PRETTY LITTLE LIARS was mostly exciting and compelling this week — right up until a coincidence gave Emily a huge clue in the search for the ever-elusive A. Then it all fell apart. I was concerned that the entire series was about to unravel from that moment.
Coincidences happen to just about every one just about every day, and while we usually notice them (“What a coincidence you called — I was just thinking about you!”) and maybe even laugh about them, we just accept coincidences as part of life. But there’s one area of life where people do not like coincidences and are especially intolerant of it: in our fiction.
When coincidence plays a role in a plot, viewers/readers usually scoff; a big coincidence in a mystery story is even more unacceptable and knocks the viewer right out of the tale, reminding us that we’re watching a contrived piece of fiction. Readers to not like coincidences because — even though we know they happen in real life — they just feel to convenient, too fake to have a place in a created fictional world. In fact, in a (good) mystery, the story is so dense and the universe so carefully constructed and manipulated (to maximize confusion and distraction) that coincidences look like lazy writing. It’s like the creator saying, “I can’t come up with a creative way for these two characters to meet, so they’ll just bump into each other out of the blue. It happens.” Yeah, it happens — but when it’s fiction, it’s much harder to swallow.
As a mystery tale, coincidence definitely plays a role in PLL’s storyline — events like the Liars being in a store when Jenna (Tammin Sursok) just happens to walk in, or a Liar being in position to eavesdrop on another character at some point — but those feel relatively harmless and acceptable; the kind of thing that might actually happen. Girls shopping in the same place? It could happen.
But this? As part of Emily’s (Shay Mitchell) extended community service sentence, she had to volunteer on a crisis hotline. During training, the instructor pulled out a transcript of a sample conversation between an operator and a caller seeking help. Lo and behold, the transcript just happened to be A calling the hotline! And Emily recognized A discussing the lost cell phone.
What luck! What are the chances?
Pretty slim, actually. So slim in fact, that the scene shouted at me, reminding that I was watching a work of fiction. It made me think the writer — executive producer Oliver Goldstick, no less — got lazy and decided to simply drop helpful information in Emily’s lap. Is that any way for an executive producer to write? Emily didn’t “earn” that information; it was served to her on a silver platter. I suppose a generous fan could look at it as the unintended fruit of the plan to fake a conflict with Spencer (Troian Bellisario), but that’s really stretching it.
The only way that I will ultimately accept this particular deus ex machina is if it somehow turns out to be another plot by A. It’s not unreasonable to suppose that the all-knowing A discovered Emily’s assignment and arranged for a particular piece of training material to be used. (Well, not too far-fetched; for PLL, at least.) Now, it’s true that the girls are convinced that the person who dropped the cell phone at the greenhouse was a “drone” and not A his/herself, but PLL promos have insisted that A’s true identity will be revealed at some point soon, so if this incident leads to A in some direct way, I will be very upset. The idea that the unmasking of A — a core storyline of the whole series — could hinge on such a huge, unnatural coincidence instead of sleuthing by the Liars is disheartening to folks who have watched since the first episode.
Anyway, the rest of this episode was fine, with Byron (Chad Lowe) taking believable steps to shield daughter Aria (Lucy Hale) from the “predatory” Ezra (Ian Harding). I think Aria is reading too much into Ella (Holly Marie Combs) stopping Byron from calling the cops. Ella may be a romantic, but I don’t think she likes her underage daughter being the center of this particular love story.
The end was particularly tense, with Hanna (Ashley Benson) taking pre-emptive action that she’ll likely regret — whether Lucas (Brendan Robinson) was A’s drone or not. I think Hanna hit him with that oar too quickly. And how, exactly, did she manage to capsize the dinghy by herself?
This installment also contained a couple of LOL lines in the opening scene, and I think they’re tied for Line of the Week.
While the girls were discussing all the problems in their lives, Emily told Hanna:
“I was almost killed. These are not highlights, Hanna, this is glass in my hair!” And then she begged off answering A’s phone by saying, “I’ve got glass in my hair.”
But my personal favorite line came from Hanna. Under pressure to appeal to Caleb (Tyler Blackburn), an exasperated Hanna snapped: “Spencer, stop giving us orders; we’re not your winged monkeys!”
Hilarious. And I wonder if the “I’ve got glass in my hair” excuse will work for me?