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Pretty Little Liars Season 5 Premiere Recap: Stage Dive

Aria is right where we left her: having a panic attack. Emily, Hanna, and Spencer are holding her back, and they are all still wearing coordinating, but not identical, leather jackets. Ezra is in critical condition. Noel is here (still not sure why, honestly). Ali is watching the chaos unfold from her perch on a fire escape, like somebody out of West Side Story. And by the end of the night, someone is going to be lying dead in a pool of her own blood.

Season five of Pretty Little Liars has officially begun, bringing something juicy back into our otherwise dreary and purposeless summer Tuesday nights — why even bother having Tuesday if The Mindy Project is on hiatus? — loaded with all the ludicrous plot twists, implausible hair-maintenance, and questionable relationship choices we all know and love/ridicule/obsess over. You know what this means. The Pretty Little Power Rankings are back in session.

1. Cece Drake (last episode: not ranked)
Not sure how she busted out of prison (more on that later) or where she got that wig/sunglasses combo on such short notice, or why she and Ali are in each others’ debts, always, or how she swindled Ali out of her get-out-of-jail passport and cash. But I can’t pretend all those tricky maneuvers aren’t proof of the one thing these rankings exist to measure: power. A tip of the ostentatiously large hat to you, Cece!

As is explained in an exposition dump near the end of the episode, Ezra was paying Cece for information, which is why she was in Ravenswood (R.I.P.). Cece was never really Redcoat, because on PLL, like in the new X-Men movie, nothing that you got invested in and were told to believe for the past several installments counts for anything anymore.

2. Mona (last episode: 2)
Look at Mona, with her seal-slick hair and her power lipstick. And how about that leather jacket — is she subconsciously coordinating her clothing with the Liars? Did she just binge-watch Orphan Black over break and decide to channel Sarah Manning?

I’m very intrigued by this not-so-little ragtag pack of people Ali has wronged that Mona’s united. Mona’s pep talk, which is pretty depressing, is all very “raise your hand if you have been personally victimized by Regina George.” Quite the effective rallying cry.

3. Aria (last episode: 9)
I would high-five Aria for killing A, except I’m sure this was just one A and maybe not even the A. Another concern: We’re going to have to deal with Aria’s guilt over killing Shauna next time, aren’t we? I am really hoping she just bounces back from this, but I have a feeling we need to brace ourselves for some serious pouty-faced wallowing. We could be in for weeks of her stomping around the house, ignoring the kind, warm smile of her beautiful younger brother and the mediocre, half-hearted attempts at parenting from her mom and dad.

4. Ali (last episode: 3)
“There’s no art to this war, Spencer.” Look, that’s annoying, but I can’t pretend I too was not impressed that Ali had done the reading. Maybe the secret to literary prowess in Rosewood is to spend two years on the lam, instead of wasting away in Fitz’s useless English class. 

Ali earns points for character consistency when, during the flashback, she talks about how much fun it must be to be an actress: “Imagine being up there with all those people who love you.” First Ezra is all, “I think they call that adoration,” like, WOW, GENIUS, someone did at least average on the SATs! Then Ezra tells Ali she’s “my Holly Golightly,” but of course this is reference to a book/movie Ali still hasn’t read/understood (remember how mad Aria got about Ali’s failure to comprehend Cat the cat?). On a more serious note, I liked the little scene by the concession stand, when the Liars were laughing and mindlessly recalling a food-themed reality-TV show they’ve all watched together, and Ali just had to stand there, realizing their lives had gone on without her. Sure, she monopolized a lot of their thoughts, fears, and time, but apparently there were still these more mundane bonding moments that Ali’s absence failed to halt.

5. Spencer (last episode: 6)
Even under duress, Spencer can quote The Art of War. In an alternate ABC Family reality, I like to imagine she and Sasha from Bunheads get together to verbally spar on their lazy Saturday afternoons. Spencer also says that “I wouldn’t want to go back to the person that I was before [A]. All I cared about was winning. And now I just really want to be happy.” Spence! I wouldn’t want to go back to my life before A either.

Also, this:

[growly sound]

Ali: What was that?

Emily and Hanna: Spencer’s stomach.

6. Melissa Hastings (last episode: 13)
I haven’t always been the biggest Melissa fan, but this week, she delivered. She spoke the truth about Ali being the worst: “I understand running away. But to let your friends and family think you’re DEAD?” Thank you, Melissa! Then she starts to cry and I think, Pull your shit together, Mellie, Ali is a sociopath. But then she says, “There is another family missing their daughter, and she really is dead.” Whoa, empathy. Wasn’t expecting that, but what a pleasant surprise. Wonder what she’ll bring to Mona’s pack of Ali-fighters.

7. Landline telephones (last episode: not ranked)
Who would have thought this ancient technology could play such a central role in our text-happy drama?

8. Hanna (last episode: 5)
Should we be worried about Hanna’s gun thing? In last season’s finale, she got to hold the gun, even though her past run-ins with guns had resulted in her untimely arrest. In this episode alone, we see her pass off a pistol to Ali like it’s no big thing and marvel at a prop gun that she’s pretty sure is real. Later this gun is used to off Shauna, but does it count as Chekhovian if Aria used the weapon as a blunt object, not a firearm?

Hanna is suspicious about Ali, as she should be, and confirms that Ali is sleeping before letting conversation continue around her. She likes Spencer’s field-hockey skirt. She thinks gummy bears can, in these extreme circumstances, be counted as fruit. Amen to that.

9. Emily (last episode: 11)
How long before Emily reveals what she knows to the rest of the Liars? Is she buying Ali’s line about how anyone Emily tells will be an accessory to the crime? (That’s quite a clever way to get someone to keep your secrets, Ali.)

10. Paige (last episode: not ranked)
If she and Emily are broken up, HOW DID SHE KNOW to wear a leather jacket, too? These girls must be soul mates.

11. Nightmares I am 100 percent going to have about that mask/hoodie/black gloves combination (last episode: not ranked)
“Wanna play?”

12. Noel (last episode: 19)
“Is this the part where you guys kiss? Had to ask!”

[steps away from computer, throws up in mouth, returns to computer]

13. Officer Holbrook and the Rosewood Police Department (last episode: Holbrook: 12; RPD: not ranked)
Cece Drake escaped custody? IS THAT A JOKE. The missing-girl-turned-murdered-girl-turned-oops-a-different-girl-was-murdered-but-missing-girl-is-still-missing case is easily the most riveting, high-profile crime to hit small-town Rosewood in the past ten years and probably ever. With so many answers right under their thumb, the Rosewood cops just … let Cece get away? Because Cece killed one officer? Cece was in an interrogation room! Why wasn’t she handcuffed, or supervised? Even if she killed the guy in the room with her, how would she get out of the station undetected?

I lifted my head off my desk hoping this was the last act of incompetence I’d witness from Rosewood’s finest. But alas, this was not to be: Holbrook, hitting up those search engines late at night, just now figured out that Ezra’s real last name is Fitzgerald. We’re not exactly talking about the world’s most obscure alias, Holbrook. Ezra’s family is supposed to be filthy rich — and not just regular rich; old-money, Edith Wharton–novel rich — and clearly they’ve lent their name to at least one notable institution, the theater where the girls all hide out. Ezra has been in and around a murder investigation for years. And no one ever knew his “real” identity, which, seriously, was never a secret so much as a thing he didn’t like to bring up because he was embarrassed about his past and has a Gatsby inferiority complex? 

14. Ezra (last episode: 10)
Unconscious mostly, useful for the three seconds it took him to whisper-breathe the name “Shauna” into Aria’s ear, still a sexual predator who, when Ali was 13 years old (!!!) believed she was 21 and took her, alone, to an almost-empty theater.

15. Shauna (last episode: not ranked)
Apparently in love with Jenna this whole time? Since when? Didn’t Shauna think Emily was hot? If Shauna was against Ali, why did she spend so much time in Rosewood, endangering herself and doing Ali’s bidding? That said, I like a girl with a long memory — grudges were made to be held — so I approve of Shauna still being pissed at that Liars for blinding Jenna, and at Ali for brushing the incident off as “a happy accident.”

Anyway: R.I.P., girl.

Lingering concerns: I spotted a fire in the Hastings’s fireplace; does that mean it’s winter? (But then why would the girls be wearing leather jackets in Philadelphia and New York, where winter temperatures regularly require head-to-toe snow gear?) What’s the secret Melissa knows that Mr. Hastings doesn’t want her to reveal? Does Lucas seem really different to anybody else, or has it just been a while?

We don’t just look alike. We think alike, too,

—J

P.S. I talked to Marlene King and asked her all our dire questions — mostly about age-inappropriate dating, unclear weather patterns in Rosewood, and if Mona will ever fly a helicopter. Check out her insights here.

PLL fans who’ve read the books: Keep your spoiler-filled knowledge to yourselves! TV talk only, both below and on Twitter, please and thank you.

Photo: Eric McCandless/Disney