, the show sets up a series of domino pieces which look to fall in a spectacular fashion next week on the third season finale. The result for this week, however, is an uneven and at times even plodding episode. Only on
The big moment, and one that re-contextualizes the whole episode, occurs at the very end. While rifling through her pillowcase of neatly wrapped pills (it's seriously nice of Radley to provide sandwich bags for patient's spit-out meds) Spencer pulls out a black hoodie.
In voice over we hear her accept Mona's invitation to become a member of the 'A' team. "You don't have to ask me again Mona. I'm in," Spencer says.
We know she's willing to kidnap small children, but how far is Spencer willing to go as a member of the 'A' team? And did we just see her villain origin story, or is she working another angle? These will be questions for next week's finale and possibly beyond into season four.
Flipping the script and turning one of our liars into a member of the 'A' team is a shrewd move on the part of the show. It keeps the already-familiar formula from becoming too stale and is sure to cause some discord among our favorite friends.
It also gives Troian Bellisario more interesting material to work with. And if we've learned anything from these last few episodes of season 3b, it's that Bellisario can do just about anything. Most impressively, she can do it all without ever once brushing her hair. At this point I hope one of the 'A' team benefits includes free hairbrushes.
The storylines not involving Spencer and a treasure map, however, dragged a lot. Emily did nothing but work as a conduit for information and take the girls on the weirdest candy striper trip ever. Hanna was bogged down in Caleb's Uncle Daddy Jaime storyline, when her real strength lies in dramatically destroying crime scene evidence. And Aria continued her streak of being the worst babysitter ever by literally losing the kid before even picking him up.
Mona's Marauder's Map
The episode begins with our liars being reunited, but only briefly. The short scene made me realize just how much I had missed the interaction between all four girls these last few episodes. Also, let's admit it: minus Spencer these girls are pretty much doomed. Without Spencer, Emily becomes the brains of the operation and she's just not as wily as our favorite Hastings.
While in Radley, Spencer decides to use her time wisely to Nancy Drew her way around the Sanitarium. Her new best pal Eddie, who has some weird sexual tension with Wren I'd love to see explained in a flashback involving slow dancing, gives her an old board game Mona used to love.
Because this is Rosewood, this board game looks like the opening credits to Game of Thrones. Also, because it's Rosewood, Spencer realizes the board game is a map Mona created to figure out the best places to escape Radley.
"So I just follow this trail past the Night's Watch, make a turn at Winterfell, and then take the window in King's Landing out of here? Simple enough!" Spencer barely puts her palm on the window and the thing swings free like the opening act of a horror movie where the ghost is inviting you in. I mean, it's just super obvious this window is open.
I imagine there's an institution break whenever there's a strong breeze. Welcome to Radley Sanitarium, where our motto is "Why even bother?" We have it in Latin on our crest.
I'm Your Puppet
We also find out a little more about Alison through Spencer's time in lockup. The first fact comes courtesy of Mama Hastings, who saw an upset and bleeding Ali a few weeks before her death sneaking back into the house. Once again, Sasha Pieterse is most impressive in the moments when Ali's walls crumble just a bit, showing just how in over her head she was before her death.
Next, Spencer takes a luxurious walk around Radley at night in her Wendy from Peter Pan nightgown. Apparently the last time Radley got new nightgowns was in the 1920s, or they got the hand-me-downs form that little girl in The Ring. Either way, Spencer looks especially crazy.
Not having slept for a couple of days, Spencer hallucinates Alison in one of the Radley rooms Mona loved to frequent to hide her creepy dolls and paper mache projects. In the room, Alison puts on a record and dances with Spencer as the song "I'm Your Puppet" plays. When Spencer asks about Alison's bloody lip and whether Toby gave it to her, she responds that girls fight much dirtier than boys. If that isn't the definition of this show, I'm not sure what is.
"You didn't even know me when you knew me," Alison says. The mystery around just what trouble Ali was really in before her death keeps getting more and more complicated. And it all turns around this simple fact: neither we the audience or even the liars really know the real Alison. We see the facade, and sometimes the cracks underneath, but unlike having our own board-game map, we're lost when it comes to what was really going on with her.
However, CeCe Drake might have been more involved than we ever knew. Spencer finds a visitor card from CeCe in Mona's stash. Wren, who visits Radley at all hours of the day and night, tells her CeCe was trying to help Mona. It turns out Alison got CeCe kicked out of college for some stunt at a frat party, which might just give her a pretty good motive for killing Ali.
Only in Rosewood would the mental institution only make you more paranoid.
The Babysitter's Club: Fired Edition
If Aria was in the Babysitter's Club, she would have been fired in the first book. (Although I think she would have really enjoyed Claudia's fashion sense.) Asked to help Ezra out with Malcolm again, while he still bares the scares of her last babysitting attempt, she manages to get him kidnapped this time before even showing up. This must be a new height of bad babysitting.
Can I take a moment to observe that Malcolm still has a bandage on his chin but Wilden, who was run over by a car at high speed, seems like he's never been better? Not one scrape. Apparently a fall off a futon is much more dangerous in Rosewood than having your legs crushed by speeding metal. The more you know!
So Aria follows the clue left behind in Malcolm's cubby instead of alerting the authorities. That's so Aria. Also, man is that karate instructor the worst or what? She just let Malcolm go with any weirdo in a hood who comes to pick him up, and then doesn't ask any questions of the teenage girl who looks like a deer in headlights after hearing he's gone.
The clue leads Aria to a nearby carnival, where she sees a hoodie leading Malcolm around. Before she can take chase, Ella stops her to have a mother-daughter heart-to-heart about dumping Ezra. The pure, undisguised glee Ella shows regarding their imminent breakup makes me like her even more than I already do, which I wasn't sure was possible. Ella is the best.
Aria finds Malcolm in the puppet tent, where all the future serial killers of Rosewood go to enjoy shows with weird demon puppets against a hellish landscape. Enjoy your nightmares kids!
It turns out Malcolm loved his time with, as we find out later, Spencer in a black hood. And why not? Crazy Spencer is totally a hoot
. Who wouldn't enjoy a night out on the town with her watching demon puppets?
But this is the last straw for Aria, who doesn't want Malcolm or Ezra to get hurt in A's game. Also, taking care of a little kid is a real drag. Aria wants to be mature, but not so mature that she'll need to bring along snack packs in her giant studded bags. At some point, she'll have to stop wearing so many spikes or risk impaling Malcolm on one of them. And that is where she draws the line!
Ezra, a classic clinger if we've ever seen one, does not accept the break up lying down. Actually, he doesn't accept the break up at all. He's like "I'll see you later sweetie! Let's make out in the hallways of your high school tomorrow in plain sight of everyone, ok?" Aria just shakes her head at him sadly and walks away.
Toby: Wanted Death or Alive
If you were expecting any clarity on whether Toby is dead or not, it certainly didn't come in this episode. Emily spearheads a trip to the morgue, where they only find a weird mask and not much else. She then spends the rest of the episode hounding her mom for clues, until her mom finally gives in and tells Emily the dead body of a young man has been found.
Emily's mom takes away her phone so she can't tell the other girls, like Hanna isn't actually living with them at the moment and Aria doesn't just wander the streets making out with her boyfriend at outdoor cafes for half the day. No, there is clearly no way Emily could pass on this information now without her phone. Parenting!
The body isn't in good condition, but they found Spencer's purse nearby so it's possible it really is Toby. And we see the tell-tale tattoo as the episode draws to a close.
Listen, I'm still pretty positive that body isn't Toby. If I had to guess, I'd think its Jason instead. Toby is way too big of a character to be shuffled from the show off-screen. If Toby were going to die, he would be choked to death while taking off his shirt or something. We would get one last long, lingering look at those abs, that's all I'm saying.
Elsewhere in Rosewood...
- Red coat is still hanging around, stalking the liars to morgues and then running away. Whoever red coat is, she has a lot of free time on her hands.
- Hanna gets sucked up in Caleb's Uncle Daddy Jaime drama when she tells him about the dice money after a bronze bell gets replaced with a cheaper version. It's not very exciting, although Caleb gets a few big emotional moments. However, soon they find out it was just A setting Uncle Daddy Jaime up. This would be shocking if this didn't happen to them like every other day.
- Shana, Paige's ex-girlfriend, is texting Emily. I guess they bonded over hanging out with Olympians, but what does this mean for Emily and Paige?
What did you think of this week's episode of Pretty Little Liars? Were you shocked Spencer's on the 'A' team now? Is the body Toby's? Would you ever let Aria watch your child? Sound off in the comments!
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(Image courtesy of ABC Family)