This post contains spoilers for the Pretty Little Liars Halloween special, “Grave New World,” as well as spoilers for the episodes that aired over the summer.
There’s a lot of good television to be had on Tuesday nights. That’s what my Twitter timeline tells me, anyway. My plate is relatively full on Tuesday nights, so I must’ve been pretty excited to set aside my new favorite comedy (please watch Brooklyn Nine Nine, I don’t ask you for much!) in order to watch four of the most hilariously dressed teenage girls run around a haunted mansion for an entire hour of a backdoor-pilot-Halloween-special, right?
So, to rewind a bit, at the end of the summer half-season, we learned that Ezra may or may not be one of the A’s. The little liars stumbled upon his lair (or as the show would hashtag it, “#lAir”) in Ravenswood, and it led to the greatest gifset known to mankind. We’re supposed to believe this is a red herring of sorts, because Mona (#MonA) turned out to mostly not really be completely A (it’s #complicAted), and Toby (whose name tragically does not have an “A” in it to capitalize for the relevant hashtags) was also not really A, meanwhile Ali is running around all alive so we don’t know what to think.
I choose to believe Ezra is #EzrA because nothing bad ever happens to Aria, his one true 17-year-old love. The worst thing that ever happened to her was being locked in that box with #deAd #gArrett (okay, I’ve taken the joke too far, I’ll stop now). On the spectrum of terrible things that have happened to these girls, it wasn’t so bad.
Still, I suspect this show will wuss out and make it so Ezra was only part of the A team because he was trying to help Aria or something lame like that. They did it with Toby, and viewers were much less invested in his relationship with Spencer than they were/are with Ezra and Aria. And I say that as a Toby fan.
The primary problem with this episode is that it’s a Halloween special. Historically, Pretty Little Liars has delivered lacklustre Halloween specials, despite all the pomp and circumstance they get from the network. If it’s not flashbacks to when Ali was alive, it’s weird one-off storylines where Hanna’s mother encounters a ghost girl who is completely irrelevant to the plot of the show. After three seasons of this, the avid viewer knows not to expect too much from these specials. (I can’t even fathom what the casual viewer makes of this show.)
The actual problem with this episode is that it’s a backdoor pilot for Ravenswood, a show that premiered right after the Halloween special. Backdoor pilots are tricky, because they’re meant to set up a show to spin off out of the same universe as the show you’re watching, but it also asks the viewers to invest a lot of time in characters they don’t normally care about. (Gossip Girl failed miserably at its backdoor pilot, and the CW just recently tried again by spinning off The Originals from The Vampire Diaries, though the jury [and ratings] are still out on that one.) Tonight’s Pretty Little Liars spent half of the episode on Caleb riding a bus with an adorable little brunette named Miranda. She’s cute enough objectively to pique our interest, but when the Liars are running around crypts and old mansions and generally making bad decisions, it’s hard to care about the charming girl who is trying to steal a bag of chips from a creepy old man on a bus.
Moreover, most of Caleb’s appeal is his bad-boy-turned-good-boyfriend demeanor, which is 90% thanks to Hanna. They are a winning duo, and they are a couple we cheered for because they’re rooted in honesty. It was really hard to watch Caleb connect with Miranda, and it was really hard to stomach Hanna telling Caleb to stay behind in Ravenswood and help this adorable perfect stranger. It’s not something I like to see Hanna doing, and it makes the entire premise of Caleb staying in Ravenswood feel shaky, even after he discovers his likeness on a gravestone. I get why they want to spin Caleb off onto his own show–he’s the only recurring character with a murky enough backstory and the ability to carry a show–but I think splitting him from Hanna will actually do him a disservice in the fanbase. That remains to be seen, probably on the Ravenswood front, because I’m betting Hanna will have her hands full with tonight’s reveals.
As far as the Liars, I’d give you the play-by-play of the episode, but it basically consisted of a rather contrived graveyard party in a perpetually foggy town, the aforementioned bus ride, a lot of frightening props, and a gratuitous shot of rats for no good reason. Hanna got stuck in a phone booth at one point, and she tried to dial out on a rotary phone.
Aria and Emily teamed up to make the World’s Dumbest Duo, complete with them both sticking their heads under a broken window and narrowly escaping decapitation. Spencer was attacked by EzrA, or we’re supposed to believe it was EzrA because of the creepy Victorian gas mask getup, but she somehow didn’t manage to Spencer her way into unmasking him.
Due to the lack of good material for Spencer, good scenes were few and far between, but the best scene was definitely when Miranda rescued Hanna from the phone booth. Both girls treated each other with suspicion until Miranda found out that Hanna was Caleb’s girlfriend.
They ran around the house together, trading quips and being generally awesome, until Miranda went to find Caleb so he could give Hanna the worlds most amazing looking hug.
I’m gonna miss these two in action.
Anyway, the upshot of the episode is that 8:57pm rolled around and we were all thinking that this was a waste of a good hour, and then this happened:
And the funny thing is, we all already knew Ali was alive: the viewers have known for a while, and the girls found out in the summer finale. As far as reveals go, this wasn’t a huge one, but it was pretty significant. I’m a big fan of Sasha Pieterse, who plays Ali, and she was fantastic in this scene. She was reminiscent of the old Ali, the domineering one we see in flashbacks, but she also portrayed fear and love at the sight of her friends. Don’t get me wrong, Ali’s still sort of a villain at this point, but man, Sasha and Troian Bellisario (Spencer) are on a whole different plane, acting-wise, than the rest of the young actors on this show.
She’s clearly terrified as she talks to the girls, imploring Hanna to remember what she said to her at the hospital, and she disappears when Ezra emerges from the brush, handing Aria her forgotten phone.
They should’ve had a better reason for Caleb leaving his town and his girlfriend. It wouldn’t have been that hard for Caleb to discover his name and likeness on a gravestone a little sooner, so that Hanna could say “Wow, that’s creepy, maybe you should stay here and get to the bottom of this.” Now, we either have to worry about the inevitable love triangle, or we have to hope that Caleb and Miranda are somehow related.
We also should’ve been treated to a bit more from Ali, considering what we sat through for 57 minutes. We should’ve had concrete proof that she’s afraid of Ezra, or some kind of indicator about her endgame, or just a little hint as to what she’s been up to for the past two years.
At least we had Thor talking to us from an abandoned building at every commercial break. He said the words “Pretty Little Liars” at one point, so that kind of made the entire hour worth it to me.