Time is a curious thing in Rosewood. Pretty Little Liars is a show, after all, that spun two impossible months into three seasons before skipping ahead five years into some sort of still-hoverboard-less (and therefore wretched) future. And while we all have our theories about how this could be (I'm still partial to them being timeless space babies), the one thing we can agree on is that the Liars sure do know how to use their time effectively. Or at least condense as much drama as humanly possible into 24 hours. Effectiveness is relative.
In Tuesday's Season 7 premiere, with their best friend held hostage in some kind of Caligulan Guantanamo, where people are tortured but also depantsed and then sprayed down with a hose like it's a Cancun Spring Break, the Liars were given one day to find out who actually murdered Charlotte. You'd think that would be enough to fill up an episode, a race against the clock, complete with 24-like countdown timers. But who doesn't have time for a little 'shipping along with their investigations?
If there was any doubt about the stars' and producers' proclamations that this would be the Season of Romance, you need not look any further than the many distracting intrigues conflicting with the Liars trying to make sure kidnapped Hanna doesn't die from, I don't know, a Jell-O shot version of waterboarding. And it all feels like table-setting for the flagship 'ships to find each other again.
There's Caleb, who, in trying to save the better half of his Haleb relationship name, becomes just as reckless and one-track-minded as Hanna usually is. One could maybe make the case that Caleb is just invested in saving one of his best friends and someone he feels responsible for losing. But with his sudden coldness toward Spencer and his instinctual risk-taking on Hanna's behalf, it feels like they're leaning much more into him being Hanna's savior, and away from what had been a delightful Hacker and the Brain romance during Season 6B.
That might be OK for Spencer, since the show seems to be planting the seeds for a Spoby reunion what with Toby showing growth in at least his lock-picking skills — which is enough to apparently open the lock to Spencer's heart. It completely fits Spencer's M.O. which is to attract someone else's boy in order to feel the warm if fleeting validation of romantic thievery. Toby is with someone. And that someone is no match for Spencer, neither her as a force of nature or the sweeping power of Spoby history.
When we were first reacquainted with Toby in 6B, in his lonely episode of This Old House, one immediately knew that home was not for anyone else but the youngest Hastings. He may still talk about whats-her-name but, just as her family lost the chance to go on that post-election victory cruise (???), Yvonne has lost her boyfriend to the high seas of Spencer's whirlpool of drama. That whirlpool is just so darn enchanting.
Speaking of soul-crushing vortices, Emison is somehow still a thing. Soundtracked with a wan version of "Every Breath You Take" (a.k.a., The Stalker's Ballad), Emily stood in the bedroom of a friend whom she was about to accuse of murder and remembered the night they made sweet, sweet love. The episode took time out of an episode with a ticking clock to flash back almost the entire scene in which Emily and Alison kiss. You have to assume this was some kind of bait for thirsty 'shippers.
It's also a pairing for Emily who, without Paige, has been stag on the star-cross'd soulmate front for a questionable amount of time, bouncing instead between wayward women of the week, while all the heterosexuals seem to couple just fine. Paily should be the choice for Emily's part of the Summer of Romance but, if that is indeed the end game, "Tick Tock, Bitches" didn't seem interested in planting that seed in the same way they were planted for all the other boy-girl relationships. Which, unfortunately, is a common theme for Emily's love life lately.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, but in no way less disturbing, the first episode of Season 7 leaned heavily into Ezria. If nary a seed was planted for Paily, the seeds were broadcasted, fertilized, cropdusted, and prayed for in respect to Aria ditching nice-guy Liam for sad-sack bum Ezra.
It's hard to maintain a distaste for the pathetic former high school teacher now that his favorite student is a legal adult and he holds no position of authority (except for the years he invested in predation). But here we are, heavy hitting with the show's most nuanced mythology and possibly the most ridiculous romantic distraction of all.
With less than ten hours before Hanna either gets saved or dies in a wet T-shirt, Ezra offered that he and Aria should probably just go to sleep and that she should wear one of his shirts. Sure thing, Ezra. She denied him at first, but who can resist the sweet siren call of B-26 at Snookers? Ah, memories. Twisted, ephebophilic memories.
All of this contributes to an indication of the show's priorities. While chasing down A.D., rescuing Hanna, and figuring out whatever it is that Mary Drake wants are important to the show, producers also want to make sure, to the point of disruption, that they acknowledge the dedicated fans' fanciful desires, no matter how wanton and abominable.
Once Pretty Little Liars escalated to a social media fever pitch, it was no secret that there was a bit of catering to the whims of its audience. And now that we're in what might be the last year of the show, certainly the last chapter of this particular story (so says creator Marlene King), it makes sense that Pretty Little Liars wants to ensure that it tags every base on its home run lap.
Sure, it might make viewers of the show feel like we're on a herky-jerky roller coaster of emotions and camp. It's a small price to pay in order to get the answers the audience wants and the time with the most supported 'ships that the audience craves. So it makes sense that PLLtreats its relationships with the same sense of urgency that it devotes to the unraveling and eventual decline of Uber A/A.D./A-moji. Time's running out on being able to put buttons on the most sweeping of the show's romances. If that means Spencer has to take a break from life-or-death super-sleuthing in order to feel the sting of a Hanna-obsessed Caleb's sandwich rejection, that's what Pretty Little Liars is going to do.
Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on Freeform.