Only Pretty Little Liars—master of both scream-inducing shocks and sigh-inducing letdowns—could have a “big reveal” episode where “A” is metaphorically “unmasked,” while literally keeping his mask on. Though “A’s” identity, some guy named “Charles,” was a bit of a letdown (Seriously, isn’t it kind of a cop-out to introduce a brand new character as the girls’ master tormentor?), at least we were given a really satisfying surprise: Mona’s alive. For real this time. I’m starting to think the twist of this whole series is that everyone in Rosewood is secretly immortal.
One of my fears didn’t come true, luckily: I was really worried throughout this Twilight Zone-inspired episode that at the end, the girls were going to wake up from some collective fever dream, and they’d still be in the back of the paddy wagon on the way to jail.
But luckily, “A’s” custom-built, life-sized dollhouse, with all its security cameras and electric doors, is as real and as sturdy as a block of wood—and just as inescapable.
We begin “Welcome to the Dollhouse” with the girls in a van in orange jumpsuits, where prison vet Hanna is telling Emily, Aria, and Spencer what life’s like on the inside. There’s the lady in the laundry room who gives you information in exchange for hard work. Oh, and also, you’ll feel lonelier than you’ve ever imagined you could feel.
Then the craziness begins: The van crashes into something, and a person with a gun climbs into the back, shoots some sort of gas into the wagon, and climbs in. When the Liars wake up, each girl thinks she’s in her own room—but they aren’t their rooms, they’re replicas with concrete outside the windows and doors, blank pictures in the frames, and cheap furniture.
A sterile, woman’s voice comes over the loudspeaker, like an announcement at Disney World: “Welcome. Willkommen. Bienvenidos. Please exit your rooms, and follow the lighted pathway.”
Here is where it feels like The Twilight Zone, or perhaps Are You Afraid Of The Dark? (That show is single-handedly responsible for most of my doll-centric nightmares.) The girls walk down a gray, cement hallway into a replica of the DeLaurentis living room, where a masked blonde is playing the piano. I’m expecting Alison’s face underneath the mask because she’s wearing the yellow tank top Ali was wearing the night she disappeared—but it turns out to be a blonde Mona. “Mona?” she says. “I know it’s been a while, but I haven’t changed that much, have I? You guys, it’s me, Alison.” Clearly she’s playing some sort of game, but the Liars can’t tell exactly what it is.
After suffering so much after Mona’s death, Hanna is in no mood to play along. Mona/Ali sets up a tea party, and continues to say things Ali might say. Aria: “We really thought you were dead.” Mona/Ali: “Thank God for Mrs. Grunwald.” When the girls are asked to play a Mystery Date board game (please, don’t let this be like Jumanji!), Hanna loses it.
She yells at the security camera: “You can have us as your precious dolls, but if you do anything to hurt Caleb, I will kill you.” There are five of them, she says, but only one of “A”: “him, her, it, bitch!” It doesn’t matter who or what “A” is—Hanna Marin has had enough.
At night, Mona comes to Hanna’s room. She’s dropped the Ali charade and warns that they have only three minutes. Apparently that’s how long it takes for the power to come back on—the electric current that locks the doors shut. But this isn’t a moment of hope: Like the boys in Maze Runner, Mona has tried every possible escape route, traveling as far as she can before the power comes back on. If the girls aren’t back in their rooms by the time it’s back, she warns, “A” leaves you without food or water for days, blasting a siren so long and loud that you wish you were dead.
Meanwhile, there are some weird things happening on the outside—possibly even weirder than the Liars being trapped in a life-size dollhouse. Spencer’s parents start working with Toby, Caleb, and Ezra to find the girls, and find “A.” I know: PARENTS HELPING! Such a weird concept in Rosewood. But first, a little bit of mystery: Mrs. Hastings got a call from Melissa, and answered it “Melissa, there’s something you should know.” Cut to a scene of Andrew, in his only appearance this episode (as far as I could tell) listening to the phone call on a laptop. More on this in Season 6, I guess. Something tells me he’s not “Charles,” even though technically, he could be. “Charles,” when we see him later, seems skinnier to me? But Andrew would be strong enough to do all the lifting and throwing of human bodies, as we noted last week…
Anyway, it turns out that some grownups—especially a fast-talking, fast-thinking pair of lawyers—are exactly the type of people who can finally get through to Detective Tanner. Tanner, as Toby tells the Hastings, twists every piece of information you give her to fit her own bogus theories, and I think we are all getting terribly sick of this. The Hastings arrange permission for Caleb to hack into the highway security cameras and track the prison van, which “A” hijacked by “cyberjacking” it (i.e. treating it like a remote control car. More dollhouse stuff, yay).
The line that helped Mr. Hastings finally convince Tanner? “Haven’t you asked yourself how four teenagers could be this good at evading the police?” Um, THANK YOU! This very simple logic has been a long time coming.
NEXT: A teeny tiny “reveAl”
Back at the Dollhouse, “A” leaves invitations to the senior prom. It’s not the 2015 prom, though, it’s one from a few years ago, one where Melissa Hastings went with Ian, and people danced to Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten.” When Spencer and Emily get put on the “decorating committee” (“A” is really going all out on this one… as if “A” doesn’t always go all out), Spencer realizes she can build some sort of machine out of the disposable cameras and a bunch of copper wire that will cut the Dollhouse’s power when Aria snaps a photo on one of the cameras. The Liars stage some fake arguments to distract “A” in the security cameras, while Mona gathers and preps the equipment.
Suspension of disbelief comes in handy here: I know Spencer is brilliant, but… Okay, okay, fine, she just read one time how to build a complex machine out of everyday equipment and memorized it. Fine.
The girls get into their prom dresses, with Mona once again in the Ali mask. Earlier, “A” gave Mona another mask—a gas mask, along with a note that said, “Because you’re my favorite. –A.” None of the other Liars got gas masks, and Mona didn’t have to use hers this week, so stay tuned on that front, too.
Spencer had figured out that the alphabet blocks in the playroom could be arranged to spell a name: Charles. So at the prom, which is populated by the five girls, a bunch of well-dressed mannequins in masks, and a shadowy figure, Spencer calls out to this Charles. Hanna says, “This is your prom, Charles. You should be crowned king.” Then Aria snaps the camera, the power goes out, and the girls are off on what’s probably the tenth marathon throughout this series that they’ve had to run while wearing gowns.
Detective Tanner, the Hastings, and the Boyfriends find the van parked at what the Hastings call “The Old Campbell Farm,” where they used to bring the girls to go apple picking. Campbell… as in Andrew Campbell? Tanner and Toby find “A’s” new lair: the room of televisions where “A” has been watching the girls in the Dollhouse. Tanner replays the footage of Hanna screaming at the camera: “he, she, it, bitch!” So it wasn’t all a dream! They really are trapped in the house, and Mona really is alive. Will Tanner believe the Liars now?
Spencer is alone in the room behind the vault Mona could never reach—it features a family of mannequins. There’s a projector set up, and she presses play. “This is your vault,” she says. “These are the things you treasure the most.” The footage shows a young mother holding a baby while blonde twin boys running around her at The Old Campbell Farm. But wait—that young mother is Mrs. DiLaurentis! Which means the baby is Ali? And the boys are Jason and… Jason’s twin? Andrew? (I still don’t think it’s Andrew.)
Let’s pause for a quick minute. If Jason has a twin, then that means Spencer has another half-sibling, right? But if it’s not a twin and the two boys aren’t actually the same age, the other kid—Charles—could be full-blooded DiLaurentis… or some other bloodline entirely.
Charles, still in his mask, steps up to Spencer. “Is that you, Charles?” she asks about the video. Mona enters the room, and Charles vanishes. So that was our big “reveAl”? Great. But Mona was surprised, at least: “This is not at all what I thought it would be. ‘A’ has a soul.”
And in an even bigger twist: The episode didn’t end with a tearful reunion of children and parents, or Liars and boyfriends. Bing Crosby’s “Don’t Fence Me In” starts to play over the loudspeaker as the Liars run out of the Dollhouse only to find that they’re still just that—fenced in. Then our camera zooms up, up, and up: The Dollhouse is in a tiny speck of a clearing within an incredibly massive forest. They’re completely alone. The Liars, Mona… and Charles.
Will Tanner, the Hastings, and the boyfriends find the girls? Will Charles take off his mask? Where does Andrew fall in all of this? Are any other dead people actually alive? As usual, PLL sort of answers one question, then leaves a million more in its wake.
Until season 6, Liars we’ll leave you with this fan tweet…
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