Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pretty Little Liars: “She’s No Angel” Recap & Review

Um…what was that?

Out of all the crazy and creepy things seen over five seasons, the opener to this particular episode doesn’t just take the cake when it comes to weird. It takes the entire pastry shop.

While caught in a nightmare, Spencer roams Radley Institute’s desolate halls, crossing paths with a feral young girl. Frightened, the mysterious youth (Maddie Ziegler) runs inside an old tiled room and begins…performing an interpretive dance? Yep. Between her long plastered locks, raggedy old gown, and contorted movements, the whole display is quite unsettling to say the least. When Spencer finally awakens, she can’t shake the feeling of familiarity to the place and turns to Aria for help without much luck.

All Aria wants to do is focus on moving forward. Sadly, how Ms. Montgomery goes about doing so over the course of the episode is rather idiotic at best. When hunky artist, Clark, invites her out to a local junkyard to take some vintage photographs, she jumps at the opportunity. Really? You just recent escaped a madman’s lair, and you’re running off with strangers to a creepy remote location? Did your parents not teach you the importance of “stranger danger”?

While scouring the junkyard for some good shots, Aria notices a hooded figure lurking nearby. And what does she do? She tries chasing the perp into an abandoned shed, which luckily happens to be empty.

Again, are you serious, Aria?

Honestly, what was she going to do if she did run into “A”? Beat him up with her Nikon? Blind him with her flash function?

Thankfully (and despite Aria’s idiocy), something of use comes out of the trip. As it turns out, an unsuspecting Clark captured something of particular interest in one of his photos. Though the person’s face is still obscured in the image, the hooded figure sports a particular set of assets.

A bust.

Could “A” really be a girl?

As this notion is combed over, Hanna finds a surprise guest waiting for her come breakfast. Mona, who is apparently taking styling tips from Jenna now, has regrettably returned home to Rosewood and is dreading every minute of being back. Given that she faked her death and framed Alison for her murder, she knows she has her fair share of enemies to deal with. The one she doesn’t see coming? Leslie Stone. Apparently, the possibility of being charged with perjury, not to mention an accessory in faking Mona’s death, makes Leslie about as huggable as a porcupine right about now. She calls out Mona, even calling her the B-word, and warns her to stay away.

On the other side of town, Mrs. Harvey apparently wants her daughter to come back home, and Emily’s none too thrilled about the prospect. All Sarah’s mother really wants is the money that comes with exploiting her daughter’s situation to the media. Convincing Caleb to lend a helping hand, Emily works towards getting Sarah legally emancipated. Sadly, not everyone is finding it so easy to move forward. Struggling with her recent pot vice, Spencer decides to drop in on an addictions meeting, where she runs into her former-sponsor, Dean. Finally having someone to talk to about her struggles with substance abuse, Spencer finds her way back onto the right track and kicks her habit on the spot.

With a clear mind, she decides to take a trip to the recently closed Radley Institute with Hanna by her side. The girls wander the basement, hoping to find any evidence regarding Charles’s stay, and they discover the tiled room from Spencer’s dream. Inside, they find medical records confirming Charles’s death, including a list of organ donations. Archetypal to a creepy asylum, things goes bump in the night, prompting the girls to abandon their investigation. Heading back through the corridors, the pair hears a ruckus coming from behind one of the doors. Spencer looks for anything to arm herself with (something a smart person does, Aria) and grabs a metallic crutch. Hanna pushes the door open and Spencer steps inside, ready to swing. She stops though at the sight of finding Mona clutching a stack of hospital records.

Tired of all the games, Spencer pries the mystery file from Mona’s hands as Hanna demands to know why she needed to steal her own records from Radley. Surprise, surprise. The records don’t belong to Mona. They’re Leslie’s. It seems that Ms. Stone had been a patient in the facility for years, which is where she met Mona and possibly even Charles.

All the Liars reconvene at Hanna’s to discuss their findings. The fact that Clark’s photo confirms a female is behind the hooded sweatshirt makes Leslie a likely suspect. The fact that she shared a room with Bethany Young at Radley…well, you get the picture. Mona breaks the news to Leslie that the Liars know about her past, in which Leslie blows a gasket. The show closes with “A” constructing a doll-sized wing made of black and pink hair.

“She’s No Angel” steers PLL back on the right track following last week’s rather lackluster episode. Leslie’s history definitely makes her suspicious, perhaps a member of the “A”-team, but it seems too easy, doesn’t it? The enigmatic Sarah Harvey on the other hand leaves much room for speculation. She’s already cast a spell over both Emily and her mother, and now she’ll be working for Caleb, so who knows how long until she charms him over as well? The pacing plays out nicely, and the episode holds viewers’ attention with compelling information and suspense, enough that we can all overlook Aria’s poor judgments. Well…almost.

Pretty Little Liars - “She’s No Angel” Rating:  A -

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pretty Little Liars: “Don’t Look Now” Recap & Review

Mr. DeLaurentis finally tells his children the “truth” about Charles. Apparently, the eldest sibling of the clan displayed some rather disturbing behavioral issues from a young age. After attempting to drown a baby Alison in the bathtub, Charles was sentenced to the Radley Institute, where he killed himself by the time he turned sixteen. Mr. DeLaurentis just so happened to be out of town at the time of his son’s death, and his wife decided to cremate Charles without so much as holding a funeral service for his passing. Alison relays the tale to the Liars, and the ever so blunt Hanna immediately calls bull. Considering this is “A” we’re talking about here, would anybody buy this story? No funeral, no living witnesses to question, and no paperwork to back up any of this. As Shakespeare would say, “there’s something rotten in Denmark.”

Though the girls may have escaped the Dollhouse, they still can’t help but feel smothered in one form or another. Spencer’s anxiety and sleep deprivation consumes her every moment. Since her mother cut her off from anti-anxiety medication, Spencer resorts to dumpster diving in the Montgomery’s trash when she learns that Aria has tossed out her meds. When the effort leaves her empty-handed, she turns to accepting special brownies from Ezra’s new baker. Fitz catches on to what Spencer’s doing and lends his opinion on the matter, but the words fall on deaf ears. All Spencer wants is peace, even if it’s only temporary.

Tensions continue to boil as Hanna finally blows a gasket over the fact that Caleb is constantly hovering around her like an overprotective hawk. She’s “smothered” by him always being around, and after she discovers that he’s even planted a GPS tracker on her car to keep tabs on her, she firmly declares that she “needs space.”

Things aren’t going any better over at the Fields’ residence as Sarah Harvey’s presence and skittish behavior sends up some more red flags for Emily’s mother. Ms. Fields forces Emily into seeing a therapist, whether she’s ready to open up about her experiences or not. Sarah refuses to seek counseling though and even resorts to running away. Emily insists that she can help Sarah, and decides to take Ms. Harvey to the community swimming pool. The girls share in a late night dip, in which Sarah finally seems to relax during the activity.

Lastly, Aria finds that her father has entered into full-blown papa bear mode, insisting on escorting her everywhere she goes. Having recently been bitten by the shutterbug, she finally manages to get some time alone when she visits the college to use their darkroom. As she develops some snapshots though, she freaks out upon finding a note from “A” insisting that Aria is still “MY doll, bitch.” Apparently, Charles went all I Know What You Did Last Summer on Aria while in the Dollhouse by chopping off her locks after she refused to dye her hair pink, explaining her new ‘do. Aria tries to flee from the darkroom, but soon discovers that she’s been locked inside. As only PLL can, a handsome helping hand comes to her rescue in the form of Clark, a gorgeous fellow photog, who pulls out the wedge “A” planted in the door.

Unconvinced by Charles’s supposed death, the Liars try to track down his medical records from Radley. Given that the facility closed down, they’re forced to sneak into Riverhill Davis Center, the place where the remaining patient records are being sent for shredding. As per usual, Charles’s record is incomplete, missing all paperwork in accordance to his “death”. Noticing that Alison’s deceased great-aunt was on the visitor’s log, they, along with Jason, go out to her old house with the belief that Charles is actually squatting there. They do in fact find him resting…just not in the way they expected. Jason and Ali uncover a grave in the backyard, with Charles’s name engraved on the headstone. It’s legitimate. The show closes out with the hooded “A” observing a computer monitor, where each of the Liars’ locations are pinpointed out on a map via GPS tracker. Can you say creepy?

“Don’t Look Now” definitely has its fair share of twists and insight, but it does have its problems, particularly with convenience. Sneaking inside a facility to get medical records would generally inspire a cute, low-grade Mission: Impossible heist plan, but instead, the girls just so conveniently walk right in through the backdoor without anyone noticing. ANYONE. Then, Jason just so happens to recall a bizarre occurrence at his great-aunt’s house that he never thought strange enough to investigate until…how long after the fact?
That’s not even the worst. The biggest issue of all comes in the form of a particular relationship fail.

Yes, Hanna and Caleb.

What. Just. Happened?

The strongest couple on the show suddenly goes on a break, because Caleb was being…a loving boyfriend? Oh, how awful for you, Hanna. The man helped rescue you from a psychopath’s lair and only wants to keep you safe. Your response: push him away for caring that much. Seriously? If this development doesn’t inspire fantasies of throwing your remote control at the TV, then I’m not sure what will. This was sadly not season six’s best.

Pretty Little Liars - “Don’t Look Now” Rating:  C +

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pretty Little Liars: “Songs of Experience” Recap & Review

The girls may be home, but the chance at returning to a normal life is looking pretty bleak. Having originally planned to grab a cup of coffee to-go before joining Hanna at school for their first day back, Aria finds herself unable to leave The Brew. Ezra takes notice to her prolonged visit, seeing the obvious unrest in her eyes. She, along with the remaining Liars, can’t quite face the music just yet. Fitz reassures Aria that there’s no pressure to jump back into things if she isn’t ready. The pair decides to utilize their time by doing a little detective work. Posing as a police officer, Ezra calls the hospital in an attempt to get information on Andrew’s medical history. Though he doesn’t get anything solid from the nurse due to confidentiality, he does pick up on an interesting tidbit. The information regarding Andrew’s birthplace and date of birth are sealed…with the rest of his adoption records. Aria theorizes that Campbell could be lying about his age, and therefore could be old enough to be Charles DeLaurentis.

Given that her mother has invited Sarah Harvey to crash at the Fields’ house for the time being, Emily stays home to play host to the frazzled kidnapping victim. Sarah’s anything but enthused about returning home to her own mother, considering she doesn’t feel overly welcome there. Apparently, Mrs. Harvey gave away all her daughter’s belongings during her disappearance for the sake of needing the unused space. Ouch.

Spencer spars with Ali over Charles’s identity and takes the matter to her brother. Jason swears he doesn’t know anyone in the family by the name of Charles, but something clearly bothers him by the name. “Charlie,” he mutters. Apparently, that was the name of Jason’s imaginary friend growing up. One day when he was still little, Jason’s dad told him that “Charlie had to go away,” in which Jason never saw his friend again. Having seen the footage inside the Dollhouse of Jason and Charlie, Charles clearly isn’t make-believe.

Flying solo at school, Hanna runs into Dr. Sullivan, who is now consulting with the school counselors. After having a private meeting, this gets Hanna thinking. She tries to get the rest of the girls to attend a counseling session, knowing full well that all four of them need to talk about what they endured in the Dollhouse. Just as the Liars convene in the doctor’s waiting room though, Emily receives a message from the burner phone she gave Sarah in case of an emergency. A video opens up, showing Ms. Harvey fast asleep in Emily’s bed. Suddenly, a knife-wielding gloved hand enters the frame, pointing the blade at the unsuspecting Sarah. The video cuts out and the message, “Mention me and someone dies. You have 30 seconds to leave the room,” flashes across the screen before a countdown begins. Threats are nothing new to the girls, but the distinct lack of “A”’s signature signoff raises a few red flags. If “A” didn’t send it, who’s threatening Sarah?

The girls flee the therapist’s office and rush to Emily’s house, only to find Sarah alive and well. The good news is short-lived when Mrs. Fields comes home with the news that Andrew’s being released from police custody. He has solid alibis for both Mona and Sarah’s kidnappings. There’s no case against him. The girls later run into Andrew on the street, and Aria tries to make amends with no success. Andrew explains the reasoning why he was gone during the time of the Dollhouse incident. He was doing everything he could to track down the girls, to be the hero of the hour. Considering what the police and the Liars put him through, Andrew makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the girls.

The Liars finally face facts. Everyone in Rosewood knows what happened to the girls, but no one believes them either. They’ve been branded as pariahs. Hanna comes clean about her experience in the Dollhouse, and the rest of the girls admit to the same torture. As it turns out, Charles’s whole routine was really just a sick mind game. None of the girls’ decisions to hurt one of their friends actually resulted in punishment. The game was to simply test the girls, to push them to the breaking point that they would hurt their friends if it came down to it.

Determined to find answers, the four go to Alison’s house to search the premises. Aria comes across an old hidden picture containing Jason, Ali, Mrs. DeLaurentis, and Charles. Jason and Alison confront their father upon his return home about this discovery. Though Mr. DeLaurentis tries to dodge the subject, as he always does, his children won’t have it. They show the photograph to him, in which he finally caves. The conversation muffles as the camera view pans outside, showing a hooded figure lurking in front of the family room window.

More questions arise as the pool of suspects widens only further. By this point, Mr. Biscuit could be Charles for all we know. Okay…not likely, but it’s a head scratcher. “Songs of Experience” has its moments, but the episode is a little bit of a letdown following its stronger predecessor. The show spends most of its time connecting the dots to information that the viewers already put together themselves. We already figured that Mr. and Mrs. DeLaurentis covered up any evidence of Charles’s existence. We saw the film from the Dollhouse. We know he’s not imaginary. The curveball over Andrew’s adoption was a welcomed twist, but Campbell’s rant outside the police station, along with his release from custody, pretty much killed the theory of him being “A”. Charles and “A” might not even be the same person. With suspicion everywhere, this could be anybody’s game. Maybe even one of the Liars’. Food for thought.

Pretty Little Liars - “Songs of Experience” Rating:  B -

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pretty Little Liars: “Songs of Innocence” Recap & Review

All’s well that ends well…so long as you don’t count PTSD-induced nightmares and severe emotional scarring. The Liars recuperate in the hospital following their rescue from Charles’s Dollhouse just as Toby tracks down Andrew Campbell and takes him into custody. The physical threat may be over, but that doesn’t reassure any of the girls in the midst of their mental recovery.

After spending how much time trapped in her mock-bedroom in the Dollhouse, Hanna goes Extreme Makeover: Bedlam Edition on her actual bedroom upon returning home. Determined to rid herself of the tainted association to the past few weeks of torture, she guts the entire space. Furniture, wallpaper, and all. Her erratic behavior sparks concern amongst Caleb and Mrs. Marin, but they understand where Hanna’s coming from. After her mother presses for more information on what happened at the Dollhouse, Hanna finally gives a glimpse into what the girls endured. Charles played hideous games on them all, including making the Liars decide who got to have water each day over the others.

While still in the hospital, Sara Harvey (Charles’s other kidnapping victim) relays her story to Emily on how she wound up in the Dollhouse. Having run away from home two years ago, she found herself in a parking lot just outside Rosewood when someone hit her upside the head. Next thing she knew, she awoke as a prisoner in Charles’s lair. Mrs. Fields tries to help Emily cope, but it’s no use. Emily refuses to seek therapy or even let a willing Paige return to Rosewood. Having pushed everyone away, she takes her emotions out by attending the gun range, against her mother’s wishes. Finally coming to terms that violence won’t solve anything, she opens up to Mrs. Fields. Emily also finds an unexpected visitor lurking outside her house late at night. She confronts the stranger, only to find that it’s Sara Harvey. Apparently, Sara’s own mom wasn’t so thrilled to have her daughter back, so the girl ran away once again.

Spencer doesn’t exactly receive a warm welcoming when returning home either. After having the best night sleep she’s had in ages at the hospital, Spencer revels in the assurance that the anti-anxiety medication the doctors prescribed will let that cycle continue. That peace of mind comes tumbling down like a house of cards though when she discovers that Mrs. Hastings has intervened. Given Spencer’s history of addiction, her mother refuses to allow the chance for her daughter to relapse, thus cutting her off from the medication. Without the aid, Spencer suffers restless nights when not trapped in hellish nightmares of the Dollhouse. It’s revealed that Charles had forced each of the girls to decide which of their friends would suffer, or else they all would.

Alison confronts her father about the identity of “Charles” DeLaurentis. Though seemingly rattled by the name drop, he outright denies any knowing of such a person. Spencer calls horse-pucky on him, knowing full well that Alison’s father is quite the notorious liar himself. Alison sees Spencer’s suffering and shares a rather awkward run-in with Toby, asking if he’s talked to his girlfriend at all. Ali’s then introduced to Toby’s new partner and the newest member of Rosewood P.D., Lorenzo.

Despite his initial belief that the case against Andrew was solid, Toby can’t shake off the feeling that something isn’t right. Considering “A”’s methodical scheming, he doesn’t buy the idea that the evidence can be so clean-cut. Everything points to Andrew. It’s too perfect. Aria, on the other hand, doesn’t feel the same. She’s the most proactive out of the girls to work with the police in the hopes of putting Andrew away for good. She goes to the station to answer some questions, but the interview doesn’t go well. None of the Liars ever saw Andrew’s face while locked away, thus they can’t prove it was in fact him. In a moment of desperation, Aria lies to the police, saying that she did see Andrew just once in the Dollhouse while not wearing a mask. She admits her slipup to Spencer when she visits, but Hastings cuts her some slack. Aria also tries to apologize for the events that occurred while in the Dollhouse, but she can’t quite manage to find the words. When Aria gets called downstairs by her mom, temptation gets the better of Spencer, who steals some of her friend’s anti-anxiety meds.

As the show draws to a close, Andrew professes his innocence from jail as Ali is shown flipping through an old family photo album. Surprise, surprise. There are blank spaces in the sections containing images of her brother when he was little. Just because you rid yourself of the evidence doesn’t make someone disappear, now does it? 

With the exception of the last little reveal, this episode of PLL doesn’t explore the mystery portion of the show. It’s focused purely on the Liars’ return home, which on the surface sounds boring. I can assure you though, it’s not. The introspective look into the psychological damage these girls have suffered is compelling all by itself. Seeing how each of Liars cope (and in some ways break down) reveals so much about their individual personalities. They all shared the same experience, but they’re each handling the aftermath differently. Shay Mitchell shines brightest in this episode, particularly in the kitchen scene when Emily opens up to her mother. The dialogue is profound and impactful, and Mitchell’s delivery is raw, heart wrenching, and honest. If these first two episodes of the #SummerOfAnswers are any indicator as to what lies ahead, season six could be PLL’s strongest installment yet. 

Pretty Little Liars - “Songs of Innocence” Rating:  A -

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pretty Little Liars: “Game On, Charles” Recap & Review

PLL kicks off where it ended last season. Upon escaping above ground from “A”’s compound, the girls find themselves trapped inside an electrically charged fenced-in area. As punishment for their actions, Charles leaves them outside to brave the conditions for days. When Charles’s dollhouse bunker finally opens, the girls regrettably head back inside, only for “A” to snatch hold of Mona and gas the remaining girls, rendering the Liars unconscious.

Charles makes it clear who’s in charge as the girls awaken naked on morgue slabs. The Liars discover they’re still inside “A”’s lair when Mona enters the mysterious room playing nurse. Vanderwaal finally takes a stand against Charles, only to be taken away to “the hole”. Aria, Spencer, Emily, and Hanna succumb to the pressure and do as “A” demands, heading inside each of their mock-bedrooms. Screams ensue from behind closed doors before the screen cuts to black.

Three weeks later, Alison speaks with the media after being officially exonerated for Mona’s murder. Andrew Campbell is the prime suspect in the Liars’ disappearance, and Ali pleads to the cameras for her friends’ safe return and for the police to respect her privacy. It turns out that the whole press conference was merely a ruse set up by Detective Tanner in an attempt to lure “A” out of hiding. As the police wait inside the DeLaurentis house for Charles to make his move, Ali makes one of her own. With the help of Ezra, Caleb, and Toby, she manages to send Tanner and company out on a wild goose chase so that she can escape from her house.

The Liars finally emerged from each of their living quarters, having undergone unspeakable torture during the past three weeks. None of the girls can find the words to express what happened, but the fact that Aria’s hair is now chopped off and dyed in streaks of pink again, a lot of freaky things have definitely gone down. The four meet up in Mona’s room, only to find boxes full of Alison’s belongings occupying the space…and no Mona. As the girls comb through the personal effects, Spencer discovers one of Charles’s old toys. He’s a DeLaurentis. They also realize something else. All the stuff in each of the girls’ bedrooms was stolen from them over a period of time. It’s been Charles’s plan all along to lock them up in his sadistic “dollhouse”.

As it turns out, Alison left a hidden message inside her speech to the press earlier, telling Charles to convene with her at the Kissing Rock. Ezra and Caleb pick up Alison after she eludes the police, and they drive her out to meet “A”. To ensure her safety, Caleb puts a tracking device inside Alison’s heels so that he and Ezra can track her with the hopes of “A” bringing Ali to the girls. The plan goes south though when Alison heads to the rendezvous point. Charles isn’t there, but a car is. She gets inside, and the GPS instructs her to dive out to Tyler State Park. Upon arrival, the car runs out of gas. Ali hits the button for roadside assistance, only to get “A” telling her to open the trunk. Caleb and Ezra arrive at the spot soon after, but Ali’s nowhere in sight. They search the abandoned car, finding an automated greeting card declaring that Alison leave all her belongings behind, including her clothes and shoes, and start walking.

Forced to change into that notorious yellow blouse, she treks through the woods as the girls plan their own escape from below. Having witnessed “A”’s vanishing act from the vault, Spencer knows there’s a secret entrance into the room. The Liars find it and take a stand by burning all of Charles’s precious keepsakes inside. Forced to take action, “A” pulls the fire alarm. Caleb and Ezra catch up to Alison as the three overhear the whaling coming from underground.

Aria, Emily, Hanna, and Spencer scour the bunker for Mona, finding her trapped down in a pit. They rescue her and flee to the surface just as Caleb, Ezra, Alison, and the police arrive on scene. After inspecting the bunker, another girl is found inside. Sarah Harvey. A girl who went missing the same time as Ali initially did. A girl…dressed to look just like Ali?

Where to start…

An awful lot takes place over the course of this episode, but the proclaimed #SummerOfAnswers begs far more questions at this point. Who is Charles? Who is this Sarah Harvey? What does she have to do with any of this? Why would Tanner leave all the curtains drawn open in the downstairs when the police are supposed to be hiding out in the family room? Seriously, do the police think that a mastermind like “A” isn’t capable of looking through a window to see if the coast is clear first? Yikes.

With that last peeve aside, the episode is an exceptionally strong opener to kick off season six. Admittedly, the dollhouse captivity seemed a bit outlandish when introduced in March’s finale, but it plays out surprisingly well. With striking visuals, including the girls’ electrically fenced-in imprisonment and the mock morgue scene, kudos goes out to Chad Lowe for the direction of this episode. The emotional burdens and particularly dark atmosphere are captured flawlessly, showcasing the truly grisly nature of unfolding events.

What are your thoughts on this week’s episode? Any theories of your own? Comment and let me know!   

Pretty Little Liars - “Game On, Charles” Rating:  A -