In many ways “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” may be one of PLL‘s best episodes. And also one of its worst. It buckles down on many of the show’s worst traits, its most consistent being making its protagonists put themselves into dangerous situations for little rhyme or reason, with no feasible means of success. The only time I believe we’ve seen the Liars actually implement a plan to the best of their ability was earlier in the season, also against Charles in their attempt to escape the bunker. And that didn’t work, because Charles is so beyond them that even a pretty smart (though ridiculous) plan like escaping his prom didn’t work. This time around, with Charles planning his return (and a sad excuse for a birthday bash), the Liars plan on confronting him once again.
This is a poor plan from the very start. But before we get to that, we have Sara’s ex-bestie Claire returning to Rosewood in search of her old friend. I’ve been skeptical about them doing so, and I was momentarily excited by Claire coming back after having had so many harsh things to say about Sara. But PLL does what it can to sweep it under the rug, having Sara sum up Claire’s recollections of her by saying she wasn’t very pleased with herself either. Then she goes to live with Claire so she and Emily can date officially. There could be a lot of cool things going on with Emily and Sara, but the show seems to just want them to be. Emily’s concern about Sara hanging out with Claire could have been interesting since in a few instances it looked as if Emily was anxious about Sara distancing herself from her slightly. This isn’t a show that’s ever practiced awareness in its romantic pairings so the codependency in Emily and Sara’s budding relationship will likely never be addressed. And whatever issues Sara has, because she has a few, are never going to be explored or dealt with in any manner that isn’t related to how Emily feels about her.
At this point I’m more invested in Mike and Mona than plenty of other PLL pairings. Mike turns to Aria for advice when Mona shuts him out after her return, distraught by having gone through with her plans despite his warnings. I wish we spent more time with them as a couple, which we should definitely be allowed considering we watched Ashley and Jason hook up, Ashley’s thing with the pastor, Ella’s thing with that creepy dude, etc. We can at least watch a relationship between two teenaged characters, especially one with all the baggage that Mona and Mike have. Mona’s always been one of the show’s best characters, and like Alison she has her own redemption to try for. That’s why it’s even better when, after she and Mike kiss and makeup, she’s the one who goes to pick up Alison and return her to Rosewood.
Because Alison’s been spirited away by a panicked Kenneth, desperate to put some miles between Alison and Charles. That’s somewhat reasonable, though as usual he’s felled by his own ego, refusing to notify the police because he doesn’t want to answer uncomfortable questions about having lied about Charles. So he also doesn’t warn the other Liars about being the coming danger, and Jason (all up in his feelings about having lost his brother) wants to see him again. The show has at least really buckled down in the way of Alison’s maturity. It would have been her avoiding contacting the police in the name of preserving herself, but now she’s insisting that her father do it, and when he refuses she does it herself. She does it even when the Liars’ only method of handling it is going after Charles themselves and eventually, letting Toby and Lorenzo go after Charles.
Which brings me to PLL being its usual ridiculous self. Spencer and Hanna have the bright idea of going after Charles themselves. Partly to save Jason from his delusions of reconnecting with his brother and also to save themselves the torment from here on out. But they never actually have a plan. They’ll take out their microchips and just follow Jason to wherever Charles is and then they’ll just…be there? Aria and Emily actually have the right idea when they suggest not doing that at all, and Aria is even one fingertip away from calling the cops herself before she changes her mind.
The show’s worked itself into bind in this regard. It wants to have the Liars being proactive in this fight, since this isn’t a show that began with letting these things take place via third parties. But they can’t. The Liars have no skills that would allow them to successfully take down Charles, especially since Aria’s one time combat skills have been forgotten. The Liars were barely proficient up against other A’s, but one that has seemingly limitless funds, abilities and a homicidal streak is one that they aren’t going to take down just by showing up and winging it. And even when Toby takes it on himself, the Liars just have to go and scream and duck and cling to one another, which is exactly what they would have done from the very beginning, thereby accomplishing nothing.
It’s only slightly better that Toby insists on being the one to go himself. Toby’s impossible to take seriously as a police officer, but I suppose he is one and even Rosewood PD teaches its officers something. And my confidence was significantly elevated when Lorenzo came along for the ride, though neither of them was very efficient. To be fair, Toby was high after mistakenly eating Spencer’s pot brownies. We’re supposed to assume that if the situation had been different he’d have been fine and Charles would have been apprehended. This is possible, but since we’re not at midseason yet that won’t happen. But it’s looking more likely that it will, especially since this episode drops the revelation that Charles has a “friend and ally” in his corner whose identity we can all speculate on.
This episode was packed with all the usual nonsensical PLL drama, but it’s elevated considerably by everyone on the outside realizing how stupid it is. There’s not a single person who isn’t totally confused about the girls thinking they could have handled it themselves. Toby’s trying to hide the fact that he’s stoned, Ashley and Aria are both getting lectures from their parents, and Aria’s fear is even more crippling in the aftermath of their failed attempt. “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” is still mostly ridiculous, because it refuses to allow its characters to figure out what everyone else on the show, and what everyone watching, already knows. But even having everyone else know is a step in the right direction. Though it’s probably the only one we’re going to get.
- Hanna gets a massive scholarship that will pay off her tuition, but of course nothing is ever good on this show. The investment firm it comes from was the same one that owned Radley and was likely how Jessica Dilaurentis funded Charles after his “death”.
- I wonder why Charles (assuming it was Charles) killed Jessica when she was the only person who actually cared about him/knew he existed. Maybe it was his accomplice.
- The Liars were super annoying about Lesli and their meeting with her. Like usual they had to be supreme assholes about it despite Mona insisting that Lesli could be near a breakdown. I hate this show and its casual disregard of mental health. The girls are antagonistic toward Lesli for apparently no reason, even though they know she isn’t A. It’s very reminiscent of all their encounters with Jenna (did she die or what?), where the girls lack all sense of awareness and treat her as if she was the one who blinded them.