How many stops does Pretty Little Liars have left to pull out? Have they gone completely for broke? And what about the holds? How many could there possibly be left to bar?
I just watched a sequence where sultry prison guard Mona (Janel Parrish) serenaded Aria (Lucy Hale) in a surreal cover of "Jailhouse Rock." Aria, dressed in a toilet paper wedding gown, watched as her beau Ezra (Ian Harding) got the daylights knocked out of him by fellow prisoners. As the jailed couple finally staggers their way to the altar, instead of delivering a reprieve from the devastating horrors of jailhouse hazing, the officiant Veronica Hastings (Lesley Fera) only offers some choice words for Aria (language warning): "You're just a selfish little bitch. And I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire." My pearls! They're clutched!
I want to do a frame-by-frame analysis of this sequence. It's beautiful and the implications are stunning. Is Mona only there because Spencer (Troian Bellisario), for some reason, still can't find herself able to trust her intellectual equal? It's not a coincidence that we see Ezra get pummeled in the same episode that reminds us of Ezria's complicated history and borderline criminal power dynamic — one that is famously punished by prison toughs with lines in the sand, right? Has Aria ever watched a movie made after 1960?
Season 7B has a real "shake out the notebook" feel to it. Whatever you have left stored in your heads, writers, whatever plots and twists and things you want to say, get it out now. There's no tomorrow. In three episodes, these specific Liars will have some kind of resolution and if you have something you want Ashley Marin (Laura Leighton) to say to Hanna (Ashley Benson) or a punch in the eye you want to give Peter Hastings (Nolan North), now is the time to do it. And as admirable as Peter's stated intentions are, there are fewer people in Rosewood that aren't wearing hoodies that deserve a larger, heavier, ring-studded punch in the eye. I'm saying Veronica should finish him with a left hook.
And even though this show is getting it all out (like their black and white musical theater nods), there's a distinct direction. Pretty Little Liars has, for most of its life, been beholden to and gracious for its fans. And while the end game that every viewer universally wants is a decent answer to the final A.D. puzzle, the show has been throwing various bones to fans throughout the season. Let's see how some of the fandom's wishes have been granted.
Ezria is justified: After a painstakingly grueling process of watching Aria and Ezra maintain this facade of a loving relationship while dancing around the subject of a teacher taking advantage of a minor and Ezra's stint as a grown-up spying on teenage girls, the five-year jump took the legs out of the Ezria-haters' main argument. I mean, there's still this historical precedent where, yes, he was her teacher and, yes, he continued to sleep with her while she was a teen and he was a grown man. But they softened us up with Sad Sack Ezra, the Gloomy Gus that was just miserable about Nicole's (Rebecca Breeds) disappearance, but not miserable enough stay sad and not fall back in love with Aria. And now there's a wedding! Probably! It all kind of depends on how Aria deals with her recent bout with being a Rosewood terrorist.
Aria is A: Go on YouTube and you'll find hundreds of videos with fan theories about how Aria is actually A. And while Aria isn't Uber A/A.D./Mrs. Horowitz (Cathy Ladman), the genius of this storyline is how they're addressing all the crackpot evidence the videos have against Aria. For example, one of the major points is that Aria has suffered the least throughout the series, that A has spared her, so, therefore, she must be A (this was also a reason for why Ezra was A). The show has twisted that into A.D. skipping Aria's turns in Liars' Lament, the board game the Liars are forced to play, and at least Hanna is picking up on the fact that her tiniest friend is getting a free pass. We also get to see some extra shame from Aria as she wrestles with what she's doing and Ezra trying to psych up his distant bride-to-be only to get shot down by some pretty devastating trust issues between them. That marriage is going to be a doozy.
Emison is real: What started off as a kernel of manipulation between Ali (Sasha Pieterse) and Emily (Shay Mitchell) has turned into something much more. There are obviously two ways to think about this relationship given its history. You can see this as Alison trusting implicitly that Emily will never leave her because of her years of hard work at molding herself into a trophy for Emily, something that has turned into a psychosexual experience where they can only love each other because they're so damaged. Or, you can look at it like how the show wants us to: Alison has always had some feelings for Emily and it's only through these extremely arduous times that she's come to realize they were meant to be together. And now they're having a baby. Ezria might be the only other 'ship on this show that had a more hardly fought campaign and, with the vanishing of Paige (Lindsey Shaw), Emison is our reality. What a world!
A musical number is now in the show: I just need to talk about this a little bit more. Janel Parrish is no stranger to music or musical theater and her personal fans have been wondering when or if she'd get a chance to use those chops again (since the winter ball seems like forever ago). So dropping in a little number for her to sing in this bizarre way feels like a little bit of fan service. And that's not to mention that this show has not shied away from popular tropes of the long-running series with novelty episodes (think back to the Spencer's noir dream). I'm actually a little surprised we haven't seen Mona pass out at the Radley or something so we could have an entirely musical dream episode inside the sanitarium. Oh, I'm the only one that wants to see a representation of what's happening in Mona's head? You're right. It's un-filmable. It's hard to portray the thought process of a fifth-dimensional being.
All the twinning: This last one has yet to be proven, but is a fan theory that might have to be addressed. So far we've had two sets of "twins": Jessica DiLaurentis and Mary Drake (Andrea Parker) as actual twins and one perceived set in CeCe Drake (Vanessa Ray) and Alison. Spencer showing up at the airport with Wren (Julian Morris) was completely discontinuous with Spencer's state of mind that episode, which leads people to wonder if there's a Spencer clone around or if that's one of those really clever and wildly deceptive latex masks that've been going around. Twinning as a concept is a big deal in PLL since so much of identity is spoofed between the life masks of the Liars and the obscure anonymity of the A Team. Hoodies all look the same. And A.D. can look like an uncanny version of Aria. This all plays with the concept of A.D. being everywhere at once, which means there needs to be identical sets of A.D. everywhere. It's pervasive. And in a show that can be very silly (I tried to explain the significance of shovels last night to my fiancee and had to give up after a full minute of backstory and seeing the glazed look in her eyes), the concept of identity and how fluid it can be might be one of the interesting ideas this show presents.
That being said, if that Spencer at the airport wasn't a twin and was just A.D. in a Spencer mask, I'd love to see that scene from another perspective where Ezra is talking to someone wearing a latex mask, totally fooled, but everyone else can see the seams and is wondering why their conversation is so casual given that she looks like a Newfoundland mummer. I say this as someone that believes the work necessary to fool someone with a mask requires a Herculean Mrs. Doubtfire effort with hours in the chair and not just a pull-it-on-and-off kind of deal like a Halloween mask. Jane the Virgin excluded.
The fact that this season is about a lot of fan service might be one of my favorite things about it. This show is keeping to the integrity of what it is (complete and utter insanity) while thanking all the people that helped support it through seven seasons. Say what you want about Pretty Little Liars -- that it's soapy or trite or made for the youth — but its connection to the fanbase is unique and what a way to say goodbye.