This review contains spoilers.
6.11 Of Late I Think Of Rosewood
Pretty Little Liars is finally back, and five years have passed in Liar time since we last visited Rosewood. Smartly avoiding the college slump that has scuppered many a teen drama in the past, it’s 2017 and we’re jumping straight back into the mystery.
Everything feels strangely familiar, yet nothing is the same. There’s still a bucket-load of mystery, shiny hair and complicated loyalties, but there’s also a departure from those things we might all have expected this episode to focus on. It’s about setting up where we are now, and seems unconcerned with overtly explaining or recapping where we’ve been.
The girls are still friends, but the ‘I saved your life, now you save mine’ kind rather than the kind that are so close they share their every thought, need, desire and alibi. Alison is a teacher at Rosewood High, Spencer in Washington, Aria in Boston working for a publisher, Hanna in fashion and Emily mixing pina coladas somewhere in California. This information, as with details of what the parents and significant others have been up to over the last half-decade, is sprinkled pretty expertly throughout the hour, and makes everything feel surprisingly lived-in.
Radley is now a fancy wine bar run by Ashley Marin, Byron is still keeping tabs on Ezra and Toby is still an inept police officer. Those things aside, none of this would have worked if things hadn’t been recognisable – we know these girls far too well to accept unrealistic scenarios for any one of them.
It’s not just what they do for a living, but who they’ve become since facing off with A the last time. Not many shows could transition from high school to adulthood so gracefully, but Pretty Little Liars seems to have pulled it off.
The Liars are still awful, selfish people, and that leaves room for their friendship to remain an anchor in their lives. Their flaws are what draw us in, and watching Aria immediately rush to the Brew to hear Ezra’s tragic backstory or Emily hide her myriad prescriptions in her handbag just made me feel right at home.
And so, without much encouragement, the girls return to their hometown when Alison appeals to her old friends for support. Charlotte may be released, and Alison wants them to tell the court that they’re not afraid of her anymore. Only Aria speaks up, delivering another of her wonderful little soliloquies of pain, but it’s not enough. Alison gets to take her home and, not twelve hours later, Charlotte’s found dead at the bottom of the bell tower.
And so begins our new overarching mystery. Appearing like a suicide, we’re later told by a Wilden-esque Lorenzo that it was actually a murder, and that the Liars are once again the prime suspects.
There are two sides to this – one is the parallel between Alison’s ‘death’ in the show’s pilot and this one in the reboot six years later. We have a new credits sequence, but there’s still a blonde girl being buried. Our Liars are still grieving for someone who tormented them, but someone who maybe didn’t deserve her fate. They wanted her dead, but they also ultimately wanted her to be happy. That’s the conflict, and it’s always been a compelling one.
Of course, we can’t disregard the other, more delicate implication of this death. Charlotte was a trans woman, and trans women are being murdered in the US and around the world at an alarming rate. As I said of the finale, there are people more equipped than I to dig into this, but there’s every chance that this is the show’s writers re-building some of the bridges it burnt with that reveal.
Strangely, we only see Charlotte twice during the episode – once in the opening montage and then again in her coffin. We don’t even see her body, which may have been a stylistic choice, and this just further cements my opinion that the show is continuing its trend of focusing on the girls rather than the mystery. The Liars were mistreated, sure, but so was Charlotte and, like Mona in season five, her death is more the death of a kindred spirit than of an arch-nemesis.
But really, a missing five years is a gift to the Pretty Little Liars writers, allowing them to concoct new secrets and lies that even the four girls are keeping from each other. In their minds and the minds of the rest of the town, any one of them could have thrown Charlotte off that bell tower, and that’s thrilling from an audience standpoint.
There’s also the rest of the episode – every one of the romantic relationships we’ve become used to has dissolved since we last visited, and for the most part it’s just treated as something that happens naturally before, during and after people’s college years. I never thought I’d love a scene between Spencer and Toby as much as I did the one in this episode, with its easy, slightly-awkward chemistry. It’s one of the most realistic things the show has ever done, even if we do later revert to the status quo of Spoby, Ezria, Haleb and Emison.
They’re setting up something more between Spencer and Caleb, that’s for sure, and both Hanna and Aria have significant others back in their new lives. Ezra’s relationship with Nicole ended when she was kidnapped by revolutionaries in South America (yes, really), and Toby may or may not be building an entire house for a new girlfriend. All Spencer ever got was a stupid chair. This season’s going to be hard going for the shippers.
Sara Harvey’s still hanging around, standing in for Jenna as the new wronged party the Liars have to be afraid of exposing them. Whatever happened to her in Radley during the finale is anyone’s guess, but I could honestly live without every finding out. As hard as the show tries, Sara is no Jenna, and I’m already uninterested in where this plot thread is headed.
Of Late I Think of Rosewood delivered on every promise it made before the time-jump, cleaning the slate whilst managing not to lose a sense of the history these characters share. I’m looking forward to what’s in store, as much for how the Liars rebuild their group as for the reveals and revelations. This is a whole new Pretty Little Liars, but everything we love is still here.
Finally, my first list of suspects for Charlotte’s killer – Mona, Dr Rollins, Wren and Jason. Check back with me after season seven to congratulate/laugh at me.
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Game Over, Charles, here.