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Pretty Little Liars Summer Finale Recap: Killer Queen

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS - "Taking This One To The Grave" - Feeling trapped by Alison and "A," the PLLs turn to an unlikely person for help in "Taking This One To The Grave," the mid-season finale of ABC Family's hit original series "Pretty Little Liars," premiering Tuesday, August 26th (8:00 - 9:00 PM ET/PT). (ABC FAMILY/Ron Tom)TROIAN BELLISARIO, JANEL PARRISH

Emmy loser Rust Cohle says time is a flat circle, and perhaps nothing has illustrated that point more clearly than last night’s PLL. For once, we were given an actual timeline of events, but our plot was still unmoored at best. It was Thanksgiving, no, wait, then it was 36 hours before Thanksgiving, and then it was Thanksgiving again, and at one point Mona referred to having already been accepted early decision to three colleges but still “needing to survive senior year.” So there we have it, readers: We are in fall, on the eve of winter, during the Liars’ senior year. Yet, as with all explanations on this drama, this answer only raises more questions: Didn’t Spencer already apply to Penn several seasons ago, but Cece stole her application and never sent it? Was that also … fall of senior year? And why is everyone outside decorating Emily’s house without coats on? Hello, it’s late November in Pennsylvania!

I believe that watching Pretty Little Liars hoping to reach a logical, satisfying conclusion is like climbing the Penrose stairs thinking you’ll ever reach the top. We don’t have answers or reason or even coherent plot progression. We only have each other, and the summer-finale edition of the Pretty Little Power Rankings.

1. Alison (last week: 1)
Let’s just take a beat for the current theory of Ali and her clique: Ali is a true, textbook sociopath, and she assembled this gang based on their most dominant character traits. The smart one, the loyal one, the admiring one, and the passionate one? I want to believe. Going to hold off on getting excited about this army Alison is supposedly building at an abandoned farm somewhere — maybe that horse farm we visited, with the random handsome stranger we never heard from again? — given that the last “army” we were promised turned out to be not an army so much as a person named Mona, occasionally aided by a barely recognizable Lucas.

2. Hanna (last week: 2)
Before getting into the good, I MUST dwell on this atrocious outfit: the ripped Daisy Dukes with what I’m fairly confident are black thigh-high tights and garters? (That, or black regular tights with the waistband shredded inches above the knee.) These ludicrous scraps of fabric would be trashy in any situation, but they are especially WTF-inducing in this case, because Hanna is wearing them to school.

She clearly has the best/most useful boyfriend — he’s the only one Mona loops into their plans — and she gets the easiest job for the Radley break-in. I don’t buy that Hanna, presumably a teenager sometime around 2014 and not in 1998, would keep a handwritten list of colleges on a sheet of notebook paper in her car. I also do not buy that Hanna cannot remember what the SATs are called. But whatever, I’m happy that she’s a secret little brainiac, and ambitious to boot. 

3. Emily (last week: 4)
It’s nice to see her happy, standing up to Ali, kissing Paige and the whole shebang. However: Christmas Emily is kind of the worst.

4. Paige (last week: 6)
“I’m tired of talking.” Really, Paige? Because I thought you and Emily had some actually important things to figure out, like, how Emily was lying to you in order to cover up for a possible murder and definite sociopath who faked her own death and repeatedly risked Emily’s life to keep the kidnapping cover in place? I like the kissing initiative, and all but this rang false to me. 

I did love how she cut off Emily’s “I lied because—” with “Explain it to me later.” So glad we’re done dancing around the whole “people on this show are lying 100 percent of the time” thing.

5. The Inviolable Rules of Television Health and Medicine (last week: not ranked)
Another important page in this sacred rulebook: Whenever a character on a TV show pretends to be sick in order to do something she must lie to her significant other about, that significant other will, without fail, arrive unannounced at the house of the fake-sick character with chicken soup, and this surprise visit will always result in the liar being outed and often result in another secret being revealed as well.

6. Caleb (last week: 14)
Sort of douchey of him to be like, “Uh, Han, these are schools for brainiacs,” instead of encouraging her ambition. Caleb, not everyone wants to take the “I don’t even have to go through the charade of attending classes at Rosewood High anymore” exam and spend the rest of their lives as lonesome, flannel-wearing grifters. Plus points for being the resident computer whiz, not mentioning the spinoff-that-shall-not-be-named, and having a face so sweet Hanna can’t bear to lie to him.

7. Toby (last week: not ranked)
Great uniform, rough accident.

8. Aria (last week: 5)
Maybe the most Aria thing Aria has ever said: When Mona is explaining Ali’s psychotic friend-selection process and Emily says, “She never loved me,” Aria chimes in with, “She never loved any of us.” Aria, Emily’s a lesbian. She’s not talking about the kind of love that you are talking about. Get back in your lane; this is not about you.

I did not realize Aria was still volunteering at Radley, but then again, there is rarely any sense of time or place on this show. And I don’t even know what to do with her Thanksgiving outfit: a vertical-striped, red-and-black loose crop top and a flowered maxi skirt. Did Aria get a job at a dark, knock-off TGI Friday's and only have time to change out of half her uniform?

9. Cindy and Mindy (last week: not ranked)
Really. That’s what we’re going to name these evil Bobbsey Twins, PLL? Cindy and freaking Mindy? To add insult to inanity, Cindy and Mindy’s getaway car is the green Volkswagen Beatle Mandy Moore drove in the “Candy” video.

10. Officer Holbrook (last week: not ranked)
Enough with the “bringing a character to the forefront just to have them speak in double-entendre-y sentences” trick. This switch, like Zach suddenly becoming a slutty pedophile, comes out of nowhere; Holbrook has been, for the most part, one of the only adults in Rosewood not to behave inappropriately or creepily with the Liars. Or, well, he was.

11. Spencer (last week: 12)
Seems like Melissa’s video “confession” or whatever was not only totally useless, but also completely irrelevant, as we have now moved back to a realm, plot wise, where the dots we need to connect involve Bethany Young, Mrs. DiLaurentis, and Ali, and no one is even talking about Melissa anymore. But sweet Spencer doesn’t know that this video doesn’t matter, so it’s all the more impressive that she can quote Churchill on command despite the stress she’s feeling.

You all know I’m going to tip my cop-hat to her Officer and a Gentleman role-play with Toby. It is adorable. The “you are my once upon a time” inscription in the pocket watch is a little too “I got this idea from Pinterest” for my taste, but whatever, love is real. I’m also confused as to why Spencer hasn’t heard back from any colleges — is this connected to the Cece and Penn thing? — and why Spencer, the daughter of two lawyers, would think it’s a smart idea to start yelling stuff like “I DIDN’T KILL HER” in the midst of her arrest. 

12. The Rosewood Police Department (last week: not ranked)
I was thrown right away by the way this anonymous officer was admitting a polygraph test to Ali. He was asking her all these weird, leading, open-ended questions. My understanding of polygraph tests is based almost entirely on that episode of Homeland when Carrie makes a bunch of people, including Brody, submit to a polygraph, and then she makes the questioner ask Brody if he’s been faithful to his wife. (Spoiler: He wasn’t! But he still passed the test.) Anyway, as I figured out from this basically accurate television program is that, in a polygraph test, you can only ask yes or no questions. A bit of recon confirms this fact, which I guess means I learned significantly more about police work from one hour of TV than anyone in the entirety of the Rosewood Police Department has ever known. 

13. Mrs. DiLaurentis (last week: not ranked)
So she was having an affair with Bethany’s dad and she had an affair with Spencer’s dad? Just trying to keep up here.

14. Mona (last week: not ranked)
I know it’s in poor taste to speak ill of the dead, but can I just say that this bit is not working for me:

Mona: Alison volunteered to take the polygraph.

Spencer: How do you know that?

Everyone else: She’s Mona.

This late in the game, you can’t make “She’s Mona” the new “I’m Chuck Bass.” It’s not going to stick. 

Anyway, R.I.P., Mona! She, of course, is murdered the second after she discovers valuable information and announces her discovery, before she can share her intel with anyone else. 

15. The way this show is kind of all about couples now (last week: not ranked)
One of the most intriguing things about PLL’s premise is that it isn’t about teenage romantic love: It’s about female friendship, and the complicated, brutal, passionate, and sometimes even dangerous power dynamics at play among girls in high school. The best parts of PLL are those that exploit that tension, that ruminate on the spell one girl can cast over another when one of them is in that just-so vulnerable spot. So, yeah, the show is pretty boring and pointless when the ratio of lovebird time to friendship drama is 10:1. These girls are never more annoying than when they are talking about their “bed buddies.” Feels like we’re losing our focus, especially when the last shot of the group is everyone standing in their little couples — Ezra and Aria (ugh), Paige and Emily, Hanna and Caleb — instead of in the girl pack that’s the heart of the series.

16. Lucas (last week: not ranked)
Why even bring him back if he’s going to be so useless?

17. Ella Montgomery (last week: not ranked)
I assume that sometime offscreen, maybe during a time jump, Ella developed amnesia and forgot that Ezra was a grown man who was also her daughter’s English teacher. Because that is the only way it would be even remotely plausible or okay for Ezra to earn an invite to the Montgomery family Thanksgiving dinner. EZRA IS STILL AN ENGLISH TEACHER AT ROSEWOOD HIGH. As we have (finally) clarified, Aria is a senior in high school. She. Cannot. Date. Her. English. Teacher. Obviously. She cannot be bringing him around to family Thanksgiving. There is literally no loophole that would make it kosher to bring Ezra as a date to Thanksgiving. 

On the bright side, Thanksgiving is canceled this year, because murder.

18. Ezra (last week: not ranked)
Too bad about that pumpkin pie, Fitz. Next time, just make it from the can.

Lingering concerns: Where do the Liars get those Radley nurse uniforms on such short notice? Why do Radley nurses dress like they’re doing sexy WWII cosplay? Who killed Mona? Where was Tanner this entire time? What was with the ominous “Shouldn’t we wait for Tanner?”–type questions and the shady way Holbrook brushed them off? 

Why the grim faces? Did somebody die?

—J

P.S. See you all again for the Halloween special on October 21!

Photo: Ron Tom/ABC Family