This week on the season 5 premiere of Pretty Little Liars, the girls paint the town red with a trip to Broadway, CeCe Drake dons a conspicuous Carmen Sandiego hat to leave the country and Mona starts her own Dumbledore’s Army to take down She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, otherwise known as Alison DiLaurentis.

When you haven’t watched Pretty Little Liars in a few months, being dropped back into the show can actually bring a shock to the system. “Did I just see ‘A’ riding off into the night clinging to the roof of an ambulance? Is the ‘A’ Team an actual professional baseball team, and why do they all sound like the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files? Did Aria really just kill someone with a musket?” The answer to all these questions is yes, that really happened, and yes, Pretty Little Liars is just as delightfully nuts as you remember. 

The show moves fast and furious, and you can sometimes forget its breakneck rhythms. This works to the show’s advantage, because it’s equally easy to forget all the plot threads which don’t quite tie together. I have no idea if we finally just discovered the identity of ‘A’, or if Shana was just part of the ‘A’ team, or if she was just another murderous thing altogether. 

We get a few answers and, as usual, more questions than ever. Thankfully, between the life or death stuff, there are still plenty of nice character moments for the girls. 

In particular, the sleepover on the Broadway stage shows what this show can do best in its quieter moments, stitching together a portrait of the real, messy friendships between the girls. What would their lives really be like without all the ‘A’ meddling? And has ‘A’, strangely enough, led to some good changes for some of the girls? 

Spencer is driven still, but she’s also a much softer and kinder person. Hanna has become less materialistic (who cares about shoes when someone is trying to murder you every week?) and Emily has become more outspoken, true to herself and brave. Even Aria, playing Bodyguard to Ezra Fitz while softly singing “I Will Always Love You” under her breath, has become a tougher girl thanks to ‘A’. 

Sure, there are definitely some downsides to all the ‘A’ terror. I mean, at this point 50% of the liars have killed someone. But still, silver linings, right?

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Many ‘A’s with No Faces

Seconds after Ezra is carted away in the ambulance, the liars form a plan to save Fitz from ‘A’s evil grasp. Spencer is surprised Alison reads, Emily thinks it’s a bad idea for them to split up because she’s actually seen a horror movie before and Hanna is packing heat. NRA spokesperson Hanna Marin hands Aria the gun for protection which, thanks to Chekhov, is the exact moment you should figure that thing is coming back to haunt them again. 

While the girls are menaced by a million ‘A’s in the park, Aria just sort of ineffectually flits around the hospital waiting room, listening in on the nurses’ loud phone calls. She’s surprised when Shana shows up, but accepts that Alison sent her for protection because clearly in a fight the girl from the costume shop is the one you want in your corner. She could be packing nunchucks or a fake knife, or that Scream mask. 

Who Alison should have sent was CeCe Drake, who bashed her way out of police custody with a mannequin leg and is currently on the run from the law for murdering Wilden, which she very much did. We still don’t know why she killed Wilden or what threat he posed to Alison, but we do know CeCe is on Alison’s side. Ali gives away her Vivian Darkbloom passport, the two share a hug and then CeCe saunters off. 

Noel Kahn, international man of mystery, just makes a stupid lesbian joke and then disappears in a puff of smoke, not to be seen again probably until season 7, when he will reappear where you least expect him with a cache of illegal handguns or something. Seriously, will they ever explain what Noel’s part in this is and where he’s been for the last few seasons? 

Alison returns to the empty Fitz(gerald) owned theater where Ezra takes his most special underage girlfriends to impress them. Aria is still at the hospital, or she would have been pretty angry she never made the cut. In flashback-land, dorky college Ezra gives Alison a tour while calling her his Holly Golightly for extra hipster douche points. Alison realizes he was playing at being a poor boy, and it was the deception, not the actual money, which impressed her.

Alison’s return is immediately clocked by Emily, who is unfortunately the least reliable person when it comes to Ali. Ali takes Emily’s hand, gently leads her into a backroom, spills out a sob story, bats her eyes, and an annoyed Emily just gives in and lets herself be manipulated. Alison’s story is that she doesn’t want to make Emily and the girls an accessory to CeCe’s cop killing crime, but who can really trust Alison with anything? 

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A Dramatic Death on Broadway

After Ezra wakes up and nearly flatlines seeing Shana, Aria still doesn’t put the pieces together. She falls asleep and Shana steals her gun and bounces. When Ezra wakes up, he tells Aria ‘A’s identity and she goes running. 

Meanwhile, Shana shows up at the Fitz(gerald) Theater of Girl Bonding and Murder ready to finish the job. After Alison sent Shana to Rosewood, she fell in love with Jenna and got turned to the dark side. It’s a classic story of love gone wrong. 

We also discover Shana was the one who locked the girls in the cabin and started the fire. Shana says she discovered Alison’s dark secrets, that even Alison’s mother was afraid of her, and then she imprinted on Jenna like a baby bird, with the end destination being murder town.

The other girls try to talk Shana down but she’s not hearing it, pointing the gun wildly and ready to kill her former friend in order to make it safe for Jenna to resume her life. This is the exact moment Aria shows up, grabs the shotgun Hanna was admiring earlier and hits Shana with it. 

Shana’s gun goes off, showering all the girls with glass from a lightbulb, which means there is now glass in all of their hair. “Not again!” Emily cries out, anguished, because glass in your hair is the worst thing that’s ever happened to her, besides all the attempted murder. 

Shana falls off the stage and onto something pointy below, immediately dying. Goodbye Shana of the Costume Shop, we barely knew you. We will remember you always for how you were seemingly everywhere and nowhere at once. Shana will be remembered fondly by the teenage lesbian population of Rosewood, all of whom she dated. 

I don’t know if this means Shana is ‘A’, which seems doubtful, or if she was just on the ‘A’ Team, or if she went rogue on her own. What I do know is there is something magical and delightful about the rules of gravity as they apply to Rosewood, Pennsylvania. Ian falls from a bell tower and survives. CeCe falls from scaffolding 30 feet up and crawls away while the girls are huddled in a victory circle. Shana falls two feet off a stage and it’s deathtown: population one. 

As the episode ends, the girls escape, while the police backup Holbrook called in appear in the theater to find Shana’s dead body. 

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Mona’s Army

Meanwhile, Mona is being more menacing than usual, which for Mona is a real accomplishment. The show throws the audience off the track by making it seem like Mona is in on the ‘A’ team New York shenanigans. And she might have been, but right now she’s got a more pressing matter on her mind. 

She pulls together all the nerds and social misfits Alison picked on over the years, including Paige and a newly returned and mustachioed Lucas. Apparently, what Lucas has been doing off screen is mostly growing facial hair. Mona gives an impassioned speech to her new crew about how Alison was once terrible to them and why they have to strike back at her before she restarts her reign of terror. 

Paige is the definition of eye-roll, even though Mona accurately points out that Alison hasn’t even formally returned and already she’s ruined Paige’s relationship with Emily. Just as Paige is about to extract herself from the craziness, in walks Melissa Hastings, and Paige is intrigued enough to stick around.

“Okay, guys, if you want to pledge Mona’s Army, you need to be ready. First, we start with trust falls and a light spread of cookies and juice. Then it’s on to singing terrifying songs to your dolls, encoding messages, decorating murder vans and paper mache mask making. Finally, after all that, you’ll have graduated to the final course: vehicular homicide! But don’t worry, we’re going to have some real fun along the way!”

What Melissa Knows

In the tiniest, yet most intriguing, subplot of the episode, Melissa keeps trying to unburden herself of a terrible secret. It does seem to involve the girl whose body they thought was Alison’s, but Mr. Hastings keeps cutting Melissa off at the pass. 

Melissa thinks telling the truth will bring Spencer home, but Mr. Hastings tells her she can never tell her mother. Hastings are genetically incapable of telling the truth, losing at organized sports or academic decathlons, and not dressing like an 18th century jockey. 

Just what did Melissa do? And why does she show up at Mona’s Army meeting? What does it have to do with Spencer and Alison? Did Melissa kill someone? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.

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Elsewhere Around Rosewood…

— Sometimes the most devastating moments on this show are the quietest, like when Alison realizes she doesn’t even know what trashy reality TV show the girls are obsessed with. Sasha Pieterse has quietly morphed into one of the show’s real talents.

— How long do you think it’ll take for people to start wondering where Mrs. DiLaurentis is? 

— Do you think ‘A’ put up an ad on Craigslist to find people willing to wear hoodies and voice changers and terrorize teenage girls? Having seen New York City Craiglist ads before, I’m not at all surprised ‘A’ had such a good turnout. 

— Hanna quote of the episode: “I guess you don’t read Sun Tzu, bitch!” Slowly, but surely, Hanna is morphing into Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.

What did you think of the season 5 premiere? Were you excited by the answers or frustrated by all the dangling plot threads? What do you think the show will be like now that there’s a fifth liar? Was Shana really ‘A’? Sound off in the comments! 

Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC Family.

(Image courtesy of ABC Family)

Morgan Glennon

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV