This review contains spoilers.
7.10 The DArkest Night
Here we are, in the final days of our beloved high school murder mystery. The DArkest Knight was the last finale before the series finale, and did it deliver? Kind-of.
In my season six finale review I complained that the show had lost its flavour, the things that made it different, and become a parody of itself. While I’m not quite retracting that argument, I do feel like season seven has been a marked improvement. I’m excited about it again, and episodes like Hit and Run, Run, Run deserve to sit alongside the show’s strongest outings.
More than anything, though, I’m ready for it to end. Not because it’s terrible now, as some people are saying, but because I love it, and think it deserves to go out on its own terms.
We start this finale in the middle of a scene, and Caleb and Mona have been filled in on the Liars’ shenanigans over the last few months. They’re still waiting for Hanna before they turn the flash drive over to the police but, with her ignoring their calls while she has her way with Noel, they decide to move forwards without her.
Spencer calls 911, which is as big a twist for this show as anything that’s going to happen later.
Hanna’s entire plan is to a) get Noel to confess his sins to her and, b) get some of his blood so she can test whether he’s Mary Drake’s other child. The whole thing is pretty dark, but then that’s been the tone of this entire half-season. We’ve done away with A-moji silliness, and the use of masks has been minimal since we came back from the break. This is still PLL, but it’s definitely a bit grimier than usual.
It’s Toby’s last day on the force, but he has one last job before he can escape to Maine with Yvonne (oops, I almost tripped over that foreshadowing). Because of this, we get a ton of Spoby stuff in this episode, leading to a final romantic scene the writers work hard to make okay despite Toby’s engagement. It does work, though, and the exchange has a beautiful bitter-sweet quality to it.
While the girls are being ‘protected’ by the police, Caleb and Mona get all Veronica Mars and start tailing Jenna. These two together is always an absolute joy, and the scene in which they serve afternoon tea like an old married couple is one of my favourites of the season (maybe the show).
Being slightly smarter than she was last week, Hanna calls Mona to come help with the Noel scheme, and she’s immediately chastised for not bringing her in sooner. Yeah, really, Hanna. Tying up Noel Khan and torturing him for information is Mona’s idea of Christmas come early.
But now we’re done with the Hanna/Caleb/Spencer love triangle, another one has resurfaced. Last season Emily didn’t have any love interests, and now she has three.
She and Sabrina are on pause (does she know that?), Paige is back sniffing around and Alison, not hiding her jealousy at all, has seen the light. It’s familiar beats from seasons past, but that doesn’t stop an actual, real Emison relationship being any less enticing.
Not least because Alison is pregnant and, because you can’t mention abortion on network television, she’s almost certainly going to have the baby. Those two finally getting it together and raising a kid? I’m on board for that.
I’m also on board for Hanna and Caleb’s reunion, even if it was messy getting here. There’s an inevitability to that thread that was getting tedious, so I’d rather they just do it and move on. That said, Caleb’s currently one of my main AD suspects, but more on that later.
Our last couple, Aria and Ezra, aren’t faring so well. Surprising no one, Nicole’s alive, and Ezra looked pretty damn happy to see her again. I love how the show has basically just had Aria root against a kidnapped woman being found alive and well all season, just in case it messed up her engagement.
With all of this out of the way, we can get to the action-packed third act. After discovering that Noel has escaped from the motel room, the girls get a text to meet at an old hospital for blind patients. Ding ding ding – that’d be a text from Jenna, and a nice call back to when Alison went to visit her on the day of her disappearance.
Inside, Mary Drake is creeping around (for some reason), and Jenna and Noel unleash hell on their enemies. It’s a showdown that’s better for Jenna fans than Noel, with the idea of fighting in the dark so that they get to experience the terror that Jenna has since they blinded her.
Jenna’s got a gun (yep, they make that joke) and Noel Khan has a goddam axe. It’s silly, and over-the-top, but then so are these characters. If Wren or Charlotte started running around with medieval weaponry, I’d had a problem with it. These two? Fine.
Then Noel gets beheaded by his own axe. Yep, beheaded. I had to pause the episode here so that I could cackle uncontrollably. RIP Noel Khan.
Let’s chat about Noel for a second since, bar a major genre shift or a trip to Ravenswood, this is his final appearance. As ever, he wasn’t the big bad, or Mary’s other child, or AD. He was a guy after his own interests with past indiscretions that various parties could use to control him.
I like this for a number of reasons. I like it because the ‘secrets’ that Alison mentioned back in the season five finale (when we can assume he was helping Charlotte, rather than Ali) track back to something in the first season, and also because it proves that sometimes PLL does choose the simplest answer. Noel pushed a girl down the stairs at a party when he was a teenager. That’s the answer.
There’s so many conspiracy theories for each and every recurring character on this show, but in the end Noel was simply the dudebro he appeared to be – just one that was mixed up in the shady goings-on of Rosewood. He’s one of the stars of that other show in which Jenna is the wronged protagonist, but for this one he’s really not that important to the big picture.
Now, Jenna’s a whole different story. Like Noel (and Melissa), the first rule of Jenna Marshall is that she’s never actually A, but she’s always doing something shady all the same. The second rule is to remember that she has a legitimate grudge against the Liars and, to quote Ali’s late husband, karma’s a bitch.
Even though she doesn’t get to shoot anyone herself, a few lives are left hanging in the balance as we leave the show until April (sob). Seconds after Spencer is shot (by AD), we see that Toby and Yvonne have crashed on their way out of town. Accident or targeted attack, we don’t know.
Correct me if this has been answered following the episode, but is Toby actually dead? Or just in mortal peril? We were promised a big departure in this episode, but that description could have been stretched to mean Noel Khan, who’s definitely, totally, really dead. If Toby’s gone, then this was a good episode in which to send him off and, if anyone of the boyfriends are going to die, he’s the best choice.
Oh, and Mary is Spencer’s mother, making her the secret Drake child and Charlotte’s sister. Peter Hastings sure was a busy guy back in those days.
So who’s AD? And who’s Charlotte’s killer? We’ve only got 10 more episodes before all is revealed, so now’s as good as any to get our theories straight.
With so many old faces in town, and Noel, Mary and Jenna now off the table, the suspects list for AD is getting a little shorter. We’re in the final stretch, so everyone who’s ever been accused of A shenanigans is back on the table, and that includes Paige, Sydney, Lucas, Caleb and Wren (who’s confirmed to return in s7b), just for starters.
But the reveals are just one part of why I’m excited about this final half-season. I’m really looking forward to seeing what PLL looks like when it isn’t holding anything back. I hope it’s ridiculous, and beautiful, and subversive. Just like it’s always been.