Just what Pretty Little Liars needs: another duplicitous teen to keep track of.
In the span of a single episode, Addison (Ava Allan) establishes herself as even more ruthless than her name-soundalike Alison (Sasha Pieterse) in her younger years (and we know that because Alison tells us so). In order to get back at Emily (Shay Mitchell) for having the gumption to call her out on not being there for practice, she concocts a fiction (admittedly lacking in nuance) that Emily is a taking advantage of her swimmers and supports it not with evidence but with circumstantial photos trying to demonize Emily's character by using information she's overheard about others, specifically Paige (Lindsey Shaw).
This is problematic in a lot of ways. Like, for instance, having a character falsely cry pedophile purely to bring an authority figure down so she can hotbox behind a coffee shop with the world's most egregiously bong-like bong. One might be able to construe that kind of behavior as the show giving credence to the suspicion that young women are falsely accusing people of sex crimes with ulterior motives, which would certainly be problematic. But what it accomplishes is that, even at Peak Alison, even she wouldn't dream of destroying a person by lying about people being sexual predators. Right?
Addison is the teen extension of the new A.D., whether she's working for her or not. Looking back on the early days of the series, Mona (Janel Parrish) as A was tame (relatively speaking). The torture was mostly psychological and meant to be educational with a touch of revenge. What Alison and the Liars did to others was also severely damaging and deeply manipulative but, in essence, was name-calling. What Addison attempts to do is without conscience and, relative to the slight against her (calling out her inability to account for her absence), is catastrophically disproportionate (hoping that Emily becomes a registered sex offender). Also, I just don't think I have it in me to see another trial happen on this show. The one was enough.
Uber A/A.D. has been that level of uncaring and ruthless since CeCe (Vanessa Ray) took over the game. Revenge has been the superficial reason for the game to still be around but the deeper thrill is just playing with no goal other than seeing how far the game can go. You push the boundaries past hurting family members, past body horror, past the shattering of identities and self-worth and you keep pushing until you either demand to be known for how utterly brilliant you are or your crazed id demands you perform your deepest, darkest desire in a grand flourish of self-destruction. Addison is a perfect model for that kind of absurd manipulation and mindfreakery.
She's also the prototypical mean girl spilled on our screens in 2017: a pretty face protected by a veneer of sharpened, pointed apathy with a nihilist streak and a survivalist attitude behind her eyes. Think of Victoria and Valeria (Vanessa Merrell and Veronica Merrell/a>) from Jane the Virgin when they were introduced: profoundly manipulative with little remorse and a vindictiveness at even the most unintentional slight. But PLL does something interesting with Addison, even in this first episode. And now allow me to posit a sure to be very unpopular theory.
There's a scene in the locker room where Addison is trying to execute the final part of her plan. She's there to give Paige a story about Emily's inappropriate gawking and touching while showing her a picture of a tender moment between Alison and Emily. The goal, clearly, is to stoke those hatred fires that are always burning against Alison in Paige's belly and start a faculty meltdown. But, as Paige listens to her story, she starts to point out all the places where the fiction unravels. All the places in the lie that don't work, don't make sense, or are too far-flung for even the most steely suspension of disbelief. It's only after Paige sees the image that she sees exactly where Addison is heading with this and formulates a plan to stop her.
Paige knows exactly how to handle a bully in the vein of Alison. Even if Addison has the potential to be more ruthless, Paige has suffered enough brutality to understand how the bully's mind works. So it makes sense that Paige is able to undermine Addison in a way that Emily, scarred from years of higher-level psychological torture, is incapable of handling. Emily's first defense is to scream the bully down with her strength because it's the only way to assert herself in the face of that torture she knows so well. She's making herself bigger in front of an attacking bear, hoping it'll scare her off. But Paige knows that's not the answer to this particular kind of bully. You have to hit her where it hurts. Losing your cool in front of a student is a win for Addison. Being shamed by her parents and belittling her through a leverage of realities of the world is how you fight back. Addison, consider yourself McCullersed.
But let's play devil's advocate here (and this is where the unpopular theory comes in). When Paige was pointing out the lies and lack of nuance in Addison's story, was it only about destroying Addison's fiction or was she vetting? Was this the master telling the student to come at her so she knew the student's potential? Is Paige McCullers deep inside the A-ness of it all?
I mean, this is how Emison could unequivocally be the endgame. You have to eliminate Paige as a contender for Emily's affection because Paige, on paper at least, is a more stable match for Emily than Alison. Did all the back and forth between Alison and Emily, with Emily deciding to let Alison go and then caring very deeply about everything Alison did, push Paige into a place where she hated Emily enough to dispense with her and her friends? Think about Season 7B including a redemption arc for Alison and anti-redemption (?) arc for Paige. Emison comes out smelling like a rose that way. But it'd have to come at the cost of demonizing McCullers.
Consider the vetting and then, the next day, Jenna (Tammin Sursok), who we know is in with A from her one-woman black box show entitled, "Who Has Time to Write a Book about the Endgame and Translate it into Braille?" (an admittedly long title for a show), showing up with her blind posse at the Brew and Emily's (maybe totally paranoid) connection between Jenna and Addison. Jenna is definitely working for A in some capacity. And now she has that posse who I'm assuming are either: (a) members of a blind support group and are actually nothing suspicious, (b) plain clothes A.D. Secret Service members, (c) more of the lackeys Jenna seems to attract except she's accidentally attracted more blind people, (d) backup dancers for her next flute recital, (e) sunglasses butlers so she can trade out glasses whenever she wants without having to dig around in her bag, (f) casual acquaintances that she just can't seem to shake, (g) the vice squad of Rosewood's finest, (h) a collective Liars-only fever dream, (i) they're Ravenswood ghosts. It's just so surreal for her to be flanked by multiple blind people in Rosewood. They have a population of, like, 300. What are the odds there are two other people involved in Liars-implicated fireworks accidents? Wait, where was I?
Oh, right. Think about Paige vetting Addison and then Jenna extending the offer to join A.D. in a larger and better executed plan to terrorize and destroy Emily Fields. I'm not saying that Paige is necessarily A.D. (we all know that's still Mrs. Horowitz) but it's something to ponder. Or at least it's another red herring to consider until next time.
I'm losing count of all my red herrings.
Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on Freeform.