There’s only one way to get through the Poehler Vortex, and that is with an episode of Pretty Little Liars this heated. Everyone was so sassy last night! A reminder of where we left off after that bizarro and disappointing Halloween special: Ali is alive. Someone buried her in the backyard, and then Grunwald dug her up, and now she’s afraid to come back to Rosewood, but apparently not quite so afraid that she’ll just tell the Liars what they need to know in a coherent way so that she can find peaceful enjoyment among the living. That’s just not Ali’s style, okay? As Caleb would say approximately 10 million times, it’s complicated.
So who made it to the top of the Pretty Little Power Rankings in this plot-packed winter premiere?
1. Hanna (last episode: 1)
Hanna catches everyone off guard by having it together even when so much of her life is falling apart. She makes an effort at a fur collar fashion statement that’s all very American Hustle. Her eyeliner is top-notch. And despite being underestimated by virtually everyone around her, Hanna rises to the occasion: stealing Ali’s diary from A’s lair, not letting Caleb off the hook for his vague “I made multiple promises to people” bullshit, and having the greatest mom in Rosewood.
I’m not saying our girl Hanna scored a perfect ten this episode. She thinks it’s pronounced “gayz-bo.” But she suffers and she rallies. Girl’s a lover and fighter. And she only made one really atrocious fashion choice. (The blue breakup pants: harem pants? Ill-fitting trousers? Unclear.) For this, she wins the day.
2. Spencer (last episode: 5)
Spencer, as per usual, begins the episode as the voice of reason. Everybody else is all “Gosh, I have so many feelings,” and Spencer shuts it down: “We can figure out how we feel about it later.” BOOM. Never leave home without this one.
Truth is, Spencer is kind of a bitch. To everyone. Anytime any other person gets their sleuth on, she is as dismissive as humanly possible. But, like many a great fictional bitch before her — see also: Blair Waldorf, Scarlett O’Hara, Mellie Grant, Ursula from The Little Mermaid — Spencer is a stone-cold killer, and if it weren’t for her, nothing would ever get done. Also, she watches Mythbusters.
Best exchange of the week is, appropriately enough, this back and forth between the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked ladies:
Hanna: I’ve been thinking and I have a theory.
Spencer: You have what?
Hanna: A theory!
Spencer: [Face of utter disbelief, mild amusement.]
3. Ashley Marin (last episode: not ranked)
Could I have put Ashley at the No. 1 spot just for the face she makes behind her daughter’s back when Hanna says her reason for not going to Australia* is that “the water runs backwards there”? Of course. I’m a reasonable person. But I don’t think that’s what Ashley would want. She wants her daughter to succeed. Plus, I had to dock a few points for the whole “taking a job from someone who still makes fun of Hanna for being a chubby preteen” thing.
*Based on my recent viewing of Top of the Lake, I think Hanna might feel right at home ‘round those parts, what with the missing girl, the maybe-murder, the creepy people, the sexy times, and the cryptic messages from someone who goes by initials instead of a name.
4. Emily (last episode: 3)
Paige and Emily’s relationship is approaching Coach and Tami levels of excellence. But even though Emily’s take on Ali, the girl who kissed and ran, was beautiful and all — “I don’t think she ever loved anybody … she just collected love from other people” — the speech just got “I Knew You Were Trouble” stuck in my head. “And the saddest fear, comes creepin’ in, that you never loved me, or her, or anyone, yeahhh!”
Just a thought. Another thought: Emily’s new highlights are amazing.
5. Convenient offscreen locations for inconvenient characters (last episode: not ranked)
Missing Martial Arts Jake? Oh, he’s in Harrisburg. Hanna’s dad and the stepfamily? Australia. Cece? On the run. Ezra’s friend who usually lives in the haunted house with the door in the floor? “Out of the country.”
6. Aria (last episode: 8)
“Knock knock, who’s there?” Why is Aria talking in catchphrases? Why does she wear pants that look like paint is slowly dripping down her legs and drying as she walks? With heels that a person might — MIGHT — consider acceptable for, say, a bachelorette party in Atlantic City at which you plan on drinking so much you can’t feel your feet? Why does she have an intimate conversation with Ezra about whatever happened with Malcolm (blocked it out, it’s a PTSD thing, do not remind me of the details) and their current status while the door to his classroom is wide open? SMH.
7. Caleb (last episode: 10)
“You got prettier while I was away.” For one shining moment, Caleb has the best game in town. Then it crashes and burns with his non-explanations for why he has to go to his spinoff show.
Minus 10,000 points for Hanna saying “Let’s get out of here,” and then cutting to a scene of Hanna and Emily having coffee with their doppelgängers. That is not what “Let’s get out of here” means, PLL! You’re about to separate the best kissers on the show. Give us something to remember them by, would you? Gosh.
8. Ezra (last episode: 9)
Lest you fear that Possibly-Evil Ezra possesses the English teaching skills his squeaky-clean counterpart lacked, fret not! Ezra’s intro to Jekyll and Hyde is “You all know the plot but you don’t know the story,” which sounds like something he practiced in the bathroom mirror as he imagined how great it would be to mold young minds. And hey, don’t knock the knockoff versions. Some of us read the Wishbone version of J&H and we are better for it.
Ezra wants a time machine so he and Aria can start over and avoid all the mistakes. Literally as I am saying, out loud, “Ezra, the mistake is that you dated your student,” Aria says, “Someone might say that we’re the big mistake.” Not to dwell on something the show has clearly opted not to dwell on, but are we ever going to address the fact that this is statutory rape? That as far as we know, because PLL has opted not to include birthdays in its narrative, Aria is still a minor? No? Okay then.
Ezra hands Aria the key to the spooky house/redecorated version of the apartment he’s always been in. Then he says, “It could be our secret.” Foolproof arrangement right there.
9. The Avery/Sarah/Claire story line (last episode: not ranked)
I do think there’s a lot of potential in a “maybe this other girl is in Ali’s crypt” twist, what with the through-the-looking-glass nature of these white teeth teens and their missing mean girl. But it’s an awful lot of new characters to introduce at once, especially in an episode that’s already overstuffed with plot for the characters we do know. And — not to be all about realism here — if someone exactly like Ali had gone missing the same weekend Ali disappeared, everyone in the world of the show would have heard about it. Two telegenic, popular blonde teenagers vanish from their quiet, suburban lives? The trend story writes itself.
10. Mona (last episode: not ranked)
Mona’s triangle cutouts = the ABC Family version of the cleavage rhombus. I should probably stop asking if this school has a dress code. Speaking of: Let’s talk about the second outfit. The Lily Pulitzer–on-acid one. With the Sasha from Bunheads (R.I.P.) high pigtail buns with the nineties prom curls in the front. After so much time in the A hoodie, did Mona forget how to dress herself?
Then there’s her dialogue. Oh, the dialogue. “I’ve had a rather Dickensian life up until now,” said no teenager in the history of ever. “Full of folly and false imprisonment.” Um, what? What is this? “Maybe it’s the books you have us read.” Mona, you go to public school. It’s easy to forget because most public schools have dress codes. But Mona, Ezra doesn’t get to pick the books.
11. Toby (last episode: not ranked)
I refuse to start caring about how Toby’s mom died. We can talk about Toby’s hair instead! What is happening there? It rises like four inches above his head. Is his hair so big because it’s full of secrets?
Another thing: Checking the visitors log is not some mind-blowing crazy creative detective work. That’s like saying turning your computer off and turning it back on again when it freezes is a genius technological maneuver.
12. Mr. Hastings (last episode: not ranked)
Bet not a day goes by without this guy wishing he’d just worn a condom that one time.
13. Lucy Hale’s new music video (last episode: not ranked)
It’s called “You Sound Good to Me,” so they must have known someone was going to make a “doesn’t sound so good to me” joke about it. I am that someone, readers. But this is as good an opportunity as any to relive how Lucy got her singing start: on American Juniors in 2003.
Lingering concerns: Do you think it’s time to change the comforter? Does Mr. Hastings always do what’s best for his family? Is there a difference between a journal and a diary?
Don’t fight in the crypt,
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.