by: Madelyn Glymour, Contributor
Let’s face it: PRETTY LITTLE LIARS is no “Mad Men.” Hell, it’s not even “The Walking Dead.” This is not a subtle show, or an ingenious show, or an ambitious show. This is a primetime soap for teenagers, with a central mystery it can’t possibly give a satisfactory answer to any time soon, since it’s just been renewed for two more seasons. (Assuming you think it can still give a satisfactory answer at all, which I don’t. Like any good “Lost” fan, at this point, I’m just enjoying the ride.)
So the question is, what makes a good episode of “Pretty Little Liars?” The show often does great work with high-concept episodes, but they can’t all be black-and-white 40s-movie dream sequences or Hitchcock-inspired season finales. When it doesn’t have a fancy conceit to fall back on, “Pretty Little Liars” is at its best when it’s focusing on its characters. (Assuming those characters aren’t Ezra and Aria.) And on that level, “EscApe From New York” delivers.
The season premiere advances the plot in trademark PLL fashion, by closing one minor mystery while revealing two others, and completely ignoring at least a dozen more. In the season premiere, we find out: Shana is A, or at least the A that Ezra knew about; CeCe was never Red Coat, but rather pretended to be her in order to provide a distraction; Melissa is keeping a huge secret (which, I mean, it’s Melissa, I can’t remember the last time she didn’t have a huge secret); and that Mona and Melissa are apparently staging a nerd revolution. We still don’t know the identity of the dead girl everyone thought was Alison, nor do we know who Red Coat is. None of the characters have even found out about Mrs. DiLaurentis’ death yet. Oh! And Aria’s a murderer, now.
Some of those plot developments make sense. Some of them (Shana) are acceptable, but a little rushed, and will probably be retconned later. Some of them (Mona, Melissa, and the Revenge of the Nerds), make no damn sense at all without more context, but it’s nice to see I’m not the only one who thinks Rosewood was basically a better place when Ali was gone. But in between the by-now-traditional season premiere plot twists, the character moments all click.
Well, I say “all.” What I really mean is “all except for the ones involving Ezra and Aria,” because now that Ezra is, it seems, going to be redeemed, those have gone back to being really boring. (All the more so since Ezra is unconscious for most of the episode) But all the other character beats are great, from the tiny to the huge: Ali once again singles out Emily to share a secret with, and, proving that people really can’t change, Emily once again falls under her spell; Ali and the Liars realize how much the past two years have distanced them when they learn that Ali, unlike the rest of them, hasn’t marathoned “Freaky Foodies,” which a quick google reveals is thankfully not yet a real show; Hanna requests that something go “from [Emily’s] lips to God’s ears,” and just as I was thinking, “That’s an odd turn of phrase for Hanna,” Spencer replies, “Since when are you religious?” (Turns out Pastor Ted is influencing her idiomatically, if not spiritually.) Even the magazines that Hanna, Emily, and Spencer pretend to read in the hospital waiting room seem to fit their characters: Hanna picks up “Live Happy,” Emily flips through “Well Being Journal,” and Spencer has “Diabetes Self-Management.”
But the best moment of character development comes when Spencer, Hanna, and Emily have a brief, heartfelt discussion about the effects that their two-year-long ordeal has had on them. (In just about the most quintessentially “Pretty Little Liars” scenario ever, they are sitting on a couch in the middle of a fake living room on-stage in a concert hall, trying to have a private, whispered conversation in a room that was literally designed to carry sound.) Hanna and Emily lament the death of their free time and hobbies, but Spencer sees a positive side: All of this A business has made her into a person who cares about something other than winning. I’ve often found myself thinking about how strange it’ll be for the Liars when the go off and become completely normal college freshman someday, when the longest senior year in history is finally over. It’s nice that, in the middle of all the shocking reveals, the show spends some time thinking about that kind of thing too. It’s also nice that the show sometimes reminds us that these girls aren’t just four people who happen to be being stalked by the same person. (People? Conspiracy? Gaggle? What’s the term for a group of stalkers?) They’re friends, and they care about each other. As long as “Pretty Little Liars” remembers that, I say, bring on as many A’s as you want.
This Week’s Worst Outfit
Everyone’s still wearing the same outfits they had on in the season four finale, but I never reviewed the season four finale, so that doesn’t matter. The award for this week’s worst outfit goes to Aria pretty much by default, since Hanna, Spencer, and Emily are in pretty muted clothing. I predict many repeat wins.
Spot the Highbrow Reference
This episode gives us Spencer and Ali name-checking “The Art of War,” flashback! Ezra calling Ali his Holly Golightly (a reference Ali first told us about in the season four finale), and a Chekhov’s gun in the form of a literal rifle hanging on the wall. I adore this show.
Madelyn is a freelance writer based in LA. She shares her generally unpopular opinions about television at stopitshow.blogspot.com.