Emotional rambling and possible spoilers up to 3x08, so proceed with caution.
A couple of days ago I was trying to compile a lists of things I genuinely look forward to, pop culturally wise, in a week, and it just so happened that Pretty Little Liars somehow made it to the top of that list. Not that Breaking Bad isn't enjoyable, as the point in time when Skyler White kills Walter (that's how it ends, right? It must!) draws nearer. Not that Leverage isn't one of the most loveable shows lightning up horribly hot and lamentably humid summers. Not that Warehouse 13's return didn't excite me because that's one show always ending its season in a surprisingly shocking and emotionally devastating fashion, pointing towards its potential. But it's August now, and the one thing I most look forward to is getting up on a Wednesday morning to watch a new episode of Pretty Little Liars, and one of the things that I dread most is the unavoidable moment at the end of August when the shows goes on hiatus until next year, even though I recognize that two hiatuses are better than one horribly long one.
So what happened? What happened between the first time I saw the pilot and decided that a show about the death of a cruel high school queen bee and her best friends, who only came together because of Alison and are now drawn back together because of her loss, wasn't for me, and the moment that I realized it absolutely was for me?
I just want to mention right now that something about the show made me read all of the books, so I'm eternally grateful to the show runner (for several reasons, but also for this one) that the show is "based on" the books, but doesn't strictly follow them. There's probably one major spoiler in the books that I assume will eventually be realized on screen, and people who are aware of the original story will be waiting for it to happen, while people who aren't have been given enough hints to guess it, I think. I'd argue that Pretty Little Liars' strength does not lie in the major of its mystery, even though the whodunit may draw in viewers - it's the why that's much more interesting than the who, which is the reason why PLL can get away with explaining the impossibility of an all-knowing, all-seeing antagonist with a "perpetual state of hyperreality". It doesn't really matter how Mona knew what she knew and was able to do what she did; it's much more interesting to consider her reasons, her motivation, for haunting the Liars, and it's even more interesting to consider what A's endgame is, because sometimes his agenda seems to be more about forcing the Liars to realize their own power and potential than to destroy them (which is of course also what Alison did to them, and the precise reason why they all, despite all the flashback about how horrible Alison was as a friend and as a human being, they all insist that she was their best friend - and, in the case of Emily, the person they loved).
This is one of the reasons why I find this show so compelling; apart from the fact that it portrays a group of friends that is so tightly knit that they can't even stay mad at each other for more than one and a half episodes, that they prioritize each other's well being over everything else, the way the show handles the relationship between the Liars and their eternal antagonist, A, is incredibly fascinating. Each of the four Liars grows because of A, because of the specific way A challenges them. Emily is forced to come out (and falls on her face, sure), but it's almost like A reveals their individual weaknesses and then helps them to overcome them, and they all grow stronger in the process. Aria realizes all the things she wouldn't have about the way her father tries to control her sexuality. Spencer deals with her incredibly fucked up family instead of becoming like them. Hanna - probably my favourite amongst them, and who would have seen that one coming, goes from being incredibly conscious of her social station and willing to do anything to defend it to being the most compassionate characters of the show, the one amongst them who always knows when making amends is in order, when saying "I am sorry" is the right thing to do. It's magical, because the most interesting question the show poses isn't "who is A" (or, maybe more accurately, "who are A"), but "who will the Liars become in the course of this conflict".
I appreciate that A could be every- and anyone. At this point, I wouldn't even put it beyond the show to make one of the Liars part of the A team (if one of them is revealed to be playing the long game at the end of six seasons and a movie, all the more power to them, to be honest). What brings me back with bated breath every week are the meaningful relationships, the character development, the incredible love these these characters have for each other. The biggest lie ever told about high school is that the only thing that can come out of the horrible and quite inescapable insecurities is competition, that people are doomed to tear each other apart in order to showcase what makes them special. A unites the Liars, and they are all the stronger for it.
- Mona! I'm intrigued by all the complex relationships the show has, especially Alison/Everyone (why Spencer still refers to Alison as "her best friend" and brings up the fact that Emily was in love with Alison in a conversation), but Mona and Hanna have a special place in my heart.
- Paige McCullers and how she falls over her own feet trying to run away from the one thing she desperately needs + Lindsey Shaw has a face, help.
- The weird way in which the show manages to weed out all the character I don't find so compelling (mostly by killing them off) and ends up with an adorable group of supporting hobbits + helpful computer website page hackers.
- The moms.
- The moms.
- NO REALLY, THE MOMS ARE SO GREAT.
- Lolita and "the only reason Ezra/Aria doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth is because Ian Harding is so adorable", let's just replay that "slowly running towards each other in the rain" sequence a million times and write about it in our diary.
- (but just the literary references in general, and the feedback the show seems to get from interacting with fans and prominent reviewers, see "Radley Sanatorium".)
- It's almost like people who were involved in Popular split up 50/50 between Glee and PLL and one of the two got the better deal in the bargain.
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