This episode was a study in contrasts. In some glittering moments, “Bring the hoe down” (high-five for that forced but fun punnery) featured what we so adore about this program: the sometimes-snappy dialogue, flashbacks that are even more disturbing than Don Draper’s trips down Whorehouse Memory Lane, Caleb’s blossoming friendship with Hanna’s mom. And yet it is also a perfect case study in what I believe to be the biggest weakness of our beloved drama: PLL’s bad habit of insisting that certain things or people are important without ever demonstrating their importance. There’s too much reliance on sloppy plot exposition through dialogue — “She’s been on to me ever since that ‘guilty tape,’ remember? From like 1,000 years ago? That I haven’t mentioned since then?” — and not enough of the (admittedly more difficult, but come on) groundwork of proving that any given character, event, plot twist, or piece of evidence is important through, you know, the actual development of the plot and the way that plot development affects these characters.
With the summer finale approaching next week, I’m curious: Is all the out-of-left-field stuff from this season going to pay off, now or ever? Or has PLL lost its way and lost us, not to mention nearly every plot thread, along with it? What say you, readers?
For now: on to the Pretty Little Power Rankings!
1. Caleb (last week: 8)
Omigosh, Hanna’s mom is texting Caleb! I meant it when I said I’d watch a buddy comedy about those two. What do you think they say to each other? Does Hanna’s mom say “Hahaha” or is she more of an “lol” type? Does Caleb use emoji? For this relationship and for the fact that he is the only one in this episode who relies on logic to make decisions — like his point that maybe Travis, who sprang fully formed from nowhere, might not be the world’s most reliable source of intel — Caleb wins the day.
I like that Caleb is trying to get into the spirit of the dance with his whole “Giddy up, little daw-gy” thing but his drawl is … not convincing. Sorry Caleb; you’ll always be just faux Riggins to me.
2. Paige (last week: not ranked)
The first time we see her, Paige is wearing half of a Boy Scouts uniform. Off to the Pinewood Derby, Paige? Going to leave a crime scene cleaner than when you found it? She does know that the Boy Scouts of America have, well, not the best track record with the gay community, right?
Zoe, Emily’s Habitat for Hookuppery advisor from Haiti, writes Emily a love letter of recommendation. Paige, not realizing that she is just preying on Emily’s (earned) insecurity that she isn’t smart enough to get into a good college now that she’s a shark out of water, quotes the ridiculous lines from this document — “Her spirit made my heart race” — and manages to make Emily feel absolutely terrible in no time at all.
And yet! Paige accomplishes something most of our Liars rarely achieve: She stays out of all this “A” insanity and remains in a stable-ish relationship with her significant other at the end of the night.
3. Spencer’s flashlight (last week: not ranked)
It really is the brightest.
4. Aria (last week: 10)
Aria is wearing this blazer jacket thing that’s sort of the psychedelic colors of the tiger on the tank she’s wearing underneath it. It looks like Aria put on just an ordinary white jacket and then rolled around in a pile of cray pas. The low bun with the face-framing pieces is cute, though! I guess that when your mom is in Austria you don’t have to worry about someone telling you to get your hair out of your face.
I don’t mean to give dating advice to people who aren’t real but just as a PSA for all you kids out there reading these recaps: If your ex-boyfriend tells you he has something really urgent to discuss with you, DEFINITELY make time for that conversation, just in case it’s something like “You should probably get tested.” You know what I mean? Heartbreak is a bitch and talking to exes isn’t exactly the funnest thing but, gosh, safety first.
At the hoedown — which, by the way, can anyone let me know why this dance is even happening and why it needs to happen in not-Rosewood? Thanks — Aria and a bunch of people randomly know some choreographed dance and, oh my God, please no, ABC Family is actually promoting the hashtag #MovesLikeAria. WHY is this happening? Say it isn’t happening! Sorry, I have to go die. I’ll be back later.
5. Martial Arts Jake (last week: 11)
Why is MAJ at Aria’s school? What does he do all day? Accepting conspiracy theories in the comments! Winners get Breaking Bad GIFs to celebrate what I can only assume is a deliberate shout-out to the “Crawl Space” episode from season four. (Did you think you had found that one teeny corner of the Internet where no one was talking about Breaking Bad? Yeah, that place doesn’t exist.)
So MAJ knows Aria’s shoe size — he claims this is a “party trick” which makes him sound like a great guy to bring out on the town — and uses this information to procure her … baby blue cowboy boots. They’re cowboy boots. They’re, well, they’re baby blue, is what I’m trying to say, like this pastel, “It’s a boy!” baby blue boot situation. And there’s this whole thing where he puts the boots on her feet and I wonder, was this added to the script because of Lucy Hale’s performance in A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song?
6. Hanna (last week: 5)
Hanna finds an envelope of cash in her locker. Across the way, Shaved Head Guy makes meaningful eye contact with her. Hanna drops a clunky product placement for Macy’s and bounces. Sure, why not. Later, Macy’s dresses Hanna in a tablecloth for the dance/Hanna has this conversation with Travis while doing the one-two-step version of the Sorkin walk-and-talk. More on that later.
When the Liars confront Spencer about her “double life,” this exchange happens:
Hanna: Are you pregnant?
Emily: Shut up, Hanna.
Aria: We get it, you have a boyfriend. We’ve all had them.
Hanna: Yeah, even Emily.
Emily: Shut up, Hanna!
Guys, this is my favorite conversation of the entire episode. First of all, Hanna’s hunch that Spencer might be pregnant is a totally legitimate guess, so boo on Emily for being a jerk about it. Then her quip about Emily’s dating past: I love it. Why are Emily and Hanna even friends, anyway? Do they have anything in common besides the fact that Ali tortured them in that fake-friendshippy way while she was alive and continues to cause chaos for them in death? Do Hanna and Emily even like each other? Just something to think about.
7. Lieutenant Tanner (last week: not ranked)
How does Lt. Tanner have the jurisdiction to waltz into a high school cafeteria to have a not-so-casual conversation with a bunch of minors, far from the presence of, oh, I don’t know, any parents, or legal guardians, or lawyers? And why have none of the Liars learned that they shouldn’t be answering any of these questions without an attorney present? Seriously, Spencer: your mom is a lawyer. You girls and the people you care about get framed for murder, like, every thirty seconds! You should all have attorneys on speed dial.
8. Cece (last week: not ranked)
Full disclosure: I don’t care about Cece. I don’t even care that she’s Redcoat. I’m supposed to be invested in her because… why, exactly? Because she was in that one photo that one time? Not a good enough reason, PLL. Cece is like that person from your high school who you were never really friends with but for some reason your mom remembers her and always asks after her, like, “How is Cece, anyway? What’s she been up to?”
9. Toby (last week: 9)
“A” gave Toby a burned CD. So “A” has to be, what, at least 30 years old? 35? “There’s more where that came from,” says the message from “A.” It’s true! Play your cards right, Toby, and “A” might send you a floppy disc.
Toby and Spencer dance in a way that’s so awkward it makes me miss that tennis kid from the first season. Remember him? He and Spencer had a cute little haves-meets-have-nots romance. They salsa danced in the kitchen! It was adorable. This, not so much. Toby gets in a fight with Spencer because she chose her friends over him. Whatever, worth it to see Toby reunited with Caleb (who is so wearing that Brokeback Mountain shearling-collared jacket on purpose; don’t even try to tell me otherwise).
10. Spencer (last week: 3)
Aria asks about the crawl space: “Are you sure someone was living there?” Emily, humorless: “Aria, there was a sleeping bag.” Aria, weakly: “Napping isn’t living.” And then Spencer’s contribution: “Unless you’re a reptile, which kind of describes Cece.” Much as I’d like to give Spencer points for knowing the sleeping patterns of reptiles, how does a reptile describe Cece? You’re reaching, Spence.
Other Spencer conundrums this week: Why does Spencer own overalls? Why can’t she drive stick? Why doesn’t she have a better cover story for what’s going on with Toby’s mom? Why pigtails? I’m not mad, Spencer. Just disappointed.
11. Ali (last week: not ranked)
“You need to be careful of what you’re good at, hon. Because you’ll spend the rest of your life doing it.” In related news, is there a reason Ali talks like a 50-year-old fortune cookie? Teenage girls are terrifying! Even Jennifer Lawrence has nightmares about them. So just let Ali talk like a teenage girl; she will still scare the hell out of everyone and it won’t be so jarring whenever she says, well, anything.
12. Ezra (last week: 10)
When Emily asks if Ezra is growing a beard, I had to hit pause and then stand right up next to my screen to verify that, yes, it does appear that Rosewood’s own Lonely Boy, the down and out Mr. Fitz, is cultivating the slightest bit of scruff. His explosion at Emily, while funny, makes no sense; “There are people with real problems in the world and getting a glowing college recommendation isn’t one of them,” he yells. Like, duh Ezra, she knows that. Her letter is about Habitat for Humanity.
When MAJ asks Ezra, “Shouldn’t you have better things to do on a Friday night?” maybe Ezra could have jumped in with a “Shouldn’t you have anything to do, ever? Does anyone know how old you are?” But instead he just mumbles to himself, looks sad, wills his scruff to grow in more quickly, and goes back to stacking cups. “Maybe I should learn that ‘Cups’ song from Pitch Perfect,” he thinks to himself. “Would that make Aria love me again?”
13. Travis (last week: not ranked)
THANK GOODNESS FOR TRAVIS! Definitely not enough characters on this show. I spent all of last week praying they’d introduce yet another generically handsome young thing into the proceedings without explaining where he came from or why none of the Liars would recognize him even though he appears to have a locker in the only part of the hallway we’ve ever seen. Super psyched that he’s got a Southern accent just for the hoedown despite the fact that we are in a suburb of Philadelphia. Excited for him to conveniently prove Hanna’s mom’s innocence.
When Hanna asks why he waited so long to reveal what he knew, Travis is all
“It’s because I literally didn’t exist until this episode” “It’s complicated. There’s bad blood between my dad and Wilden.” There’s bad blood? Bad blood. Are you joking? Who says that even? Where did Travis live before he materialized out of the thin Rosewood air, The Sisters Brothers?
Bright side: Travis sort of looks like an evil-Saracen, which works with our fake-FNL theme.
Lingering concerns: What are the odds that all the superfluous characters get offed in the summer finale? Are we sure Lt. Tanner didn’t swing by Rosewood High for a bite of baked ziti? If the hoedown is a school dance, where are all the people we know attend Rosewood High: Jenna, Noel Kahn, Shauna, even Magic Mike Montgomery?
Sorry Pippi Longstocking, but I’m done for the night,
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.