Pretty Little Liars Recap: Guys and Dolls

The biggest "A" reveal ever. Photo: Ron Tom/ABC Family
Pretty Little Liars
Episode Title
Welcome to the Dollhouse
Editor’s Rating

At the beginning of this season finale, it looked like the Liars were headed to the worst place imaginable. Our pretty little prisoners are rocking those orange jumpsuits, about to be thrown behind bars. And then they wind up someplace exponentially worse. They are, as Kimmy Schmidt would have once described it, tooken by A, abducted to some elaborately constructed, off-the-books jail designed to the Liars’ personal specifications. This episode bounced back and forth between two extremes: satisfying beyond measure and super-disappointing. Our Liars might be trapped in a terror-chamber in the middle of the Forbidden Forest, but where did they land on the season-finale edition of the Pretty Little Power Rankings?

1. The Dollhouse (last week: not ranked)
When Spencer woke up in what looked like her own bed in her jumpsuit, my first instinct was: Toby saved her, maybe they’ll go on the run together, I could live with that. But then, when I realized A had put her up in an exact replica of her bedroom with just enough things missing or wrong to make her feel like she was shacking up in the uncanny valley, I hit the caps-lock key because DAMN, A.

This setup is trippy as all get-out. Hanna’s phone has no dial tone! Aria’s room has a family photo, somehow! Spencer’s window smashes into a wall! Sirens blast until you’re back in your room where you belong, but once you get there, a female voice like the charming robot will invite you to follow the lighted path. A is most terrifying when her/his/its/bitch’s tactics manipulate and subvert classic tropes of femininity: signing threats with “xoxo,” torturing prisoners by forcing them to play dress-up and stage a fake prom, sending dolls that stand for corpses. This is PLL firing on all creepiness cylinders, and I am impressed.

Also, nothing in this world is scarier than a doll. Dolls have eyes that never close unless you manually close them, THINK ABOUT IT.

2. Mona (last week: not ranked)
I was about to estimate how much time has passed since Mona’s murder-that-wasn’t and the Liars’ arrival in this un-fun house of mirrors, but we all know there is no calendar in Rosewood. But it is probably fair to say Mona has been locked up in this joint for a looooong time, and her ability to pretend to be Ali “because that’s what A wants” without coming totally unhinged is an incredible feat. All this, while wearing the outfit Ali/Bethany/LOL who even knows who else wore the day Ali went missing? Shudder.

3. Veronica Hastings (last week: not ranked)
“Haven’t you asked yourself how four teenagers could be this good at evading the police?” THANK YOU, VERONICA. Everyone should be listening to her, always.

4. Caleb (last week: 1)
Actually laughed out loud when Tanner said to “put out an APB on Caleb Rivers,” because: Caleb Rivers? He is so wild and free. Can’t believe they didn’t just go ahead and name him Caleb Vagrant or Caleb Adventurespirit. Anyway, great hacking, as always. Bit of a one-trick pony, but at least this trick tends to come in handy every single week.

5. Spencer (last week: 7)
Spencer is smarter than all the other Liars even when she’s sleeping. Of course she figures out that Charles, like so many criminals, couldn’t stop himself from signing his work. And naturally, she can just rattle off the hardware she’ll need to cut off the electricity in this labyrinthine hellscape — even though she has been there a whopping two days, she already knows how to make those circuits blow, sure — and calmly pitch the idea to her captor as if it’s normal to want your prom decorations to be a bunch of random-sounding crap from Home Depot.

6. Hanna (last week: 9)
Girl’s riff on what life in prison is like is way dark: “The second they slam that door shut, you feel ashamed.” Is this supposed to be a commentary on the state of the prison system in America?

7. Mystery Date (last week: not ranked)
A thrilling game of romance and mystery that’s just for you!
It’s a little on-the-nose considering the context, but A never did go for subtlety.

8. Emily (last week: 8)
Probably could have come up with a better fake-fight line than “I’m taking a stand by sitting,” but I understand: desperate times.

9. Aria (last week: 12)
“An accessory is a necklace or a handbag, not a chain gang.” Do we think Aria was being cute here, or does she actually not know that an accessory to a crime is a thing? Both seem equally plausible.

10. Prison Prom (last week: not ranked)
The theme from The Hills brings us back to sometime between 2006 and 2010. Our Liars are looking vaguely goth, like if Hot Topic had a formal collection. There are mannequins everywhere wearing those spooky-scary masks. A lot of chokers are happening for some reason. I like this borderline-goth makeup, though, and how Aria looks like the Queen from Snow White.

11. Toby (last week: 5)
Sort of useful!

12. Ezra (last week: not ranked)
Basically useless.

13. Detective Tanner (last week: 2)
Does the fact that Tanner has seen A’s lair mean she’ll finally believe that A exists and stop trying to accuse our girls of crimes they didn’t commit? A power ranker can hope.

14. Mr. Hastings (last week: not ranked)
Dude, where have you been? Nice of you to make a cameo so late in the action, but why are you just showing up to the party now? To, what, demonstrate that you recognize the name of a date-rape drug?

15. Ali (last week: 10)
Yikes. Hey, maybe belly chains will be in this spring?

16. That “reveal” (last week: not ranked)
So. Charles.

A reveal is supposed to shock you, to make you feel like the floor is falling out from under you. But a reveal also has to feel fair: a truly great reveal, like the mechanism behind a magic trick, is something that you realize in the end has been right in front of you all this time. That last shot of the fourth season of Breaking Bad, when we see the Lily of the Valley plant in Walter White’s backyard; Olivia Pope sliding into the backseat of that limo, looking across the way at the man we’ve only known as “Command” and calling him “Dad” — THESE are reveals. Should a dedicated fan work her way back through old episodes, poring over the details like microfilm, she’d be able to put the whole thing together. It would be elegant — obvious, even — in hindsight.

So when the “big reveal” at the end of last night’s episode was that A was some dude named Charles whom we had literally never met and, save for a few industrious souls on the internet, never even heard of until 18 minutes before the credits rolled, all I felt was annoyed. Seriously, this random guy? And if he were going to be so freaking important, he couldn’t have shown up sooner?

Dropping in a brand-new character as the answer to the long-teased question of “Who is A?” is NOT a reveal. It is not a reveal when that character never takes off his mask. Yes, the fan forums were apparently abuzz with the “twin theory” as it may have pertained to one of the 10 billion girls in frilly yellow tank-tops who were accidentally buried alive that fateful evening, but you shouldn’t have to do outside reading to understand a television show.

Lingering concerns: How is Charles funding this dollhouse prison, exactly? In addition to secretly existing, is he secretly wealthy? Why did the female announcer in the Dollhouse say “welcome” in multiple languages when all the prisoners speak English? If this prom night were seven years ago but time is never constant in Rosewood, how are we supposed to know what prom it was? What’s up with Andrew listening in on the Hastings’ phone call?

I didn’t think you were wearing that to make a fashion statement,