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Pretty Little Liars Recap: Gone Baby Gone

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS - "Now You See Me, Now You Don't" - "A" sends the Liars on a quest that leads to Ravenswood in "Now You See Me, Now You Don't,"  the summer finale episode of ABC Family's hit original series "Pretty Little Liars," airing Tuesday, August 27th.

Show of hands: How many of you put your money on Ezra? Given my documented dislike of Ezra’s use in the plot up to this point, clearly no one is more excited about this development than I am. That being said, the reveal that Ezra is on the “A” team is like the reveal that Dan Humphrey was Gossip Girl: clearly a late-in-the-game decision by the PLL powers-that-be, so there’s no way previous season’s episodes will hold up to close inspection. (There’s the argument that Ezra is a recent “A” recruit, but I’d still bet that’s something that didn’t occur to anybody until they realized Ezra, having been outed to Aria’s parents and saddled with a boring wife and kid, wouldn’t have much of a plot purpose to serve unless he crossed over to the dark side.)

But why go back in time just to trip and fall in a plot hole when we can stay right here in the present, where PLL is in its finest form in weeks, bringing all my favorite “A” tropes and, for the most part, delivering a solid finale? Sure, I could’ve done without the detours to Monaville and Shaunacity that went nowhere, and I definitely could’ve skipped right over Toby and his Box of Sad Mom Memories. But the real winners and losers of the week can be determined in one way only: the Pretty Little Power Rankings.

1. “A” (last week: not ranked)
I guess it’s like any relationship, you know? In the beginning, it’s flowers, it’s notes, it’s calls just to say she’s thinking of you. And then, poof! She’s lost that loving feeling, whoaaa. What happened to the death threats, “A”? Where’d the creepy dolls go? You don’t text, you don’t write. It’s enough to make a Liar wonder if you’ve found another girl to stalk. But just when I thought it was over, there was “A” like she’d never left: sending ominous message-filled Magic 8 Balls, a dead Mona doll, a collapsible mini-coffin with a surprise saw inside. It’s just like old times!

2. Spencer (last week: 10)
In case you’re wondering whether the writers of this show have the same favorite Liar as I do, look who gets to say, “Or did she just declare World War A?” Yes, naturally Spencer gets to declare the hashtag of the hour. Why would anyone else be entrusted with dialogue of such great import?

Spencer took home first prize for her magic act at performing arts camp. She is the only one who can explain what the messages from “A” really mean. Would “A” ever get anything done without Spencer there to interpret her sort of obtuse, roundabout clues? Doubt it. But really, my favorite thing Spencer does in this episode is laugh at Hanna for not being able to open the magic box from “A” and get the saw to pop up like Spencer could on the first try.

3. Ezra (last week: 12)
Nice lair, Ezra! I’m into the multiple Scandal boards, the timelines he must have made out of oaktag swiped from the art supply closet, and the dates and names typed in whatever the sans-serif default font was on his computer. (Would’ve been cooler if the whole thing was in that red, slasher “A” font but, oh well.) Do you think Ezra’s evil turn means we’ll get to see more of his delightfully evil mother — who would just adore Mrs. DiLaurentis, don’t you think? — and his cute, actually-age-appropriate-for-Aria kid brother? A recapper can hope.

Time to play a game I like to call: What were the signs Ezra has been on the “A” team this season? Were they littered throughout the past dozen episodes, like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs? Let’s review, starting with the season premiere …

  1. Ezra returns to teach full-time at Rosewood, where he’ll have easy access to “A” targets. He also continues to be a terrible English teacher, either because his thoughts are always elsewhere (read: on murder) or because “A” managed to get him this job despite his lack of teaching credentials.
  2. Ezra spends a lot of time looking longingly at Aria through windows. But maybe it wasn’t a longing glance after all? Maybe it was the gaze of a stalker-murder-psychokiller.
  3. Because Magic Mike Montgomery admitted that he didn’t bash in his idiot friend’s car, thereby breaking my heart into pieces small enough to fit through the eye of a needle, the possibility exists that it was, in fact, Ezra who went all demolition derby on this offender’s automobile. Which is a very “A” thing to do. We all know “A” has a car fetish.
  4. Ezra helps Emily with her college applications — yet another way to keep tabs on the Liars.
  5. He kept Malcolm and Maggie on this show and, by extension, in my recaps, presumably as a way of torturing not just the Liars but also innocent people like you and me who care about them.
  6. THERE ARE PEOPLE WITH REAL PROBLEMS IN THE WORLD.” Remember that? Yeah, sounds like a guy with maybe some anger-management issues. Occupational hazard of working with “A.” His “A” status would explain why he’d bother to chaperone a school dance: again, keeps the Liars in his sight. Also, he probably didn’t have anything better to do on a Friday night, come to think of it.
  7. We finally have an explanation for why Ezra spent so many episodes dressing like a teenage boy. All his suits were at the lair!

4. Hanna (last week: 6)
Her hair! Her hair looks so great. Her clothes are adorable, yet still trendy in that very Hanna way. You made it! It was touch and go there for a while, but you finished the summer on a high note. Is it an insult to call her the most improved Liar? Take it as a compliment, Han. I mean it.

Hanna’s the first person to realize that Red Coat might be a guy — has that never occurred to anyone before? Seems like they’d have considered it, given Toby’s history — and her stakeout with Caleb is adorable. And! When one of the Red Coats (they say it’s Cece, but WHO KNOWS) plays dead and then escapes, Hanna says, “That girl has got nine lives.” You know what else has nine lives? The Ali-cat from Aria’s story. Meow, meow, little Liars.

I love that, for a second, Hanna thinks she might be smarter than Spencer. Oh, Hanna. If only.

5. Ashley Marin (last week: not ranked)
FREE ASHLEY! Ashley tells Caleb that she doesn’t worry as much about Hanna when he’s with her. And then she says, “After everything we’ve been through, you can call me Ashley.” You know it’s real when you get to first-name territory. Ashley and Caleb (Cashley, you heard it here first) have better chemistry than, like, half the couples on this show.

Before her date with Pastor Ted — can we get her a better love interest next season? Pastor Ted is so meh — Ashley gets to have one of those She’s All That outfit reveals as she walks down the stairs. You deserve it, Ashley. (I can call her Ashley, too, right?) Sixpence None the Richer is always playing in my heart for you.

6. Aria (last week: 4)
I’m liking her dress and her ponytail and her accessories, and then she walks up to Ezra’s desk and NO, ARIA, DO NOT RUIN THAT DRESS WITH THAT, is that a bathrobe? It’s like a bathrobe sweater? It is atrocious. It’s two steps forward, one step back with this one.

Aria suggests she and Jake go to the Brew for a poetry reading. How exactly is the Brew a hot spot for up-and-coming poets and contemporary Poes? And please don’t tell me the only reason Aria ever dated MAJ in the first place is so there could be a scene in this episode wherein she uses her martial arts skills to fight Cece. I don’t buy that high-kick; Aria took martial arts for ten minutes before she transferred to makeout arts instead. You know who would have been useful in a combat situation? Magic Mike Montgomery, that’s who.

Aria wrote a story about a cat. She didn’t realize the cat was Ali until she was done writing. Is Aria as bad at writing as Ezra is at teaching English? Maybe they do belong together. PLL GIFs for all the comments that include imagined excerpts from this kitten chronicle!

7. Paige (last week: not ranked)
“Mona tried to kill you,” Paige tells Emily, conveniently neglecting to bring up that one time that she tried to drown Emily in the school pool after swim practice.

8. French Club Friday (last week: not ranked)
Croissants!

9. Caleb (last week: 1)
“She’s probably eating popcorn and watching us play Desperately Seeking Mona.” This guy. CALEB AND ASHLEY 4EVER.

10. Ali (last week: not ranked)
Okay, so Ali is alive, according to Mrs. Grunwald. And we’ve seen that hand popping out of the dirt before. But — at the risk of being a buzzkill here — isn’t the show more interesting if the reason Ali is alive doesn’t rely on some supernatural explanation? I am absolutely game for the idea that this girl, who was by all accounts the Heatheriest Heather that ever Heathered (think about it: last night she really did almost fuck Emily gently with a chainsaw) faked her own murder and has used her staged disappearance and presumed death to cyberstalk, manipulate, and torture all the girls she used to know. That is sick and twisted and awesome. Very Amy Dunne. But if it turns out there’s some Instagram-filtered, conveniently inexplicable Ravenswood story for how Ali went from buried alive to back in action, I will be one disappointed pretty little power ranker.

11. Toby (last week: 9)
My actual notes from the scene where Toby is going through the Sad Box of Mom Memories: “Boring sad toby bored bored sorry to be heartless but yup don’t care, and don’t you dare tell me what to hashtag ABC Family.” Think that about sums it up.

Toby also loses points for not returning Spencer’s calls. “I stayed in town for you, even though you had no way of knowing I was in town because I never told you where I was, and returning your text would have been incredibly easy and not-time-consuming, but just roll with it.” Umm, no. That said, Toby earns some of those points back for this exchange:

Toby: Looks like your ex-boyfriend is moving in with his ex-fiancé.
Spencer: Why would they keep that a secret?
Toby: Because he’s your ex-boyfriend?

Unrelated: Do Toby and Stefan from The Vampire Diaries have the same hairstylist?

12. Paige’s parents (last week: not ranked)
We don’t see a face. No, we only hear a voice, and yet, dear readers, the sound you are hearing is parenting! Honest to goodness parenting! In just one word: “Door!” We hear a parent who cares. A parent who doesn’t want any funny business going on between Paige and her honey, no siree, we’ve got ground rules in this house, young lady. You’re an inspiration, Paige’s invisible parents! Hope to hear you again soon.

13. Cece (last week: 8)
Upside for Cece: She’s not dead! Downside: She had no lines. Also, would it be so very hard for the PLL people to get a candid photo of the actress playing Cece to use in the news report instead of what is blatantly a head shot? Why would a normal person like Cece Drake have a professional head shot, anyway? Just saying, devil’s in the details.

14. Martial Arts Jake (last week: 5)
Hang on, I’m trying to think of one good reason to waste valuable screen time during this otherwise action-packed episode with a date that literally consisted of nothing but Aria trying to change MAJ into the kind of person who likes black-and-white movies (seriously, I don’t know how many times we have to go over that one, Montgomery) and watching him fall asleep on her couch.

15. The Great Charlemagne (last week: not ranked)
Not that great, actually.

16. Emily (last week: not ranked)
Even as Aria walked to the vertical casket of magic disappearing doom, I had a feeling she’d be fine. Why, you ask? Murphy’s Law of Rosewood: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and the person who will be wronged the most is Emily Fields. Of course it’s Emily who winds up nailed in a coffin and sliding feet-first into a life-size slice-n-dice machine. Better luck next season, Emily.

Lingering concerns: Who’s the guy in the gas mask? What’s going to happen at this costume party in Ravenswood? Does anyone know, or care, who Board Shorts is anymore? If they were going to be referring to him by an article of clothing for so long, couldn’t they have come up with something more intriguing, like “leather jacket” or “fedora” or something?

Watch me make a girl disappear,

— 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: Adam Rose/Disney Enterprises