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Pretty Little Liars Has a Thing for Body Torture

Has the violence gone too far?

Nick Campbell

Unspeakable horrors and mind-crippling terror might seem like pedestrian issues on Pretty Little Liarsthese days. It's just another day on the job, a job that is the pro bono work of staving off a psychotic, murderous, nameless fiend bent on the vagaries of destroying these girls' lives. I guess? I'm sure there's a point this new round of bullying, but after Charlotte (Vanessa Ray) revealed that all she really wanted to do was play a game, why A.D. gets up in the morning is just as much a mystery to me as it is to you.

It makes you think back to the good old days when all A wanted the Liars to do was get caught trespassing or binge-eat a bunch of cupcakes. I mean, still horrible - but quaint by comparison to the advanced psychological warfare A.D. wages. More reason for Mona (Janel Parrish) to be forgiven for her crimes: at least she didn't strip Hanna (Ashley Benson) to her undies, trap her in a shed, and shock her with a cattle prod in the dark.

But when Charlotte stole the game from Mona, she ramped things up. The game went from being a psychological thriller based in secrets and lies to a body genre where the gambits were teeth, bodies, and blood. Yeah. Remember when Spencer (Troian Bellisario) woke in what seemed like the opening to Rob Zombie picture? That was something.

Pretty Little Liars takes out an A.D. traitor and adds to the body count

While A certainly upped the ante by using human body parts in her puzzles, it wasn't until the Dollhouse that things started to get really escalate, beginning with the Liars getting stripped nude and invaded with tracking chips. The doll theme has been creepily pervasive throughout the entire series, but the morgue scene in the Dollhouse took it to a new level. It was an act of discovery, of exploring the dolls' figures, and truly objectifying them as they were unconscious, as malleable and yielding as a Barbie.

It's at that point that a doll's owner stops thinking about playing dress-up and starts considering the form itself. The show never took time to really explore the psychological relationship Charlotte must have with a biological female body but focused, instead, on the torture and prom part of her plan. It's really the downside of having a faceless enemy for three and a half seasons. There's no room for depth in a thing that's supposed to appear dimensionless.

Season 6B would go on to show the softened Alison (Sasha Pieterse) gaslit by her husband so badly that she voluntarily locked herself up in an asylum as if this were the 19th century and she'd caught a small case of hysteria. The Liars were also all grownups in Season 6B after the time jump, and the show wasn't afraid to show the no-longer-high-schoolers in more states of undress. Well, mostly broadcast-safe nude backs and the suggestion of side boob. I mean this is still ABC Family Freeform after all.

Eric McCandless, Freeform

When asked, co-showrunner Charlie Craig noted that A.D. was ready to raise the stakes in Season 7 in order to make things worse for the Liars, both emotionally and physically. "This A has the biggest axe to grind than we've ever had on the show before," he said. While A.D. is carving a path separate from Charlotte's, the goal is to maintain a still terrifying, albeit different torture normalcy throughout the season, to keep this more dangerous level of fear and panic for all these episodes. "It's not easy, but it's fun."

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Clearly, blackmailing someone's mom into sleeping with the town's creepiest detective wasn't going to be enough to maintain murder stakes. But it seems like there's a psychosexual bent to this season's tilt.

"Wanted Dead or Alive" featured a couple of examples. One is [SPOILER ALERT] the apparent and unceremonious demise of one "Shower Sara" Harvey (Dre Davis), left to bloat in a bathtub with the sprayer turned on so she could continue her life's work of taking the most showers, even in death.

Time was elided between the point where she saw her assailant (with that cheesy telenovela zoom) and when housekeeping snuck into the bathroom to find her. Other than a meta reference for those of us keeping score of Sara's shower habits, there seems to be no narrative reason for her to have been bludgeoned, stripped naked, and posed in the bathtub. We might be able to reason that it removes evidence, or maybe it was to stall people from finding her (what if that housekeeper hadn't been jamming on her iPod?). But note that the deaths of men on this show never include any amount of nudity. Poor Wilden (Bryce Johnson) wasn't even worth a nice doll pose.

As always, though, the torture of Alison was much more complicated. Season 7 seems interested in unraveling Hanna, but more invested in hunting Ali. A.D. invaded the DiLaurentis house in a cop disguise with a puffy latex mask (the levels of artifice, leaps of faith with latex, and Trump-esque BS-ery are astronomical this season, but that's another 1,000 words for another day) to set the stage for what could've been Alison's end. Imagine if Rosewood's former greatest manipulator died not having been able to figure out this dead-eyed mute officer was actually an assassin. Egg all over her face.

The softening of Alison DiLaurentis on Pretty Little Liars

Mind you, if Alison has had a theme since Season 6B, it's been tilting toward the windmills of traditionalism. She was going to attack a simple kind of life head on by staying in her small town, extending her depleted family, and marrying a handsome young man to live in her quaintly-decorated complete with picket fence. After a lifetime of ambition and deception, Alison was ready to embrace the suburban wife and mother stereotype.

So the attack began with the manipulation of that ideal, the quickly scrawled words "Honey I'm Home." Instantly, her attacker was cast as her husband (whether Archer (Huw Collins) is dead or if he's actually attacking her while some latex dummy is in the ground to fool Spencer and Hanna is currently irrelevant). And A.D. attacked Alison from behind, wrapping her up and eventually bending her over furniture. A.D. then drove her through a mirror (a symbol of vanity), pushing against her and pounding her into the wall.

Sirens saved Alison from dying, but this "domestic" violence and these motions of rape suggest that the show wants to manipulate in a specifically feminine headspace. A.D. is almost certainly not Mary Drake (Andrea Parker), and indications are that this could be the first male A. In any event, this A likes to play the part of a male, with all the client-facing communications seemingly coming from either male or husbandly roles. Although, most man-caves I see on TV don't have as many masks and wigs as there were in this week's Moment of A. They're mostly just decorated with broken dreams, loneliness, and a wobbly foosball table.

All this isn't to mention all the needles and forced penetration this season, the restraining, the drugging, the hosing down (in a white shirt no less), and often reduction of humanity all the Liars suffer. If the end is nigh, then this season won't be done with them until each of these women become stars in their own modern-day Revenant, as sacks of meat and flesh barely still standing once A.D. is revealed and destroyed. But it's curious that the season has made sure to show off the bodies of these victims, both dead and alive, and to make sure that the violence these women suffer seems to be through the male gaze.

What do you think? Are you picking up what this season is throwing down? Are you also catching on to the fact that the women who've suffered the most in Season 7 also continue the Hitchcockian tropes of victimizing blondes? Has the escalation of violence gone too far? Where does it go from here? I mean, we still have half a season plus four episodes left. What will A.D.'s next trick be?

Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on Freeform.