“Could you imagine what life would be like without A?”
While the Liars ask that very question in “EscApe From New York,” it looks like there won’t be any need to worry about the answer any time soon. (Although, any rational person would immediately answer “Normal!” Or “Better!”) In case you haven’t heard the news—whether it’s good news or bad news depends on who you are and where your allegiances lie— Pretty Little Liars has been renewed for both a sixth and seventh season.
In all honesty, Pretty Little Liars could probably last forever. If ABC Family and showrunner Marlene King wanted, there could just as easily be a Pretty Little Liars: The Next Generation-style continuation of the series. Rosewood is such a nightmare of a town that there is no possible way that this circle of friends (and frenemies) are the only ones being plagued my omniscient cyber bullies and sexual predators. If you were to throw in a line about Rosewood being on a Hellmouth, presumably no one would bat an eyelash. That’s where we are, and it makes the acceptance of such a world all the more easy.
To completely throw out a crucial part of the series’ premise—the death of Alison DiLaurentis—last season, only to say she was alive and on the run the whole time is… Well, it’s very Pretty Little Liars. If there is one thing these past four seasons of the series have shown us, it’s that the most insane, logic-bending answers are usually the correct ones. The short-lived spin-off Ravenswood even took that a step further and just said “a ghost did it” for everything. Pretty Little Liars tends to simply say “a ghost did it… but it turns out it’s an alive ghost.” Again, these are just the types of things we accept when it comes to this universe.
So when “EscApe From New York” begins moments after the end of “A Is For Answers” and Ezra’s fate is no longer in question (as though it really ever was), it really is like no time has passed between episodes. Aria spends the episode avoiding the issue of her on-again, off-again boyfriend being a huge creep (while her friends are eluding murder). Hanna brings levity to the horror that is her and her friends’ lives. Spencer, well, Spencers everything up to the point of her forgetting she hasn’t eaten in a day. Emily tries to rationalize Alison’s behavior. But now the Liars all have to be their current selves in a world where Alison DiLaurentis is alive. She can’t control them anymore, but at the same time, she still can.
“Alison was at the center of every mess Spencer got into. She’s a walking time bomb. But it’s never Ali who blows up. It’s everything and everyone else around her.”
As shifty as she is, Melissa Hastings may have handed out the truest dose of realness on Pretty Little Liars in a long time, if ever, with that line. Absolutely none of this would be happening to these girls if Alison DiLaurentis weren’t the single most self-centered this side of Lilly Kane. Of course, Melissa isn’t innocent herself, between the fake pregnancies and all of the other secrets she’s keeping; for the past four seasons, Melissa has often lurked on the sidelines, supposedly never actually being responsible for the terrible lives of her sister and her sister’s friends. So to finally have her in an active role in these games—especially with this episode’s loss of CeCe Drake—it’s as though the show is finally tired of playing the easy levels and wants to move up to a boss level.
Last season, “EzrA” almost achieved such a level-up, but the Pretty Little Liars inability to pull the trigger with that storyline did more harm than good for the two characters it should have rehabilitated: Ezra and Aria. The end of the fourth season created an even bigger problem with the Ezra character than there already was by revealing that he had known who Aria was—meaning he also knew her age and that she would be his student—before he’d even met her. Instead of being the walking punchline he typically is to those who don’t see his and Aria’s love as the true romance it’s depicted as, Ezra became the very definition of a sexual predator, intentionally going after this teenage girl and initiating a romantic relationship with her for his own selfish gains. Even with Ezra taking a bullet for the Liars, that isn’t the type of thing that deserves forgiveness. That’s the type of thing that deserves jail time.
However, even without Ezra finally landing himself in prison, the premiere still finds a way to have a scene that makes it A-grade material. It’s a solitary scene that is so ridiculous on paper—and in practice—that it suddenly becomes the most amazing thing in the entire world. It’s the circus of As. The Cirque du Sol-A, if you will. To have one solitary A ask Alison in hushed tones if she wants to play is laughable. To have a dozen willing participants in this mission to cyberbully a clique of high school girls is simply masterful. Was there a Craigslist ad put out by A? Are these all disgruntled Rosewood High students? Disgruntled Rosewood men ages 18 to 35? These are the questions that matter when it comes to Pretty Little Liars, because, much like the question of who A is, none of these questions matter. For every answer, there are about 20 more questions. This is why the show can last forever.
What makes the episode A- material, though, is the reveal of Shana as the latest A. The motive of doing it for Jenna—who hasn’t been much of a factor in the story since she regained her sight—comes across as a quick fix for getting rid of a character who was never much more than creepy by Jenna association. Jenna has always been shown to have a powerful hold on people (and maybe even witch powers). But let’s compare the Shana reveal to the Mona reveal.
Even if the Mona reveal felt like it had been telegraphed for ages, the actual reveal (of her motivations, of the way her “omniscience” worked, etc.) were an emotional gut punch. To know was never as important as the why or how in that case. There’s none of that in the Shana reveal, but there’s still an expectation of at least an emotional reaction to Aria killing Shana (by hitting her with a rifle). For an episode that creates such a fantastic promise of what’s to come, it does an uncharacteristically poor job of tying up that loose end.
Still, we’ll always have the Cirque du Sol-A.
Erik Adams opened up the floodgates first with What’s On Tonight, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t use this as an opportunity for a cheap plug of Pretty Little Liars Annotations. Three A.V. Club ladies (myself included) are responsible for it, so you know it’s good.
Season Five Noel Kahn Watch: There is Noel Kahn in the first minute of this episode, and he then finds himself in the CeCe / Alison goodbye scene. The worst part of the hiatus truly was the absence of the prettiest little liar of them all. May we never be without him ever again.
Proposed Pretty Little Liars spin-off: The Nine Lives Of CeCe Drake. The theme song would of course be Edith Piaf’s “No Regrets.”
I may have sung “Manchild In a Coma” (to the tune of The Smiths’ “Girlfriend In A Coma,” of course) during the scenes of Ezra in surgery.
Meanwhile, Sean Faris’ Detective Holbrook continues to be the only adult male on this show we can trust.
“You really are my Holly Golightly.” Lines like this are why Ezra was better when we all thought he was A.
Paige is a part of (or a spy in) Melissa And Mona’s Alison DiLaurentis Must Die (Again) Club. She really never learns, does she?