By Chelsea Hensley
The last time we saw the Liars they’d just inadvertently beheaded Noel Kahn, Jenna Marshall shot Spencer, and Mary Drake appeared to reveal that Spencer’s her daughter. We take only a couple minutes out of “Playtime,” the first of the final ten episodes, to pretend Noel’s death means the girls are free of A.D before a creepy board game arrives at Spencer’s promising the beginning of the end of the game we’ve been playing for years now.
Since we know Noel and Jenna aren’t the A.D terrorizing the girls, the big question is what the hell Mary Drake was talking about. Like Spencer, I’m shaken (but mostly annoyed) by this newest familial wrinkle because Troian Bellisario as Lesley Fera’s daughter (and Torrey Devitto’s sister) is the best casting this show ever had. It tries to keep with continuity by having Spencer still be her dad’s kid (meaning Spencer gets to keep all her siblings), but you can still see the strings behind another PLL twist, fueled more by shock value than sense.
But if any show has mastered the art of telling you how to watch it, it’s PLL. These are the kinds of punches you just roll with. Of course Mary posed as Jessica to sleep with the married man she was sleeping with. Of course she did this out of some long-simmering hatred (people do the most in Rosewood). Of course she got pregnant. And of course Veronica couldn’t stand the idea of that poor baby being shuffled off elsewhere.
Whatever. It gives the woefully underrated Bellisario something to do, while still exercising some restraint (even with Mary’s letter). Reeling from the confirmation of her maternity, Spencer plays A.D’s game and is dared to finally visit a recovering Toby (a pretty mild dare, if we’re being honest). After their accident (supposedly the fault of a wayward deer), Toby’s injured, and Yvonne’s in a medically induced coma. It’s cute that Spencer and Toby can be such friendly, emotionally supportive exes, but we already know how this will go: Yvonne probably won’t die. That’s too dark an option for Spencer and Toby to cleanly reunite, but even if she did, they will get back together, as demonstrated by the show’s inability to break from tradition in the girls’ romantic lives. Sure someone will mistakenly sleep with their mistress’s twin, but it’s inconceivable that any of the Liars would end up with anyone other than their first loves.
Take Aria and Ezra, dealing with Nicole’s sudden return while they’re supposed to be planning their wedding. Following Ezra’s reunion, and liplock, with Nicole on international television, Aria’s unsure how to proceed and plans on leaving. Ezra returns in time to stop her, but they don’t have a much-needed conversation about what happens next. It’s a more fraught situation than anyone would know how to deal with, even by PLL standards (so naturally I love it). How does Ezra explain to a traumatized Nicole, who’s spent years (?) in captivity, that he’s marrying his ex? How does Aria tell Ezra she needs him to be there for her when Nicole’s parents want him nearby while she recovers?
Yeah, I don’t know either. And you know who really doesn’t know? Hanna, who gives Aria the worst advice ever: just ignore this huge and unprecedented problem and take on the massive task of planning your wedding so that whenever Ezra gets done tending to Nicole, he’ll have a wedding waiting for him, even if you’re not sure he still wants one. But it’s fine because here’s Holden (another classic PLL white dude you probably forgot about) who gets an encore to likely cause another complication. Or maybe he’s A.D. Really, anything is possible.
On the other end of the spectrum is Emily whose situation isn’t as complicated as she’s pretending. When she and Paige both end up back at Rosewood High, Alison’s not thrilled about sharing the halls with Paige again. It’s nice that PLL remembers Alison’s more than capable of being the worst (Paige is right that Ali’s been cast as the victim a lot), but it’s frustrating to watch Emily make excuses for her.
Besides her and Paige’s poor history, Alison’s also just jealous. Emily and Paige have/had something genuine (whereas Ali’s had a string of manipulative romances capped off by Archer’s villainy). And if there’s anyone who can distract Emily from holding Alison’s hand, it’s Paige. Not even Alison knows if she wants to be with Emily, she just doesn’t want Emily to be with anyone if it means she’s alone. It’s typical of Alison, and Emily’s reluctance to draw a line is typical of her. She’ll tell Ali not to kiss her again and confront her about her mistreatment of Paige, but she’ll still tell Paige to cut Ali some slack because her life has been so hard.
In a show filled to the brim with mysteries, this one’s never come close to being solved. What exactly do Ali and Emily feel for one another? How far would Ali go to keep Emily close, and how much will Emily tolerate? And if the show is set on fixing everyone with their first loves, who’s Emily’s? Maya’s dead (RIP) so is it Alison or is it Paige?
For the first of ten final episodes, “Playtime” is a quiet hour, more concerned with advancing the personal plots than the mystery one. A.D knows they killed Archer and is now working with Jenna — that’s cool, but we’re past the days of making lists of potential suspects. I want to know who it is, but I really want to know how everyone will react when this is over. PLL can cram itself with gasps and shocks, but they wouldn’t matter if we didn’t care about the people they’re happening to.
- In what world does a trained cop expect someone who is not a trained cop to recognize a gun she was shot with in the dark?
- Hanna’s fashion line is truly boring, but Mona’s addition hopefully means it’ll be more exciting especially if the two will have to contend with their slippery friendship.
- I forget: Did Ali decide against an abortion? Was that ever floated as an option for her? She’s so miserable I can’t figure out why she’s going ahead with it.
Chelsea A. Hensley is a writer and blogger who recently received a BA in English from the University of Missouri. Besides television, she also loves chocolate chip cookies, puppies, and Dragon Age. In between episodes of her favorite shows, Chelsea’s hard at work on a young adult novel. You can read more of her writing on The Chelsea Review and follow her on Twitter @ChelseaBigBang.
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