Pretty Little Liars: "'A' Is For A-l-i-v-e-"
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Pretty Little Liars: "'A' Is For A-l-i-v-e-"

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Pretty Little Liars

"'A' Is For A-l-i-v-e-"

Season 4, Episode 1

Well, we’re back to Rosewood after an agonizing hiatus, and already, I’m back to knowing absolutely nothing about what is going on. Alison is alive... or not. Toby’s mom is dead... or not... or institutionalized... or being held captive by A/Red Coat/Alison. Officer Wilden is definitely dead—he's not the body in the trunk, but considering what the girls do find in that trunk is a dead pig, only to spot Wilden's body elsewhere, it's fair to assume A is a fan of hackneyed jokes about cops—and the video of the Liars leaving the scene of the crime certainly provides us with what A will be blackmailing the girls about for this next stretch of episodes, so there’s that.

The question of whether or not we’re moving forward enough with the Alison mystery is one that’s definitely hanging over this season premiere. Particularly after last season’s arson-tastic season finale, where we all seemed to be on the same page, that Ali was alive and tormenting her former besties. Now, in the cold light of the next day, the Liars seem to be divided on the issue, and the show is certainly back to playing coy with the identity of Red Coat/Black Veil. There’s a danger of running in place, stretching out a successful show’s major arc past the point of reasonability. Some might say the show’s been doing that ever since the genie was put back in the bottle after Mona’s reveal as A. But Pretty Little Liars has done such a good job of dotting the landscape with smaller mysteries and shady characters who can push things along without giving away the farm about Alison. Getting Jenna back onscreen was a major step in the right direction in that regard. And she seems to have a new handsome boy on her arm. What happened to Noel, Jenna? OH GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO NOEL?

On the positive side, Mona is suddenly an open book, spilling all sorts of secrets and apparently just as much a target of A as the rest of the girls now. If anything’s going to shake this season up, adding Mona as a protagonist should do the trick. Speaking of the protagonists, it might be more productive to handle them one at a time. In order of how much I love them. 

Mona: So, you know, fool me twice, shame on me and all, but it really does appear that Mona has cast her lot with the Liars. She delivers a whole lot of crucial information in about 12 seconds, but it’s all the kind of detailed stuff we’d forgotten we didn’t know about. It’s good for the show to clear out some of the clutter like this, and I, for one, am not lamenting that finding out that Lucas was the one who gave Emily that creepy massage didn’t get its own dramatic reveal. Also: Shana the Book Store Girl is maybe in love with Jenna, and they’re both afraid of Melissa Hastings. Oh, and Mona didn’t kill Ian. She also has video proof that Wilden was the Queen of Hearts on the train, and while she says Melissa was the other masked Queen, the video cuts out before we can see just that. Melissa Hastings should have her own wing at the Red Herring Hall of Fame for how many times we’ve been led to believe that she’s behind some plot or another. I’ll believe it when I see it, and Spencer finally seems to be on that wavelength too. It’s good to see her not taking the bait every time her sister is implicated. 

Mona’s more insidious contributions to the group seem to be in influencing Hannah to wear a succession of crazier and crazier headgear, from a Gossip Girl-esque headband to a kind of psycho-Parisian quasi-beret. Assuming Mona is on the level (which I am, currently), her hopes to re-establish her friendship with Hannah are endearing and currently far more worthy of emotional investment than any of the current romantic relationships (EXCEPT Spencer and Toby; I am not a monster). And while I’m rooting for Hannah and Mona, more and more, it seems like Mona and Spencer are the most tuned-in to each other, even as enemies. And if anybody is going to be able to take down Ali, Red Coat, Black Veil, Mrs. DeLaurentis, Melissa, Jenna, Shana, Noel, this new cop investigating Wilden’s death, and Ezra (my own personal guess at the moment), it’s a Mona/Spencer alliance. 

Spencer: Having recovered from last season’s bout with the extreme crazies, Spencer finds herself in a relatively calm place. Her boyfriend is alive and not out to kill her, which is enough of an improvement that being framed for a cop’s murder and forced to dig through said cop’s casket for a phone call from your blackmailer represent an upswing in Spencer’s life. No way it’s going to last, of course. Toby’s mysterious messages from A about his mother—paired with a flashback of nerdy Toby giving Ali the brush-off after Ali was mean about his mentally-unbalanced mom—are certainly leading him nowhere good. 

Hannah: As I said before: the headbands. Also, Caleb is offscreen, still supposedly dealing with his birth father over in The World’s Most Boring Subplot. Better that than mucking up Hannah’s actual screen time, but the time is coming to either completely shake up the Caleb character or cut him loose. I don’t care how popular Tyler Blackburn is with the tweens. The more important thing for Hannah comes at the end of the episode, when A’s text from inside Wilden’s coffin leads Spencer and Mona to return the call... to Hannah’s mom’s phone. So now we all have to be worried that Laura Leighton is going to turn up dead in a car trunk somewhere. 

Emily: There’s this new aggro version of Emily’s that’s a lot of fun to experience. She seriously is keen on caving Mona’s face in, and she’s the most staunchly adamant that Ali is not, in fact, alive. Unfortunately, she’s still plodding around with Paige in yet another relationship that needs some major shaking up or an end date. Super glad that Paige got into Stanford on a full scholarship. Kinda weird that she assumes that means she can pull Em along for the ride too. Emily’s more interesting storyline has her crossing paths with a returned Mrs. DeLaurentis, who is every bit the intense freak you hope she is. Emily doesn’t even get the best experience of Mrs. D, as Spencer spots her staring at her from her window across the yards. 

Aria: Ugh. Aria. For one thing, the most interesting thing about her storyline this week happens in a daylight nightmare, as she imagines that the Vice-Principal has finally cracked the case against her and Ezra wide open and had her erstwhile beau arrested. It’s all in her head, of course, though it would probably serve Ezra right for going back to teach at the same school where his jailbait ex-gf is still a senior. I still think Ezra has some secrets to be uncovered as the show goes along, but it would be good to keep him and Aria split for a while. Besides, somebody has to be single enough to get involved with Detective Sean Faris. Get some, Aria. 

Stray Observations:

  • It seemed for a moment that the show was asking us to believe that Alison (/Red Coat/whomever) paid a group of local children to pretend to be the Liars as children, as some kind of live-action flashback theater. As it was, giving them all dolls with the names Aria, Hannah, Emily, Spencer, and Mona felt like a LOT of setup just to provide creepy ambience. 
  • There’s a burn on Jenna’s hand when she speaks to Emily. An ARSON burn???
  • The not-so-quotable A: “Closed caskets keep secrets. His is open and exposes yours.” Not exactly yearbook-worthy. 
  • Okay, what the hell kind of bedazzled clubwear is Aria wearing to a funeral?
  • Fun fact: The sound of a ringing phone accounts for roughly 18 minutes of any given episode.