The winter premiere of PLL brings a rare gift: an official timeline. We’re picking up three months after where the Christmas special left off. March is almost over, so it almost makes sense that Emily is wearing shorts. The Liars are getting restless, dreaming their “someday we’ll leave Rosewood” fantasies, even though we know these girls will be in the last three months of high school until all the actresses are pushing 50. Meanwhile, Mona’s body is nowhere to be found, and her soul is stuck in a bug-filled purgatory; Ali’s got the top bunk in prison, but Orange Jumpsuit Barbie isn’t anywhere near the top of this week’s Pretty Little Power Rankings.
1. Spencer (last episode: 2)
Free at last, free at last! She starts the hour saying, “Let’s not forget I’m still an alleged murder” — Spencer’s wit, like Alison, will never say die — but ends it sobbing very impressive tears of relief, weeping in the arms of her boyfriend. Nothing like narrowly escaping a jail cell to rocket a girl to the No. 1 spot on the PLPR.
Other demonstrations of Spencer superiority: the fact that she knows what a cenotaph is (fun fact: if you type “senataf” into Google, they will know what you’re trying to say; does a miniature Spencer live inside of the search engine, correcting all my Hanna-esque mistakes?); she remembers to wear plastic gloves and clean shoes and pull her hair in a tight bun for the evidence-planting-mission at Mona’s; at the point of the episode when her life is in total disarray, her hair and outfit are impeccable.
2. Paige (last episode: 5)
I don’t mean to minimize how sad Paige must be to miss prom and graduation. But get this: Paige’s parents want her someplace safe. They are such parents! No wonder they’re getting out of town. Naturally, Emily does not understand; she’s all, “just fight with your mom and dad! What is parenting? What do you mean, the adults in your family get to decide where you go and when you go there? How?”
There is the possibility that Paige is not running away from danger but — twist! — that Paige is the danger and is running from accountability. This wouldn’t line up with anything we’ve learned about her over the past several seasons, but what is character consistency, even? (Speaking of “things that make sense for her character,” no way Paige would just up and quote this song.) For now, at least, she got a very romantic and lovely send-off at the airport.
3. Emily (last episode: 8)
Is it just me, or is Emily getting smarter? When she said, “If it were that easy to prove Ali is a murderer, wouldn’t we have done that already?” my hands froze above my laptop. EXCELLENT POINT. Emily, making an excellent point. It’s a crazy New Year, people. Even her bonkers idea of planting fake evidence at the scene of Mona’s death is semi-reasonable for a Rosewood plot, and it leads the Liars and police to those cameras Mona set up.
4. Hanna (last episode: 3)
Did Hanna have inch-long dark roots in the first scene and then, miraculously, bleach-blonde hair from top to tip for the rest of the night? No matter, she gets my favorite line of the eve:
Emily: For a minute I thought I’d just get on a plane to Atlantic City and fly away.
Hanna: I’ve been to Atlantic City. You made the right choice.
I bet Hanna gets into Oberlin.
5. Caleb (last episode: 11)
Ugh, Caleb got a haircut. Legitimately thought he was Ezra for the first eight seconds he was onscreen. Do you think the PLL people read my comments about Caleb’s mysterious ability to stash a flatiron in the air ducts of the high school and reached for the scissors? I meant it only in jest, Caleb! I miss your flowing locks. You know what I don’t miss? Ravenswood. Stop alluding to it, and stop messing with the laws of the Rosewood universe. Spooky, physically impossible messages from A are totally kosher; literal magic, not so much.
6. Mona’s mom (last episode: not ranked)
Grief looks good on you, Mrs. Vanderwaal. That smack! What an arm. How many times have I longed to reach through my television and slap that Heather Chandler smirk off Ali’s perfectly symmetrical face? Rough estimate: more times than the girls have had valuable evidence that they elect to hide from the cops for no reason, but not quite as many times as a Liar says “cover for me” before skipping out of school in the middle of the day.
7. Mrs. Grunwald (last episode: not ranked)
I am begrudgingly including the friendly neighborhood psychic because she seems to mean a lot to Hanna, who means a lot to me. But the TL;DR of her contribution is: Mona is trapped in that in-between-y afterlife where everything is cold and full of insects (like where Buffy’s friends thought she was after season five, even though she thinks she was in heaven) and it’s all “gates, walls, barriers, other clunky metaphors.” Then she does a kind of ripoff of the “Neither can live while the other survives” prophecy from Harry Potter.
8. Magic Mike Montgomery (last episode: not ranked)
Holy biceps, kiddo! Someone spent winter break at the gym. Demeanor-wise, Magic Mike has taken a turn for the tragic. It’s all very mopey, morose teenager, and he’d seem like just another angsty boy scribbling Nirvana lyrics on the whites of his Converses — can’t you just see the “~*people LEAvE & PeOple DIE*~” AIM away message now? — if it weren’t for the admittedly really-tragic thing wherein his girlfriend was just (presumably) murdered. I like that he doesn’t even bother trying to be nice to Ezra during their little carpentry-and-bonding session.
“No body, no funeral,” says Mike, and I don’t want to be the one to explain to him why that is obviously not the case. Still, credit where it’s due: The guy does a quality offscreen sob.
9. Jason (last episode: not ranked)
Jason is too forlorn to shave regularly but, apparently, not too forlorn to maintain a perfect tan in late winter/early spring and visit the same gym as Magic Mike. Works for me! He held it together pretty well, considering this is a guy who has to Sophie’s choose between his sisters.
10. Toby (last episode: 12)
Beauty of a three-month time jump: We can all completely forget Toby was nearly killed in a car wreck. A miraculous recovery, that. Don’t quite see how Toby being a police officer has helped anything, as the Liars still are in that same bind of “we can’t tell the cops how we know this thing, we have to find a way for the cops to find it without us,” but he looks cute in the uniform.
11. Mona (last episode: not ranked)
Her body is still M.I.A., her murderer is, let’s be real, still at large — if it was Ali who really dealt the death blow, we know there’s going to be some larger A-sponsored network that “made” Ali do it — and, insult to fatal injury, her mom had her buried with her retainers. Like Mona needs to be reminded for all of eternity that she needed orthodontics! It was nice to see flashback Mona (for some reason, these flashbacks have a very 1980s sheen to them, even though they are supposed to be taking place in, like, 2009) be well-read and supportive of secretly brilliant Hanna. “Henry James understood girls,” said this wise, world-weary eighth-grader. Sure, why not?
12. Aria (last episode: 6)
Aria was rejected from Brown and Oberlin, though the latter, she suspects, was the result of A’s involvement, not a Montgomery academic inferiority. Knowing what we do about the nonexistent value of a Rosewood High education, my money is on her not getting in because she’s never attended a single class except for English, and the extra credit (wink, wink, vom) she nabbed from her English teacher didn’t count for anything to the Oberlin admissions committee.
I do applaud Aria for having the chutzpah to yell some useful plot exposition in Ali’s face: “You stole the game from Mona and then you killed her because she had proof, and you killed Bethany, that’s how crazy you are!” And that’s one way to use a rape whistle; naturally, the whistle is nowhere to be found when Aria is getting jumped and stapled inside a plastic tarp by A.
13. Alison (last episode: 19)
Prison, yikes. Also, if you have a good alibi for that time you apparently spent killing Mona, why not just … tell someone? I give her some points for that great DGAF face she makes when the police tell her to put her hands up. A true teen ’til the bitter end.
14. Whatever went on with Wilden, Jessica DiLaurentis, and Bethany Young (last episode: not ranked)
All the badly explained backstory in the world won’t help me follow or make me care about this convoluted, completely unnecessary plotline.
15. Ezra (last episode: 9)
Cool construction project, I guess. Really excited for all the bookshelves. It seems like Ezra thinks Mona is still alive, right? Makes sense; all these “there was so much blood” references are a little much.
16. Vaguely inappropriate funeral attire (last episode: not ranked)
As I said in the inaugural Pretty Little Power Rankings, the LBD industry in Rosewood must have the most booming business in town. But I would not have suspected the lei market would be similarly robust. Why, exactly, are the Liars wearing fuchsia leis at Mona’s funeral? In all seriousness: Did I miss a plot point about Mona being from Hawaii? I get that this is a TV show, so people’s outfits will coordinate whether or not it makes sense for them to do so, but it’s super-distracting for Ali to show up at a funeral in a dress that’s the exact same color as the floral garlands all the invited mourners are wearing. Also, Ali, crashing a funeral is a bold enough move; would it have killed you — pun totally intended — to grab a black dress out of that closet of yours?
Lingering concerns: Did Ali set up the fireworks before she landed in prison, or is there another A behind those flying sparks? Wouldn’t it be great if Aria went to all this trouble to prove A tampered with her college application only to discover she just got rejected for not being smart enough? Where is Ali and Jason’s dad? He is still alive, right?
I’m not going to ask you how you are,
Friends, I have a bittersweet announcement. These recaps will be going on hiatus while I recap the final season of Parks and Recreation. Don’t worry; like A, the Pretty Little Power Rankings are never gone for good. See you on March 3!