At the risk of overdosing on internet-speak: Literally everything about that was the most amazing thing you’ll see all day, and it will restore your faith in humanity, and you won’t believe what happened next. Everything about PLL that is already fantastic — big kisses, bold declarations of war, generally suspicious facial expressions — is made all the more awesome by the heightened film noir-reality in “Shadow Play.” The show is so melodramatic at heart, it’s such a kick to see this gang lean into that over-the-top intensity. A bonus: Everything about the show that can be kind of weak gets glossed right over in this dark and twisty alternate world, where Ali’s clunky-as-Mona’s-shoes dialogue fits right in and no one can tell that Aria’s clothes probably clash in color. And an installment of PLL that breaks with the norm can only mean one thing: a huge upset in the Pretty Little Power Rankings.
1. Toby (last week: not ranked)
From off the list to the top of the charts: Toby Cavanaugh, holy smokes! This gent strolls into Spencer’s house in a trench coat, a fedora, and the thickest, shiniest head of man-hair since Robert Mitchum. Is Toby’s way of being “noir” essentially shout-speaking a lot of his lines? Kind of, but the lines are all so awesome that the somewhat ridiculous delivery works anyway. Here, in chronological order, are my favorite things Toby said:
- “I wouldn’t say no to a drink.” Toby is a high-school student, but in noir-land, none of that matters. Somebody pour this guy a strong one. He’s gonna need it.
- “This started out as a job. It’s something else now, and you know it.”
- “You’re spread so thin I can see right through you.”
- “Who’s kiddin’ who?” That dropped g. Toby doesn’t have time for gs. Not now.
- To Spencer’s “Haven’t you ever heard of knocking before you come in a room?” he replies: “I’ve heard of it. I just don’t subscribe to the practice. You learn a lot more coming in uninvited.”
- “Since when does the devil give out free samples?” Seriously, why don’t people talk like this anymore? Let’s bring back this slang, everyone. We can do it if we all work together.
- “Down these mean streets a girl must go who is not herself mean.” Technically speaking, this isn’t Toby; it’s Raymond Chandler. But it’s still very cool of Toby to quote/paraphrase Chandler at this juncture.
- “I hit him hard but I only hit him once.” *drops Shure 55 Unidyne*
2. Attention to film noir and era-appropriate detail (last week: not ranked)
You all know I love to tease the costumes on this show when the costumes merit mockery ( … Aria) but my God, was the fashion spot-on and envy-inducing this week. Those fur collars! Hanna’s hat, Emily’s belt, Spencer’s dressing gown, Aria’s — well, Aria still somehow managed to look like Beetlejuice. Points for consistency?
As soon as we traveled back in time, I wrote in my notes, “But how will A send text messages now?” So you can imagine my glee at the sight of A’s telegram. Break a leg. Stop.
More tidbits to adore: A cup of coffee at the Brew is 15 cents. (Ezra leaves a ten-cent tip: “Keep the change, hon.”) Hanna works a switchboard and Spencer looks up a phone number with only five digits. There’s a waiter wiping down the counter for no reason in particular. Aria teaches Paige how to use an old-timey camera; you only have to wait a week to get your pictures! I’ll leave it to the true cinematography experts to get into this in the comments, but those John Alton—esque shots are just gorgeous. A tip of the fedora to writer-director Joseph Dougherty.
3. Spencer (last week: 1)
I know it looks like I’m playing favorites, but it’s not my fault Spencer is the one solving all the big mysteries. Not only does this super sleuth put the pieces together (while wearing an adorable fox sweater) and realize that A changed key clues in Ali’s journal before stashing it back in Ezra’s desk, but her old-movie-watching tendencies combined with sleep deprivation are what transport us to the film noir wonderland in this first place. Not to mention she finally ditches the irritating holier-than-thou-smarter-than-all attitude and sticks up for her friends to Ali: “Don’t talk to me like that. Don’t talk to us like that.” Best of all, she says what has been nagging at me this whole time: the fact that Ali only has power because the Liars obsess over her. “Let’s see how long you last out there without us.” Yes, Spencer! Let’s!
4. Hanna (last week: 3)
Even before the reverse-Oz field trip away from Technicolor, Hanna’s wardrobe was on point. Love the hot pink with black lace, despite the “no such thing as too much jewelry” mantra by which everyone in Rosewood seems to abide. She also gets to say “The A-ness of things.”
But the most delightful thing about Hanna this episode is that, even in this 1940s dreamscape, she is still so undeniably Hanna. “What is it with men? Why do they always turn on you? Is it because they wear hats and the blood gets stuck in their heads? You know, I heard that what causes baldness.” Of course she works the switchboard, giddily connecting people long-distance and holding favors over on her contacts (three sailors, ahem). Her breathy noir voice is perfection. And I love how she catches Ali’s hand before she can slap Spencer across the face.
5. Ezra (last week: 6)
If anybody wins the “most improved by the conceit of the episode” award, it’s Fitz. Before, his vibe was more “creepy TA” than “someone who is legitimately terrifying.” But the man is sure strikes an imposing silhouette, and I’m happy he found a context in which “cross your heart, hope to die?” is scary and not kindergarten-y. Ian Harding looks like he’s having the time of his life. He also gets one of my favorite lines of the night: “We both know what happens when a man lets a skirt get to him.” We sure do, Ezra.
7. Mona (last week: not ranked)
“I want you to know, that was the last carrot stick.”
8. Emily (last week: 7)
Emily’s outfit reads a little more Dynasty than D.O.A. to me. Are those shoulder pads? It’s all a bit sparkly and modern for the vibe of the episode, but as per usual, her hair is impeccable. Her reaction to Paige asking her “what if people find out?” is maybe the most romantic thing anyone on PLL has ever said: “Then they will be insanely jealous of me.” Their kiss is top-notch. It also made me wonder, is the context of this kiss, that it’s the 1940s and a same-sex kiss might be a criminal activity? Because in that case: whoa, even more romantic.
7. Paige (last week: not ranked)
Pros: Paige gets the best kiss of the episode (and there’s some stiff competition, as I’m sure the Toby/Spencer shippers will attest). Cons: She gets the worst hair. It’s like that uptight general guy’s hairdo from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
8. Ali (last week: 10)
Ali says that having a portrait of you from when you were a teenager is “immortality, darling” and it’s smart to disappear because “you’ll always be the girl in the painting.” Does Ali even understand how life and death work? Like, literally. I have a feeling she has no idea what mortality even is.
9. Aria (last week: 9)
Aria plummets to the bottom of the Power Rankings because she is, in fact, totally powerless. Poor, naïve Aria can’t see what’s right in front of her. This week she sort of has an excuse because of thematically eerie lighting, but still, the kid can’t see what’s clear to every other person in Rosewood: Ezra is A. When she reveals to Spencer that she and Ezra have been seeing each other on the sly, she describes their relationship like so: “It’s been sexy and dangerous and awful and wonderful, it’s like a story. It was perfect.” Um, what? Have we been watching the same relationship, Aria? It hasn’t been sexy or wonderful in forever. We’re talking several seasons ago forever. You’ve spent more time talking about child support and — ugh, fine, I’ll say it — Maggie and Malcolm than you have doing anything “sexy and wonderful.”
Then again, maybe she is just completely butchering the lyrics to “22” and means to say she’s “happy free confused and lonely at the same time” and that it’s “miserable and magical.” That would make a lot more sense.
One redeeming thing: Aria tells Ali, “I liked you better when you were dead.” You and me both, darling.
Lingering concerns: Can anyone else not get Aria’s cry-face from next week’s promo out of their heads? Does the fact that Spencer dropped her last pills down the drain mean we can abandon the “oops, I’m hooked on Adderall” storyline? Who was Mona saving that carrot for?
Time to go wrestle the world to its knees.