PRETTY LITTLE LIARS 2.14: “Through Many Dangers, Toils and Snares”

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS came back this week for its “winter premiere” with the promise of tons more drama and the reveal of A’s true identity — but with all the misdirection and outright lies told by the characters in this episode, is it any wonder that the-powers-that-be also fibbed a little and kept A’s face hidden once again.

Despite yet another bait-and-switch story, it was still nice to see PLL back with another sharp script with solid characterization for the girls. We have to wonder how much longer the Liars can keep up this pace of new revelations and frustrations.

To all appearances, the strain was finally getting the best of the PLL gang: As they picked up trash (in fetching orange jumpsuits) as part of their community-service punishment for tampering with evidence, the girls sniped at each other until an actual catfight broke out between Spencer (Troian Bellisario) and Emily (Shay Mitchell). The bad blood carried over to shouting not-so-cryptic hints about secret evidence in the school corridors. Then it was revealed that the gang was trying to smoke out A by pretending to ostracize Emily and hoping A would contact her.

That’s precisely what happened, and then the audience learned that the girls were totally bluffing: They had no incriminating evidence against A, and were just hoping to corner their tormentor when A set up a meet with Emily.  But home strife — like Hanna’s (Ashley Benson) shady father moving back to Rosewood, and Byron (Chad Lowe) and Ella (Holly Marie Combs) learning that Aria (Lucy Hale) and Ezra (Ian Harding) have been in a relationship for months — conspired to keep the gang from backing up Emily when she met the hooded mystery figure at the deserted greenhouse. By the time they arrived, A was trying to kill Emily. Together, the girls fought off A, who dropped his/her cell phone while fleeing.

It’s ironic that in an episode filled with misdirection, the truth about Aria and Ezra finally came out. I think the reveal was almost as much of a relief to viewers as it was for the characters — after all, Aria was really (really) bad at keeping it on the down-low. (Witness the way she practically melted in front of her brother when they ran into Ezra in town.) Their relationship always made me cringe because Aria seemed so determined to blow it. I actually thought Mike was pissed at Ezra, and even though he later claimed to be trying to protect the lecher teacher when he punched him, I’m sure he enjoyed busting the guy’s lip. Oh, and now that the affair is out, Ezra busted Jackie for blackmailing Aria.

Speaking of getting busted, I kept waiting for A’s hood to be pulled back during the fight to reveal his/her mug at last. But that didn’t happen. And Emily never managed to glimpse A’s face or get a…uh, feel for whether A is male or female even though they were fighting hand-to-hand and rolling on top of each other  (There was a lot of fighting this week, so special props go to Shay and her stunt double!). Still, I figured A would remove the hood after fleeing the green house, but the camera didn’t show A’s face. Again.

But as frustrating as that was, I kind of expected it. And there was something else that bothered me more about this episode: when the swim coach refused to let Emily rejoin the team after she completes her community service. She claimed to be concerned about the “message” reinstating Emily would send to other schools; but what about the message that banning her sends: That there’s no such thing as redemption. That paying her debt to society counts for nothing. That once you’ve made a mistake you’re damaged goods and never welcomed among “decent” people again. One strike and you’re out? Sometimes the writers of this show seem out of touch with reality when molding events to fit the story they want to tell. This is one of those times. So is the plot gymnastics needed to keep A’s identity concealed.

Part of the appeal of PLL is the way it manages to keep pulling off the same conceit over and over — teasing the A reveal only to dance away at the last second — while managing to avoid completely alienating the audience. How many times can PLL dangle the carrot before viewers become too frustrated to keep caring? Lots and lots, it would seem. But surely it won’t last forever; TPTB will have to give us A before the end of the season in March. Uhh….right?

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Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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