Pretty Little Liars premiere recap: 'Playtime'
So here we are, at the start of the final season. I’ll be honest, some days I didn’t think we’d ever get here. I thought “A” would be leaving doll heads and tooth messages well into the girls’ 40s. I thought “A’s” children would take up the game and start torturing the Liars’ children, like Rosewood’s own Hatfields and McCoys. With the end in sight, though, I’m happy to finally have some answers on the horizon.
But first, here are some Season 7A finale cliffhangers that get resolved in the first, oh, three minutes of the show: Spencer got shot but she’s fine, just has her arm in a sling. Toby is completely fine other than needing a crutch to walk. Yvonne, on the other hand, remains in a medically induced coma a week after the accident. Yvonne deserves better than this, but at least if she stays unconscious Toby and Spencer will be able to get back together…
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Oh and then remember how Emily and Paige were up for the same swim coach job at Rosewood High, and it was very dramatic and all that? Problem solved: They both get hired! Emily is the swim coach and Paige is now, much to Ali’s chagrin, “athletic supervisor.”
Ezra comes home after just a week with the newly found Nicole (for once on this show could somebody just stay dead?), but things are tense between him and Aria. He doesn’t exactly say what he’s going to do about this new situation, but he isn’t ready to make any big decisions. The best thing about him being home is this line about Toby and Yvonne’s wreck: “All of the things that have happened in this town, and those two get taken out by a deer?” Sensitive, Ezra!
The big news of the episode — and the season — is waiting in a giant black box at Spencer’s house. (Her parents aren’t home, because who would cut a trip to Europe short when their daughter is hospitalized for a pesky gunshot wound?) They open it, and inside is an elaborate board game called Liar’s Lament, with Liar figurines that can hop around a miniature Rosewood. Best of all, the centerpiece is a cell phone, “A’s” preferred communication method for all seven seasons. Hellooo Pretty Little Liars-themed Jumanji! I don’t know about you guys, but I am all in for this game to drive the rest of the season. This show is at its best when it goes really high-concept (like the Dollhouse episodes), and hopefully this game continues that. There are a couple issues with it though, which I’ll get to in a bit.
First, let’s buzz through some of the less interesting stuff to get to the meat of this episode. Hanna and Caleb are back and better than ever. Hanna still wants to get her fashion business off the ground, so Mona offers to help, and she snags Hanna a gig dressing a New York senator’s daughter for a few different events. They hit a snag when it seems like the daughter thinks Mona is Hanna’s boss, but they work it out (for now, at least).
Lest we forget that Ali works at Rosewood High, too, she and Paige get placed on a committee together, and Ali lets her daggers fly right into Paige, in front of an administrator who’s known them all since they were students. Emily is caught in the middle — she confronts Ali, who ends up admitting that she feels like she doesn’t know who she is anymore (fair) and is frustrated that all her memories with Rollins are now fake memories (again, fair). But Emily also steps up and, when Ali can’t answer why she kissed Emily, tells her, “Don’t kiss me again. Not until you know.” I am really curious whether showrunner I. Marlene King is going to make Emison actually be the “endgame” the fans have craved for so long. Anyway, when Emily goes back to Paige with the non-kiss-related news from that conversation, Paige reminds her that regardless of her identity, Ali loves playing the victim, and Emily just loves being the one to save her.
Jenna and Mary Drake are both apparently missing. Not a surprise.
Ezra, as we’ve established, isn’t physically missing, but his mind/heart are another story. Hanna tells Aria to just plan the whole wedding herself, and then when Ezra is ready to come back to her, the plans will all be set. Um… is that the best advice, Hanna? Really? So anyway, they go to a venue to check it out, and who’s there working as the manager/tour guide but Aria’s very important, totally memorable childhood friend Holden from season 3! (Real talk, I couldn’t have remembered who Holden was to save my life. Thank god for articles that explained he’s the guy Aria fake-dated so she could date Ezra in high school. He looks like Lucas 2.0.) Holden is shocked Aria is marrying Ezra — and even more shocked when they run into Ezra and Ezra tells Aria he has to go back to New York at the behest of Nicole’s parents. “Who’s Nicole?” Holden asks. EXACTLY, HOLDEN.
Okay, now for the scene we were all waiting for — the continuation of the finale’s huge reveal that, according to Mary Drake, she’s Spencer’s mom. Veronica Hastings finally arrives home to Spencer and asks how she’s doing. “That’s going to depend on the next few minutes,” Spencer says, and launches into her confrontation. Veronica dodges it for a few minutes and one commercial break before admitting that yes, Mary Drake is Spencer’s mother… but at least her slimy dad is her real father! Turns out he banged Mary Drake thinking she was Jessica DiLaurentis. (Give me a break. Give me 10,000 breaks. Every dad on this show sucks except Mr. Fields and they had to go and kill him!!) Then Jessica came to the Hastings’ door later and, worried that this baby would disappear into the system after being born in Radley, Veronica decided to adopt Spencer, with the help of Judge Kahn, Noel’s daddy. (R.I.P. Noel, you poor, decapitated demon.) The story and scene are sweet, but the flashback to Spencer’s “birth” is ridiculous — Veronica sits outside Radley in a car and waits for a man in a trench coat and a fedora to hand her the swaddled baby. As my colleague Sam Highfill noted on Twitter, of course Spencer was “born inside a film noir.” Oh, this beautiful, weird, stupid show!
The conversation didn’t really help Spencer at all. Like Ali, she’s feeling like her life is a lie (they’re half-cousins after all), so she decides to play A.D.’s game. Why not? What does she have to lose? She puts the game-phone in its place, and it asks her to pick Truth or Dare. She picks Dare. “Visit a sick friend. Get a reward,” the screen reads, showing a picture of Toby’s face. She goes, they have a laugh, and Spencer quotes The Great Gatsby at him, and then she goes back to Jumanji Liar’s Lament. The game spits out an envelope on Radley stationery that reads, “For my child.” It’s a letter from Mary Drake telling Spencer (Baby Spencer, we assume), “It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” and that she did it because Jessica and the Hastings needed to be “punished,” but that she hopes Spencer will forgive her someday. In the envelope, there’s also a shiny puzzle piece, which belongs in the rectangle under the cell phone on the game. And did that handy puzzle piece outline just appear there? Is the game magic, too?
Finally, later, Spencer calls the Liars over to investigate the game. “If the note really did come out of that thing, I say we get a crowbar,” says Hanna, the only one who’s being realistic. They try to stop her (“it’s not a piñata!”) but it doesn’t really matter — when she brings a knife close to the box, the phone cues up the video of the Liars burying Rollins. Ah, so A.D. still has that. Great.
In the final scene, we see Jenna (with… newly red hair?) in a dark but seemingly boundless room like the place where Scarlett Johansson goes to feed in Under the Skin. She’s drinking tea and says to someone offscreen, “You said you’d tell me today about the game.” Someone dressed in a nurse’s uniform (modern, not Radley costume) drops a binder in Jenna’s lap with pages of Braille. Jenna reads for a second and then whispers, “Endgame,” while smiling slowly in her creepy way. Is the nurse A.D. or is that person working for A.D.? Is Jenna still on the team, or just a well-informed hostage now?
More importantly, here are some questions about the game:
- Do they have to charge the cell phone? It’s not plugged in, and we all know how quickly phones die.
- They addressed this, but didn’t answer it: Are all the clues and blackmail and stuff the Liars will “get” during the game already in the box? Or does A.D. sneak in at night and deposit the latest thing? I get that it has a “security alarm” in that blackmail video but… unless this box is like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag, there’s a finite amount of space in there.
- Why is Hanna’s little gamepiece the only one with accessories (shopping bags)?
- Is the phone on Wifi? Who gave A.D. the Hastings’ password?
- Is there a camera on it or did it detect the knife via motion sensor? I pretty much assume A.D. has cameras on all the Liars at all times, but this seems like a very obvious way to keep them under constant, and almost voluntary, surveillance.
Either way, I am looking forward to seeing what they do with the game… and kind of hoping Freeform decides to create and sell it. Nine more episodes to go, Liars!