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Pretty Little Liars Recap: Parental Guidance Strongly Suggested

This episode was called “Cat’s Cradle.” Is this meant to evoke Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, a symbol that a bomb is about to drop on our Liars? Are we talking about the game played by summer camp mean girls with a loop of string? Should we think of that classic guilt-trippy Harry Chapin song, in which parents discover their children grew up to be just like them, Dad? Perhaps its purpose is simply to encourage us to focus on Hanna’s T-shirt, emblazoned with this clue: “Meow.” >^..^<

1. Spencer (last week: 8)
Spencer could win the Pretty Little Power Rankings this week just for her hair, which was far and away the best of the episode and maybe even the best we’ve seen all season. Major points for versatility — the half-French side-braid, the messy sock bun, the sleek low ponytail that says “I’m here to solve a mystery, people” — and for her flawless execution of all of the above. Also, I like to think she’s had that black trench coat in her closet for years and has been waiting for the right sleuthing opportunity to bust it out, kind of like Blair and her on-theme accessories. (“I see you’re wearing your beret. Who are we spying on tonight?” Guys, I miss Chuck Bass.)

Other reasons Spencer earns the No. 1 spot: She figures out what the “A” clue in Toby’s mom’s transcript really means; she has the override codes for Radley; she reveals everything she needs to and not one thing more in her passive-aggressive conversations with Melissa; her socks have tiny dogs on them.

2. Zack (last week: not ranked)
Remember when Aria’s mom was dating that hot guy who looked super young for her, in part because the girls playing high school students on PLL are in their twenties and all the guys on this show have the same, vaguely late-twenties-early-thirties vibe about them? Well, I forgot about him, too, but the important thing is, he’s back! He is making pastries and inviting Aria’s mom to go to Vienna with him. Based on my understanding of The Sound of Music, let me tell you: Austria is a magical place. Cool matching outfits for the whole family, warm apple strudel, hot Christopher Plummer—it’s every temperature of greatness! What’s not to love? (I guess the Nazis, if we’re sticking with Sound of Music references.) Point is: way to charm the lady, Zachary.

3. Hanna (last week: 6)
Even though she calls Spencer “Nancy Drew,” Hanna’s the one doing the impressive mystery-solving. She finds the truth in her mom’s trash can; at the police station, she stumbles upon the (not exactly well-hidden) Wilden Murder Board, which just proves that everyone, even the fictional residents of Rosewood, is totally obsessed with Scandal; and at Creepy McCreeperson’s Mask-Making Emporium, Hanna is the one who braves the back of the shop and discovers the Melissa mask. And! None of her outfits made me bang my head against my coffee table and wonder why, Hanna, why?? Change has come to America.

4. Aria’s mom (last week: not ranked)
A normal mom might be more than a little suspicious if her teenage daughter, who has a history of unsavory behavior — secretly dating her English teacher, participating in a prank that blinded a classmate, winding up on the suspect list for every murder within a ten-mile radius — pressured her to go to the other side of the world with her boyfriend. But not this lady! “I can’t even imagine what it’d be like if she went to a different continent,” says Aria when Emily asks her how she’d deal if her mom went to Austria. Ha! Aria, it would be exactly like it is now.

Does Aria’s mom have ombré hair? If so, I support it.

5. Melissa (last week: not ranked)
Welcome back, Melissa Hastings! Melissa might be a murderer and I know she’s made her mistakes, like having sex with and been impregnated by and getting engaged to the wrong people, but there’s something about her that makes me want to be on her team. Maybe it’s because I know, IRL, she’s married to Stefan from The Vampire Diaries. Or maybe it’s just that cute new haircut.

6. Aria (last week: 3)
How slick is Aria’s motorcycle jacket? Way to make good fashion choices, Aria! Aria attempts to give her mother dating advice. “Passion isn’t supposed to be easy,” says the teenager whose only major relationship to date hasn’t been passionate since, like, the pilot. That being said, she’s kind of right. Passion isn’t always easy. Like on Buffy, in “Passion,” Angelus kills Jenny Calendar. Just typing that is still difficult for me, and it’s been fifteen years since that episode aired.

7. Toby (last week: 9)
Who thinks Toby’s mom was pushed out of that window and that her “suicide” was actually a murder? Given his Lannister-like relationship with Jenna (ick, sorry to bring that up) and now this unsettling development with his mother, it’s kind of a miracle Toby is even functional.

8. Caleb (last week: not ranked)
How many hours did Caleb spend talking about his dad who he thought was his uncle who he thought was guilty but turned out not to be guilty and afisudhkjfnasdf;adfij AHH sorry fell asleep on my keyboard. Hey, remember when Caleb and Hanna used to hook up in tents? Man. Good times.

Caleb does earn points for suggesting Hanna’s mom talk to an attorney; Hanna is floored by this because it never occurs to anyone on this show to go to the authorities about anything, ever. But then he loses all the points for having pointless/sleep-inducing conversations with Hanna’s dad, whom I forgot existed. Also, Caleb’s jacket looks like something from the girls’ section of Free People, or maybe like someone stitched together all the military green and geometric printed skirts and bandeau tops from Coachella, made them into this article of outerwear, and sent them to Caleb as a gift. Also, his hair is a travesty.

9. Anything Goes! (last week: not ranked)
People are shitting all over Anything Goes! in this episode and I will not stand for it. Hanna’s mom’s co-workers even call this American classic “a dud” in their get well soon note; later on, Hanna refers to it off-handedly as a “stupid show.” Am I the only person who appreciates the inescapable joy that the music of Cole Porter inspires in even the most joyless among us?

10. Emily (last week: 11)
Eeeek. Rough week for Emily! Then again, I guess every week is a rough week for Emily. Mah nishtanah, girl. She lets it slip to her doctor that she was taking prescription meds she’d never been prescribed. (I was expecting to see Wren again but instead we’re treated to another, generically handsome and awfully-young-for-an-M.D.-seeming dude, Dr. Vargas. Why does no one in this town appear to be over 35? Oh my God, is Rosewood really the city from Logan’s Run? Does that make me Jessica 6?) Then Emily’s mom gives her a real talkin'-to outside the school — this is shocking to everyone in the vicinity because none of Emily’s friends have witnessed real parenting before — and then, after she and Mama Fields “have an understanding” about Emily not going out that night (is that how the new wave parents are grounding the kids these days?), Emily slips away with Hanna and Aria to Creepy McCreeperson’s Mask-Making Emporium. Then she gets (her face) plastered so some stranger can have a Medusa mask, and then she finds out that “A” called Child Services on her parents.

Adding insult to literal injury, Emily’s leggings have these spiderweb-meets-edge-of-doily patterns along the sides.

12. Emily’s mom (last week: not ranked)
Even more powerless than her daughter. “Whatever happened to privacy in this country, anyway?” she asks, because the social worker talked to Emily’s doctor. “I don’t know,” says Emily. OH HEY NSA JOKES ON PLL.

13. Martial Arts Jake (last week: 12)
Jake needs to step up his dating game if he ever wants to rise in the PLPR. First of all, why are he and Aria always at that same coffee shop? Doesn’t Aria want to, oh, I don’t know, not be on a date at the exact same location as her mother and her mother’s baby boyfriend?

When they try to have a cute night in, Jake makes some dumb joke about black-and-white movies (it makes him think the TV is broken! Har de har har, Jake, bet you say that about all the Instagrams), and puts this enormous bowl of popcorn between him and Aria on the couch. Leaving room for the Holy Ghost, Jake? The girl already went in for the kiss in the middle of a private “self defense” session; I think you’ve got the green light to take things below the black belt, if you get what I’m saying (make out with her, is what I’m saying).

14. Hanna’s dad (last week: not ranked)
Problems I have with Hanna’s dad, in list formation:

  1. He’s boring.
  2. He lost his gun.
  3. He is awfully uninvolved as a father for someone whose daughter’s best friend was kidnapped and murdered not that long ago.
  4. He is the only person in Rosewood who looks over 35.
  5. I am assuming he doesn’t like Anything Goes! or he would have insisted Hanna’s mom pick another night to visit.

Lingering concerns: Did Creepy McCreeperson get his idea for stealing people’s faces from watching The Little Mermaid too many times, notably the scene in which Ursula demands Ariel trade in her voice for her freedom? Ali wanted masks so all her friends could look like her; anyone else think that’s a little Behind the Candelabra-y? Does Aria’s mom remember that she also has a son?

I think you’d make a great Medusa,

-J

PLL fans who’ve read the books: keep your spoiler-filled knowledge to yourselves! TV talk only, both below and on Twitter (@jessicagolds), please and thank you.

Photo: Ron Tom/Disney