Pretty Little Liars season 5 episode 1 review: EscApe From New York

Review Caroline Preece 11 Jun 2014 - 13:14

The Pretty Little Liars season 5 opener welcomes back a host of familiar faces. Here's Caroline's review...

This review contains spoilers.

5.1 EscApe From New York

How much mystery is too much mystery? How long can said mystery realistically go on for, while still retaining those viewers it attracted in the first place? More importantly, as loyal fans may have asked while watching the fifth season premiere of Pretty Little Liars, how many different answers can they give without the eventual resolution feeling lacklustre, ill-conceived and – well – made up as the writers went along?

It’s the problem Lost faced when it wrapped up a few years back, and the reaction to its answers (or lack thereof) will taint the legacy of that show forever. But Lost arguably didn’t feel like it was betraying fans until its sixth and final season, and Pretty Little Liars has been shedding credibility for almost two years already. A sixth and seventh season are set to follow this fifth, and it’s a worryingly long timeline for a show like this to be working with.

This season premiere felt like it was doing two things – cleaning up the mess left by the Big A/Ezra non-reveal and setting us up for a brand new phase of the show. That first part is where the hour really suffered, with a completely ridiculous reveal coming out of nowhere, unsupported by past events in previous seasons and devoid of any emotional impact. We may have been invested in Jenna’s plight in the beginning, but she’s been missing for a long time and, let’s face it, Shana is no one’s favourite character.

But she’s dead now, and with her goes the notion that Big A was anything remotely threatening. It also takes Ezra out of the game, as his information as to A’s identity relates directly to this reveal and now presumably lets him off the hook in terms of undivulged information. For those of you who followed my reviews last year, you’ll know where I stand on Ezra as a character now – he’s irredeemable, and the teased arc of him gradually winning back Aria’s trust is going to drag the season down to some dark and irresponsible places. Bad Pretty Little Liars; bad.

Aria was her usual self here, completely uninvolved until it came to crunch time, and the decision to push her and Ezra’s relationship even more into the foreground, rather than make him the arch villain of the show, has completely backfired. One thing that has the potential to be interesting is the notable reaction she had to effectively killing Shana – whether this will go anywhere depends on the endlessly puzzling whims of the writers, but I do hope we get more from Aria sans her love life this year. It’s unlikely, but possible.

The rest of the girls were reduced to their basic archetypes, which is kind of required in a relatively action-packed episode like this, but there was a smattering of reaction to Alison’s re-established place in the group. Spencer is threatened, Hannah is defensive and Emily is conflicted – all reactions that make sense and could provide some nice, fresh conflict in season five. Add to that the fact that they think their ordeal is over and life can return to normal, and maybe there’s something to tune in for after all. It’s a new take on the group dynamic, which is very welcome in a show’s fifth year.

And maybe A is gone for good, leaving a gaping hole in Rosewood for the town’s many closeted sociopaths to fill. Enter Mona’s army, a group of high school’s downtrodden (featuring the return of Lucas! Yay!), who are banding together in the fight against Alison. While this gets back to the initial concept of the show – that the Liars are essentially Rosewood’s mean girls and A is just an uprising gone too far – it does feel a tad overdramatic when Alison is now a character on the show rather than an abstract idea.

Equally interesting was Alison’s own band of outcasts, featuring CeCe, Noel and possibly more. It’s lovely to have Noel back, especially if the show remembers his conflict with Ezra back in season one, and we’re currently spoilt for returning characters. We have Lucas and Paige threatening to become and more important part of the show, Mona back in villain mode and the very welcome return of Caleb in episode five. Last year it felt as if the girls were more alone and paranoid than ever, which kind of worked in terms of the Ezra ‘reveal’, but it’s time for the world to re-expand.

Melissa’s also back, bringing with her a fresh secret for us to not care about. Melissa is long past being a legitimate character on this show, even if she effectively knows more about the town’s villains than anyone (bar maybe Wren – where’s Wren??), and whatever she told her father that’s shocking enough to drive him to drink will probably be a letdown. We are seeing Jason again, however, and given the family connection it’s more than likely that he’ll come into play here.

It’s a brand new era for the show, but only time will tell whether that era is as infuriating as the last. Where A stood there’s now Mona’s army, and the Liars are just as unprepared as ever.

Read Caroline's review of the season four finale, A Is For Answers, here.

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So, are we supposed to think that Mona was A 'til season 2. And since then it's been Shana? And now Mona's Army will be taking up that mantle?

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