Troian Bellisario as Spencer, Lucy Hale as Aria.
It’s possible that I’ve said this before, but I think we have really, truly crossed over to a realm where Pretty Little Liars has no plot at all. Not like “the plot doesn’t make any sense,” a conundrum faced many a time in Rosewood. We are operating in a universe with a total absence of plot.
Easily half of my notes from this episode are punctuated with “lol what” and “why tho” and “who even is this” and “wait why does [x person] even care about [y thing]?” The only people I can for sure stay invested in — at least, out of the people who graced our screens tonight; you know the moms and Mona are my faves forever — are our five Liars, only three of whom have consistent, semi-believable personalities. Fortunately, the power rankings wait for no plot.
1. Emily (last week: 3)
I find her one-liners enjoyable but implausible. The Emily we know (or the Shay playing her) cannot pull off the quippy “Aria, take a deep breath; it’s been proven to prevent explosions in small women.” But she is correct more than once in this episode, which sets her leagues above most of these eye-roll-inducers: She tells Aria she probably should not root for Nicole to be dead, she tries to take the heat for the whole deleting-the-Nicole-call thing.
2. Spencer (last week: 9)
Girl starts the episode by trying to steal my job with a little mini-recap: “We know that Noel Kahn stole the Mary Drake file from Toby’s Airstream … and then he called Dr. Cochran.” First of all, lol, no Spencer. We don’t know any of this because none of it makes sense. Second of all, I am not sure if this counts in the PLPR because it technically went down in Hanna’s subconscious.
She spearheads the trip to this doctor’s office, handles herself quite coolly with the pervy drunk dude who used to make babies vanish for a living ( … I know), and maybe has me considering that sweaters with holes in the shoulders could be a thing.
3. Ali (last episode: 8)
You know your show has really lost itself when characters spend most of their time reminding each other (a.k.a. viewers like you) what went on in past seasons and who other characters even are and why we should care about them. In a meta-twist, while attempting to remind everyone else about Noel’s deal, Ali says, out loud, that she cannot remember what dirt she had on him in the first place. (He shoved a sorority girl down the stairs at a frat party, then paid off her family to keep it quiet, as one does.)
Anyway, Ali is again dressed like she got summoned at the last minute for a parent-teacher conference. Her students, who have a remarkable institutional memory considering they would have been roughly 12 years old when everything went down with Ali, prank her on her first day back at school by dressing up like Mr. Robot. Ali handles this by making her students read A Winter’s Tale and asking some snotty teen boy what happens to someone’s character when they’re wrongfully accused. A LITTLE ON THE NOSE, PLL.
4. Principal Hackett (last week: not ranked)
On the one hand, we know exactly how useless a Rosewood High education is. On the other hand, seeing how friendly and lax Hackett’s hiring policies are kind of explains a lot.
5. Hanna (last week: 4)
Given the long and infuriating history of people (mostly dudes) dismissing the real concerns of women by claiming said women were just being “hysterical,” it pains me to say that Hanna does not help her case by speaking in totally disjointed sentences that mean absolutely nothing to anyone around her. She essentially word-vomits her dream, suggests the not-at-all unusual phrase “I see you” is somehow Noel’s and Noel’s alone, and just generally sounds batshit. Stop jumping to conclusions, Hanna! Someone get this girl a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth, stat.
That said, I also hate breaking in new phones.
6. Mrs. Grunwald (last week: not ranked)
You all know how I feel about Ravenswood and all the sprites and spirits therein, so it will not surprise you that I was very unimpressed with the return of this Strega Nona wannabe, whose magic power is apparently “noticing obvious shit and expressing it in a manner that is so vague as to be worse than useless.” She even tells Hanna, “I felt a darkness around you.” O RLY, GRUNWALD? Hanna has been kidnapped and tortured twice in the past five years and — for reasons unclear! Dr. Sullivan is not the only medical professional in the greater Philadelphia area! — is getting approximately zero treatment for her almost comically crippling PTSD.
When Grunwald uses her powers and Noel Kahn is nearby, she gets a nosebleed. This bloody-nose thing is way cooler when it happens to Eleven in Stranger Things, probably because her powers are legitimately awesome.
Also, why do she and Hanna leave Lucas’s loft, a private place where no one can creep on them, and relocate to the Brew to have what is obviously an Über-confidential conversation?
7. Caleb (last week: 5)
Wears a short-sleeve hoodie — in real life, not Hanna’s nightmare; I feel like it’s important to clarify that — and, later on, a short-sleeve button-down. Caleb, you are apparently one of the only characters left who is NOT attempting a career as an educator at the academic wasteland that is Rosewood High, so stop dressing like you’re subbing for the algebra teacher.
8. Aria (last week: not ranked, oops! Honestly, that was more Aria’s fault than mine)
What’s so great about her and Ezra’s relationship is how it’s built on a solid foundation of statutory rape and never telling each other the truth until they are backed into a corner and have literally no alternative.
9. Paige (last week: not ranked)
I assume this is some sort of cameo-as-fan service, like the drive-by appearances that marginal superheroes make in Marvel movies. Her return is so tangential to the story (such as it is) and so boring/pointless, I’m just going to end this entry right here.
10. Ezra (last week: 12)
What I love/hate most about this absurd Nicole situation, which dangles off the edge of Ezra’s plot like a hangnail he won’t stop picking at, is how the writers cannot be bothered to even fill out Nicole’s ordeal with the sort of specificity that would make it seem marginally less made-up.
Ezra’s exact words are: “The military is going into the jungle in about two hours and they don’t know what they’re going to find.” Think about that for a second. The military … from what country? The jungle … where? They don’t know what … what?! WHAT EVEN IS THIS. This is like when you don’t prepare a good alibi for when you pretend to go to a friend’s house but really you’re sneaking around with a guy and when your parents casually ask you, “So, what did you do at Julia’s house last night?” you’re like, “Uhhhh, we ate the food at the house on the street.”
11. Noel (last week: not ranked)
EAGERLY AWAITING A REASON TO CARE ABOUT THIS PERSON. What are his motives for anything he ever does, aside from general dirt-baggery? Why would he care about Sad Robyn, who, if I remember correctly, sprang fully formed from the basement of that Dollhouse and had no connection to Rosewood, or anyone in it, at all, until she latched onto the Liars upon her release?
I’m glad Noel wears all black, just in case you were like, “Wait, is he … a bad guy?” A+ visual storytelling.
12. That boring dream sequence (last week: not ranked)
If you want to have a dream sequence in a television show, there are three requirements: Whatever happens in a character’s dream must be (1) strange enough that it couldn’t have occurred in real life (2) not so literal you want to vomit and (3) chock full of information you could not transmit to the audience any other way. Hanna’s dream, shockingly, does not pass this three-prong test that I just made up but already feel great about. Hanna’s dream tells us that she has feelings for Caleb — you don’t say! — and that she thinks Noel is a baddie, and that she’s been in/around/responsible for more than her fair share of car wrecks. And … that’s all.
13. Dr. Cochran, old-drunk-man edition (last week: not ranked)
I’m all for bending the rules of reality a little bit, but are we really supposed to believe Radley employed someone for the express purpose of stealing and disappearing babies? We are talking about a hospital on Philadelphia’s Main Line in the ’90s! I know I call it Voldemort’s Dickensian Orphanage for the Morally and Mentally Afflicted, but in the world of PLL, Radley isn’t actually located in some 19th-century British slum.
14. Dr. Cochran, daughter edition (last week: not ranked)
Pro tip: If you want people to not know that you are related to your dad, maybe change your name. I hear “Archer Dunhill” is available.
Lingering concerns: Why do the Liars refer to Elliot as “Archer Dunhill?” I know it’s his “real” name, but they never knew him as that to begin with, and besides, it is LAUGHABLY FAKE and I feel like the actresses, bless their hearts, cannot convince us otherwise. Where did Detective Elevator go? Do you think it’s possible that Mary Drake’s second mystery baby is Mona? Because if there is a way to get Mona back into the center of things, plot plausibility be damned, I am all in.
You always return to family in the end,