I think I cracked the code on this show. No, not the Alison mystery. Or the Cece mystery. Or the mystery of two Jason DiLaurentises. But I do think I’ve gotten to the bottom of how this show can be so enjoyable despite circular plotting, a piling on of mysteries that may or may not matter, and a cast that is less than uniformly stellar. The reason it works—and, despite aggravations, I think it does work—is because there is a consistent sense of fun even as the worst things are happening. We get a lot of that this week, from the interactions of the girls (Spencer: “You don’t have to go to the hoedown! You just have to waste an hour or two with Mrs. D trying on bolo ties. And you two are going to meet me underneath the house at four.”) to the fact that there is a barn dance for literally no reason other than to have these tense, suspenseful scenes happening while everyone’s wearing hats and cowboy boots to the dance break smack in the middle of the episode. If you look at the Rube Goldbergian mysteries of the show as an ever-tantalizing excuse to keep Aria, Hanna, Spencer, and Emily bouncing off each other, wearing giant shoulder pads in oversized pink blazers, and telling each other things they told everybody else they’d keep secret, it becomes less of a chore and more of a delight. Glad I was able to work that out.
Now for the Liars, in order of how much they were able to work their own stuff out this week.
Emily: Backsliding to Paige may be a narrative regression just when it seemed like Em was moving on to less stagnant storylines, but these two characters have built up enough goodwill that it’s hard to actively root against them. Can we also give Emily chutzpah points for the vigor with which she hacked into those hay bales (with a very pointy garden hoe!) when she suspected Red Coat was in there?
Hanna: My favorite thing about Hanna is that she will listen politely to Caleb blah-blah-blah about playing it safe, then go right ahead and do what she was going to do. And it pays off! When new guy Travis shows up and hands her guilt money, because he and his dad were eyewitnesses that Ashley didn’t kill Wilden, Hanna digs in and digs in until Travis and his dad go on the record with the police. Now, obviously Travis is up to something else. Maybe he’s the guy on the phone with Cece. Maybe he’s an auxiliary member of the “A” team. Maybe he’s just Hanna’s backup boyfriend for once Caleb leaves for Ravenswood. Let’s just hope he can get through to Hanna about those blazers.
Spencer: Thank God we get some movement on Spencer’s secret support for Toby’s quest for answers. It’s been the thinnest of premises that Spencer wasn’t allowed to tell her friends about the investigation, smacking of false stakes for a shaky subplot. After braving an encounter with Emotive Toby (after “A” leaves a CD of Toby’s mom singing in his truck), Spencer finally tells the girls about Toby’s mom’s death. She suffers a Toby snit-fit about it later, but she’s also now able to send Caleb off to check up on him, so from this vantage point, it looks like she’s managing her time a lot better.
Aria: By episode’s end, Aria is back in Ezra’s apartment, listening to him explain about Maggie and Malcolm and his latest dramz. As we all knew she would. But let’s set that aside for a moment because WHAT is up with Jake and the cowboy boots? An ostensibly throwaway scene establishes that Jake is, somehow, preternaturally able to guess women’s shoe sizes. In an episode where Detective Tanner has already mentioned finding a shoe of indeterminate size that was at the scene of Wilden’s murder. In an episode where the camera lingers on Cece’s cowboy boots when she’s lurking outside Ezra’s apartment door. This goes one of two ways: Either they’re laying the suspicion on Jake way too thick and he’s a red herring, or else he turns out to have been providing footwear to the “A” Team this whole time, and he’s far more dangerous than any of us feared.
- So I think we’re past the point of “suspecting” Cece, right? We saw her red coat! We saw her lair! I think the lair stage is basically your last threshold before being pretty certain that someone is the bad guy. The question is, who’s on the phone with her? Travis? Jake? Wren?
- God, Detective Tanner is such a bitch to those girls. It’s so wonderful.
- It bears repeating: TOBY EMOTING. Hide your kids, wife, et cetera.
- Another sublime moment of minutiae: Aria, to Emily, about Spencer, “I told you she has the best flashlight.”
- Emily remembers Ali telling her about a boy pulling a gun on her when she tried to help a friend break up with him. The theory is that this is the favor she did for Cece and that the dude was Wilden.
- That Step Up: Revolution training really paid off for Jake during that line-dancing scene. Looks like Lucy Hale took some lessons, too.
- The tag at the end of the episodes, with “A” laying out voodoo dolls of the Liars (Mona included) before striking at one of them, suggests someone’s going to die in next week’s Summer Finale. It’s #WorldWarA, people!