Previously on Pretty Little Liars, The Liars escaped from the dollhouse bunker of infinite nightmares with the help of Alison, Caleb, and zero Rosewood police. Spencer cracked the code of their kidnapper and discovered that his name is Charles DiLaurentis, a person Alison has never heard of apparently, at least according to her face when Emily asked her who the F he is and where the F he came from. The Liars didn’t leave Mona to burn alive in the dollhouse, a drastic improvement over their behavior toward her before she died; Spencer even wrapped Mona up in her arms and held her close like true love or best friends or gal pals or study buddies or some other intimate thing. Also, Sarah Harvey was in the dollhouse and she got free after the Liars torched the place, dressed like everyone dressed like Alison.
The Liars are hanging out together at Rosewood General, without Mona, but they all look really good, so maybe Mona already gave them their hospital makeovers and bounced to get back to the business of hyperreality. (I hope Mrs. Vanderwaal is writing Alison an apology note for punching her in the head at Mona’s funeral, just P.S.) The Liars talk about how Andrew is Charles but also isn’t Charles and maybe they shouldn’t even say the name Charles to Tanner & Co. at this point, due to their astounding and comprehensive incompetence at being police. Aria wants it to be Andrew, needs it to be Andrew, goes full Spencer about how it has to be Andrew. Remember how great Aria got last season? Well, spoiler alert: She’s actually going to get even greater.
The Liars wonder if they should toddle on down and say hi to Sarah Harvey, but decide to let her rest for a minute. Not everyone recovers from Being Alison DiLaurentis as fast as Cece Drake.
Anyway, Andrew is definitely not Charles. The reason I know this is because the police think he is Charles and also the police just caught him. And by “police” I mean “Toby,” and I’m saying that in quotes as a compliment because RPD is just the worst and Toby is okay, y’all, especially since he finally figured out the best way to protect Spencer is to free Alison and get the fuck out of her way. He does get way too rough with Andrew, though, before his new partner finds him and tells him to cut it out.
Okay, and get this. I love this more than just about anything anyone has ever been said on this or any TV show, or in real life. The police found some of Andrew’s journals, and in them were his sociopathic MRA ramblings about how Mona and Spencer represent “the feminization of society” and that’s why he’s been such a creep-ass stalker at the Liars. He’s been trying to thwart a matriarchal society in Rosewood! I was talking about some things I wished PLL would do differently one time — because we need to be honest and critical of the art we love the most too! — and this girl I know was like, “PLL is never going to be the feminist utopia you want it to be!” And so then this happened last week and I was like, “… or is it?!”
Anyway, Toby and his new partner take Andrew down to the precinct for questioning. All of Charles’ surveillance shit was at his apple farm, anyway.
Ali has seen the loves of her life dragged from fires in bunkers and fires in cabins and fire in barns. She decides she’s going to come out swinging for answers instead of tiptoeing around them, so she straight up asks her dad who Charles is. He’s like, “WHERE DID YOU HEAR THAT NAME?” And she’s like, “Oh, so you do know it then, and it makes your face turn purple and the veins in your neck bulge out. Good to know.”
Emily’s first stop on the PTSD Express is a visit to see Sarah Harvey in the hospital. If they’re all going to be suffering emotional shrapnel in their brains, why not use their vividly torturous memories to do a little crime solving, eh? She wants to know who Sarah is, where she came from, how long she was down there and what Charles forced her to do. Were all those yellow tank tops there when she got there, or did they keep coming in individual shipments from like Target? Did she ever hear Charles’ voice? Did she ever see his face? Did he look like the lifeguard on the cover of every Sweet Valley High and Baby-Sitters Club book ever written? Like, is he Jason DiLaurentis’ actual twin?
Sarah doesn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t want to talk to Emily at all. Which: Fine, totally valid. But I’ll bet you five dollars and a box of Lucky Leon pig-shaped cupcakes that she tries to get her pants on Emily’s pants before this season is over.
At home, Wayne calls Emily and apologizes for not being able to come home and protect her like that time he scaled the wall of Rosewood High when it came to life in the night and tried to murder her. She’s okay with it. Pam’s here. Pam’s here to count those pills and make that worried face and flinch every time the dryer buzzes because she’s just waiting for the next car to smash through the wall. Emily hangs out in the attic for a while, sniffs around her dad’s gun cabinet, puts on his army jacket like straight out of Joseph Dougherty‘s super amazing The Week In Rained, shreds my goddamn heart to pieces.
Spencer can’t sleep. She’s flashing back to her time in the dollhouse, to the worst things she’s ever had to do. She’s alone and she’s afraid and so she gets out of bed, opens the door so the hallway light shines in, and lays back down with her eyes wide open. The next morning, Ali comes to visit.
Ali: Well, my dad says he doesn’t know who Charles is. Whoa now, hey now, what is going on with your eyes?
Spencer: Let me put this to you delicately: Your dad is lying sack of shit!
Ali: For real, Spence, blink.
Spencer: Charles is a DiLaurentis! You are a DiLaurentis! Your dad and Jason are DiLaurentises! Your family is so fucking weird about twin shit! Somebody knows something!
Ali: You want me to big spoon you so you can take a nap?
Spencer: Fuck off.
Ali: Honey, you need to sleep.
Spencer: Well, I can’t sleep because my mom wouldn’t fill my sleeping pill prescription!
Ali: Hey, remember that time you were almost one of the people who killed me on Labor Day because you were addicted to pills?
Spencer: You don’t know anything!
Ali: I know about your noir dream.
Spencer: UGH I HATE EVERYONE.
At the Brew, Aria is messing around with some camera equipment when Ezra drops by to tell her she should write down her memories in her journal, publish it as a memoir, and craft a screenplay out of it. Like, “At the expense of all morality and the health and safety of the people you claim to love, make writing a book the most important priority in your life. Trust me, there are no repercussions for the dubious and illegal shit you’ll do.” Aria tries to blow off his advice politely, then more firmly, and finally she just snaps about how she’s not interested in contributing to the torture of her own soul by reliving her memories in any form, no matter how artistic those forms may be. And also, stop telling her what to do, okay? That goes for Ezra and that goes for all men! Stop fucking telling her what to do! Does she need to wear that message on a dress to make you understand? Okay, then! That’s what she will do!
This show is hitting its major themes full force and unapologetically right now; it’s so great! Remember in season three when Jenna said, “This is the new deal: I feel a lot safer when I’m in charge of what’s happening to me”? And last season when Paige was all, “I’m just curious, do you ever wonder when you became the very thing you’re afraid?” I keep clinging to both of those moments, because they represent the totality Pretty Little Liars so well. This season, especially, wants to know what happens when you’ve gazed into the abyss long enough that the abyss has started gazing back into you.
Speaking of which, Hanna has decided to shred her room to look like a new thing in a new world where A doesn’t have an exact replica of her surroundings hidden in a torture chamber underground in a state park. It’s good because it’s so Hanna. Ashley is like, “Let’s bring in new, brighter paint! Let’s get whiter, prettier furniture!” But Hanna lets Ashley and Caleb know that she’s more interested in sleeping right here on this floor and dealing with the stripped down reality of this new room. Paint won’t cover up the fact that the safest space she ever knew has been violated and destroyed. She’s going to lie here and deal with that truth and conquer it, and then she’ll pick out some new wallpaper.
Emily goes to the shooting range and unloads a million bullets right into the chest of a paper target. This day was always coming for Emily. Remember when she went bonkers with that pitchfork at the hoedown, just stabbing all that hay in the back of the truck with no regard for any kind of life? Her bloodlust has been insatiable since that lighthouse! I think she’d let her old boyfriend Ben turn her into a werewolf right now if he asked nicely!
Ali is wandering around the town square when she spots Toby and his new partner, Lorenzo, who is part of Rosewood PD’s New Faces program, which is a thing that’s all about hiring cops who are interested in being cops, and not child molesters. Or like maybe just guys who are into making investigating all the new faces a person can make when they wear masks over masks over masks, every day.
Alison: Hello, Toby.
Lorenzo: Well, I’m Lorenzo!
Alison: Have you been in town long enough to know my whole life history, or only the New Testament parts?
Lorenzo: Only time will tell!
Alison: Anyway, Toby. Like I said: Hello.
Toby: Spencer’s been through a lot. Thank you for loving her.
Alison: We’ve all been through a lot, and don’t patronize me for breathing.
WELL. THAT WAS WEIRD.
Pam catches Emily putting one of Wayne’s pistols back in the gun cabinet and flips out about how she’s going to have to start counting the firearms now, too, she guesses. She tries to get Emily to talk, but she won’t. She tries to get Emily to invite her friends over for hairless empanadas, but she won’t. She even invokes the name of Paige McCullers, because that’s how much sweet Pam has grown, and Emily says she already talked to Paige and told her to stay put in California, that leaving and staying away from Rosewood was the best choice she ever made.
There’s this part of me that’s like, “A team of invisible murder-ninjas couldn’t keep Paige away from Rosewood when she saw what was happening to Emily on the national news.” And then there’s this other part of me that remembers all the ways Emily (and fandom!) blamed Paige for everything, how Emily pushed-pushed-pushed her away, refused to be honest when it counted, refused to let Paige in, and the guilt cycle from the constant way they roofied each other, the kidnapping, The Alison Thing, and I just imagine Paige in therapy three times a week and her friends taking away her phone and forcing her to go on dates with other girls and swim a hundred hours a day to clear her mind and ease her ache. Maybe I’ll write that fanfic. I can’t stop thinking about it. I wonder how come she didn’t come back, for real. I wonder how come the boys stayed and continued to be a part of the story, and but Paige had to go.
I liked the way she went. It was perfect.
I miss her.
Hanna sits alone on her bedroom floor, and Ashley decides what she needs is her friends. But Hanna doesn’t want to see her friends. The thing about the dollhouse — the thing all these really well-done flashbacks are alluding to — is that Charles destroyed them by making them destroy each other. They had to choose who got water, who got electrocuted, who they loved the most, and if they refused to choose, everyone was punished.
God, this season is so good. Just pulling all this terrible shit the world does to teenage girls out of the ether and manifesting it physically, forcing us to watch and acknowledge it. This is probably my second favorite episode after “Shadow Play.” It’s so so so good.
Aria goes to the cops and lies about how she’s 100 percent sure Andrew is A. Even Ella is like, “Think through what you’re saying, and make sure you’re positive, sweetheart.” Because the cops know Andrew was a creeper with some sketchy, misogynistic ideas, but there’s no real evidence to tie him in with what happened down in the actual dollhouse. Aria’s dress is awesome, though. The most awesome. It just straight up says, “STOP MEN” on it. All of the weird little things that made Aria the most annoying and ineffective Liar are starting to grow together to make her kind of perfect. But then, she only just started forming into a real person when she finally broke it off with Ezra. She’s just getting started, so it makes sense that she’s a little bit behind.
Toby: I thought if I took you on this picnic in the woods, you might be up for some talking.
Spencer: Remember when that tree stump over there was a real tree that had Ali and Ian’s initials in it and someone chopped it down.
Toby: Or some making out?
Spencer: Remember when Hanna got hit by a car just over that hill.
Toby: Or, like, we could even sit here in silence.
Spencer: Remember when you faked your death and I found you body in those leaves over there.
Spencer: Remember when I got caught in that bear trap out here, when I was wearing the wedding dress made of finger bones?
Toby: What do you want me to say?
Spencer: Nothing, I want to go to Stanford and start a life with Paige.
Pam catches Emily at the shooting range again and takes her home and makes her hand over all her guns, knives, sabres, nunchucks, throwing stars, boxing gloves, tasers, maces, war axes, magic wands, magic staffs, hand grenades, acme dynamite, and, yes, her pitchforks. Emily is so mad about it! So mad! Pam’s like, “You’re going back to Annabeth Gish!” And Emily’s like, “So I can get carjacked by a doll again, but without any weapons to chop of its horrible doll head this time?! FINE, MOM! FINE!”
Aria and Spencer meet up to tiptoe around the fact that they were forced to torture each other, but Aria finally blurts out that she’s so sorry, sorry for pressing Spencer’s button. It makes sense that’s what Aria would do; not because she loves Spencer the least, but because she assumes Spencer is the strongest. And Spencer would choose Emily for the same reason. And Emily would always choose Hanna to get the water because she would know Hanna was always choosing everyone else for water, and never herself. And Hanna would give Spencer the water always, because she would know everyone was assuming Spencer was the one who could handle the torture. The thing none of them are grasping is that the act of being forced to torture each other was way worse than the actual torture they received. And now they’re in the shame spiral.
They could all use Paige’s help with that.
When Spencer leaves, she sneaks one of Aria’s sleeping pills.
Things are going a little bit better at Hanna’s. She’s fallen asleep on an air mattress with Caleb and so Ashley and Caleb are just watching her rest, finally, and thanking the stars they have each other to tag-team to keep her safe.
Ali goes to church, which is so perfect. (Goooddd, I am out of time. I’ve been so stupid sick this week. I want to talk about Ali in church and Ali as a queer woman, and how she tried to squash Mona’s faith and Paige’s lesbianism out of them, back in the day. Remind me about this on Tumblr or something. This feels so key to Ali.) So Ali goes to church and sees Lorenzo there, right, and gets really rude with him afterwards because she’s expecting him to make a joke about how she should have burst into flames when she walked in the door, because that’s the most elementary of all possible understandings of Ali, but he says that redemption is a thing everyone is after, and we all look for it in different places. Later, they bump into each other at the Brew, and he offers her some sliders. I don’t trust him or like him, but I do like little hamburgers. I wish Ali would take the whole plate and go to Emily’s with it.
Instead, Emily is wandering around outside by herself in the dark, and guess who’s hiding in the (sadly un-smashed) trash cans like a raccoon? It’s Sarah Harvey. Her mom doesn’t want her around anymore, for some reason, so Emily invites her into the safety (hahahahahahaha!) of her home. Pam never feels better than when she’s taking care of people. Maybe it’ll be good for Sarah and Pam, maybe they can be the mother and daughter each of them needs. Emily drops off Sarah with her mom, sneaks back outside, and starts whittling throwing spears out of tree branches.
At the end of the night, the Liars finally call each other to talk about everything. Their love for each other, how sorry they are, how amazing Aria’s dress was today, how she’s wearing a wonderful shirt right now that just says “BARF,” and everything Sarah Harvey did and didn’t say.
Ali rifles through an old photo album. Some pictures are missing. It’s weird that she never noticed before, but maybe that’s because she spent her entire childhood just trying to stay alive. Maybe the missing pictures were of Charles. Maybe they were some of those weird shots Jason took of the inside of Aria’s nose.
Thank you to Nicole (@PLLBigA) for these amazing screencaps! I promise this week’s PLL recap will happen tomorrow. Promise, promise, promise. If I have to dictate it to my girlfriend while I quietly die from whatever horrible, blinding cold this is that I have.