Friends, it's been too long. In the time since we last visited our Liars, ABC Family has re- #branded itself as "Freeform." What's a Freeform? Well, what isn't a Freeform? Think about it.
In Rosewood, meanwhile, we've whooshed ahead five whole years. This is a neat surprise for a few reasons: No more policing the statutory rape-y quotient in these girls' relationships, no more pretending "cover for me" is a legitimate stand-in for an attendance policy, and, best of all for the PLL powers that be, anything that appears to the casual observer to be a plot hole can be explained away as a new mystery, fully understood behind the scenes, the details and importance of which will be revealed in due time. So, let's do this. It's time for the winter-premiere edition of the Pretty Little Power Rankings!
1. Aria (last episode: 9)
I know. I can't believe it either. Aria? Aria. And I'm not a fan of the blonde bob. (The bob is fine, but that yellow-blonde? I say this with affection: We all must work with the coloring we have.) Yet she is the only person who tells the judge the obvious, necessary truth: No one should feel safe with Charlotte gallivanting about Rosewood as if she was never a traumatized, unstable, criminal mastermind. She is also one of the only Liars to wear a funeral-appropriate outfit to Charlotte's ceremony. Extra points for how she negs Hanna's engagement ring right on sight: "It looked bigger when you posted it." I'll drink a manic-depressive Mai Tai to that, Miss Montgomery.
2. Hanna (last episode: not ranked)
She's engaged to offscreen Jordan. She has a fashion job with someone named Claudia who, for the purposes of fictional happiness, I will believe is named for '90s fashion icon Claudia from The Baby-Sitters Club. She wears an outfit that echoes Ilana's "white power" suit to the hearing. She wants "quiet ice cubes" when she's hung-over. And, to top it all off, she still has A+ banter-chemistry with Caleb.
3. Emily (last episode: 2)
I am VERY intrigued by Emily's lost years. It seems like she landed in some tropical locale tending bar, like wherever Noni ran off to in Beyond the Lights. Also, college really didn't suit her, so maybe she never graduated? At one point, her bag — her overnight bag for drinks with the girls and a hotel-room slumber party — spills, and an almost laughable quantity of drug paraphernalia spills out. Multiple needles! Pills surreptitiously popped! Regular readers of these recaps familiar with the Inviolable Rules of Television Health and Medicine know exactly what this means. I also love that, while telling Toby how college just didn't click for her, Emily can still diss Hanna in her fragile state: "Spencer, Aria, even Hanna, it all seemed to click for them."
4. Ashley Marin (last episode: not ranked)
We still have no idea how Ashley and the rest of the moms got out of the DiLaurentis' basement. At least her presence assures us that eventually they did! Hanna's mom barely makes a cameo in this episode, so this ranking is not about anything we see her say or do onscreen. It's about how she spent the past five years: This woman turned Radley into a swanky hotel? WHAT. Radley. This woman saw business potential in Voldemort's Dickensian Orphanage for the Morally and Mentally Afflicted? Ashley Marin is a visionary. The whole thing gives Hanna the heebie-jeebies, but Ashley is unfazed: "We've evicted all the ghosts, Hanna. Soon, people will forget what this place was, and it will only be remembered for its exquisite brunch." Hanna responds approvingly, "My mother, the exorcist."
5. Mona (last episode: 1)
I'm pretty amped to watch her become Spencer's professional nemesis.
6. Veronica Hastings (last episode: not ranked)
Why would someone with so many skeletons in her closet — not to mention her backyard — submit herself to the deeply invasive world of politics? Whatever. Live your dream, Veronica. Extra points for dismantling Spencer's idealistic vision of herself and pointing out that, yep, Spencer is a lobbyist.
7. Radley (last episode: 14)
And they say there are no second acts in American life.
8. Spencer (last episode: 6)
I'm onboard with the following life decisions Spencer has made in our absence: Moving to D.C., dating an ambassador's son until "a regime change" split them up, supporting Veronica's political aspirations, learning how to be a funny yet not-out-of-control wine-drunk. That's why it pains me to say this, despite my long-standing devotion to House Hastings … I am not onboard with the bangs. I wanted to love them, just as I loved Future Leslie Knope's bangs. Also, I expected Spencer to be the voice of reason, not the voice of, "Let's do one nice thing for Ali, the judge will totally see through it, then keep Charlotte locked up forever."
9. The Liars' (Mostly) Inappropriate Funeral Attire (last episode: not ranked)
Spencer's dress is so low on her shoulders, it's one slouch away from sliding off. Ali's deep-V-neck requires some on-point posture to keep its PG rating. Hanna looks ready for the club with a cleavage keyhole and a slit waaay up her thigh. This is, like, your 37th funeral, ladies. Get it together.
10. Caleb (last episode: not ranked)
How's life in the brotherhood of ex-boyfriends treating you?
11. Toby (last episode: not ranked)
Is "furniture/house-builder" the manic-pixie hot-guy job of choice? Toby, Magic Mike, Ryan Gosling in The Notebook: It only takes three to make a trend story.
12. Ezra (last episode: not ranked)
Of all the five-year blind-spot mysteries we're being manipulated into wondering about, Ezra's is, of course, the most annoying and implausible. Last we heard, he was going to do Habitat for Humanity in Thailand — and, I speculated, he'd keep an insufferable Tumblr about his self-discovery — but instead, he published a book (title: Ostinato) before heading to South America with a girl he met in the Brew. Her name was Nicole. She was "dragged off by half-baked revolutionaries" and never heard from again.
Ezra expresses his depression by wearing henleys and forgetting to shave. I feel like there's a Rosewood singularity wherein Caleb develops mature grooming habits while Ezra lets his haircut and scruff go wild, and soon we'll reach the point at which they look exactly alike. Plausible? Inevitable? Discuss.
13. Ali (last episode: 7)
I know I've brought this up before, but really: We're just totally forgetting how our resident Sweet Valley Sociopath faked her own kidnapping? And how she spent her adolescence being gorgeous and vicious, committing a spate of violent and/or emotionally horrifying crimes? Whatever, Ali contains multitudes. It just so happens that her multitudes are the wardrobe of 45-year-old suburbanite and the handwriting of a 13-year-old girly girl. (Lone exception: Quality pattern-mixing in her very first scene. Striped top, flower skirt? I'll go with it. Bold.)
Anyway, five years is not nearly enough time for someone like Charlotte/Charles/A to be released from a residential hospital setting. You know what is enough time? Trick question! She should live there. Forever! It's very, very cool of the justice system of Pennsylvania to not go full Orange Is the New Black on this one. But in what alternate universe should someone who, among who knows how many other WTF extracurricular felonies, built a prison/torture-chamber "Dollhouse" and kept five teenage girls in captivity in said Dollhouse for … I forget how long? It was a long time. Ali has a whole lotta chutzpah to call upon her PTSD-stricken clique to speak on Charlotte's behalf. "Five minutes to change the whole world." NO.
14. Sad Robyn (last episode: 13)
Still not even invested in this person to comment on her retro funeral veil.
15. Charlotte/Charlie/A (last episode: 11)
Yeesh. Welcome back?
Lingering concerns: Why is everyone still friends with Ali? Is there anyone in Rosewood who wouldn't want to kill Charlotte? Is the "Liam" who Aria keeps mentioning another small child in her care? Because — I know the girls said this about Rosewood, and here we are, but I mean it — I am not going back there again.
Here comes the last nail in the coffin,