This week: everything is perfect and nothing hurts. Except Spencer’s central nervous system, which is maxed out on uppers.
THIS WEEK'S MVP
Joseph Dougherty and ABC Family for taking this and us so seriously and making something beautiful.
THIS WEEK'S LVP
Every recurring cast member who was Out Of Town (it’s our loss too).
BIGGEST SHOCK/BEST SURPRISE
As in, we were shocked that we liked watching Ezra chew scenery this much.
Followed immediately by Mona scoffing loudly at the juicer (the juicer!!) and Ezra cutting her off with a hard-sibilant “NIXxx.”
The condescension. It is DELICIOUS.
Mona is perfect in every era.
Lose something, honey? (via popchoc)
PREVIOUSLY ON PRETTY LITTLE LIARS
Spencer took a lot of Study Aid. Ezra gaslit Aria into keeping their relationship/Murder Cabin "our secret." Ali is running out of money and Shana can't help anymore. Spencer discovered Ezra is Board Shorts…but they can't tell Aria that something's up with her creepy pedophile boyfriend until they are sixty thousand percent sure they are right. Meanwhile, creepy pedophile boyfriend invited teenage Mona into his classroom, and closed the door.
Still down an Aria, the other three Liars search Fitz's empty classroom for clues to eight billion percent confirm the thing they can't seem to say out loud. Foreshadowing! What would they tell Aria anyway, Hanna wonders—"Isn't it funny how your old boyfriend turned out to be a stalking whack job?"
The girls fall into their roles: Hanna sasses; Emily worries; Spencer pulls open every drawer in Ezra's desk until she finds a super duper handy unmarked manila envelope containing Ali's diary, i.e. damning evidence that 1) it was Ezra haunting them at the cabin, and 2) (say it with us now) Ezra is A.
In the hall, they start discussing who else might be working with Ezra. For example, MIA Shana. For another example, Mona comes around the corner. The girls duck out of sight and spy as Mona enters Fitz's classroom and emerges holding a giant stack of folders. What Hanna, Emily and Spencer do not do is bother following as Mona saunters off, carrying a bunch of potentially important clues to a potentially significant person. That definitely won't come back to bite them.
Instead, they go to Spencer’s house. Spencer spreads her whole EzrA investigation out across the kitchen island and explains how since BOTH of her parents are out of town being lawyers it’s okay. “Romantic,” Says Hanna. “Sure,” Says Spence. “One’s in Chicago, the other in Boston.” Sounds about right.
Emily wonders if maybe they didn’t find Ali's diary awfully easily. What if it wasn't A who left it there? And shouldn’t they be investigating Mona+Ezra’s connection (gee IF ONLY MONA OR EZRA HAD GIVEN YOU A PERFECT OPPORTUNITY TO DO JUST THAT)? And didn’t Hanna want off the A train?? "I’m more pissed than I am scared,” Hanna says. Besides…
"The A-ness of things." That's it. That's the show. (via teddywestside)
On the way back from Murder Cabin, Aria tells Ezra about a Creative Writing story she's working on and we all know there's nothing Ezra Fitzgerald loves more than a high schooler telling him about a story she's writing (not joking slash ew). "I had this hero, but I got fascinated with the villain," Aria muses. Does the villain win? Ezra wonders and wow such metaphor.
Now home alone, Spence plays a noir movie in the background as she gulps down more Study Aid. Spencer, who of course has memorized entire passages of an obscure 1950 essay on mystery writing craft, half-smiles at the movie and mutters “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean…”
In the movie, a gun flashes and…BLACK AND WHITE.
NOTE: Y’all, we really loved this episode. In fact, we loved it so much that it inspired us (well, Alexis) to put on our big girl party hats and go a little lit-crit crazy over how amazingly well the PLL writers fitted all our girls and their character arcs to the elements Chandler outlines in “The Simple Art of Murder,” which Spence and Toby quote directly. So this next section is a little different than usual, and if you are like “enough WORDS, my head feels like it is full of hot ice cubes,” we TOTALLY UNDERSTAND and invite you to skip right on ahead to the SPENCER'S NOIR MIND PALACE. But just sayin: we’re not picking anything up that the genius PLL writers ain’t laying down.
Dissertation on the Not Real
(as framed by Chandler’s essay, direct quotations in italics)
It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cool spirit of detachment can make very interesting and even amusing patterns out of it.
Spencer’s Study Aid dream hallucination is not just inspired by the film she was watching when she broke, but also by Raymond Chandler’s view of the world’s gritty underbelly and the detective-hero we all need to make it safer. Well. Spencer is nothing if not a tough pattern-maker with a cool spirit of detachment. Let’s roll.
Each character in her dream is a combination of Spencer’s projection of their essence plus one aspect of Chandler’s ideal detective. Chandler’s 1940s LA needed only Philip Marlowe; Alison DiLaurentis’ Rosewood is so broken it needs all four Liars and their friends.
But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything.
While the rest of this half-season’s investigations circle around Ali’s not-murder and current predicament, those in the hallucination drive Spencer to figure out just what she knows and just why it is she is so unwilling to admit to knowing it. Toby and the girls and even hallucination-within-a-hallucination Dorian Gray Ali push and push Spence to admit she is lying to herself (and them) about all she has figured out—both about Ali and about herself.
She has fought for two years to disprove Ali’s claims that by always falling for Melissa’s boyfriends she was somehow “tarnished,” and that by just being Spencer Hastings she is a mean part of a mean world. But between Toby repeating Chandler’s line to her about a girl who must walk the mean streets who is not herself mean, and the dream Liars standing up for each other in the face of Ali’s continued terrorizing, Spencer sees her growth for what it is. No matter the barbs Ali throws when the Liars finally corner her at the Rocketteish “nite” club (“…that’s not how you spell ‘night,’” a glorious Spencer mutters at her own subcoscious as the girls walk past posters in the alley)—Spencer knows she is not mean or tarnished. She is Rosewood’s hero.
Ali: “I bet this one would love it something happened to me—that way she wouldn’t have to worry about dropping to second place if I came back.”
Spencer: “You’re setting us up for something. You only ever tell us what you want us to know; it’s always been that way.”
Ali: “And you’re different?”
Spencer: “Yeah. I’m different.”
And the way she hears herself say it? She finally knows it’s true.
I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.
Em and Spence have had a tough go of it in 4B. Em has been the Liar most anxious to reconnect with and help Ali (and the only one invited to do so), and Spencer has been the most suspicious of Ali’s motives (and the one who busted the Emison reunion). Spencer’s guilt over breaking Em’s trust is what drove her to Study Aid in the first place. That her hallucination finds Em re-assuaging Paige’s insecurities at being attracted to women, then later standing up for Spencer when Ali’s fangs sink in, is both true to Em’s deeply kind character and to Spencer’s fervent wish for how things will work out between the girls when Ali really does come back.
He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.
In the real world when Hanna says “…this is all about the A-ness of things,” Spencer responds by blanching at the delivery, but agreeing with the sentiment. Basically Hanna is perfect in every world and says exactly what she wants to say and exactly what needs to be said, whether it is a tit-for-tat “you owe me so many favors—remember those three sailors??” or a spittingly dismissive “Men.” Her grabbing Ali’s arm as she is about to slap Spencer in the climactic dressing room scene is NOT hopeful thinking, but just what Hanna Marin would and will do when Ali finally slithers back into town.
The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure.
Aria gets crap from us, but she has a rough storyline to be enmeshed in. The other girls are ready to take down A, while Aria is busy being taken by A (ahem…we’ll wait for everyone to go wash out their eyes for reading that. And we apologize. But also, seriously). And both in the real world and in Spencer’s hallucination, Aria is perched on the edge of the most treacherous of the Liars’ discoveries to date. But Aria is tough (remember Meredith?) and is ready to be the hero of her own adventure (and protector of her friends) when the time comes. And, in case you’re worried the day of her adventure is too far in the offing, we give you next week’s promo. And we assume that when the Ezra Monster is due on Montgomery Street, the other Liars will actually step up and not just send Aria off alone to her death. Or else maybe Toby will for real hit Ezra hard, and more than once.
He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge.
Toby has quit or lost jobs rather than go back on his honor or be false to himself or Spencer. Even when he was on the A team it was in due and dispassionate revenge for the terror being inflicted on the girls that couldn’t be stopped from the outside. He and Caleb always knew better than to let A drive the game unchallenged, and they had their own fantastic Scooby Club thing going before Caleb fell in love with a ghost. Toby and his hair are even growing on Catie. That he is the fifth point on Spencer’s Chandler Detective constellation makes perfect sense.
He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.
It hurt our hearts to see Em and Paige return to their pre-coming out headspaces this week, even if it was period appropriate. They have both come so far, personally and as a couple, and we know Spencer knows that. We presume she sent them back to this moment to try to reset the path that took Em so successfully AWAY from Ali in the first place—again, optimistic thinking for how Spence wants things to go once Ali does fully return.
Anyway, Paige is a recovering lonely and proud girl who wears her heart on her sleeve or not at all—and if you hurt her she will BREAK you. Spencer knows: the Liars (and the writers’ budget) should really use her more.
SPENCER'S NOIR MIND PALACE
Spencer’s mind palace consists of: House of Hastings, the Brew, apartment 3B, and the warehouse where she spied on Emily and Alison. It also consists of people. The Liars, Toby and Paige play themselves concentrated—Em loves everyone and Paige loves her; Hanna gossips her way to real intel; Aria wears ridiculous patterns and declares champagne the most sophisticated thing in the world. Even Toby’s “Yes, YOU have the book. Since when did the Devil start giving out free samples?” is Toby to a T: he’s making a good point, but at the expense of not really understanding the Devil’s MO (hint: free samples i.e. temptation are EXACTLY what the Devil hands out all the time).
The villains, too, concentrate into pure, informative THEMness in the mind palace: Ali as a grown version of her breath-holding monster self, mocking Spencer’s drug habit and cowardice for being unable to tell Aria the truth; Mona as a kidnapping vixen as ready to kill Hanna as to kiss her; Ezra as the true, vegetable-obsessed creep we all know him to be. But each villain has some truth/clue to offer Spencer, too. “You have all the pieces,” multiple characters declare throughout her drug-spurred hallucination. “You just need to put them together.”
Ali (re: that creepy awesome painting) “Quite a likeness; he did a wonderful job. I should have been nicer to him.”
A likeness like A BLONDE CORPSE IN YOUR CRYPT? “DOCTORED” TO APPEAR AS ALI D?
Ezra“ True love, honey, just can’t kill it.”
Like, you really can’t. He tried. She just got dug up by Ravenswood’s resident ghost whisperer.
Mona “There's a blonde package for you…better hurry before she stops breathing.”
In the dream, that's Hanna. In reality—well they are certainly putting a lot of effort into trying to find Ali before she gets killed a million times again.
…or maybe those clues are just wishful thinking on our part.
Basically, Spencer is super confused, and people keep asking her all these really hard questions, such as: Why does everyone’s voice box freeze when trying to say the four syllable phrase, “Ezra is A?” Is Ali alive, or dead, or maybe a zombie or or or…at this point who even knows. Is it possible to contact her directly or do you have to leave a message in the pocket of a jacket and take that jacket to a dry cleaner under an assumed name and put the dry cleaner ticket in a famous novel about pedophilia and then lend that book to your friend who doesn’t even really read that much, and hope that does the trick (answer: yes, but in French)? Did Alison create A? WHY DO YOU HAVE THE DIARY?
The final noir scene, in Toby’s car, sees this last question coming back again, this time from literally every angle. "This car is almost out of gas!" Toby warns, and Spencer snaps back that she is too. Stop stalling, Spencer, everyone says. Stop being tired, just figure it out, no matter who it hurts. Look at the pages. Not at the book, LOOK AT THE PAGES. It's not the same thing, Spencer, not the book, the pages, put the pieces together, Spencer, just figure it out, the pages…
… and BAM. The color's back.
Spencer stands dazed at her kitchen counter, and it seems like no time at all has passed. She walks over and picks up Ali's diary, turning it over in her hands, and you can just see in her eyes that she is finally assembling the picture.
She explains to Hanna and Emily that A planted the diary for them to find. But the diary isn't what it seems: certain words and phrases have been changed. What A doesn't know is that Spencer has the original pages photographed on her phone (because thank god A has never once figured out how to hack their phones or anything), and thus can compare the two versions and identify the differences. Whoever stole the book, Spencer says, wanted to make sure they didn't see certain things-—in fact, wanted to make sure they saw something else instead. Hiding in plain sight, doing three shows a night.
“If Ezra left the book for us to find,” says Hanna, “…he knows we know,” Emily finishes. They have to tell Aria, but she's still not answering. They head to her house, where they see through the window Ezra and Aria…
…very much making out.
Special Delivery From Noir-A
Hey, PLL props team? Super good job this episode. Like, really tip top. Just one teensy little thing…there are no periods in telegrams. That’s why they say STOP. The STOP is the period. If we already had periods, we wouldn’t need to say STOP all the time. Ok, cool, just glad we got this straight. STOP.
…we see Aria break down OUTSIDE OF A BOX, and everyone’s vocal cords finally wrap themselves around the simple phrase “Ezra is A.” And with no thick allusory gimmicks being thrown at us by the producers, we promise not to write another dissertation on character development and literary connections. PINKIE SWEAR.
ACT NORMAL, BITCHES
A(lexis and Catie)