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'Pretty Little Liars' recap: 'Oh, What Hard Luck Stories They All Hand Me'

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Eric McCandless/ABC Family

Pretty Little Liars

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
ABC Family

Spencer’s new quasi-roommate is a perceptive man. Chalk it up to his artistic tendencies, maybe, but in half of a season he’s figured out the constant in Rosewood that continues to perplex its lifelong residents—it’s scored by whispers. As Johnny builds what he describes as a “perpetual motion machine powered by secrets,” it reveals a lot of the private realities of the Liars’ world.

Like what is the secret to obtaining a limitless supply of tape players for the mystery cassettes you stumble upon? Or how do you find such perfect hiding spots for everything while simultaneously ensuring that they will be posthumously discovered? Or what is the proper way to confront your little brother when you suddenly suspect that he could be wrapped up in this crazy train ride to hell that you’ve been on? These are the kind of questions that need to be asked of Rosewoodians, the things that they never stop to consider themselves.

So, bravo to Johnny and his mystery machine. Unfortunately, the show’s writing hasn’t approached Rosewood with the thoughtful nuance of the town’s new resident artist, and as a result we are left, week after week, reeling with new reveals. Now the biggest mystery in this show is how they’re getting from “A” to B.

Consider the first few seasons of Pretty Little Liars. Thoughtful fans of the show all had their theories on whom “A” could be, and as someone who didn’t read the books, I am proud to say that I successfully identified Mona as the mastermind behind it all. Although that was only half true, it was gratifying, nonetheless, to see her outed as “A.” It rewarded me as a viewer who had spent seasons of build up speculating—probably way too much, mind you—on who could be sadistic enough to torture the girls. The show left subtle hints along the way that guided you to the final solution, and pinpointing the right person held an undeniable degree of satisfaction.

Now it’s all permanently up in the air. There are constant twists and turns that lead us absolutely nowhere, making speculation and guessing an act of futility. This episode makes it apparent that we have lost any semblance of foresight into what will happen next, and we’re left to the mercy of the clearly sadistic creative team behind it all.

Take Mike, for example. The entirety of “Oh, What Hard Luck Stories They All Hand Me” sets him up as a key player in this whole drama. His mystery visits to Alison, his sudden aggression toward his big sister, his clear knowledge of Mona’s book. The problem is that there was nothing to set him up in this role. When is the last time that we’ve been forced to consider Mike’s storyline, even with his girlfriend being murdered? He’s been an underwhelming background character until the show decides that we should think of him as a suspect, seemingly out of the middle of nowhere.

But there is nothing to buy here. That isn’t to say that in subsequent episodes they won’t uncover giant flaws in Mike’s personality, but based on his obvious dedication to his dead girlfriend and emotional outbursts, it is hard to believe that he has played a part in this whole saga. And if he did, there was room to introduce that piece by piece rather than lumping into one moment. This is likely yet another of the faux reveals designed to throw fans off of the trail.

Or what about this book in Mona’s room? Until Lesley shows up, who we also know nothing about, there is absolutely nothing to indicate this integral part of Mona’s existence. All of a sudden there are Hanna flashbacks with the book that reveal this abundantly sinister side of Mona that we never saw before she was openly plotting against the girls. So how can it be that shocking when the tome held a key piece of Bethany’s stay at Radley in its spine? There had to be something that was coming out of those pages other than Hanna’s PTSD-like memories. Seriously. I hope Hanna stopped going to sleepovers after Mona’s near-crazed recitations and admission that she thought everyone had forgotten about Hanna’s allegedly dead friend.

NEXT: Holbrook finally returns[pagebreak]​

Now, as with all things in life, there are some certainties. In the case of the Liars, it’s death, taxes, and Holbrook. From the beginning of the season, we knew he was going to come back. Holbrook lingered in too many of the girls’ daily conversations to disappear into the Pretty Little Liars ether, making his return to Rosewood relatively palatable. It’s the kind of subtle(ish) plot building that the show has seriously lagged on this season. But even his grand reintroduction to the Rosewood PD was a bit unbelievable. After all of the time the Liars spent thinking about how Holbrook’s corruption could have marred the case against Alison, he immediately removed himself from the force after his reintroduction.

Talk about anti-climatic, but it’s doubtful that Holbrook is going away for good. His little chat with Hanna, which ended up in her badass blow, indicated that he has questions with no immediate answers, but that he isn’t going anywhere until he finds them. So perhaps the Liars shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Holbrook as the bad guy just because it seemed like he didn’t know anything about Ali’s recent schemes. Seriously. Think about all of the times that the girls spent building him up into some criminal mastermind, the time that they spent thinking, at least on some level, that he needed to be a complete sociopath. And suddenly, just by virtue of one fake pullover with Hanna (which was still creepy, by the way), they dismiss any notion that he could be working with Alison just because it seemed like he didn’t know what Hanna was talking about? Although kudos to Hanna, who had a rather “A”-like look of determination in her eye as she pulled away from the fake cop scene.

Speaking of certainties, Talia and Emily’s make-out session was another one. There was a weak attempt to cast doubt on the new (HOPEFUL) couple’s viability when Chef Talia treated Emily coolly toward the beginning of the episode. But after that gratuitous apron tie, you knew it was on. The only surprising thing, perhaps, is that Emily made the move on Talia. It seems that Em has something that we’d like to see from all of the Liars—a newfound sense of urgency and purpose.

Maybe it was sparked by the pure-intentioned honesty of Johnny’s whisper machine. And if he can make that kind of magic happen, I have a few other requests. First, could we please bring all of the characters back for a confessional? Alison has been MIA for a disturbing amount of time, and in this episode we didn’t hear a peep from Ezra or Toby, both of whom left the last episode with giant unresolved issues on the horizon. Second, could we get Mrs. Marin to tell us if she’s going to marry Ted? It was weighing on Caleb’s mind enough to ask Hanna about it in the police station, and, no lie, it’s still heavily hanging in the balance for the viewers.

It’s doubtful that Johnny’s secret machine will become some Real World Rosewood confessional booth. In fact, judging by the show’s short-term memory, it would be shocking to see the contraption reemerge outside of this episode. But it was nice to see an uninvolved character tap into the essence of the Rosewood without even trying, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him play some giant part in decoding this whole fiasco.

If for nothing else, he has understood that Rosewood runs on lies. And to a point, that is what the show creators have discovered, too. To a certain degree, that is what we’ve relied on as viewers, but now they lies and subsequent surprises that follow them have become nothing more than a constant reality rather than a plot twist. The real problem is that now they don’t tip us off beforehand.