Pretty Little Liars might have just aired one of the most creepy, disturbing episodes of television this summer. And I’ve seen the first couple episodes of Hannibal. He eats people and I think I would still rather spend time in his kitchen than in Charles’ bunker. At least with serial killers, you’re not forced to repeat the fashion mistakes of your 14-year-old self over and over and over.

The show left itself in a difficult spot in season 5, with the girls trapped in Charles’ bunker of elaborate home decorating, spoiled prom dreams and torture.

The season 6 premiere, “Game On, Charles,” opens up mere moments after the season 5 finale left off and takes the audience on one hell of a ride. Every episode of Pretty Little Liars is fueled by high octane crazy — this is something we’re used to by now — but this premiere seems to be on a whole different level. 

There’s creepy old music, GPS trackers hidden in stylish heels, torture makeovers, dead body cosplay and even some light arson. 

Speaking of Hannibal, the show’s Silence of the Lambs homage with Mona down in the pit is positively chilling. “It puts the lotion on the skin, Mona.” Charles really has some serious stuff to work through. No wonder Tippi the Bird became a cannibal under his care.

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The Time of Their Lives

The premiere does many canny things, but perhaps the most clever is the insertion of a downright chilling time jump midway through the episode. After the girls are locked into their rooms, or torture chambers, the show smash-cuts to three weeks later. There are plenty of reasons this is a smart plan, both emotionally and narratively.

First off, it saves us a lot of exposition and allows us to get to the girls’ rescue without them having been gone for only a few days. A whole season stuck in the bunker would have been downright tedious, but now they can use flashbacks to show us what happened without keeping the audience there in real time. 

Second, it adds some real terror and emotional complexity that I’m sure will carry through for the rest of the season. After all, we have no idea what happened to the liars during those three weeks. 

Last, it opens up mysteries the show will be able to explore and resolve over the course of these 10 summer episodes without necessarily needing to resolve the main mystery right away. It’s not a huge time jump, but the passage of time does allow us to explore how the liars’ friends and families coped while they were missing. 

Not only am I wondering what happened to the girls during their captivity, I’m also wondering how the police got onto Andrew Campbell and why they seem so sure he’s the culprit. Did he take off immediately? And how exactly is Andrew involved? 

There are so many questions left unanswered at the end of this premiere and some really exciting (and undoubtedly dark) places the show looks ready to explore in the first half of season 6. I’m sure we’ll find out what horrors awaited the girls behind those doors bit by bit over the course of the season.

We’ll also learn the origin of perhaps the biggest shocker of the episode: Sara Harvey is alive and she’s been held by Charles this whole time! 

If you don’t remember Sara Harvey, that is probably because you have a normal human memory. The liars met with Sara’s friends after she went missing around the same time as Alison, but they discovered she was last seen after Ali’s “death,” and the liars let it go.

Apparently, Charles has had Sara this whole time, dressed up in Alison’s inescapable yellow shirt. Pretty Little Liars is starting to feel like a horror story about a girl forced to repeat one unfortunate fashion mistake over and over and over for the rest of her life. 

How does Sara fit into all of this? Was she just blonde and in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or does her connection run deeper than that?

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Captured Little Liars

The episode opens to show us a different view of the season finale: the view of Sara watching the girls escape. She’s obviously been in the hole a long, long time if we’re just going by how many markings she’s made on the wall. Yikes!

Outside, the girls are defiant and then gradually less defiant as Charles leaves them out in the elements to freeze and then starve. “You might be a dude, but you’re still a bitch,” Hanna yells at the cameras. It is such a Hanna line and it is so perfect. Between the yelling and burning things, I think Hanna and Aria have earned a gold star in rage in this episode. 

Mona tells them they’re all strong enough to handle anything, even slowly starving to death and eventually having to eat all of Aria’s stupid tulle for sustenance. “If only I had been able to dress myself,” Aria says sadly. “Usually, my earrings can double as rain catchers.” 

The doors swing open and the girls hesitate, then finally go back into the bunker. The devil you know is always better than drinking your own pee, I guess. They’re immediately gassed, and wake up looking like dead bodies on gurneys. 

Emily looks panicked, lifts her sheet and then sighs in relief. “Whew! I’ve still got it goin on! #Flawless … Also, I still have all my organs, so that’s good too.”

Mona is back on Ali duty and soon the girls are all being forced back into their “rooms.” After being left outside for days and then tossed on slabs, they’re understandably in a more compliant mood. This is immediately a mistake, and their haunting screams take us out to the “three weeks later” title card.

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Meanwhile, the Pretty Little Bros are on the Case

Our first glimpse of three weeks later is Alison giving a press conference, having been freed from jail for Mona’s murder. She’s talking directly to Andrew, who everyone assumes is their captor, for reasons not fully explained. She drops some obvious hints about woods and rocks, not-so-subtly baiting him with a message.

In the DiLaurentis house, the police stand by, hoping to track down ‘A’ by using Ali as bait. “Oh, hey, you guys want some takeout?” Jason asks, skulking around a corner as Tanner riddles him with bullets. Thanks for popping by, Jason, and reminding us you exist! What an oddly useless cameo. 

Alison gets a call from ‘A’, which is quickly traced back to the house. The call is always coming from inside the house! Haven’t you people ever seen a single horror movie? Also, Alison is being protected by the Rosewood PD, so I’m just going to assume ‘A’ could have walked in with a giant “Hey, Ask Me About How I Torture Teens!” button and no one would ask any questions. 

Alison uses the melee of Officer Toby and Tanner finding a mask to sneak out and into the waiting arms of Caleb and Ezra. Do you think Rosewood ever has mask shortages? Will they eventually have to start rationing paper mache the way California is rationing water? 

It’s obviously been a rough three weeks for Ezra, who has grown the facial hair of a villain in a Wild West movie. “If these GPS heels doesn’t work, I vote we try tying Alison to some train tracks!” 

Alison takes the GPS heels and at no point mentions to these bros that perhaps she might need a more practical shoe for walking directly into danger. Men. 

Alison finds a car in the woods, and the GPS takes her to a deserted part of some more woods. This section of Pennsylvania is about 90% murder woods and 10% plate-throwing stores. 

Unfortunately, the car also tells her to take off her GPS shoes. “Well, crap, how could we have foreseen this completely obvious turn of events?” Caleb and Ezra wonder. Ali’s clever boots (pun intended) idea to point the way with her shoes thankfully allows the bros to find her before Charles can snatch her up.

Thanks to the liars’ appetite for destruction and Toby bringing the police, the girls are soon all saved from their fate in the bunker. Wonder Bros Activate! Form of: basic level competency!

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The Liars Fight Back

Meanwhile, in the bunker, the liars are finally let loose after what looks like a harrowing ordeal. They’ve all been forced back into the clothes they used to wear, with Aria sporting pink stripes in her hair again. They’re obviously being haunted by the ghosts of fashion mistakes past. 

They’re herded to Alison’s “room,” where they’re expected to unpack her boxes. There, they get their first taste of the outside world, including that the stress has sent Hanna’s mom to the hospital. 

They realize the reason they’re unpacking is because Charles is looking to snatch Ali. This leads Spencer to share her knowledge that Charles is really Charles DiLaurentis. But with Ali on the way, the girls quickly realize this doesn’t bode well for poor Mona. How many times can one girl get murdered, am I right? (On this show, the answer is always infinity times.) 

They hatch an escape plan based on Spencer’s knowledge of Charles’ secret lair filled with memories, mementos and soulful items of creepy import. They make a break for the room and, once there, watch the same video of Mrs. D and the two blond boys. 

With ‘A’ watching, Spencer threatens to destroy all of his important items, and soon things are getting set on fire. ‘A’ finally decides to save his stuff rather than capture Alison, and the girls use the fire as a chance to find Mona and drag her to safety. I wish we could have seen Mona parkour out of that well like a contestant on American Ninja Warrior, but I guess we can’t have everything. 

The fire, in combination with the alarm, allows Caleb, Ezra, Alison and later the police to find the girls and free them from the smoky bunker. All of the girls get to hug someone they love in very dramatic fashion, and the police finally discover poor Sara Harvey.

As the episode draws to a close, Emily asks Alison an important question: who is Charles DiLaurentis? I can’t wait to see where the show goes on its way to the answer.

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Elsewhere in Rosewood…

— I keep forgetting that Toby is a police officer, but maybe it’s because he’s such a terrible police officer. Of course, by Rosewood standards, he’s basically a Raymond Chandler detective. 

— Apparently, Radley Sanatorium has finally been closed down. And all it took were a few murders!

— Spencer says that ‘A’ seemed familiar, like an old pen pal or someone you knew when you were children. Is this a hint that Spencer at least has met Charles before? 

What did you think of the episode? Is your mind blown? Did you love it? What’s going on with Sara? Who is Charles? 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