Previously on Pretty Little Liars, the Liars dealt with the fallout of being trapped in Charles’ underground hellscape for three weeks, in their own ways. Emily helped herself to her dad’s guns, unloading bullets and rage at paper dummies down at the shooting range. Hanna stripped her room to the barest walls and sat on the floor and stared at the violation and processed it like a metaphor. Aria, who at some point in the dollhouse decided to shoulder exactly zero percent of Ezra Fitz’s bullshit going forward, went full-throttle Spencer while wearing a dress that said “Stop Men!” Spencer glared at everyone, especially her mother for refusing to fill all her prescriptions, and yelled at Ali for a little while about how her family is all Gargamels. And Ali met another age-inappropriate cop named who made it gross immediately.
Spencer is tucked away in a corner of the kitchen we’ve never seen before, just huddled down there like a helpless little lamb while her mom sleeps on the couch, guarding the pain pills. Remember that episode when Spencer told that story about how good she was at hide and seek in the most psychotic way? Like staring out the window and it was lighting and her voice was growly about how she used to destroy Melissa’s life playing hide and seek? I think that’s when I knew for sure I would marry Spencer Hastings. And that’s what I thought about when I saw her all scrunched down here, like maybe this was one of her hiding spots from the days of yore.
The Liars do a phone chain for their daily debrief of the facts.
Emily: Well, Sarah — who, just by the way, takes about ten showers an hour — says Andrew isn’t Charles, even though she never heard Charles speak or smelled which Axe body spray he uses.
Spencer: #NotAllMen, Emily! Toby doesn’t bathe in Axe body spray! Caleb doesn’t!
Emily: Whatever. A lot of shit has happened to me, but at least at the end of the day, I’m gay.
Spencer: So Sarah says Andrew doesn’t have a Charles vibe?
Emily: Yeah. To be honest, though, she seems pretty messed up.
Spencer: Don’t date her to make her feel better, Emily.
Spencer: I’m serious.
Emily: I said fine! Anyway, who is going to tell Aria about Andrew?
Hanna: Aria, Andrew isn’t Charles.
Aria: He has to be! I am so tired of getting murdered! I don’t want to get murdered anymore! If Andrew is Charles, I’ll never be murdered again!
Hanna: Shh. Honeybun, I know. We’ll talk about it at school.
Aria: HOW ARE WE STILL IN SCHOOL?
Hanna: Aria, take your Xanax and let’s go. Calculus in half an hour. I’ll see you there.
Sarah gets out of the shower, and gets real squirrelly about Emily leaving to go to school. Does that mean Sarah has to go back to school? Is Pam mad at Sarah for not going to school? Does Sarah look feral? Emily almost answers yes to the feral thing — like she and Aria are somehow morphing into people who could activate some super twin powers and become a mega robot version of Spencer — but she swerves at the last minute and says mostly Sarah just looks like a lost puppy. Then, in a move that is going to come back and bite her like a literal feral cat, Emily gives Sarah a burner phone. Just. Come on, Emily. “Here is unsupervised access to all my shit, a way for you to communicate off the grid, and also how about some french toast and mimosas?”
At the Brew, Aria is cleaning her camera gear for like the eleventh time in two days. Her lenses get more baths than Sarah. Ezra wanders over and offers her some breakfast comfort food, and says she can spend the whole day just hanging out in his office if she wants. He says, “You can write.” And she snaps, “No writing!” So he offers her a million other options, like reading or organizing the kitchen or alphabetizing his mail or polishing her knives or taking a nap while he
stares at her through his video camera and journals about immortalizing her youth makes sure no one stabs her in the face.
There’s a lot of crafty framing in this episode. (Norman Buckley directing Joseph Dougherty’s writing is always such a treat. It’s as layered as you want to go.) I won’t overwork it; maybe I’ll talk about it on Tumblr later. But: See how Aria and Ezra are pushed to the edge of the frame in the direction they’re talking, how there’s no leading room like the standard way you’re supposed to film this stuff. Like above with Emily framed right and looking left, and Sarah framed left and looking right. That’s comfortable to your eyeballs and brain. It’s the rule of cinematography when it comes to conversation. But Ezra and Aria don’t have any leading room between them.
So it makes you feel kind of creeped out, right? Kind of uneasy? You’ll see it again with Hanna and Dr. Sullivan in a minute. The Liars are experiencing a disconnect and a discomfort trying to relate to anyone who wasn’t in the dollhouse. And also, that negative space behind Aria (and later, behind Hanna), your brain is sending you panic signals when you see that, because you know (without knowing you know) that Norman Buckley is showing you that empty space for a reason. So you’re like, “Who’s going to step into that space?! What are they going to do?!” Your brain doesn’t know if it’s a metaphor or if it’s murder.
To wit: Aria decides to take Ezra up on his offer. She hangs out at the Brew and looks through all her photography. Standard Instagram stuff. Lattes and books and Buddha statues. A hundred thousand photos of Spencer. But then she finds all these pictures of Andrew seeming like a normal 30-year-old teenager in his seventh senior year at Rosewood High School and her noggin gets to whirring about who is is, really. She says it out loud: “Who are you?” One day he shows up out of nowhere, gets Spencer to take off her bra like a wizard, hosts an academic decathlon that nearly causes Spencer and Mona to murder each other, then follows Aria around like a Noel Kahn for half a season. Who is he?
Monster sneaks in.
For real, though, look at all the spaces in the frames the Liars aren’t occupying in this episode. It’s on purpose and it has so much to say. (Again: Hanna, especially at school.) So, Ezra decides the best way to help Aria is to call, I guess, Rosewood General? And pretend to be a police officer? He’s like, “Oh, hey, hospital. This is Mervin. Can you tell me Andrew Campbell’s blood type, social security number, physical location at this moment in time, etc.? If you need to look it up, I’ll hold.” They hang up on him, obviously, but not before telling him Andrew is adopted.
Spencer and Ali take a minute before school to squabble with each other. Spencer is convinced Ali’s dad is lying about Charles. Ali isn’t not convinced, but she is a girl who died but didn’t die who just got out of jail for murdering a whole other girl who died but didn’t die, and instead of Emily rewarding her selfless dollhouse heroics with a smooch on the mouth to affirm her goodness and worth, Ali is receiving the opposite reward: fighting in a mirror with Spencer to remind her, both literally and metaphorically, how fucked up and duplicitous and fleeting and ungraspable her real life still is. (Emily, you’re ministering to the wrong blonde girl! It’s better than murdering the wrong blonde girl like everybody else, but it’s still not good!)
Spencer says if Ali won’t drill her dad’s brain in the night to mine his memories of Charles, she’s going to talk to Jason, and that just sends Alison over the edge. She doesn’t want Spencer to get Jason involved because she doesn’t want Jason to hate her, because that’s how it works, because every adult man on this show who abuses girls finds a way to paint themselves as the victims of everything the Liars do to break get from them. Ezra did it. Jason’s doing it right now. Andrew is going to do it in a minute. I mean, Ali doesn’t say that. She’s a sixteen-year-old girl who’s been called a bitch-monster so long she’s starting to believe it. But she touches the edge of the truth, and asks Spencer to leave it alone.
Hanna runs into Dr. Sullivan at school while she’s waiting for the Liars to arrive. You’re like, “Why, all of a sudden, is school so important to Hanna, of all people?” But then she meets with Sullivan after class and lays it bare: The thing A/Charles tried to do, has been trying to do from the very beginning, is break the Liars apart, and the worst thing that could possibly come from the dollhouse is if he succeeded. She clutches her hand the whole time, the one she was forced to use to choose a Liar to torture, and asks if Dr. Sullivan can do some polyamory couples counseling for the four of them. Like maybe subpoena them or something, with her doctor powers? Anne says yes to the first thing, no to the second; so, Hanna vows to get their asses to therapy if she has to rope ’em up and throw ’em in the back of Toby’s truck.
Soccer ball: [Flies at Ali’s face]
Ali: [Steps over, takes a fake shot at Lorenzo’s nuts, lunges, taps it back to him]
Lorenzo: Your moves are smooth and your face is underage. You’re every Rosewood cop’s dream, girl.
Ali: Are those church kids?
Lorenzo: Yeah, you’re every Rosewood youth minister’s dream, too, girl.
Ali: I wonder if Aria will let me borrow her Stop Men dress.
Lorenzo: You know you want it.
Ali: Wanna jet? You’re right. Bye.
Toby: [Watches condescendingly from the window]
Pam pulls out some of Emily’s old plaids from the attic so Sarah can have some things to wear around that aren’t dirty old yellow tank tops. Sarah puts on a lesbian-themed fashion show for Pam and Em, while they throw socks at each other and try to pretend Emily’s not going to have to end up stabbing this girl on top of a lighthouse. Pam casually asks why Sarah ran away after being held hostage in the sewers beneath a state park for many years. Emily is like, “Oh my god, Mom, you can’t just ask someone why they’re feral!” But Sarah doesn’t mind telling about it. Her mom is a horrible woman who threw all of Sarah’s clothes in the yard and burned them like a bonfire after Sarah was kidnapped. Roasted marshmallows on the fire, roasted hot dogs, s’mores, the whole thing. A freedom luau, basically. Pam gives Sarah a hundred more of Emily’s old denim vests and a plate of empanadas. And a vodka.
Hanna busts up the party to drag Emily to therapy. It’s amazing. It’s so Hanna. Holding the world together with her Hufflepuff arms. She just wheels up, calls Emily, and when Emily walks outside her house, Hanna goes, “Get in, I mean it, we’re going to therapy.”
Toby, meanwhile, damages Spencer’s calm by asking her to ask Alison to stay away from Officer Lorenzo so she doesn’t get him into trouble. Spencer doesn’t flip the coffee table and go, “How about telling the ADULT MEN in this town to not SEDUCE TEENAGE GIRLS. How about NOT holding the victims responsible for their own victimization for once, TOBY. HOW ABOUT THAT.” Instead, she asks him if he seriously thinks Ali is the same person she was when this show started, back when texts were read aloud in unison and Jason had a whole other head. Toby sees her point, but Ali framed him for blowing up Jenna’s eyeballs, so he’s having a hard time letting that go. He says if Spencer trusts Ali completely, he’ll stop this shit. But, like my friend Valerie pointed out last night, Spencer doesn’t trust anyone completely. She spent a full half season of this show accusing herself of murder.
So Spencer takes her mistrust off the couch and over to Jason’s office to ask about Charles DiLaurentis.
Jason: You mean Charlie DiLaurentis?
Spencer: Um, what?
Jason: Charlie DiLaurentis, my imaginary friend from childhood?
Spencer: I say again: Um, what?
Jason: Yeah, he had to go live on the farm with our old cat, Hannibal Lecter DiLaurentis.
Spencer: I’m gonna go to therapy now.
Jason: Cool, have fun. I feel lucky that I’ve never really needed any therapy.
Well, so the Liars are at Dr. Sullivan’s office, working out what they’re going to tell her about Charles. But Hanna says they’re not there to talk about Charles. They’re there to talk about the hard work of loving for a lifetime. Emily, for one, will not be closing her eyes during this appointment due to the fact that the last time she closed her eyes in Sullivan’s office, she was hypnotized into believing she cracked Ali’s head with a shovel and was then transported through a time-vortex into the floorboard of Jenna’s car. All of this planning is moot; Spencer rushes in talking about imaginary Charlie and A texts a photo of the Risen Mitten holding a knife to the back of Sarah Harvey’s head, threatening to slice and dice her if they don’t get out of that therapy office right now. And so they do.
They zip over to Emily’s, but Sarah isn’t in bed at all. It’s just some pillows. Sarah is in the shower. When she gets out, Emily gives her the biggest hug, and you can see it in Sarah’s eyes, the Cousin Nate of it all, being that close to Emily, completely unhinged, and how someone is going to end up duct taped inside a closet because of it.
The next stop on the Liars panic tour is Alison’s. First, they explain about imaginary Charlie, and how something kuckobananas is going on here. There’s just too many blonde twin ghosts running around this town for all of them to be ghosts. So they split up and fan out and start looking for hiding places where Jessica or Mr. D or Jason might have hidden information about an invisible son or nephew or something. There’s no journals or anything about him in the hidden room behind the bookshelves. No slideshows of his youth in the attic, stashed among Alison’s dolls and one million dollars in cash money. No drawings of his in Jessica’s armoire, none of his old broken down toys in the basement. Aria gets bored and decides to do some crafting, and when she does, she finds a photo of Jason and Charlie and Mrs. D stuffed into a button jar. A photo from that day at the Campbell Apple Farm.
Out on the porch, Alison wonders to Spencer if Lorenzo knows about The Jenna Thing, the kissing rock thing, the Vivian Darkbloom/Holly Golightly thing, her intimate friendship with the grave-digging witch thing. She’s saying it like she wants to date him, but I wonder if maybe she really just wants to coach the girls’ soccer team at church, and he’s the first person in a long time who acted like she could hang around kids and not chop them up and do crazy necromancy with their dead bodies. Spencer tells her to go for it. Maybe Ali will even get a soccer penalty named after her. Emily digs stuff like that, you know.
The Liars bounce so Ali can talk to Jason and her dad alone. On the way home — filling up the full frame together, camera looking up at them, because their empowerment is in each other! — Andrew comes raging out of the courthouse like some kind of full-on men’s rights activist, screaming about how the Liars wouldn’t him fuck them and wouldn’t let him be the hero every video game and Disney movie led him to believe he was entitled to be, which makes them garbage women and he hopes they die. It’s straight up like Mario finding Princess Peach on the street after she rescued herself from Bowser’s castle and tearing into her about how was coming for her and how fucking DARE she climb out of that lava pit all by herself. Aria is still apologizing! Still! Another creep surveilling and berating her and she’s still apologizing! Oh, Aria, forgive me because you were all of us all along, and I just couldn’t see it.
Spencer: Well, everyone hates us.
Emily: Only assholes hate us. So, every man in this town hates us.
Hanna: Which was the whole point of couples counseling! I tortured y’all! But I can’t lose you!
Aria: No, you didn’t. I never got tortured. I’m the one who tortured y’all.
Spencer: Wait, we were all forced to torture each other, but none of us ever got tortured? A just wanted us to know he could make us do it?
Hanna: Making us think we hurt each other hurt us more than anything he could do to us.
They group hug and head home, determined, more than ever, to stop splitting up.
At Spencer’s, her mom is all worked up about how Andrew is out of jail and they couldn’t charge him with anything and how is this Spencer’s fault because it’s got to be Spencer’s fault, and if this means Spencer doesn’t get into an Ivy, well all hope is lost and they might as well have just drowned her in the bathtub when she was a baby. Spencer goes upstairs and takes the sleeping pill she lifted from Aria and tries not to think too hard about how some things were actually better in the dollhouse.
Ali shows Jason the photo of his imaginary friend, and so when Mr. D comes home from whatever Scrooge McDuck thing his job is, they confront him with it and he’s forced to confess that Charlie was real but now he’s dead. Maybe Toby’s mom threw him off the roof of Radley. Maybe Jessica bashed his face with a shovel and buried him in that hole. Maybe Veronica strangled a lookalike kid with her hydrangeas and buried him in the same hole. Maybe both those boys were just girls with short hair who liked baseball. Maybe they were Cece. Maybe they were Bethany. Maybe they rise from the grave every Halloween and go trick-or-treating. I swear to God, if this turns out to be some kind of horrible representation for a trans character, though, I am going to throw myself off a bridge. I have not invested this much of my life into this show to have it do that to us. Please MONA VANDERJESUS don’t let that be a thing.
Anyway, speaking of photo albums, Sarah Harvey has been going through Emily’s pictures, apparently, because when Emily gets home Sarah has cut her hair.
Leger de main. Kisses, bitches!
As always, my hugest thanks to Nicole (@PLLBigA) for the fantastic screencaps. Nicole is an actual magician. You should follow her on the Twitter machine. SHE KNOWS EVERYTHING.