This review contains spoilers
6.2 Songs Of Innocence
This is not the show it used to be. That show, the one with the lip-gloss and the perfect hair and the silly soap opera drama might be gone for good. At the very least, it’s been paused. Songs Of Innocence is nothing like an episode of Pretty Little Liars at all, really, taking a step back from the mystery and just allowing us to look at these girls, what they’ve been through, and what they’ve been forced to become.
The previous two episodes, Welcome To The Dollhouse and Game On, Charles, were over-the-top, macabre PLL at its very, very best, but this is the other side of the show. It’s the Liars, their friendship and their furious resilience in the face of the all-out-war that is being themselves.
The thing is, the show has always dealt with these things – the trauma, the desperate grasp for agency as a teenage girl, and the search for an identity even slightly your own, but it’s been a thing running in the background. PLL isn’t interested in doing that anymore. It’s going to scream about it, and we as its audience are finally able to experience the show living up to the full potential of its various, fascinating parts.
We start with the Liars in the hospital, and in many ways it’s exactly the same scene as always greets us at the start of big episodes. We’re not in Spencer’s kitchen, but they are together hashing out their objectives. The thing stopping this from feeling completely like old times is the thick layer of tension hanging over them in their interactions. They discuss Andrew, Mona and Sara, but they don’t really talk to each in the way that we’re used to.
The reasons for this are revealed over the course of the episode, but other than the first scene and a silenced phone call at the end, each Liar has their own individual story.
Themes run throughout, as do visual deviations. When we first see them outside of the hospital, all four characters have minimal make-up and hair done, and there’s actual parental concern, too. Both of those things are so rare on this show that it sticks out immediately. They’ve also all been given an array of medications to keep them sane and help them recover physically, a nice slice of realism as well as a plot point later.
Aria, seemingly only now possessed with the motivation to actively fight against the A threat, is adamant that Andrew is the one behind everything. She knows her usual tactic of ignoring A and focusing on her own toils and relationship troubles isn’t going to work this time, and she just wants in over. In other words, she reacts exactly like Spencer might.
She’s the PLL mystery fan, piecing together whatever half-clue she can to convince herself of his guilt, pushing everyone away including Ezra. Ezra, shockingly for a show that has put so much energy into maintaining the Ezria relationship in the past, is actually the least present and least effectual of all the romantic interests during the episode.
The only relationship that actually looks like it might survive the season is Hanna and Caleb, with the show silently cashing in on Caleb’s own post-Ravenswood PTSD plotline. They’re completely at ease with each other from the get-go, Caleb being the non-pushy, non-judgemental boyfriend she needs, and fulfilling his role as the support system to one-quarter of the show’s protagonist. He gets it, even if his trauma had more literal ghosts in it.
Hanna’s story consists of gutting her bedroom, and Ashley desperately reaching for some understanding. That scene between the three of them – with Hanna getting increasingly angry that her mother was looking to Caleb, and not her, for a clue as to where her head was – is brilliant. It summed up everything without words – these girls have been robbed of their agency for a month, or six seasons, and now they want it back.
Emily’s move when faced with these things, as it has been before, is to get angry. Angry Emily is by far the most engaging Emily, and Shay Mitchell is the stand out in this episode.
She doesn’t get a significant other on-screen to bounce off, even separated from Alison for the time being, but an off-screen phone call with Paige is used perfectly to illustrate her self-isolation. She and Hanna are the two who take the longest to reach out to the others but, while Hanna is quite content leaning on Caleb, Emily tells Paige not to come home. “She deserves to be happy,” she says. When Pam tells her she does too, Emily doesn’t respond.
It’s about the only nice thing Pam does in the episode, of course, her maternal instincts ceasing as soon as she realises her daughter has been taking out her frustrations at the gun range. It’s completely in character – hacking into her father’s safe and stealing his guns isn’t particularly ladylike. There’s an interesting story brewing for Emily here, and its about time she had one.
That may include Sara Harvey, too, after a reveal that Ms. Harvey makes Pam Fields look like a saint leads to her sleeping at their house. We know little about her so far, other than that she’ll be sticking around for a while.
Spencer’s reaction to the last three weeks is in many ways the most alarming. She’s taken Aria’s place as the most detached Liar this week and, when Toby’s thinking about the mystery more than Spencer is, it’s time to worry. She doesn’t want to tell the police about Charles, and she barely follows up with Alison about her questions to her father. Like with all the others, is just shows how broken they are.
Alison is not the focus of the episode for understandable reasons, but she was our way into a brand new character – Lorenzo, Toby’s partner. His introduction scene was hilariously awkward, much like every scene Toby is a part of, but he’s a promising addition. That’s especially if he’s a love interest for Alison (don’t kill me, Emison shippers), because this was some of the best insight we’ve had into her on the show.
My last thought on the episode is how much I love the title and, with next week’s hour titled Songs Of Experience, it’s no accident that the show has waited this long to use them. They could refer to the show as a whole – the before and after of Alison’s disappearance, or Mona versus this new A, or even before and after the Dollhouse.
That was one show, and this is another. But then again, there’s also the feeling that this is the show it was always meant to be, and is only now getting the chance.
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Game On, Charles, here.
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