Pretty Little Liars season 4 episode 16 review: Close Encounters

Pretty Little Liars continues to drip-feed clues to its audience. Here's Caroline's review of Close Encounters...

This review contains spoilers.

4.16 Close Encounters

If we didn’t have enough clues pointing towards the fact that Ezra is bad news on Pretty Little Liars, then that old ‘knives in the punching bag’ definitely confirmed it. Assuming, as the show obviously wants us to, that Ezra was indeed the person who put them there to get Jake to back off, then colour me impressed. This episode, with the straight-to-business opener and appearance from Alison, was a step up from the slow and ponderous hours we’re usually thrown at this point in the season, and I really wonder what all of this fantastic build up is going to result in come season finale time.

The tease of ‘whoever finds her gets to keep her’ might as well be the motto of the season, and Emily certainly came close to being that someone in Close Encounters. Is Spencer right about Ali still playing games with them to drive them apart, or is his just Spencer being far too suspicious as usual? She certainly seemed like an entirely different person when she was talking to Emily (another viable theory), and seemed to genuinely want to solve the mystery and come home. The most interesting thing raised by their meeting was that she trusts Shana and Emily but not Spencer and Aria – adding fuel to the fire of the ‘Aria is A’ theories.

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A long time ago I had a theory that Maya had been working undercover to solve Alison’s murder, and it turns out I was only slightly off. Shana claims to be a secret agent of Alison’s, befriending aka seducing Jenna (and possibly Paige?) in order to find out whether she is the one who killed her childhood neighbour. The photograph we glimpse in the coda seems to confirm her story, and she did make true on her promise to arrange the meeting between Emily and Ali. It’s a shame really, because Shana has always been a nothing character, and this reveal might have been better placed elsewhere.

It’s completely understandable why Alison might not trust Aria and Spencer with her current secrets, as Spencer has always been too curious for her own good and Aria must look as shifty as they come from an outside perspective. If you look at the order in which she visited the girls across the first three seasons (worth looking back on YouTube now that we know more), it was Hannah, then Emily, then Spencer and, finally, Aria. We can assume this was a well-chosen order that indicates the most trustworthy of the girls, and that means we might need to add a couple of people to our list of suspects.

Because if she isn’t A, then she’s still incredibly stupid. Dumping Jake for Ezra this week, she’s only mildly curious about the witnessed shouting match between Ezra and ‘Maggie’s Lawyer’ (shouldn’t her ears have pricked up a little more when Jake described the other party as ‘some blonde woman?’) and, as usual, hasn’t shown any interest in the mystery that has been plaguing every waking moment of her friends’ lives. Yes, Hannah is also dealing with boyfriend issues by jumping Travis in a fit of post-Caleb angst, but she’s always in the game when the time really calls for it.

But the genius of this storyline is that, through a fantastically balanced performance from Ian Harding and competent writing from behind the scenes, we’re able to watch Ezra acting as he always has, just with a little more information at our disposal. It’s the same joy viewers get when they re-watch a mystery show after discovering the answer, and is a far cry from the Toby disaster of last year. His lies to Aria about Portland are as plausible as his supposed truth about Maggie and Malcolm, and that makes it even more uncomfortable to watch his and Aria’s subsequent whipped cream session.

So do we trust Shana now? Was it definitely Ezra who put those knives in Jake’s punching bag? And does Mrs. DiLaurentis’ position on the Radley board indicate that the ‘fragile patient’ who pushed Toby’s mother off the roof could have been Alison/Courtney? There are still a lot of questions to deal with but, with the biggest mystery of the show seemingly solved (at least for us; at least for now), for once a mystery show drawing to the end of its fourth season isn’t boring or frustrating to watch. Next week sees Hannah digging into whose body is in Alison’s grave and Spencer gets obsessive about deciphering Alison’s diary. See you there!

Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Love ShAck Baby, here.

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