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Pretty Little Liars Recap: On to the Next One

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS - "Close Encounters" - Aria, Emily, Hanna and Spencer must decide if new information about Ali is true, in "Close Encounters," an all-new episode of ABC Family's hit original series "Pretty Little Liars," airing Tuesday, January 21st (8:00 - 9:00 PM ET/PT).

As William Faulkner wrote in his installment of the Pretty Little Liars book series: The past is never dead. It isn’t even past. Which is to say, everyone you thought was dead is probably still alive, lurking nearby, waiting to wreck havoc on your life, and every time you try to move on you will get sucked back into the ex vortex. If you’re lucky, you’ll have the greatest mom in town to help you get through the pain. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be left to make cry face alone on your boyfriend’s couch.

1. Ashley Marin (last week: 5)
In a rare, astonishing coup, Ashley Marin is one of the only parents in Rosewood to ever top the Pretty Little Power Rankings. How does she accomplish this feat? To start, she is whoa-so-cool when she walks in on Travis and Hanna with a deliberate door slam to break up their make-out session, not because she doesn’t support make-out sessions (this is Ashley we’re talking about) but because she knows what’s really going on. She shoots down Hanna’s “we’re just friends” line — “You kiss all your friends like that?” — and tells Travis he’s got that perfect kiss-shape lipstick on his neck like a pro. And then, in a tour de force performance of maternal amazingness, she brings Hanna to Cracked Up, which appears to have been modeled after Sarah’s Smash Shack in San Diego (it’s closed now, probably because of A), a place where women scorned and other angry folk can throw plates at a wall to make themselves feel better. Look at those cute science goggles they have to wear! I wonder if they come with a science oven.

Sidebar: Is the name “Cracked Up” a reference to “The Crack-Up,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1936 Esquire series about the pressures of fame? Because Fitz’s real last name is Fitzgerald, but he’s too much of an insecure wannabe writer to risk comparison to the Gatsby guy? Just something to think about.

2. Hanna (last week: 9)
When I saw Hanna getting rid of half her wardrobe, I thought maybe she was pulling a Shailene Woodley and wanted to live with just one suitcase in a tree for a while. But alas, “It’s my broken heart,” she tells Ashley, which is all very Miranda Lambert (someone keep Hanna away from those rusty kitchen scissors; it feels like we just got her hair back to good), and she puts on dark eyeliner specifically for moping purposes. Fortunately Hanna makes it through, gets some action while she’s at it, and leaves Caleb a touching and not embarrassing voice mail.

3. Travis (last week: 6)
Our friendly neighborhood Saracen pulls some prime flirtation techniques straight out of The Hustler and “helps” Hanna with her pool game. His reaction when Ashley points out that he’s “got a little something” on his neck is perfection: sheepish grin, not-even-sorry shrug, and out the door. A tip of the cowboy hat to you, sir.

4. Toby (last week: 4)
I love that Toby talks about how he and his dad have discussed signing the papers. Where is Toby’s dad, exactly?

5. Spencer (last week: 1)
House favorite Spencer is in a rough spot this week. It’s not easy being the only person who knows the truth, especially when your dad is a dick who tells you to “make yourself useful while I’m showering.” Spencer makes the fatal mistake of pointing out to Emily that Alison is trying to divide the group and “make you feel special,” which of course will only alienate Emily further. This is so like that time Walt told Jesse that Mike was just using Jesse to get to him and that the attack on Mike’s car was staged. Yeah, Walt was right, because he was an evil genius. But that didn’t make that the right thing to say.

Then Toby tells Spencer to leave all this stuff with his mom’s death in the past. Spencer knows there’s more to the story but Toby doesn’t want to hear it. You are aces, Spence! Don’t let anybody tell you different. But also, go with Toby on this one because we’re all ready for this story line to be over.

On the bright side for Spencer: I like her giraffe sweater. Always the animal-themed outfits with this one.

6. Martial Arts Jake (last week: not ranked)
Welcome back, you sweaty shirtless plot device! MAJ describes his sentimental attachment to his punching bag by saying, “I’ve had this since I was 15.” How old are you now, MAJ? Oh, wait, we have no idea. MAJ qualified for “nationals,” which is where every single television or movie athlete in the history of entertainment gets to go at some point in time or another. Good for him, I guess.

MAJ “thought things were going so well” between him and Aria, even though literally every one of their dates has been a total movie-watching failure. Just take the breakup as a good thing, MAJ. Guys who don’t date Aria never have to worry about finding knives inside their fitness equipment.

7. Ezra (last week: 8)
Ezra loses so many points for bringing back the Malcolm story line. Then he loses even more points for his passive-voice apology: “The conversation was heated. Voices were raised. There was nothing violent about it.” Um, no.

8. Shauna (last week: not ranked)
Do I think this “Shauna’s known Ali since early childhood” plot feels like something that got photoshopped onto this story two episodes ago? Is Shauna unnecessary, given the huge number of characters who are fully (or at least, more than barely) integrated into the PLL universe that we hardly ever see? Is her exposition-as-dialogue boring and tedious? Yes, yes, and yes, but I’m trying to give her a chance. Ever since Maya, the oldest living teenager since Dick Clark, got murdered or died or whatever, Shauna’s basically been the only black character on this show. Fingers crossed she gets more interesting and/or relevant.

9. Emily (last week: 3)
Emily could win this episode for her outstanding tresses alone. But honestly, she didn’t have a chance at the No. 1 slot. Not with Ashley firing on all cylinders this week. Plus, it’s like Scary Movie 101 to know that anytime a person says, “You have to go alone. That’s the only way you’ll be safe,” someone is obviously trying to kill you.

10. The gag clause in Toby’s contract (last week: not ranked)
Here’s hoping this means we won’t have to hear about his mom’s murder and/or suicide and/or accident mystery anymore!

11. Aria (last week: 11)
Dumbest things Aria does this episode, in chronological order:

— Relies on GPS to find the Busy Bee Inn. Don’t you know A can hack all technology and thwart even your poorly laid plans?

— Picks up a generic article of girl clothing at the Busy Bee Inn and says, “I could definitely see Ali wearing this.”

— Wears those giant beaded earrings that are bigger than her face, extremely distracting.

— Tells Ezra, “You’re the one. You always have been.” Tells Jake, re: Ezra: “We have a long history.” Once more, with feeling: Aria, you and Fitz have a long history of statutory rape because you met him when you were 15 and Ezra was and continues to be your teacher.

— Wears this too-tight white dress with rainbow leopard print and, because that’s not quite enough going on, peplum, to return MAJ’s gift in person like two hours after dumping him (too soon, Aria!).

— Forgives Ezra, shares that brownie thing with him like it’s their freaking wedding cake.

12. Ali (last week: 2)
Question: if Ali is in hiding and/or on the lam and/or scared for her life, etc., where’s she stashing the curling iron and all these wardrobe changes? Am I supposed to believe she runs to the Rosewood YMCA every time she needs an outlet for her Hot Tools? If she’s really on the run, let’s swap out the fashionable outfits and Victoria’s Secret glam-wave for leggings, some T-shirt swiped from a middle-school lost and found, and a Katniss braid.

13. Unclear chronology (last week: not ranked)
Emily goes to her meet-and-greet with Alison in short shorts. Ashley tells Hanna to grab a coat on her way to Cracked Up. Spencer is wearing a lightweight sweater. Aria is tightsless. What season is it supposed to be? If in the world of the show, Halloween was a few weeks ago, why isn’t everyone wearing pants? Rosewood is a Philadelphia suburb. Cold in the winter, hot in the summer, brisk in between. Why is everyone dressed like they live in a climate-controlled wonderland?

14. Mr. Hastings
Papa Hastings rolls up to Casa Toby, not to find his teenage daughter who ran away from home (oh, I mean, “is sleeping over at Hanna’s.” Good Lord, that trick is older than you, Pops), just to talk to Toby. But all of a sudden, because he accidentally stumbled into parenting, he’s going to be the dad who tells Spencer to get dressed and come home. She is dressed. In Toby’s T-shirt and boxers.

Mr. Hastings claims that he was trying to cover up the fact that Jason had fallen off the wagon. At first I was like, “Is the wagon a hoedown episode reference?” Mr. Hastings couldn’t possibly think that, in the grand scheme of terrible things that people in Rosewood have done, relapsing into your alcoholism is so mortifying and shameful that it’s worth several episodes of subterfuge. PLL, pick and choose your secrets. Every single thing that happens cannot be treated as an equally volatile secret. “Jason got drunk and started a bar fight” (presumably another bogus cover story, but still) is not that big a deal! It’s not even a medium deal. It’s like an average night on Nashville.

About Spencer’s mom: “I’m not lying to her. I’m just not sharing everything.” Ladies and gentlemen, one of the best attorneys in Rosewood apparently doesn’t understand what “lying by omission” is. I miss Veronica Hastings.

Lingering concerns: So who was Ezra yelling at in the car? How do we think MAJ really got that gash over his eye? Of all the clothes Hanna threw away, why did she keep a T-shirt that says “creeping” on the front?

You don’t have to put up a front with me,

— 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/ABC Family