We like to have a lot of fun with Aria (Lucy Hale). She is the littlest of all the little liars. She modeled a macabre style for a good portion of her early wardrobe that made it seem like she kept a menagerie of exotic birds exclusively to fashion into daily broaches and earrings. She called the bed tucked in the corner of her high school English teacher's apartment "sacred ground" since that is where Ezra (Ian Harding) committed acts of ethical malfeasance and, at worst, borderline criminality by lying naked with his student. You know, fun.
But Aria sometimes got lost in her Aria-ness. While Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Hanna (Ashley Benson), and Emily (Shay Mitchell) all had long arcs of self-discovery with or without significant others, Aria has always been defined by her relationship to Ezra, whether or not she was actually with him. Threats from A were about exposing their clandestine relationship. Ezra is her constant and that has been to Aria's detriment as a character.
Season 7B hasn't been much different. The post-jump seasons have been defined by Aria getting reacquainted with Ezra after we missed the years of Aria being by herself. She went from rising star at a publishing house to a Rosewood return so she could be Ezra's wife. A.D. held an unfiled police report over her to get her to join the A Team and, of course, that police report had everything to do with Ezra. It all comes back to that sweet, baby boy face.
As a seasoned viewer of Pretty Little Liars, you learn to pick up on Aria being Aria — the little pockets of her behavior that have nothing to do with a reaction to who she's sleeping with or what romantic drama entangles her. When she's not being guided by her heart or by Spencer, she can be self-interested in a way the other Liars aren't. Whereas Hanna and Emily are quick to sacrifice themselves for other Liars, Aria is more of a survivalist and a bit of a wild card. She seems like the quickest to flip given any amount of pressure. If this were Winnie-the-Pooh, she'd be Piglet on account of her being a Very Small Animal.
But then she also has this side to her that allows her to do terrible things without a second thought. She'll lie like a rug. She can be vindictive and cruel. And, often, it seems like Aria is only looking out for number one. That's not to say Aria isn't sweet and thoughtful and a whimsical suburban nymph at other times. But this is a dark timeline and Season 7B has shown a whole lot of Aria's darkness.
Recall that after turning to the hoodie, A.D. asked Aria to do some horrible things and the show made no time to show us any amount of reticence or hesitation. She smashed Emily's childhood mobile easily, ripped the heads off stuffed animals, and sprayed (probably) fake blood all over the nursery of one of her best friends. There was a moment after when she seemed like she cried alone on a sofa, but dang, Aria. You tore the heck out of that stuffed bear, didn't you though?
"Choose or Lose" featured the reveal (to the Liars) that Aria had been working with A.D. to blow up their lives which puts her on the outs with just about everyone. And rightfully so. She is pretty much the vessel through which A.D. worked to break the already tenuous Hastings marriage. I mean, it was only a matter of time before Papa Hastings ended up sleeping with someone that vaguely resembled a Drake sister, but Aria certainly helped speed up the divorce process.
And then it started to get buck wild. A.D. has not only been her torturer but has also been the boss of her for the past few episodes and Aria unleashes on the disembodied voice, shouting curses and almost throwing the phone out the window. This is mostly a symbolic gesture since A.D. seems to have an supplier of endless burner phones and all the time in the world to hide those phones in discreet spots.
But A.D. pleads for her to not do it, to not dispose of her so quickly. It's a quick reminder that A.D. mostly wants to play the game more than anything else and Aria cutting off contact (essentially flipping the board) is worse than any other outcome. A.D. gets Aria back with a very Burr-esque "wait for it" regarding tomorrow. If there's a reason she's still alive when everyone else is going down for murder, Aria feels compelled to wait for it.
Of course, that reason is that Aria is the easiest to manipulate. While Spencer was goaded into starting the game, she was also severely weakened over many episodes, including one where she was shot in the chest and her entire universe was wrecked with the Mary Drake reveal. Emily's only real weakness is for wayward girls and, specifically, Alison (Sasha Pieterse). I'm convinced Hanna will boot anyone in the crotch for any reason. All it took for Aria to cave was anxiety.
And for all the help that Aria provided, A.D. insists that Aria "won the game" and gets the "grand prize" of "unlimited freedom," a reward that, of course, by definition of coming from A.D., comes with strings and an indelible taint. To be free because of A.D., especially when all her other friends are still in jeopardy, is to be imprisoned. So after a series of doing things the Aria way, she decides she wants to do things the Hanna and Emily way: self-sacrifice.
This is the point in the episode where I need to point out that Aria's phone explodes and she just lets it burn on the floor as she runs out to her car to turn herself in. I'm not sure there's more of an Aria thing in this world than running out to engage in some half-thought, hare-brained scheme only to let Rosewood burn down behind her because she forgot about the currently existing fire in front of her.
This is is also where it's a little confusing because Dunhill's decomposing body (or maybe just a John Doe body) is in the trunk of Aria's car, so how does that contribute to A.D.'s insistence that Aria won and that she's free? Are we to assume that somehow an A Team member transported the mutilated body to Aria's trunk while on the phone with her? I don't know why I'm debating the logistics of what the A team is capable of or how true to her word A.D. is. It's all basically magic.
And, of course, the last time we see her, Aria stands suspiciously in front of the trunk of her car while the police pull up behind her. She's basically a sitcom character trying to "act cool" with her caught-in-headlights eyes and body posture that says, "There's definitely nothing in this trunk!" She'll get out of this jam because of course she will. She tends to fail upwards in acts of deception as if there's someone watching over her to protect her from any actual consequences.
That's so Aria.