Pretty Little Liars Returns with “A” Vengeance

[Ed. Note: I’d be surprised if that title hasn’t been used already. It pretty much writes itself.]

The ABC Family darlings are back after an in-story five month hiatus, less than three months in real life, and it appears as if the revelation of the identity of “A” and Mya’s1 murder at the end of last season hasn’t taken away from our girls’ enjoyment of the summer. Spencer has been dry humping Toby for months. Aria has been able to get over her parents’ separation by presumably wet humping her elder beau. Hanna has found ‘jubilation’ in the culinary arts and an expanded vocabulary. Emily has found the bottle.

We’re immediately reminded in last night’s season premiere of how badly things can go for Emily. She’s a lush, a queer (book spoiler alert: questioning her sexuality may be more appropriate), a widower (kinda), and ethnic in a town where that’s apparently frowned upon (refer back to the untimely demise of Mya and Garrett’s current incarceration2, solely the result of falling in love with the wrong white girl). Emily has been dealt a rough hand in a straight white American game of hearts. She’s so othered throughout the series, it appears benevolent for her fellow little liars to remain friends with her. She’s ostensibly the weakest link. “A” concocted an arc’s worth of torment last season to drive home the point. The tragedy however is that the rest of the gang seems to buy into it and Emily is left outside looking in several times in this premiere episode.

Everyone keeps secrets in the series. Whether it’s occasional sit downs with a catatonic Mona, parlays with an alleged murderer Garrett, or fake dating a secret ninja with heart disease3, there’s no shortage of information that’s privately kept on a need-to-know basis, at least temporarily. Pretty Little Liars is largely about secrets. The show relies heavily upon reinforcing the theme that the aesthetic of Rosewood and all its parts are deceitfully appealing, everything from the sartorial, to the romantic, to the truly adolescent act as an attractive gloss to mask the murder, cat fights, and sex. All the little pretties lie, cheat, steal, fornicate, and sometimes kill. And it always stands in contrast to open-toed pumps and couture bangles in the beautifully manicured suburbs of PA. A perfect example is the “retail therapy” Hanna’s mother finds appropriate to deal with the body of her late best friend being apparently stolen from her grave. Parenting in Rosewood is sort of like that.

It’s an easy critique to acknowledge that Emily exists near the outside of the Rosewood, PA status quo. Her parents literally moved away and fundamentally took her roots with them. No one brought her shopping when her girlfriend was murdered. And she doesn’t seem privy to the secrets of the group anymore. Why not just tell her that “A” might’ve had accomplices? That all her and Alison’s belongings were swiped? That the torment isn’t quite over? It seems Emily simply didn’t need to know the secret, despite not being allowed, by various forces throughout the series, including an ulcer, to keep any secrets of her own. In deciding to keep her out of the loop, Aria, Spencer, and Hanna exclude Emily from the economy of secrecy and appearances that maintain the group’s friendship and defends them against conflict — with “A”, law enforcement, parents, or whoever. Ostracized from secret keeping and pretty clothes, Emily then represents distinct conflicts independent of the group, distanced from the upper middle class world of Pretty Little Liars. She’s a subtle casualty and alcoholism may be just the beginning. Emily sported the least impressive wardrobe this episode and even had to burn an outfit at one point. It can only get worse from here.

Surely, this was what “A” had planned from the beginning — driving a societal wedge between Emily and her friends. With “A’s” cunning and psychological manipulation, we’ve almost forgotten that Emily is the hot one! Clearly, our mystery antagonist — with the most prolific unlimited text plan on television — is in no way down for the count. I predict, however, Emily Fields still has some fight in her yet. She’ll prove somehow that she doesn’t have to be the victim or a casualty of these white girl reindeer games. Maybe there’s a lot more to Em then just a pretty face and TV tokenism. For the series’ sake, I hope so.

1Mya is played by the perennially 16 year old Bianca Lawson. Perhaps now her ageless soul can finally rest.

2 Is Garrett more implicitly of color? Yani Gellman is Canadian and Australian according to his Wikipedia, but he speaks Spanish and plays anything from Italian to Latino.

3Whatever happened to that guy? Oh yeah. No one cared.

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