crazy” and threatens to kill Sara because he’s “crazy”. There are plenty of mentally ill people who don’t go about torturing people, but PLL would make you think otherwise.
Previous A’s have all had the same goal in mind: to punish the Liars/Alison for their bad deeds. And that’s a fine reason. It’s not an infallible one, and if you ask the Liars it’s not a very good one either, but it’s one that makes sense. And it has more nuance than simply announcing someone to just “be” that way. It would be more effective, with Alison’s redemption arc, to see her having to confront her past directly via yet another person she hurt before she became enlightened. Maybe PLL thinks it’s even better to have Alison officially becoming a damsel, completely innocent and unfairly targeted by this iteration of A. Maybe by having Alison for once not be facing her torment because of torment she also inflicted, she’s more forgivable? That seems pretty cheap to me, but whatever.
Alison’s still mostly separate from the other Liars which works out okay for her. We see more of her family, her attempts at adjusting back to life in Rosewood and her change of heart. You can tell how earnest the show is being with her portrayal nowadays, when there aren’t any lingering shots on her face as she lies to someone or shots of her sneaking out of the house or speaking to some mystery someone. I’d still like to see more of her with her friends, which I imagine has to come sooner or later if all roads really do lead back to Alison. Eventually whatever Charles’ issues is with her is going to have to come to head, and he’s going to have to stop going through her friends and other strangers.
After the last episode I thought the Liars had mostly ironed out their issues, or at least had resolved that they hadn’t tortured one another on Charles’ command. I thought this would have given them something to bond again over, but apparently not. I don’t mind there still being some tension between them, as that’s more realistic than the alternative, but I’m confused about what the source of it is now. Hanna seems to be the only one having difficulty, aside from a comment from Emily about them “getting there”. She’s snapping at Alison about the truth of Charles’ identity and getting increasingly annoyed with Caleb’s overprotectiveness, which adds a nice, natural wrinkle to their relationship that gives it a bit more depth than its usual sunshine and rainbows.
I’m sure Caleb means well, but why he thinks putting a tracer on Hanna’s car when she’s spent the past couple seasons being tormented by someone doing the exact same thing, is beyond me. While it’s good to see Rosewood’s other inhabitants finally semi-informed and looking out for potential dangers, Caleb’s speech about his anguish during Hanna’s captivity sounds more like him trying to protect himself from further stress. And Byron’s doing the same with Aria, though he says his following her around and insisting he know where she is at every minute isn’t a punishment, it still feels like one. Though the Liars escaped Charles/A, they’re just as much under this thumb as they were before, and this time they have their loved ones being just as invasive.
- I assume Aria’s going to be getting very close with the dude from the dark room. Which is fine with me since Ezra looks more and more middleaged with each passing day.
- Byron is second least favorite Pretty Little Parent, but it was nice to be reminded of his existence. I know Chad Lowe’s been really busy directing the show, but the last episode we saw him in was “No One Here Can Love or Understand Me” and that was a looooong while ago.
- I can’t tell if I care about Sara or not. Let’s stick a pin in that. I know I don’t fancy her new haircut very much. It looks like her and Caleb go to the same place for their hair needs.