On the winter premiere of Pretty Little Liars, Mona makes her triumphant and psychotic return to Rosewood High, where there is absolutely no background checking when it comes to hiring creepy janitors.

Meanwhile the show begins peeling away some of the layers of mystery around the ‘A’ Team, including possibly learning the identity of another member of this murder-happy squad.

Here’s my theory: anytime someone takes off their shirt they are now immediately an ‘A’ Team suspect. This episode alone both Toby and Jason were shirtless, because this show really understands its audience.

We all know by now that Toby is an uncover creeper, but with the reveal in the final moments of the episode that Jason has a suspiciously rusty screwdriver-shaped hole in his side it’s looking more like Spencer’s half-bro is a little more than half-involved in the drama.

On Pretty Little Liars, no one is ever who or what they seem. Lucas spent most of this season looking like a meth addict about to shiv someone, but now he seems more like a victim. Byron Montgomery was never going to win any parent of the year awards (unless the category was ‘Best Use of Emotional Manipulation Related to Adultery’) but now he seems capable of murder. Mona might say she’s “better now” but we all know she’s still donning that black hoodie. And of course, now that we know Toby is playing Spencer every appearance and glare seems perfectly full of menace.

It’s been a few months since our last trip on the Halloween train with our favorite liars, and the show came back full steam ahead. Instead of easing the audience back into the show, we drop back in feet first. No time for a breather, there are mysteries afoot and skateboarders to run over!

We don’t even really learn what happened with Alison’s body bag showing up on the train. Was that Ali in there or just some more decorative jewelry made from her bones? And if the later, I’m sure we can assume it all went into Aria’s collection.

Having had the pleasure of taking part in a conference call with showrunner Marlene King, I was pleased to learn the creative team behind Pretty Little Liars has the show’s central mysteries well mapped out in advance.

On a show with as sprawling a cast of suspects as this one, it seems like it would be easy to drop the ball or introduce red herrings with no closure. But King assured that the writers have the beginning, middle, and end hammered down when it comes to the mysteries and this allows them to throw in subtle winks and clues along the way. Even props, according to King, can become very important to the overall tale.

The premiere introduced new clues for us all to puzzle over (Eh tu Jason?) and new characters to fear. But in my opinion the show’s brightest moment was when Aria showed up to the charity run in a hoodie with spikes on the shoulder. Because nothing says “I’m serious about this race” more than weighing yourself down with five pounds of metal on each shoulder.

Mona’s Back

As the episode begins, Mona sneaks into Hanna’s bedroom while she’s asleep at night. Instead of calling the police or shouting for help or doing something you would normally do when a psychopath who has tried to run you over with her car suddenly appears by your sleeping form in the dead of night, Hanna just looks a little put out.

“This is not the best time to be breaking and entering into my house. You know, because my grandma is here,” Hanna explains, because clearly rationality is the way to go with Mona.

Mona explains that her parents are forcing her to return back to Rosewood High and she wants Hanna’s support when she shows up at the school. It’s official, Radley is the worst at everything. Why even have a mental institution? I’m pretty sure Mona would have been more secure in that creepy doll store with all the murder dolls. At least there her paper mache skills would have been put to good use.

The next day at school, everyone is staring at Mona. This is what tends to happen when you try to run people over and throw them off cliffs. The liars try to decide if they should be nice to Mona in order to get information out of her, with Aria strongly in the negative column.

Mona’s behavior continues to be very Mona-esque, which means bizarre and scary and sometimes kind of awesome. Shocking no one, Caleb soon finds out that Mona begged to be let back into Rosewood High instead of being forced to attend like she told Hanna. The liars agree this is because Mona has some kind of nefarious plan up her dainty sleeve.

She makes a tearful and heartfelt video that goes viral around the school, and soon she’s being welcomed back with open arms. I would complain that this is somewhat unrealistic considering what crazy stunts she pulled in the past, but this is Rosewood. At least half the population of this town has attempted to murder, maim, or blackmail someone,  so I’m sure they could relate.

The ‘A’ Team Mysteries Continue

Toby lives a very full and complicated life:

Midnight: try to run over a skateboarding Lucas with his car.

Morning: A sexy run with Spencer. Make sure to pop shirt off, as no one can notice general creepery if they are staring at his sixpack.

Evening: Hot tub with Spencer, more of a subtle creep this time.

During the race: Face off with Harold the janitor, once our favorite Norman Bates-esque hotel proprietor. If you don’t remember, the Lost Woods Resort was where Mona went to sketch fashion designs and interior decorate with weird dolls. From the whispered conversation with Mona, Toby’s knowing look, and Alison’s diary it looks like Harold might just be on the ‘A’ Team payroll.  

Meanwhile, it looks as if Lucas might have been blackmailed into ‘A’ Team duties, although how complicit he is in the dealings still remains to be seen. At the least it’s certainly clear he’s being menaced by Toby and Mona, but he couldn’t tell Hanna more than that Mona popped in and out of Radley depending on her whims.

And despite how hard Spencer worked to get Jason to beware Mona, it seems he might have no reason to. As the episode ends, Mona gets out band aids for a very suspicious wound on his back. Is he the one Aria stabbed with that rusty screwdriver on the Halloween train?

Considering how she was almost murdered, shouldn’t someone DNA test that thing? No wonder the town is finally protesting the Rosewood police department. That sleepy small town has more unsolved murders per capita than most inner cities.

Bad Byron

Mona makes sure Meredith gets firebombed during the race and sets it up so that Aria and the liars are the chief suspects. Byron immediately jumps to thinking Aria was involved, because of the deep respect he has for his daughter.

Listen Bryon, due to your behavior let’s all just agree you’ve lost the higher ground when it comes just just about everything, ever.

Meanwhile, we find out more information on Byron’s connection with Alison thanks to her diary. On the Halloween train we discovered Byron was arguing with Alison on the night of her death. Now it turns out they were probably arguing over the fact that Alison was extorting money from him in order to keep quiet about his affair.

Did Byron think up a more permanent solution to keeping Ali quiet? It seems far too easy, but he’s certainly acting suspicious now.

Elsewhere in Rosewood…

– Aria still hasn’t told Ezra about his son and now that A knows it seems like only a matter of time before the whole thing blows up in her face. She asks Caleb if he would have rather known his parents than spend years in abusive foster homes and somehow he doesn’t roll his eyes at her and walk away.

– Hanna’s grandmother, played by the divine Broadway superstar Betty Buckley, gets to sprout more folksy down home wisdom than a junebug in the spring. (I don’t know what that, or half of her dialogue, actually means.) “Life is like a bowl of nails, Hanna. You can pour on the milk but it’s still a pretty terrible breakfast.” “Thanks Grandma”. Major kudos to the show for the moment when grandma Marin gets up and sings the National Anthem, unasked.

– Emily’s parents have finally snapped and just decided to lock Emily away in her bedroom like a princess in a tower. But fairytale princesses were never as wily about smartphone sabotage as Emily Fields.

– Spencer proves once again that someday she will have a profitable career as either a bank robber or CIA operative when she chides Emily on her breaking and entering skills. Please, lady. Leave it to the professionals.

What did you think of the winter season premiere of Pretty Little Liars? Are you excited for the rest of the season? What is Mona planning? How bad is Byron? And is Jason really on the ‘A’ Team? Share your theories in the comments!

You don’t need A to keep up with all the lies. Just add Pretty Little Liars to your very own watch-list so you can keep up with all the suspects in Rosewood! Download BuddyTV Guide for free for your phone.

(Image courtesy of ABC Family)

Morgan Glennon

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV