Pretty Little Liars season 4 episode 19 review: Shadow Play

Was Pretty Little Liars' novelty film noir episode a failed experiment? Here's Caroline's review...

This review contains spoilers.

4.19 Shadow Play

I said at the end of my Pretty Little Liars review last week that this episode, Shadow Play, would either be a colossal waste of our time or something unexpectedly great. Well, while I wouldn’t put it anywhere near my top ten, this little film noir experiment really wasn’t as terrible as it could have been. Sure, some actors committed to the theme more than others, and some pulled it off better than others, but it was a great demonstration of how to do a novelty episode without forgetting about the matter at hand. That matter, of course, is Alison’s disappearance, Ezra’s suspected villainy and Spencer’s rapid descent into addiction.

Every fantasy show has to have a mental hospital episode in which the hero is transported back into the real world and told that vampires, superheroes and witches (I’m thinking of Buffy, Smallville and Charmed, specifically, but there are countless other examples) are all a part of their elaborate delusions, and this was essentially the mental hospital episode of Pretty Little Liars. Some viewers may have some problems with Spencer’s current storyline but, for me, establishing that Spencer is by far my favourite character on the show, it’s completely working. It feels in character, and actually has a lot to do with pushing us forward in the hunt for A this season.

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And, while a noir episode might be pointless and ultimately self-indulgent, it’s also something the writers and producers of the show have clearly wanted to do for a while (there was also talk of an all-ballet episode once, but I don’t know where that went). We didn’t get any big reveals, but there was a forward momentum in Shadow Play nonetheless. We also got to see what a subdued confrontation between Spencer, Ezra and Mona might look like ahead of the real revelations on our way in the coming weeks and, most entertainingly, we got to see Spencer start to crack under the pressure.

Troian Bellisario is always fantastic, and I’ll never tire of watching her play that side of the character. Spencer is a brilliantly unique creation for a teen show like this and, as with her ‘Toby is A’ arc last year, it’s fantastic to see her get an episode to herself like this. As Alison pointed out in this episode, she has become the leader of the group without anyone really realising and, though I sincerely doubt the show is going to go down that route, it’s completely plausible that Spencer was either the one who killed Alison, or at least helped her cover it up. We’ve been told there’s a big secret on its way, but maybe it’s bigger than we imagined.

Once we return to the real world, Spencer realises that the diary they retrieved from Ezra’s desk has been altered ever so slightly in order to throw her – and the other girls if they ever pulled their socks up – off the trail. It’s a dastardly clever plan, and one that we would only believe Spencer could figure out with the help of a psychotic break, and adds even more fuel to the EzrA theory. But all of the fun we’ve been having, plus the obviously manipulative promo for next week’s episode, is doing nothing but make me doubt that Ezra is the villain we’ve all been searching for.

The big reveal in the 4a finale was probably the best twist the show has ever, and will ever, pull off, but confirming our suspicions at this point would be out of character for the series. Other than Alison being alive, no answer to a mystery has ever been this easy and, while I appreciate that the show has thrown Aria’s relationship with her teacher into more of a sinisterly grey area than they had been willing to before, I sincerely hope I haven’t been giving them too much credit. We’ll find out next week whether we’ve been duped all over again, as the secret finally comes out and we (hopefully) get some answers.

Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Hot For Teacher, here.

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