This week on the 100th episode of Pretty Little Liars
, familiar faces converge on Rosewood for nefarious purposes, Mona and Alison throw down in a church, the body in Alison's tomb is finally identified and 'A' makes an explosive debut back onto the Rosewood scene.
To call this 100th episode explosive would be a bad pun, but an accurate description of a giant, heartfelt and ultimately completely satisfying milestone episode.
In a show's 100th episode, you need to swing for the fences, and boy did Pretty Little Liars knock it out of the park. The episode packed in enough plot momentum for a whole season, while still taking time for character moments and beats for each of the girls.
On any other show, this would have felt like an overstuffed episode. It's to Liars' credit that the series has become so good at juggling so many balls in the air that you don't even notice how much faith the show has in you to keep up. This is not a series that underestimates its audience; just remembering every character in the unwieldy cast can sometimes feel like a part-time job.
There were plenty of questions answered and questions asked in the 100th episode, but the biggest was the question the show has been quietly grappling with all season. Just how much can the girls trust Alison DiLaurentis? Is her change of heart genuine? Or is she just taking them all for a ride again?
How do you solve a problem like Alison DiLaurentis? No matter what Alison does, she always seems to be able to draw the liars back into her grasp. She worms out of every situation with a pack of lies and a good act, which casts doubt over even her most seemingly sincere moments. She's seemed like more of a victim than an evil mastermind this season, but it's definitely possible it's all an act.
Emily might be the most confused, but all the girls have gotten caught in Alison's crosshairs. Aria's spiraling out of control with guilt, Hanna is having a teen mid-life crisis and Spencer's murderous family is falling apart.
At the center of all of these problems, as she always is at the center of everything, is Alison. But now even the liars' loyalty is stretched thin. Can you ever really ever trust someone who is fundamentally dishonest?
Mona's Army Moves
It's the first day of school and Alison is looking at herself in the mirror, doing her daily affirmations. "You're good enough. People like you. You're a leaf on the wind!" Then she puts on a bright blue blazer embedded with pearls and the tears of her enemies, and nods her approval of this inconspicuous outfit choice.
The girls wait for Alison to show up, Hanna already worrying her personality will be even more subsumed by Alison's. What's the next step? Pink hair? Combat boots? When does this end? Hanna pulls on her punk rock beanie and reminds herself she's edgy and alternative now. Next to her, Spencer has used an American flag to whittle herself an outfit, making Aria look like a reasonably dressed human being for the first time in her life.
Alison catwalks down the sidewalk, putting her hands on her followers like a fashionable blonde Mother Teresa healing the sick. "And oh, hear it from the mountaintops and dolls stores and everywhere in Rosewood that you shall no longer be gayrons, but shall be called whatever your stupid names are." And the crowd goes wild. On the sidelines, Mona gets that hyper-reality look in her eye and you know trouble lies ahead.
After a dramatic slow-motion walk down the corridors of Rosewood High, Spencer is called to the principal's office while Aria begins to go quietly and delightfully insane. "No one cares about your hobbies, Hanna! Shut up about killing Nate, Emily! My guilt is special and unique, like one of my outfits! You could never understand that the only way to make this better is to bedazzle 'I killed Shana' in braille on a teacup and give it to Jenna."
Emily and Hanna watch Aria stomp her tiny feet away, kind of shrug and then go about their business of awkward love triangles and getting blitzed at parties.
At the principal's office, Veronica Hastings is waiting for Spencer, having escaped from "the spa," which was probably rehab and/or a shallow grave Papa Hastings improperly dug underneath the gazebo. She's leaving Spencer's dad, and she wants Spencer to pack up right away before Papa Hastings and Melissa group-murder them all.
"We always had an understanding," Veronica says, tearfully. In Rosewood, the word "understanding" is definitely WASP for "murder pact." Despite that fact that her family is made up of 50% suspected murderers and 100% crazy people, Spencer is still gutted her parents are divorcing. When your mom has to call a private investigator to make sure no one in the family has done a little light killing, it might be time to make a change, Spencer.
If you felt a chill go down your spine and have a need to listen to flute music while making weird pottery, it's because Jenna is back in town following the death of Shana. It turns out Jenna was in New York as well, which means she might have been more involved in the whole Shana situation than Shana let on.
Despite these very well-founded reasons for misgiving, Aria throws herself at Jenna with the same wild abandon as a dog chasing a squirrel. My dog wouldn't know what to actually do upon catching a squirrel, and Aria has no idea what to do once she's finally tracked down Jenna. Coming into her seemingly empty house, Aria is shocked to find Jenna crying sadly over her lost love.
"I'm sorry for blinding you and killing your girlfriend. Also, I guess I'm sorry for breaking and entering right now?" Aria whispers, and then disappears before Jenna knows what happened.
Later, Jenna comes to see Aria and talks with her over tea about Shana. "Please tell me more about Shana," Aria prompts. "I always want to better understand the people I've murdered." I understand Aria's actions come from a place of guilt, but they can also be kind of creepy.
Her crazy guilt also causes Aria to fall back on the familiar, which is this case is spending lots of time eating pie in Ezra's apartment like the completely dull couple they are between moments of drama. Ezra shows Aria his battle wound to convince her not to feel guilty, but it apparently makes her feel a whole other emotion, and pretty soon they're hopping back in bed together.
The best part of this whole sequence is that, while on the surface it's a touching reunion for one of the show's most popular couples, just under the surface the show is fully aware how creepy and off-putting the Ezria relationship is to some people. The song scoring their reunion is a cover of The Police's hit "Every Breath You Take," which is literally a song about stalking someone. This is apropos, because Ezra is a dedicated stalker of the highest order.
Meanwhile, Jenna meets up with Sydney and Mona to high-five about step one of their plan to take down Alison. It also looks like they're waiting for someone else to join the party. Who else are they working with?
Mona's Army Rides
As Alison walks into school, Mona gets that look on her face that means trouble. I really hope they took away Mona's license, or someone is getting hit with a car tonight! She sends Sydney and Lucas to separate the liars so she can confront Alison solo.
Lucas, with his new Rico Suave persona, is now the creepiest person in Rosewood, which is really saying something. He rolls up on Hanna and invites her to a party to meet his "girlfriend" from "Philadelphia" with whom he's totally "doing it" as the kids say today.
Now that Lucas has grown facial hair, he's suddenly acting like a cross between The Fonz from Happy Days and your dad while watching the MTV music awards. "Would you like some purple drank, Hanna? Drinking and sex, am I right? So fun! So what normal kids do today! I'm not stealing your phone and I'm certainly not measuring you for a skin suit! Just doing fun teen stuff like the fun teen I am!"
Hanna is sadly susceptible to this weirdness because she bumps into Caleb while getting a coffee for Travis, and he disappears into a puff of smoke like the semi-ghost he is now. Hanna hunts around the whole town looking for Caleb, checking abandoned alleyways, and the ventilation ducts at school, and finally finding him at an empty swing set.
Caleb says he doesn't want to mess up what she has with Travis, who seems like a good guy, and not a part hacker/part ghost like himself. Once you leave your girlfriend for a ghost, you sort of give up the right to tell her what to do with her love life.
Meanwhile, Alison gets spooked and runs into a church where, to everyone's surprise, she doesn't immediately burst into flames. Of course, Mona is lying in wait for Alison like any good cartoon villain and they get into a verbal sparring match.
No amount of recapping can accurately impart how stunningly perfect this scene is. This is a great episode with so many great moments that I will likely miss a few. But there is no moment as perfect as this mano-a-Mona battle in the church.
Mona tells Alison to get to stepping out of Rosewood and suddenly Alison's eyes go black and the hellbeast carefully hidden deep down inside comes screaming to the surface. She tells Mona that the people love her and that with a flick of her wrist, she can make Mona into nothing again, just like before. It's like watching a very bitchy Phoenix rise from some very sassy ashes. It's glorious.
Mona slaps Alison but makes a rookie mistake, because Alison immediately slaps back and she's wearing rings. Mona has a deep cut on her cheek, and even Alison looks shaken by her sudden burst of violence.
What's so great about this scene, besides literally everything, are the performances by Sasha Pieterse and Janel Parrish. Both are so good at giving Mona and Alison layers of fear and false bravado, so you're never quite certain who actually has the upper hand.
A Surprising Romance
The upper hand goes to Mona in this round, because she records and carefully edits the fight to leave out all mentions of her nearly killing Hanna with her car, but definitely includes the slap. This is bad news for Alison in a variety of ways, mostly because she lied to the girls about retaliating.
While this is super bad news for her relationships with all the girls, who barely trust her as it is, it's terrible news for her relationship with Emily. She confides to Emily that their kisses weren't just practice, and that she's always had feelings for Emily. This confuses the hell out of poor Emily Fields, who just hours earlier was trying to stop her ex-girlfriend Paige from making a giant Kool-Aid Man shape in the wall every time Alison appeared.
When Alison stays over at Emily's house, they end up kissing in bed. Is this the start to something or is it just another of Alison's games? Emily is obviously hurt and confused, her feelings for Alison overtaking that part of her brain that contains logic and rational thought. But when she discovers Alison lied to the girls, seemingly for no reason, she jumps away before Alison can kiss her again.
A Body Discovered and an Unwelcome Return
Sydney and Jenna report to Mona that the girls seem ready to turn their backs on Alison, tired as they are of acting like her puppets. And while this definitely seems true, a liar meetup is soon called so they can all gather around the television for some breaking news.
The body in the grave of Alison "alleged kidnapping victim" DiLaurentis has finally been identified. The body belongs to Bethany Young, a 17-year-old patient at Radley who escaped the same night Alison disappeared. As the whole group is taking in that information, the windows explode all around them.
Outside, it looks like a post-apocalyptic landscape, with Toby's house completely engulfed in flames. Before Spencer can stop him, Toby runs in to make sure no one was in the house. If Jenna was in there, how many times has she nearly been exploded now? Three? Four? That girl must be basically uninsurable.
As they watch the house burn, all of their phones begin chirping at once. Looks like 'A' is back, ordering pizzas, playing with creepy dolls and blowing up houses just to make a dramatic statement.
What did you think of Pretty Little Liars' 100th episode? What was your favorite part? Are you team Emison? Team Ezria? Team Haleb? Team Tippi the Bird? Sound off in the comments!
Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC Family.
(Image courtesy of ABC Family)