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Pretty Little Liars Recap: School Hard

Last week’s episode was amazing, and next week’s noir-fest looks like it’s going to be fantastic. I guess it’s only to be expected that the episode in the middle is a bit lackluster, and lacking in vital information, and also lacking in compelling dialogue from Shauna.

1. Spencer (last week: 2)
Spencer solves all the mysteries. Of course she does. She spies the camera spying her. That’s the kind of sleuth she is. A for effort, Ezra, but you are not long for this world.

Now seems like a good time for us all to review the Inviolable Rules of Television Health and Medicine. Even when logic, coherent character development, or the actual laws of science suggest — nay, demand — otherwise, these rules must be followed on every television show lest chaos reign on the airwaves. For instance: If a woman throws up, she is always pregnant; if a girl skips a meal, she always has an eating disorder; and, as we see with dear Spencer, if a character takes so much as one pill he or she has not been prescribed by a doctor (and sometimes even then), he or she will always quickly spiral into addiction.

So of course Spencer, who, quite frankly, I find it hard to believe had never dabbled in scholastic steroids before, pops a single “study aid with a child-proof cap” and instantly loses all color in her face and starts wearing her hair in that I’ve-given-up-on-life ponytail. It’s basically like when Dennis and Dee go on welfare and immediately become crackheads. I had hoped Spencer would be able to just harmlessly enjoy a recreational drug (for a good cause!) without being held up as a cautionary tale to the impressionable PLL audiences but, alas, such are the Inviolable Rules of Television Health and Medicine, the most sacred commandments of all. And so Spencer turns in a paper with an entire paragraph lifted from Wikipedia. (As if Ezra would have even noticed that Spencer’s work was plagiarized.)

Also, for everyone playing along at home who still doesn’t know what season it is, Spencer is wearing shorts. Do with that information what you will.  

2. Brenda the drug dealer (last week: not ranked)
“Don’t haggle, Spencer. It’s tacky.” 

3. Hanna (last week: 1)
I’m devastated that Hanna’s decided to take a vacation from her literary pursuits, but at least a few of the mystery-solving lessons — and oh-so-convenient run-ins with Officer Holbrooke — have had a lasting impression on her. She’s also getting some of this season’s sassiest dialogue, from “A played post office between my teeth!” to “I was wondering if you could come over and make my closet all neat-freaky.” I adore her overjoyed reaction to getting her shoes back: “I feel like I finally have feet again!” (Nice bit of plot continuity, what with Hanna’s long-ago admission to Mona that the police confiscated all the heels in the Marin household.) Hanna also speaks for us all when she says “I don’t give a flying crap about Shauna.”

That said, whoever is in charge of Ashley Benson’s hair needs to just pick a color and commit to it. What is happening here? Is she brunette now? I’m digging the side part and Veronica Lake waves, though.

4. Shauna (last week: not ranked)
I do not condone this jacket that’s half-sweatshirt, half-denim. And I get that the writers are trying very hard to make Shauna an important part of the PLL universe, but no amount of intense whisper-conversations between Shauna and Emily (or Shauna and Ali) laced with dialogue so clunky and writerly sounding someone should really call her on it — “I saw a button and I pushed,” sure thing, honey — can make Shauna seem relevant or interesting.

Either give Shauna an actual personality (“messenger” is a job, not a character trait) or cut her loose. From where Shauna ended up, it looks like the latter. For now, anyway.

5. Jesse the guidance counselor (last week: 9)
“Sounds lonely,” he says to Aria. “Do you want to start with the boyfriend?” I think I’m about all maxed out on older dudes creepily “caring” about our underage Liars. Can’t PLL just cast hot guys in their late twenties to play high school students like every other show, so we can feel normal and not icked out about the sexual tension between literally every member of the opposite sex on this program?

6. Ezra (last week: 5)
Wow, Ezra’s cabin has like five lamps in one room. Why is someone so evil over-lighting his living space? Ezra tells Aria, “We’re past the point in our relationship where we have to hide.” Actually, Ezra, you’re at the point in your relationship at which Aria is in her senior year of high school. You should just go back to ominously stacking those chickpea cans. In the meantime, buy a new bag. Is that Velcro? Jesus.

7. Emily (last week: 12)
“Where the hell am I supposed to hide five grand?” Emily asks while wearing one of those waitress aprons with the pockets in the front that are literally designed for money storage.

8. Ezra’s cabin (last week: not ranked)
Sometimes PLL’s specificity is spot-on. Case in point: Spencer used the word hoagie in last night’s episode (I eagerly await a group trip to Wawa). Ezra’s cabin, on the other hand, is the vaguest place in Vagueville. This must be addressed. A few details would go a long way in making this cabin a believable part of the PLL geography. To start: Where the hell is it supposed to be located? The nearest grocery story where Aria could feasibly buy chickpeas is an hour away? But it’s close enough to Rosewood that Aria would suggest swinging back during a weekend trip — which would entail driving to and from Rosewood every day for three days — to make sure Mike was okay? The fact that the cabin is somewhere unplottable on the time-space continuum doesn’t add to the mystery so much as distract from the story; it pulls you out of the plot every time you have to wonder, Wait, where exactly are they?

I humbly recommend that the cabin be formally situated in “somewhere in the Poconos,” a general-ish location just under two hours away from Philadelphia and the perfect, picturesque place where cell-phone reception is unreliable at best.

9. Aria (last week: 11)
Aria begins the episode with the low version of Sasha from Bunheads’ high-bun pigtails. It’s not a great look. Later, she has amazing sideswept, wavy hair, a great studded black dress and belt, and completely ridiculous shoes. I endorse this outfit above the ankle. Those are the highest, yet tiniest, black heels I’ve ever seen. They might be taller than Lucy Hale’s feet are long. They look like shoes for a baby hooker.

Of course we are randomly reminded that Aria was interested in photography that one time, and of course we see Aria (in a sexy black nightie, oookay) awaiting Ezra’s return, in Ezra’s bed. In. His. Bed. ABC Family: where statutory rape is just swell, but Adderall is evil.

10. Ali (last week: 10)
Again, somehow Ali has the hair of a bite-size Real Housewife even though, for all we know, she’s been sleeping on a bench at this unmarked bus stop for God knows how long. She’s all out of money, all out of luck, and almost all out of allies. She won’t even tell her mother she’s still alive. I know this would be a mean thing to say if she were real, but because she’s a fictional character I’ll say it: Ali was so much more interesting when she was dead.

11. Teenagers using pay phones (last week: not ranked)
How the Liars would approach the phone booth at The Brew if they were actual teenagers in 2014:

Hanna: What is this? Is it a spaceship?
Emily: Shut up, Hanna.
Aria: It looks like that magic glass box that turns Clark Kent into Superman.
Spencer: (exasperated, condescending facial expression)
Aria: What? I’ve seen the old comic books at Ezra’a super secret hideaway ca — I mean, Mike is into that stuff.
Spencer: It’s. A. Phone. Booth. That is a pay phone. For making telephone calls. You know, before there were cell phones.
Hanna: Before cell phones? Don’t be ridiculous, Spencer. The spacebox isn’t big enough for a dinosaur.
Emily: Do you think this is where A. has been texting us from this whole time?
Spencer: You can’t text from a pay phone.
Hanna (picks up receiver, attempts to dial, hangs it back up again): It’s broken, anyway.
Spencer: That’s because you didn’t put in any quarters. That’s the pay part. In pay phone.
Hanna: Good one, Spencer. Like I have quarters on me. Do you think it takes credit?
Spencer (pops a few more pills, who even knows if it’s Adderall anymore; girl’s gone over the edge): I need to be at Penn, like, yesterday.
Emily: You’re applying to Penn State too? They’ll never take both of us. If you were really my friend, you wouldn’t apply.

-scene-

Lingering concerns: Is anyone else going to watch Dark Passage (the movie A. was watching at the end of the episode) to prepare for next week’s black-and-white noir special episode? Why doesn’t Ali have burner phones? Ali was a missing person and then the subject of a high-profile murder case; wouldn’t the police have combed her room for evidence and easily found the not exactly well-hidden envelope of cash?

I’d hate to see you suffer,

-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: Eric McCandless/Disney