This week’s Pretty Little Liars? was a work of art. Seriously. This is how you do a serialized mystery show that’s about more than just the mystery.
I’m sure some fans will feel frustrated as the #SummerOfAnswers winds down and we get closer to finally being #FaceToFace with A, or Charles, or Black Widow, or Red Coat, or whoever may be answering to those names or hiding behind those identities. And this week’s episode was about ramping up the tension and pouring some energy into those frustrations — like soaking a fireworks factory in gasoline before lighting a match in the midseason finale in a mere two weeks.
Or, make that an abandoned dollhouse factory where our brand-new suspect, Rhys Matthews, meets with Clark, whom we’ve all wanted to find more suspicious, for who-knows-what late at night. The dude from the subplot involving Aria’s newfound photography resurgence is meeting the guy from the Carissimi group who looks like Jason DiLaurentis/Wren Kingston/Christian Grey? Of course!
Half of this is just moving the chess pieces around the board, preparing us for the final moves and deadly gambits; but I almost wished they had gone even more fan service-y here and had Melissa drive up and then reveal Sara Harvey to be taking yet another shower inside.
In fact, “Shower Harvey,” as the fans have lovingly dubbed her, is one of the few elements missing from this episode as we see the individual Liars’ threads intertwining with some of this season’s endgame shenanigans. Spencer and Hanna are still the best detective duo ever as they grill Rhys about his mysterious group, the mysterious scholarship money they’ve awarded Hanna and his even more mysterious employer. And Aria, who’s been throwing herself into her doll torture-themed photography as a coping mechanism, is a finalist in an art show. But at least Emily is coming to terms with her romantic interest in Sara, and that she’d like to ask her to be her date to the upcoming prom.
And Tanner returns!
For several seasons now, there’s been a vocal contingent of fans online who dislike Lt. Tanner because she’s either not a man with an unnatural fixation on teenage girls, or because she’s possibly a good detective whose investigation has been hampered by the Liars’ constant blatant lies. But I’ve always liked Tanner, especially the way Roma Maffia plays her, like she’s working on levels that we can’t comprehend yet, or that she knows a lot more about what’s going on in Rosewood than the Liars would think.
In this episode, Tanner is acting a little shady, which may just be a product of prolonged exposure to Rosewood. But she’s critiquing Aria’s art, pushing her toward attending the art show, and even looking for deeper double meanings in A’s messages. Is it possible, as she surmises, that Charles is personally sending her messages since he’s miffed at her rescuing the Liars earlier this season, freeing his dolls before he could finish playing with them?
But Aria’s art show, which reminded me quite a bit of the fashion show from Season 2, is some of A’s finest social engineering and ontological terrorism. At some point, he, or one of his minions (whom Tanner sees in the security footage she reviews), switches out the doll torture photos that Aria had submitted as her pieces, so that when her work is unveiled before all the attendees, it’s actually a series of four portraits of each Liar on those morgue slabs from “Game On, Charles.”
This is a twisted, brutal image and a clever reminder not only of how deadly the game ChArles is playing is, but how good the show is at referencing some of its intentional moves. Rather than, you know, just shaking up a magic eight ball, like Spencer does in Rhys’ office, and seeing what happens.
In hearing that the title of this episode was going to be “Framed,” I think a lot of us started to imagine possible story lines where a beloved character, maybe Toby, is set up as A, and gets in trouble with the law. But the title is so much more fitting — and messed up: In these pictures, Charles has trapped the Liars in yet another box. Stripped, separated from each other, subject to someone else’s eye, and on display. It’s Aria’s big night, but A instead stands for Art here. Charles’ Art.
And we haven’t even talked about whatever is going on with Aria and Ezra (and Nicole and Habitat For Humanity) here, or Alison getting back to her Alison roots and breaking into the police’s investigation into her psychopathic/misunderstood brother, or that Mom Summit between Ashley and Ella (are they going to form a Mom Vigilante Posse next week?). But there’s so much happening here that you’d think the show still has several more episodes to go to wrap all this up — not just two. And yet, the plotting feels confident and assured. It feels like the show is getting us right where it wants us for something big.
In conclusion, I honestly can’t wait for this amazing teenage murder show to tread further into the woods for its dark, fairy-tale ending. Or rather, for it to take us there in a limo with Black Hoodie and Red Coat to the absolutely crazy and totally fitting “The Enchanted Forest”-themed Rosewood Prom. We’re so lucky that ChArles saved the last dance for us.