This week's Pretty Little Liars
is all about coming clean and embracing the truth, although sometimes the truth is just another lie.
Aria finally stops running from the truth of Hanna's confession, and tells her mom what happened. Ella accepts the truth about Zach, while Emily accepts the truth about new pal Sydney. And after beating Noel Kahn with a fire poker, Spencer has more doubts than ever about how much trust they should put in Alison, and how much protection they might need from their friend.
Unfortunately, an unlikely confession puts Alison in a strange position. It turns out someone has copped to the crime of kidnapping her, but the shocked look on her face makes it clear she has nothing to do with this evidence to back up her story.
"I never expected the Rosewood police to actually catch anyone," Alison mutters to herself. "That was the one flaw in my plan. You really can't count on the police in this town for anything, even incompetence!"
The Victim Blaming Ends
It's a big episode, with big emotions on display. The way the show handled the Zach and Hanna storyline was deft, if not a little confusing. Let's be honest, pretty much every single grown adult man has hit on a teenager at this point in the show. It's kind of weird that this is where Liars is making a stand. It's totally fine that Ezra Fitz stalked several teen girls and dated his student, but Ella's boyfriend hitting on Hanna is just one bridge too far.
I'm glad the show is finally starting to, in their way, acknowledge some of the weird power dynamics going on in Rosewood when it comes to adult men and teenage girls. But it does feel too little, too late. Especially when, in the same episode, we have Aria bristling at the mere implication that Ezra might have been getting with other students on the side.
"Ezra would never serial date his students! Just me! Oh, and Alison, I guess. So that's two teenagers, which is totally reasonable," Aria explains to Detective Tanner. "Our love is pure! I mean, he does occasionally spy on me and all my underage friends, but all relationships have their things, right?"
Liars has a pretty poor track record when it comes to pairing grown adults and high schoolers like it's no big deal. Where this storyline really diverges is in the way it portrays Hanna's discomfort in a realistic way and the way the other liars jump directly to victim blaming. We've mostly seen the liars support each other, so it's deeply disturbing to see them all be so quick to blame Hanna for Zach's inappropriate behavior. Especially troubling is Aria, who all but says Hanna must have been asking for it.
Thankfully, the episode addresses the topic of victim blaming head-on, with Caleb pointing out that it's Zach who should be embarrassed and ashamed, not Hanna. Later, Aria gives Hanna a heartfelt apology, explaining that she just wanted to believe her mom could find love again.
The show, and Lucy Hale's performance, always made it clear that even when Aria was denying Hanna's accusations, she always actually believed her friend. Just look at the discomfort she shows around Zach in every scene after her talk with Hanna. Aria might have been in denial, but a part of her always knew Hanna was telling the truth.
"What do you think of this necklace?" Ella asks Aria before the party. "You're my fashion guru." Poor Ella is wrong about so, so much lately.
Aria tells Ella what happened with Hanna, and Ella comments that Zach was inappropriate with someone else before they returned to Rosewood. Apparently, she wrote it off as wedding jitters, but now she realizes their relationship is over.
Of course, it's not before Hanna can finally confide in Caleb, and he goes directly to punch Zach in the face. While there, he realizes 'A' sent Zach a note to egg on his unwanted advances, making the situation much worse.
Later, Byron comforts Ella by reminding her that she's the absolute best, and it's a rather sweet scene. You know something is rotten in the state of Rosewood when Byron Montgomery is one of the nicest people in an episode.
Seeing Clearly at the Eye Doctor
After getting punched in the face by a horse, Spencer heads directly to the eye doctor to get a checkup and some drops. Once there, she sees two Jennas and calls Emily desperate for help. Instead of thinking Spencer is back on her black tar Adderall, Emily shows up like a good friend to see what craziness Spencer is babbling.
There are so many great moments in this scene, so let's just momentarily break it down:
1. Emily shows up to the eye doctor with comically large sunglasses on, like no one will be able to see through her Stevie Wonder disguise. "I'll blend right in with these sunglasses! They'll never suspect a thing."
2. The look on Emily's face when she notices it's Sydney is a thing of pure magic. It's like someone just told Tyra Banks that smiling with your eyes makes you look stupid. Emily is about to cut someone.
3. Jenna and Sydney are wearing the exact same outfit in the exact same colors, like the way parents of twins dress babies for family portraits. Is this part of the evil plan or is Sydney just going to slowly Single White Female Jenna without her even noticing?
4. 'A' puts a message up on the eye exam board in a random room Spencer just happens to duck into to make a call. Now that's planning. 'A' must be the best customer at Rosewood's Kinkos.
Later, Emily confronts Sydney about all the lying and subterfuge. It turns out Sydney used to volunteer at the center for the blind and saw Jenna after Alison visited and she fell apart. She says she didn't realize that Emily would be so nice or that she would actually genuinely like Emily.
Of course, at this point Emily's anger has gone to a supernova level never before seen. Hulk!Emily rises from the ashes like a phoenix, and then threatens to drown Sydney. (Which, in Rosewood, is actually often a sign of affection.) "I want you to know what it feels like to be sucker punched," Emily says, and then flounces off.
Sydney looks terrified, as she should. Anyone who can drop the phrase "You might have heard I killed a guy" into conversation is not one to be trifled with.
Beware of Alison
Of course, Emily is a little too busy this episode to plot how exactly she's going to drown Sydney. After accepting the post of assistant coach, she notices Noel Kahn listening to a tape of Alison. She uses the access to the locker information in the coach's office to break into Noel's locker, break into his car and steal an envelope full of photos and audio of Alison.
Basically, while everyone else in this episode is having an emotional breakdown or epiphany, Emily is twirling around the town breaking and entering like Catwoman, but with better hair.
Emily gives the information to Spencer, who decides to take it up to the cabin where it will be secure. "I don't understand why you're worried, Emily," Spencer says in confusion. "Nothing bad has ever happened at a deserted cabin in the middle of the woods at night."
Emily tries to remind Spencer how they have all, independently and as a group, been murdered multiple times in wooded cabins. Unfortunately, there's already a Kool Aid-style Spencer-shaped hole in the wall and she's no longer listening.
At the cabin, Spencer walks in and places the Noel stuff in an empty drawer. Behind her is a sheet with an eye hole cut out, like Casper the Friendly Ghost just happened to have sat down in an unused recliner. Seeing the sheet obviously moving because a human being is obviously underneath, breathing obviously, Spencer grabs a fire poker and gets ready for battle.
In the single best moment of this, or maybe any, episode, Spencer whips the sheet off to reveal Noel Kahn sitting under the sheet with an evil smirk. "Fancy seeing you here!" Noel remarks casually for someone revealed to be lurking under a tarp in a dark and deserted cabin. Noel Kahn is literally a cartoon villain at this point, and it is a delight.
While I hyperventilate from laughter, Spencer goes right into motion and threatens Noel with the fire poker. What Noel didn't realize when he devised his dastardly plan is that Spencer Hastings is basically a super hero and is all too accustomed to being nearly killed every time she's in a room alone. She can now turn just about any household item into a deadly weapon, just from practice.
She wants to know what Alison has on him, but he's not divulging the goods. He's keeping the pictures of Alison alive and well during her so-called "kidnapping" as an insurance policy against Alison turning on him. He stole the information from Jenna's house, shortly before the explosion, and he's not so sure the timing was coincidental.
Spencer believes him, but when he advances on her to get the stuff back, she stabs him in the hand and tells him to shoo, like one would to a dog begging for table scraps. She explains that the liars also need an insurance policy against Alison and her insanity, and that she'll find a safer place to hide the information next time.
"For example, you have no idea how many pasta boxes and bags of coffee grinds in this town contain incriminating evidence. Crap, I've said too much!"
Meanwhile, the question of the season looms larger and larger: just how much can Alison be trusted? Is she just an innocent bystander in all this, hunted and afraid? Or is she much, much more dangerous than she's letting on?
As the girls increasingly avoid her and the group becomes fragmented, she reminds them that if one falls, they all do. Unfortunately, the girls have hitched their fates to Alison's, and right now that seems like bad news. Now that an innocent man has confessed to the crime of kidnapping Ali, she's backed into a corner. It finally gives her story the credibility she wanted, but at what cost? And what kind of game is 'A' playing with her?
This season has been all about the cracks in the foundation of the girls' friendship caused by Alison's return. Thankfully, the liars are beginning to reunite and patch up their differences. This might be bad news for Alison, however, since the girls are all getting tired of being pawns in Ali's game.
Elsewhere Around Rosewood...
-- Hanna's drinking is starting to become a major concern. Her flask falls out of her bag, and Ashley is empathetic to what she's been going through, but still tough. "If you're going to drink, at least make it a huge goblet of wine. Flasks are so tacky."
-- Spencer goes to see Caleb and seems generally grossed out by his bro's den. She tells Caleb to stop wallowing and help Hanna. She says that Hanna and Caleb used to make each other better. Caleb points out that until you've dated a ghost and had your show unjustly cancelled, you can't really begin to know his pain.
-- 'A' is back at the eye doctor in the episode's tag. I wonder what trouble is brewing there?
What did you think of the episode? Are you glad Aria and Hanna have reunited? What's going on with Noel Kahn? Can Alison be trusted? And who confessed to her kidnapping? Share your theories in the comments!
Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC Family.(Image courtesy of ABC Family)