This review contains spoilers.
We’ve all been watching this show for so long, unravelling its mysteries, getting frustrated and delighting in its madness, that it’s inherently strange for A to be common knowledge.
Seeing Hanna brazenly talk to her mother about Charles while walking down the street, or seeing news reports about these “five Rosewood teens” and their ordeal, changes the entire DNA of Pretty Little Liars right before it’s changed again by the big reveal and the time jump. But this is a show that’s driving headlong towards its conclusion and, for a show with mythology this dense, that takes some boldness.
FrAmed, believe it or not, is a very strong Aria episode. The show has previously been so sparse of strong Aria storylines, such is the mess that was and is Ezria, that when one comes along you can’t help be taken by surprise.
Against the odds, Aria’s complexity and layers have become overt, rather than an exercise in fandom think-pieces and commentary. It’s endlessly satisfying to see a show as late in its run as this suddenly point out what its been doing all along, and it feels like Pretty Little Liars has been doing all year.
Structurally, the episode spreads its focus across all the Liars as usual, but the meat of the story lives in Aria’s art show and the lengths Charles goes to in order to derail the moment. Ezra is still there, his influence lurking in the corners of the silly, naive girl Aria used to be, but the moment they share after the show is far from romantic.
We’ve seen Emily, Spencer and Hanna try to deal with the emotional aftermath of the Dollhouse, but Aria seems the most irrevocably changed by the experience. Maybe it was the shock of finally having her life touched by A, but I prefer to think that she just had the furthest to go, and thus was the one with the most of herself still to lose. What we’re seeing this season is almost a completely different character – one who’s far more interesting to watch.
It’s what makes scenes like those shared between Emily and Aria in FrAmed so liberating – these are moments that wouldn’t be out of place in an ordinary high school drama, talking about prom dresses and crushes and a girl like Aria navigating the single life. It’s a time out from the darkness that has been slowly strangling them since they got their first A text, even if it can’t be ignored for longer than the briefest of seconds.
As for Ezra, can we all agree that he’s back writing his book? Every moment he’s on screen is one where he’s digging for information or watching the girls. Did he take over as owner of the Brew for this purpose? It wouldn’t remotely surprise me at this point.
He is right about one thing, though – everyone is suspicious. Clark might not be on A’s team (A doesn’t even appear to have a team right now, just Red Coat), but he certainly isn’t telling Aria everything.
Our latest red herring is Rhys Matthews, however – basically a Jason clone and the girls’ latest theory as to the real-world identity of Charles. Like Lesli, this is just an unnecessary distraction, because we’re 90 per cent sure that Charles’ real face is one we’ve seen before. Red Coat’s return might throw a spanner in the works for some theories, but really it just doubles the amount of suspects.
For the record, Wren and Cece are still top of my list.
While Aria becomes more whole as the weeks go on, Alison is a shell of her former self. She swiped Lorenzo’s key card, sure, but her ongoing certainty about Charles’ humanity are a far cry from the girl who blackmailed her friends’ fathers and faked her own death for two years. As a side note, surely Lorenzo should have been invited to a disciplinary hearing for trying to date one of the case’s victims, not this.
The girls can’t shake the Dollhouse, even if they want to, and this is an episode of Pretty Little Liars that perfectly demonstrates the balance between interesting character studies and mystery building that it can still strike just three weeks before the big reveal.
Until they face-off with Charles, they exist merely as the stolen dolls he imagines them as. We as the audience are still no closer to figuring it out, but that’s exactly where the show wants us to be, stuck in the darkness along with the Liars, waiting for something to explode.
See you at prom!
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, O Brother Where Art Thou?, here.
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