This week on the mid-season premiere of Pretty Little Liars
, the girls have conflicted feelings about Alison being alive, Toby returns with volumized hair full of Radley misconduct secrets and Caleb calls it quits with Hanna because he can't tell her he spends 90% of his time with dead people now.
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Elsewhere, Ezra takes Aria to his scenic murder cabin where he keeps his tell-tale heart under the floorboards, while Emily connects with another girl whose missing friend was also a beautiful monster.
Not much happens, plot-wise, in this mid-season premiere. We're no closer to finding out who resides in Alison's tomb and we don't know much more about Ezra's endgame. Although Toby's painfully dull storyline about his mother's non-suicide seems to be wrapped up, we're still no closer to being done with Radley. Yet despite the lack of forward plot momentum, this is a very good episode of Pretty Little Liars.
Instead of diving straight into the crazy detective work we know the girls are capable of, the hour spends time on where the girls are at emotionally. This is most striking in Hanna and Emily's stories. Hanna struggles with saying goodbye thanks to Caleb's now-permanent departure, while Emily's also letting go of the feelings she once had for Alison.
Without a doubt, this is a setup episode, but given all the big revelations recently, it's nice to get a little breathing room for the characters and the audience. While viewers are still getting used to the scarier, more hilariously sketchy Ezra Fitz, the liars are getting used to the idea that Alison has been alive this whole time.
"Immortality, my darlings," Alison once said to them. She might have gotten her wish, but being alive doesn't mean the liars' complicated feelings about their zombie frenemy have been resolved. And based on Hanna's expression as she hands over Alison's journal at the end of the episode, the bombs contained inside might not make the liars excited about finding their former friend.
Welcome to My Murder Cabin
Obviously, the biggest revelation in the season 4A finale was the reveal that 'A' has been Ezra Fitz all along. Now that the audience knows (or at least we think we know) the show, Ian Harding can play more loosely with Ezra's character. Suddenly, Ezra is skulking around every corner in Rosewood, looking like a cross between a particularly pale Edward Cullen and Smeagol searching for his precious.
It's an impressively funny turn by Harding, who has decided there is no scenery too big or small on which to chew upon with this new version of Ezra. It makes Mr. Fitz, a character I had long since written off as particularly uninteresting, into a must-watch presence on the show.
His scene with Mona is especially great, as she subtly implies she knows his secret based on his reading list while he threatens her with equal subtly. It's two 'A's' in the same scene, and it's just as magical as you'd imagine.
Now all the boring Aria and Ezra love scenes that always seemed like they belonged on a different show have an added layer of much-needed menace. In class, Ezra professes his love for Jekyll and Hyde in another installment of Pretty Little Liars literary masterpiece theater. Remember all the Lolita? And how the first season was sponsored by To Kill a Mockingbird?
"That Hyde had some interesting ideas about murder! I'd say he was a misunderstood genius," Ezra says, frothing at the mouth and sharpening a ruler into a shiv and all but carving a giant A into his forehead. Which means that while Mona immediately picks up what he's putting down, Aria begins to fall back in love with him.
"There's something so different about him," Aria thinks. "Maybe it's the way he looks at me like he wants to make a suit out of my skin. It's so romantic!"
Later, Ezra takes Aria up to his murder cabin in order to convince her to give him a second chance. "There's no cell service or Internet and no one can hear you scream for miles. I call it my murder cabin. Don't mind the thumping under the floorboards, that's just the human heart I keep under there for emergencies," Ezra says, sidling up to her like a vampire emerging from the mists.
"A romantic cabin getaway just like we always dreamed about!" Aria swoons. "This makes me so mature and grownup. Let's get back together immediately! Why are you handing me a basket of lotion?"
Obviously, taking Aria to a hipster cabin is the perfect way to get back together, and adding in the word "secret" is like Aria's kryptonite. While Aria looks pensively out the window, composing a sonnet to the joys of life without wi-fi, Ezra watches her thoughtfully and imagines where he'll bury her body. Maybe in his special floorboard compartment!
Hanna and Caleb Say Goodbye
As one couple creepily reunites, another parts. While Caleb is gone, Hanna puts on her sleuthing hat and really impresses even Spencer by finding a prime candidate for the dead body formerly known as Alison DiLaurentis. Sara Harvey seems like a good candidate, but they find out she was last seen after Labor Day.
Soon, Hanna has bigger problems when Caleb returns and seems strangely distant. She keeps asking him what happened in Ravenswood, and his answer continues to be, "It's complicated." Hanna asks how Miranda is, and instead of saying, "Oh, she's crazy dead. But also a ghost!" Caleb just lies. Caleb should realize if there's one thing Hanna can relate to, it's having a zombie friend.
Caleb tells Hanna he has to go back to Ravenswood to keep a promise. Of course, we know this promise is of the contractual variety, since Tyler Blackburn is the star of the new spin-off. But poor Hanna only knows Caleb is leaving and imagines it must be because he's into Miranda.
I feel like I've seen Caleb and Hanna say goodbye at least 10 times by now, so these scenes have no right to be as emotional as they are. That's thanks to some deft writing and fine performances by Blackburn and Ashley Benson.
Before Caleb leaves for good, Hanna shows up leaning against his car in bright blue MC Hammer pants. I guess the message she's subtly trying to send is "Can't Touch This ... anymore."
She wants to part on good terms and Caleb says he'll never forget anything, then cries on the way back to his spin-off. Does this spell the end for Hanna and Caleb once and for all? I have no idea, but it sure is sad to watch.
She Collected Love
Emily's storyline this episode is probably the least flashy and yet maybe the most interesting. After finding out Alison is still alive, Emily is having a hard time dealing with all the complicated feelings she has for her first love.
She connects with Claire, whose friend Sara sounds like an Ali clone. Sara says she's jealous of Emily's situation, since Alison being dead means she can get closure and move on. Of course, closure is hard when you're trying to track down the person who played with and broke your heart, then fake-died on you.
The liars send Emily in to see Jessica DiLaurentis, who can't give them any information on where Jason is but still seems to keep her daughter's room in tip-top condition. Between changing the sheets and giving Ashley Marin a job because she saw Alison "in a dream," do we think Jessica knows Ali is alive?
Emily finally tells Paige she's having a hard time letting go of Alison, despite how mad she is at her former friend. She tells Paige about the kiss and how Alison never actually loved her. Alison was incapable of love, only capable of collecting love from other people.
I love whenever we get insight into Alison and Emily's relationship, as I think it's the most layered and nuanced of Alison's relationships with the girls. On one hand, I really do think Emily was Alison's favorite liar, probably because Emily loved her so unconditionally. On the other hand, pretty much every aspect of their relationship is super gross, with Alison continually using Emily and playing with her just because she could.
It makes perfect sense that out of all of the girls, Emily would have the most conflicted and ambivalent feelings about the prospect of Alison being alive.
Radley Goes Down
Meanwhile, Toby returns with his hair full of secrets, because apparently information about Radley is better than volumizing spray. "The higher the hair, the closer to the truth," Toby chants to himself in the morning while depleting the ozone with an entire can of hairspray.
Toby managed to get some people to admit that they knew his mother's death wasn't a suicide during the hiatus, which is great because we didn't have to see it. Spencer is psyched and so am I if it means this storyline is as dead as Toby's mom. Spencer and Toby are far too interesting (especially Spencer) to be trapped in such a dead-end storyline for another half-season.
Instead, Spencer Olivia Pope's her way into a confession from the big healthcare conglomerate that owns Radley. She and Toby high-five and then make out, because the things that get these two revved up are really weird.
When her dad hears the news, he gets that shifty "I murdered a young girl with a lacrosse stick" expression back on his face and declares that he's going to take down Radley. For Spencer, of course. For Spencer, and not for nefarious reasons. All for family!
Elsewhere Around Rosewood...
-- Ashley Marin gets a job with Jessica DiLaurentis' real estate company. What would you imagine it's like to sell real estate in Rosewood? "And in this beautiful mid-century stunner, there was only one single murder! Lowest death rate in this whole town!"
-- What happened to Jake? Did he go for a karate tournament and get lost on the way back? Is he under Ezra's floorboards?
-- "Don't Fight in the Crypt" sounds like it should be Hanna's new single dropping next week, or a children's book for goth kids.
What did you think of the mid-season premiere? Did you like that it was slower paced or did you expect more revelations? Are you sad about Hanna and Caleb? Do you think Ezra is really 'A'? Share in the comments!
Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC Family.
(Image courtesy of ABC Family)