This review contains spoilers.
5.25 Welcome To The Dollhouse
It was a gradual process, turning away from Pretty Little Liars. It wasn’t with one episode or one storyline (though the Ezra-is-A debacle almost qualified) that forced me to take a step back from the mystery, the characters and the series in general, but rather a frustration with how convoluted it had become – hard to theorise about and near-impossible to come up with any sort of coherent answer.
Maybe it’s my own residual PTSD from Lost, or maybe it was an actual problem the show had to solve. Either way, this episode went a long way to fixing what I perceived to have broken about the show, and it did so in the most exciting, ludicrous and enthralling way possible.
We start with the four girls wearing their new orange jumpsuits in the back of a police van, stripped of the individual identities their clothes always offered them and commiserating about their slow drive into the abyss. But then the episode kicks in, quicker than I can remember any episode of Pretty Little Liars kicking in, and A attacks the van, drugs the girls and takes them to his own makeshift dollhouse.
I don’t know if the show’s long-time fondness for doll imagery and metaphors would make the rest of the episode more or less creepy, but I know that seeing the girls wake up in their surreal, bizarro bedrooms is one of the most effective horror moments Pretty Little Liars has ever done. The audience knows these sets, they’ve been looking at these sets for the past five seasons, and so those wrong little touches stand out immediately.
It points out the artifice of this world, playing into the paranoia of both the Liars and the audience. The rooms are the same, but they aren’t. The Liars are now A’s dolls in an almost literal sense, a fact brought home by the prom gowns he picks out for them to wear later in the episode.
The same goes for the Mona reveal, with the sight of what could be a child, or Alison, or anyone we’ve ever met turning out to be a girl who not only used to be A, but who we also saw dead in the previous season finale. I’m so glad Mona isn’t actually dead, because she’s been in this as much as the other girls since season three, and that was, again, the best use of the Alison mask we’ve seen yet.
We learn along with the girls that A has forced Mona to become Alison, right down to the hair, the mannerisms and the name. It’s the same thing as the Liars’ prison gear, but Mona hasn’t only had her identity taken away, she’s had it replaced. This A clearly has an attachment to the original five girls as a unit, with Alison his favourite, but Mona being Mona still knows she’s winning the game.
But then! Then there’s the reintroduction of Melissa, Ian and, by association, the NAT Club. The club isn’t mentioned by name in this episode, but the decision by A to throw a prom that already happened seven years ago has to be significant. Charles DiLaurentis – his name, we learn – is probably (note the probably, as we don’t know) Jason’s twin and Alison’s brother. But we don’t see his face, so there’s more to the story.
If it was that simple, he would have been unmasked at the end of the episode, rather than making us wait for episode ten of next season. He’d look like Drew Van Acker, and the show could have had fun making us think it was Jason before throwing some more mystery at us. The episode didn’t do that, instead illustrating the connection with an old home video of Charles, Jason, Jessica and a baby Alison at Campbell Farm.
Yep, that Campbell Farm, theorists. As in, Andrew Campbell. The chief suspect for much of season 5b, Andrew only appeared in one short scene in Welcome To The Dollhouse, but that short scene more or less confirmed that he’s involved in the A plot in some capacity. Why else would he be listening to the Hastings in their bugged kitchen? Those Andrew theories may come in handy come season six, so file them away.
And while the girls were wrestling with the news that another psychopathic DiLaurentis child could be running around ruining their lives, the boyfriend collective was working on a way to track them down from the outside. I like everything about whenever Caleb and Toby band together to help solve the crimes on this show, and the addition of Ezra here just make it even more ridiculously enjoyable.
The hilarious incompetence mounts to a point where the only option left is to have them actually help the girls, but that’s probably more to do with the fact that Peter and Veronica Hastings are now in on the secret, cutting through the juvenile nonsense and getting stuff done.
Was this a satisfying half-reveal, at this point in the series? There was always going to be a huge portion of viewers angry about having yet another new suspect introduced into a world where absolutely everyone who’s ever stepped in front of the camera has been questioned by the fandom, but I’d argue that the invention of Charles DiLaurentis was the best, and pretty much only, thing the show could do.
Any answer at this point would have been a letdown, as had been obvious ever since the show decided to clear Ezra’s name in season three. Who would we have liked? Wren? Pastor Ted? Ella? Anything short of having A be one of the Liars would have felt like a disappointment at this point, and so just layering more mystery onto one that’s already been set up way back in the first season makes perfect sense.
Charles DiLaurentis, if he is what we think he is, is connected to so much of the Rosewood mythology. Remember, if he is Jason’s twin, then he’s also Spencer’s brother, and we know everything always leads back to the Hastings and DiLaurentis families in the end.
Marlene King has said that the ‘why’ of A has always been as important as the ‘who’, and I think the show and its audience for a long time became too embroiled with only one of those two questions. In the end, it shouldn’t matter who it was, as long as the why ties back to everything we’ve seen up to this point.
This reveal has the potential to do that, and I can’t wait to find out the answers to all the new questions in throws up. The word is that the girls will stay in their nightmare world for the first ten episodes of season six, with a four year time jump to follow. This feels like Pretty Little Liars with some of that old energy back, and I’ve somehow found myself knee-deep in the clues, the insanity and the mystery all over again.
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