Pretty Little Liars season 5 episode 4 review: Thrown From The Ride

Pretty Little Liars picks up, thanks to some far better choices, argues Caroline...

This review contains spoilers.

5.4 Thrown From The Ride

As much as Pretty Little Liars has dropped the ball on some pretty essential things over the years, every so often it does something brilliant, making us forget the shit-storm that led to the moment of clarity and the inevitable mess that will follow right after. This episode, Thrown From The Ride, showed off everything this new Pretty Little Liars can be, with or without the return of A, and leads us into the 100th episode with more hope for the future than has been possible for years.

Now I’m aware that there’ll be people who disagree with me, and have found these villain-free, largely action-free four hours boring and uneventful. For me though, a frustrated fan who has long grown tired of the repetitive A problem and the writers’ seeming inability to mask their make-it-up-as-we-go-along method, this is what I’ve been waiting for, and softens the blow of another three seasons considerably. I’m also aware that it’ll all go wrong in a few weeks time, maybe even next week, but I’ve learnt to appreciate what I can get.

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Starting with the biggest part of this upswing, Alison’s arc has managed to be more compelling, upsetting and intriguing than we could have hoped. The scenes between her and her father are the show’s secret weapons right now and have an honesty to them that is mostly missing from a lot of the show’s established relationships. It was also nice to see that the writers remember that sexual assault is a serious issue, and one that needs to be directly addressed every so often.

When Alison’s with the girls or facing off with old enemies, we see glimpses of the old, vindictive Ali, but not when she’s at home – she’s been broken by A more than any of her friends. Spencer may be flailing without a villain to fight against (just wait Spence), Aria might have a lot of guilt over Shana’s death, Emily’s feelings for Alison are as confused as ever and Hannah is having an identity crisis, but their complete avoidance and near-resentment of their leader’s return speaks volumes about what they feel she brings with her.

And most of her experience is smartly left up to our imagination, with the kidnapping lie only adding to the mystery. We’re as clueless as the girls all over again, but this time in a way that’s not completely maddening, and we can only imagine what horrors Mona’s minions have in store for their old tormentor in the coming weeks. What they don’t realise, and what Paige recognises, is that Alison isn’t the enemy anymore – Mona and the rest of the hoodies are the villains of the story now, and what they’re doing isn’t self-defence, but war.

The most exciting thing about season five is the absence of any smoke and mirrors – the episodes no longer have the ubiquitous A tags and Rosewood’s many threats are out in the open. We might find out that Shana was yet another red herring and A is just laying in wait, but it’s equally possible that Spencer’s monsters are indeed as real as ever, just no longer hiding under their beds. Mona is openly taunting the Liars, Ezra is on his way to being forgiven and Lucas and Paige are being sucked back into the game.

There are no more masks, red coats or hoodies to hide behind – the bad guys no longer need them. It’s not so much a departure from what the show has been for four years, but more of an evolution. Even if we’re still dealing with the same suspects and getting our heads around the same ludicrous shenanigans, having it be so brazen is the shot in the arm the show desperately needed. It’s fun to watching Mona cackling and Ezra being manipulative (even if it’s unintentional – let me dream) again, and the girls aren’t even fighting back anymore.

The show has always been about obsession, but now we’re seeing that obsession being driven by guilt as much as it has been by vengeance. Aria has become obsessed with footage from Shana’s funeral, Emily admits doing something similar after the Nate incident, Ezra explains how he has come to terms with his own guilt over lying to Aria and, right at the end of the episode, we see Alison fixated on the wall of hate people have left in remembrance.

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This feels like a Pretty Little Liars with a conscience, with shades of grey and consequences to the things these characters have done and, despite those niggling problems, it’s a much better show for it.

Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Surfing The Aftershocks, here.

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