Despite its innocuous and frankly hilarious title, Pretty Little Liars has proved that it’s a force to be reckoned with. It dominates Twitter trends weekly, and this summer’s season made ABC Family the highest rated cable network for women aged 12-34. In many ways, Pretty Little Liars has taken Gossip Girl’s place. Both shows come from previously popular YA series and follow beautiful teens and the stalkers who love to hate them. Plus, Spencer Hastings is the closest we will ever get to a suburban Blair Waldorf. But where Gossip Girl lost momentum somewhere in its third season, Pretty Little Liars has showed no signs of slowing down. Of course, it helps that Pretty Little Liars’ version of Gossip Girl, the anonymous psychopath “A,” would rather mow her victims down with a sports car than scold them on a website.
The summer finale seemed to know its viewers might have mental whiplash at this point from trying to keep all the pieces together. Not only did we get the Liars reciting the “previously, on this season of Pretty Little Liars” section pretty much verbatim at each other, but the episode opened with a flash forward of a Pretty Little Liar sobbing into another Liar’s arms as the police wheeled away a couple body bags, a familiar setup for a Liars season finale, summer or otherwise.
The repetition, though, was far from discouraging. Pretty Little Liars’ finales have tended to be some of the better episodes, thanks to the escalation of classic thriller motifs (last season’s finale even paid homage to Psycho’s shower scene) and a pace that can only be described as “bullet train careening off the rails and into a ravine.” The Liars’ anonymous group of nemeses, or “The A Team” may not make much sense as far as how omnipotent it seems to be, but it still provides Pretty Little Liars’ most gripping moments episode to episode. Out of context, the end tags of A’s gloved hands performing nefarious tasks while monitoring the Liars could be lifted straight out of an Orwellian psychodrama.
So it was a massive disappointment that this finale focused not on solving the mystery of the A Team, but on solving the mystery of who killed Emily’s girlfriend Maya. Turns out that it wasn’t Emily’s new girlfriend, whom the Liars decided was the killer last week, but the obviously suspicious new guy in town who claimed to be Maya’s cousin out of nowhere! Just when we thought the show would zig, it… well, zigged.
Moreover, this sequence of events highlighted one of the show’s biggest problems. The titular Liars rarely display the intelligence necessary to keep up with the omnipresent A Team. Emily’s known about her psychotic stalkers for two years now, and her first reaction to adversity was retreating with a guy she barely knows to a literal cabin in the woods? It’s almost like she had never seen a horror movie before (may I suggest Cabin In The Woods, ladies?).
Far more engaging than that, however, was the last minute reveal of a second member of the A Team to join Mona from season two’s finale: Spencer’s faithful boyfriend, Toby. If you just take the fact that he and Spencer had sex for the first time not two acts before, this twist makes perfect sense. Any teen horror worth its salt has the dreamy killer seduce the girl most likely to bring him down; just ask Billy Loomis (seriously, Liars, watch a movie sometime).
Since surreptitiously devouring the first season when it premiered, I’ve ducked in and out of Pretty Little Liars. At a certain point, the Liars’ insistence that they could handle the stalker controlling their lives via text messages, even though they apparently couldn’t even figure out that they were clearly dealing with a team of stalkers took the “pleasure” out of “guilty pleasure.” But after catching sporadic episodes this third season and diving into this summer finale, I take it all back. The thing is, no matter how many convoluted twists and turns this show takes, the best thing about Pretty Little Liars is that the less you try to understand it, the more fun you will have with it. I was demanding logic from a show that thrives on the illusion of a meticulous conspiracy when in fact, it’s freewheeling spectacularly into chaos. Who needs context when there are villains ominously dry cleaning their black hoodies, teenage girls slapping each other unconscious, or a heroine trapped in a Pennsylvanian dressing room with—this is true—poisonous snakes?
Pretty Little Liars is a show where sinister music and meaningful glances meet every knock at the door. Motivations, clues, and suspects change weekly. Reunions and breakups alike get tears, slow-mo hugs, and shots that revolve around the (momentarily) happy couple so rapidly that they almost become a blur. It’s Revenge meets Scream, multiplied by the same understanding of time, space and continuity of Doctor Who. In other words, it doesn’t make a single iota of sense—but man, can the ride be fun.
- If Spencer is this show’s Blair Waldorf, Aria is its Serena Van Der Woodsen. While her fellow Liars are getting drugged and kidnapped and run over, Aria (and by proxy, the show) is still obviously dealing with romantic entanglements that have nothing to do with anyone else, mostly because the show’s still trying to convince us her boyfriend Ezra isn’t creepy just because they started dating while he was her English teacher. Also, he’s apparently old enough to have fathered a secret 7-year-old with Alex Mack. Sorry, show. “Ezria” is still extremely creepy.
- Emily: “If I tell you something, will you promise not to tell?”
Girl Who Once Tried to Drown Emily: “You can trust me with your life.”
- I wasn’t sure how the show would keep Mona involved once she was formally committed for her exploits as an A minion, but if it means more of her breaking out in full-on Florence Nightingale gear, I am all for it.
- ABC Family’s hashtag suggestion of #thebetrAyal is amazing just for the sheer “yeah, we went there” factor, but I have to say it: “Betrayal” has two A’s. Why aren’t they both capitalized? Unless… it’s a clue? No! I promised I wouldn’t do this!
- You can already see the first episode of the spinoff webseries “Pretty Dirty Secrets” (really) on ABC Family’s website. Episodes come out every Tuesday, until this fall’s inevitably bananas Halloween special. Hold onto your hoodies, ladies and gents. Things are about to get even weirder.