Previously on Pretty Little Liars, Toby’s drive-thru police certification started causing big time problems between him and Spencer, the way it would if, say, you were a Smurf and your boyfriend took an internship with Gargamel. Hanna and Caleb broke into the storage unit that was rented in her name to find only the barrel full of bodies left inside, and Toby and Detective Tanner snooping around outside. Aria gave Ezra a copy of the Talmadge essay she wrote about how he is an emotional terrorist, and for the first time in his life, he was like, “Dang, man, I’m an emotional terrorist.” Talia told Emily the way she flirts with girls is to boss them around and talk about boys’ butts. And Ashley had a long think about Pastor Ted vs. Jason DiLaurentis.
[Cons: Looks eerily like sister who is teenage daughter’s friend, shady motherfucker, keeps changing head, house built on graveyard, sober (no wine??) Pros: Durable (can survive falls from 30+ stories?), won’t have to wake up early on weekend to go to church, looks like Sweet Valley High boyfriend (will make me feel/look younger?)]
The Liars are hanging out in the town square of a Saturday morning, chatting about the usual things. Toby giving up his sweet gig as Rosewood’s only contractor to go to work for Spencer’s archnemesis: noble or moronic? Discuss. Veronica Hastings joining Alison’s defense team as a special consultant to steer them away from the trail of Spencer’s misdeeds: shrewd or futile? Discuss. Ezra going out of town without telling Aria: honorable or duplicitous. Discuss. Holbrook returning to Rosewood PD alive and not in that barrel like I thought: mo’ problems or the ultimate chance for Hanna to shine? (Spoiler alert, it’s the second thing.)
Spencer and Hanna make up from last week’s hollering match speedy-quick because their personalities are perfectly suited for such a thing. Spencer is good at apologizing, and swiftly, because she’s always accusing you of some horrible thing only to realize later that it was her own insecurities and/or logical fallacies and/or Adderall talking. And Hanna is good at accepting apologies because she’s no stranger to vomiting on wedding dresses, and her empathy and compassion are as deep as the ocean.
The Liars head on into Fitzgerald Book Shoppe & Candy Palace to disperse and have some individual dramas. Emily wanders into the kitchen to talk to Talia about how she hopes she’s feeling better on account of she called in sick yesterday, and Talia doesn’t even make a joke about how she hopes Emily didn’t poison the whole town with empanadas in her absence. She just sits there in her sadness and is sad and she frowns. Spencer takes a second to talk to fucking Johnny Patronization, who is doing another installation for Ezra. And Hanna gets a call from the police asking her to shimmy herself across the street, where Caleb is already hanging out, to answer some questions about the storage unit.
There’s a real elegance to this episode’s direction and scene shifts. It almost feels like watching a play, the way the stories flow and transition between each of the Liars; even them just observing each other adds a visual depth and another layer of emotion to their stories.
Emily is behind the register, reading personal essays as they print out on the receipt machine, when this strawberry-haired girl with big ol’ lesbian glasses wanders up and asks to be pointed in the direction of Hanna Marin, because she is Mona’s childhood friend, Leslie, and Mrs. Vanderwaal said Hanna would probably be hanging out here or at down at the police precinct. Well, this is a suspicious surprise, and the Liars tell her so! In fact, they invite her to stand trial right in this shoppe, where they always hold court.
They question her about how long she’s been friends with Mona, what exactly she thinks it means to be friends with Mona, about her whereabouts during Mona’s Luau-themed memorial service. Leslie says Mona probably never talked about her to the Liars because Mona only ever talked about Hanna, and she couldn’t come to the funeral Luau because of school, and she really appreciates the Liars trying to protect Mona from “that awful girl.” Leslie says she was supposed to see Mona at Thanksgiving but, well, you know, the bludgeoning kept her from ever showing up to eat turkey and dressing.
The Liars need a minute to be skeptical of Leslie because, in their experience, when someone comes to town claiming to be a dead person’s best friend, that person is Cece Drake, and you don’t want to walk into that situation blindly or someone is coming away with a nickname like “Americano.”
Spencer goes home to steal Alison’s visitation records from her mother’s briefcase and also to yell at her mother when her mother starts yelling at her about college. In true Hastings fashion, the problem is not that Spencer didn’t get into college. No, despite being arrested, admitted to rehab multiple times for Study Drug addiction, Radley-ed, and not attending school past season three, Spencer has been accepted to one hundred colleges, but she hasn’t bothered to tell Veronica about them or even open up the acceptance packages.
Veronica is livid! She starts in on Spencer about, “Do you think I keep murdering people in the backyard so you can not pursue your dreams of higher education? Do you think I stayed married to your father and kept my mouth shut when Melissa started making out with her half-brother so you could spend your 20s traipsing through Amsterdam wearing a backpack and dreadlocks and getting baked and eating food out of those FEBO vending machines? Spencer, do you honestly think I’m going to let you skip college after I left my career at the Special Victims Unit to keep you from losing your goddamn mind inside a noir fantasy? You’re going to college. Open these letters and start packing.”
If you think that’s angry, wait’ll you get a load of Detective Holbrook down at RPD HQ getting fired. Hanna and Caleb are hanging out there, talking about how weird it’ll be if Ashley becomes a preacher’s wife, when Holbrook explodes in the kind of rage handsome white men in their 30s often do when they find out they can’t just take whatever they want in life and get rewarded for it. He starts screeching about how someone else messed up the investigation and now he’s taking the fall for it, and smashing up his desk, and calling everyone names, and stealing people’s staplers and Post-It notes on the way out the door. When he sees Hanna and Caleb watching him, he goes, “Perfect! Just perfect!” And Caleb steps in front of Hanna because he thinks maybe this asshole is unhinged enough to start throwing punches at teenage girls.
Hanna rushes back to the book shoppe to tell Emily about Holbrook going berserk, and she’s got a bad feeling about what he’s going to be doing with all his free time now that he’s not a cop. Caleb did some kind of techno hocus-pocus on the cameras at the storage unit place, so that’s okay, but the video of them discussing their plan to break into the storage room and steal a dead body is still out there somewhere, for one thing. That does worry Emily, what Hanna is saying about how Holbrook is going to destroy all their lives, but it doesn’t worry her as much as seeing Spencer cozying up in the corner with Johnny Garbage Paint. Also, she’s got some Talia on her mind. It’s a busier day than normal in Emily’s noggin.
Spencer tells Aria the weird news that Mike visited Alison in jail, and despite Aria’s protests that Mike only went there to spit in Alison’s eye (“because when you don’t like someone, you blind them; he was just doing what we taught him!”), she knows something wily is going on. Mike has a history, you’ll remember. He broke Ella’s arm. He broke into Emily’s garage one time and stole some camping gear. He was a confidante of Noel Kahn.
When Aria tries to confront Mike about the jail visit, she finds him watching Them!, which is such a good Pretty Little Liars movie. Like, this is one of my favorite film-within-film commentaries this show has done because Them! is this absurdly terrifying sci-fi flick — the first and probably best of the 1950s “creature features” — about how atomic bomb testing in New Mexico created a colony of giant super ants. Which seems like it should be silly, but it’s actually really eerie and there’s some scathing social commentary about how, like, a radioactive explosion in a small town can cause even the most innocuous and tiny things to morph into monsters. (Metaphors!) The part Mike is watching is the beginning, this lost little girl wandering around in the desert clutching a headless doll, whispering, “Them! Them!” And the state trooper who finds her being like, “What’s your name? Who do you belong to?”
Mike says it was one of Mona’s favorites (because of course it was; Mona’s mind is a gift that doesn’t stop giving, even after she’s gone), and that he’s trying to watch all the films she had on her Best Of list. Aria doesn’t ask Mike about the jail thing because she can see he’s too broken up over Mona to answer questions right now. Oh, Aria. Let me relearn you without Ezra occupying your whole life. There’s so much goodness and uniqueness inside you that we’ve never even seen!
Hanna escorts Leslie to Mona’s room under the guise of being her guide, but actually she just wants to keep an eye on her.
Hanna: If you actually were close to Mona, you do understand that what we had was way more complicated than “just friends.”
Leslie: Oh, I know.
Hanna: No, I don’t mean it in a gay way. I mean it in a “in between all the times she saved my life, she tried to ruin my life and literally hit me with a car at least once” kind of way.
Leslie: Right, I know. But that’s what I liked about her. Most girls, it’s like, they’re in one place, doing one thing, but with Mona, she was everywhere and nowhere doing nothing and everything.
Hanna: There was more than one Mona inside her.
Leslie: More than one Mona?! Do you think she’s the one with a twin?
Hanna: Oh man, now I do!
Usually the way I recap Pretty Little Liars is I watch the episode live and live-tweet it, and then I watch it again the next morning and take frantic notes the whole time. I usually come away with about six pages of hastily scribbled notes, but this episode, I ended up with 17 pages and most of them are just me transcribing actual dialogue from the show. This episode feels so full of secrets, like not even a single word is wasted. That’s especially true in these Mona/Hanna flashback scenes, which is where Hanna’s mind goes when she sees a giant Edgar Allen Poe compendium on Mona’s bookshelf.
Mona is reading Poe’s “Bridal Ballad” to Hanna. It’s a poem about how this bride marries this rich lord because everyone says that’s the thing she’s supposed to do, and the bride keeps talking about how happy she is, but really she’s not happy at all because she’s in love with a soldier who died in battle, and on her wedding day she even hallucinates marrying the dead soldier. At the very end of the poem, when she’s done pretending to the reader that jewels and satin and silk and societal approval make her happy, she starts worrying that the dead soldier’s ghost is going to start haunting her because she married someone else. So, that story plus themes about how wedding rings symbolize patriarchal oppression and about how awful it is so smile on the outside while you’re dying on the inside. Take a minute and noodle on those Vanderevelations/post-corporeal threats!
Mona says she loves Poe because his words are like maple syrup, sticky and sweet, and being creeped out is a good time. And then she transitions into the Three Wishes game, which is basically her Adrenalized Hyperreality origin story. She really just wants one wish, a stopwatch that controls the space-time continuum, and when you press the button, everyone and everything freezes, so you can steal shit from Bloomingdale’s, sure, but also you can break into people’s houses and find out all their business and manipulate their actions and when you decided to unfreeze time, they would be your puppets and they wouldn’t even know it. Like a real-live, life-size dollhouse.
Hanna’s like, “You always make better wishes than me.” And Mona’s like, “Honey, you don’t know the half of it.”
Fitzgerald Bookshoppe & Candy Palace. Emily climbs up onto a ladder to fetch a giant can of tomatoes, and while she’s up there, Talia sliiiiides on in behind her and wordlessly wraps an apron around her waist. She ties it. She breathes in the smell of Emily’s hair. She rests her hands on Emily’s hips for juuuuust a second. Later, Emily will tell Caleb that she doesn’t know whether or not Talia is flirting with her, because Emily is just wholly, truly, inexplicably bad at reading the signs. I’m starting to think she didn’t even understand the sign of “Act Normal, Bitch” and that’s the best sign in history.
Also inexplicably, Mike starts to get mesmerized by Johnny. Johnny says he’s building a “perpetual motion machine powered by secrets.” If Mona was still alive, she would talk to him about the laws of thermodynamics and how he’s full of it. But she is not, and so. Mike spots Leslie and Hanna carrying Mona’s giant Poe collection and flips out on them about how they’d better give it back right now so he can put it back in Mona’s room and does her mom just think she’s going to start giving away all of Mona’s stuff and no one can make her disappear even if they burn all her terrifying dolls in a fire so stop trying. Hanna doesn’t slap Mike’s face and explain that Mona meant more to her than she could mean to Mike in three hundred lifetimes, but only because she is Hanna. I would slap his face. Hanna says she’ll make sure the book is returned to its proper place.
After Mike smashes through a window and leaves, Leslie is like, “Yeah, I definitely heard that joker yelling at Mona when I was on the phone with her the night she died.”
Leslie, shut up. Only we get to make fun of Mike and accuse him of things. You just got here.
Caleb is outside studying on the grass on a Saturday afternoon, which Emily finds super odd, so she goes over to make sure he’s okay. He says, “No one’s ever going to deserve Hanna, but I’m going to keep trying to deserve her, so today that means becoming a super genius.” Emily is so distracted watching Talie unload melons from a melon truck that she barely hears him. Caleb calls it her “new situation” and wonders how that’s going.
Emily: There’s a part of me that’s like, “Come on, Fields; focus on staying alive and out of jail!” But there’s another part of me that honestly just wants to feel the weight of a pretty girl on top of me.
Caleb: Yeah, but what’s the point of that first thing if you don’t have that second thing?
Emily: I guess. How do lesbians even get together?
Caleb: I think what happens is you meet a girl and exist in the same space with her for a minute and then stalk everything she has ever written on social media and analyze every word she’s ever said or not said to you and lie awake at night thinking about when you’ll be interacting with her again and try to make up your mind about what to do and stop eating and once you become so sleep deprived and hungry that nothing make sense, you just close your eyes and go for it. Or you don’t, and you have some pizza and start the cycle over.
Emily: Seems legit. Thanks, buddy.
Hanna drops another Mike bomb onto Aria. Not only did he visit Ali in jail, but he also yelled at Mona the night before she died. Based on this random new girl from nowhere’s mental voice analytics.
Spencer is still hanging out with Johnny, trying to figure out his machine. She says she doesn’t want to figure it out; she just want to know, and he goes, “You’ll have to forgive me for sounding patronizing; it’s just that once you’ve ridden on the breath of the eagles to a yurt atop Mount Shuksan, you understand the world. And so I’m going to say, ‘Analyze that sentence, Spencer.'”
Then he breaks out one of Ali’s MISSING CHILD posters because of course he does because it is a truth universally acknowledged that a condescending man in possession of dog-eared copy of anything Truman Capote ever wrote must be in want of being the one person who can crack the code Alison DiLaurentis.
Wait, though. This is great. Spencer quotes Vishnu about Ali, says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” But you know who’s most famous for quoting that? Robert Oppenheimer, the director of The Manhattan Project, which, in Them!, is what caused the giant killer ants.
Back in Mona’s room, Hanna flashes back to that same sleepover with the Poe reading. She remembers waking up Mona to ask her to suss out her theory of time-stoppage a little more and also ponder the theological and social ramifications of Alison returning to Rosewood. What if she came back? What if she came back in disguise? What if we didn’t even recognize her? Mona’s calm is damaged for a minute. She says they’d be strangers to Ali! They’d be the unrecognizable ones! And then she relaxes, pets Hanna’s head, tells her it’s just a scary story like a Poe poem, and to go on back to sleep.
Hanna knows right away there’s something special about the Poe book, and she’s right. There’s a small tape hidden in the binding. What’s on the tape is a recording of a therapy session Bethany Young had at Radley. “She’s a bitch! She’s an evil bitch! I’m not being destructive; I’m practicing self-defense! She’s not the only one who can make plans!” Caleb and Hanna assume she’s talking about Alison, but that can’t be right because Ali and Bethany were exchanging friendly letters right up until Endless Labor Day, and anyway, it was Mrs. D, not Ali, that Bethany was drawing getting gobbled up by a Godzilla in the back yard.
Aria follows Mike out to that lake where both Lucas and Jenna drowned. He is leaving a sack of sour gummy bears for someone, and he is furious when he spots Aria. He yells for a long time about how she doesn’t know shit about shit and never come here again and it’s none of her beeswax to whom he’s gifting these tasty snacks and I hope you don’t die in a bear trap on your way home through the woods. I also hope you don’t give a man your face, Aria, because according to my memory, his cottage is right near here. Also, frankly, mutant ants. I think maybe Joseph Dougherty is gonna get ya with some ants.
Finally, Johnny reveals his machine to Spencer. He shows her how it works. One person stands in a bubble and whispers, and another person puts her elbows on this desk in these elbow-holders and cups her hands around her ears and hears a secret.
Spencer is like, “You’re joking!” And Johnny says he never jokes. Once you have trekked the fjords of Baffin Island and tasted the nectar of the Newfoundland sun, you will come face-to-face with the reality of your own mortality and your ephemeral presence in the universe and you will never laugh again. You will paint Lake Baikal from your perch on the Olchon Islands, dotting red farmhouses along your canvas’ horizon with the blood of a virgin doe (her hide, your cloak! her flanks, your supper!). You will hire a camel to convey you through the Gobi Desert and drink his tears when he lays eyes upon Crescent Lake. You will speak no words in the Meteora Monastery, yet accomplish a lifetime of communication. No, Spencer. Once you have shaken off the chains of college and lived, you will never joke.
FINE, though. That machine is pretty cool. I mean, it’ll be the death of someone, but it’s pretty cool.
Back at home, Veronica tells Spencer to stay away from Johnny because he is filling her head with the lies of a traveling circus man. Also, new evidence alert! Ali’s blood was found at the crime scene of Mona’s murder!
Okay. Okay, y’all. Get yourself a glass of water and have a good stretch because this next part is going to make you run around the room in circles with your hands above your head, squealing with undiluted delight.
Hanna is on her way home from Mona’s when a police car pulls her over. Even though it’s a backroad at night and we already spent a full season dealing with the fallout of her and her mother pulling over for police cars on backroads at night, she does it. But when she looks in her rearview mirror, there’s no one in the police car. So she steps out of the car and whips out this — no joke — expandable baton. Right, and she walks back to the police car and all of a sudden Holbrook is grabbing at her and getting aggressive and saying stuff like, “How does a girl like Alison become a girl like Alison?” The useful things he says are that Tanner knows literally everything, and that he was actually dealing with internal affairs these last few weeks so Ali has another henchman. The bullshit things he says are that he had a good career going and Ali ruined it by letting him screw around with her.
Holbrook grabs at Hanna’s face like he really is going to rape her, and she wallops the hell out of him with her expandable baton! And then — listen to this, okay! — she literally says the words, “You don’t get to play the victim here. You’re the grown-up police officer; she’s just a girl!”
My wishlist for this season of Pretty Little Liars was: 1) If Paige is leaving, let her have a triumphant send-off worthy of her growth as a character and as a symbol of hope for the It Gets Better generation. 2) And don’t let that be the end of Emily’s lesbian life. 3) And if she’s getting a new love interest, let her be a woman of color. 4) More Mona. 5) More Ali. 6) A smackdown of rape culture instead of blaming the teenage girls these grown men continue to seduce.
Gods, I cannot tell you how good it felt to me to see Hanna do what she did and say what she said, especially because of the way Aria came at her last season about how it was her fault Zack tried to have sex with her. There is always a theme in Dead Girl Shows about, “What did this sexually active blonde-haired girl who pretended to be a virgin do to deserve to be murdered by a man twice her age?” She must have done something, right? Seasons after seasons of how she was asking for it. So to have Hanna (who still looks like Ali in a wide shot) physically and verbally smack down that rape culture thing? Yes, ma’am!
Back at the book shoppe, Talia tries to figure out how the whisper machine works. Emily says she’ll show her. She sits her down and tells her to cup her ears, and the craziest thing: With her hair pushed back, she looks younger than Emily! (I think she is in real life, actually.) Emily goes over and stands in the bubble and says: “The other night when you said it was my buns and not Ezra’s buns you were into, it felt like you were asking me to decide right then if we should get married. But I don’t know you. And you don’t know me. You could be a fake cousin. I could be a girl whose vagina is cursed with death. I do know that being gifted like you are, just singularly amazing at a thing, can be lonely. So lonely you’ll listen to instructions from a talking doll, or only have your dad to call when a school building comes alive to murder you. I get it. And it’s awful. Anyway, that’s how this machine works!”
Emily walks back to Talia and says maybe she “reads too much into situations.” And Talia’s face is like, “The situation of me saying with my mouth that I’m interested in you? That’s the one you think you read too much into? Or the apron thing earlier which was basically like emotional second base?” And then Talia endears herself to Emily even more by saying she learned to cook with the confidence of experience, even when she didn’t have any. It’s a food metaphor Emily finally understands, so she grabs Talia and smooches her beautiful face. She pulls away shyly, but Talia grabs her back and they smooch some more.
Paige McCullers meant a thing to me as deep as my soul. Maybe she’ll be back! Maybe not! She left on her own terms, and she left alive! Seeing a lesbian couple of color on TV? That means an awful lot to so many people, and it’s something we never get to see. I feel happy in my heart and calm in my spirit and I’m just gonna go hug it out with Hanna now. (Watch out for shovels while I’m gone, Talia!)
The Liars debrief what happened today. Who’s the other henchman? Who’s he working for? Who’s the person making other plans on Bethany’s Radley tape? Who set a trap for whom?
Mike goes back to jail to visit Ali, even though Aria told him not to do it. Because Mike is his own man. (Just kidding, Mike is still operating on Mona’s orders, I’ll bet you one hundred dollars.)
The Risen Mitten loses its mind when it sneaks into Mona’s room and finds that the Bethany tape is missing.
Next week, there will be blood! Not rat’s blood, no! Liar blood, for real this time!
#BooRadleyVanCullen tweets are on the next page.
— Pretty Little Liars (@LittleLiars) February 4, 2015
— Worst Year, Gayer Nic (@CloneNic) February 4, 2015
Mike and Holbrook are on the same evil haircut team #BooRadleyVanCullen
— proud blancofemophobe 🇭🇹🌈 🗽 (@haitianfineappl) February 4, 2015
There better be a deleted scene where we find out what's going on underneath the sheets between Hannah and Mona. #BooRadleyVanCullen
— Diane Michelle (@DianeMichelle2L) February 4, 2015
Montgomery vs Montgomery, if only their parents could…LOL I couldn't even tweet that with a straight face #BooRadleyVanCullen
— Samantha J. Green (@SamanthaJGreen) February 4, 2015
— StarryMag (@StarryMag) February 4, 2015
Mona is alive, living under the dock, subsisting on gumdrops, fear, & thoughts of Hanna. #BooRadleyVanCullen
— Morgan Glennon (@mojotastic) February 4, 2015
— Theodora (@TheodoraG13) February 4, 2015
HANNA IS TOO GOOD FOR ROSEWOOD SHE SHOULD HAVE LEFT WITH PAIGE #BOORADLEYVANCULLEN
— 🎆SPECIAL NEGRO🎆 (@AmayasTotem) February 4, 2015
Holbrook has his same regular old face, right? It's just new hair? White guy blindness strikes again! #BooRadleyVanCullen
— Jenna (@jennalykes) February 4, 2015
Nicole (@PLLBigA), thank you for these screencaps and for your continued encouragement and for knowing more even than Mona knew. You have the gift of Adrenalized Hyprreality, my friend!