‘Pretty Little Liars’ Season 7: The Players on the Board Go Round & Round…

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When I first found out I was only going to be doing a monthly column for “Pretty Little Liars” from here on out, barring the lead-in to the finale and the wrap-up to the series, I was more than a little concerned. After all, creator and showrunner I. Marlene King had promised big reveals on every episode. Well, I should know by now she’s the biggest little liar of them all.

Since my last review, the first two episodes after, “These Boots Were Made for Stalking” and “Hold Your Piece” were largely a complete wash, wasting valuable show real estate on the likes of ongoing drama between Ali (Sasha Pieterse), Emily (Shay Mitchell) and Paige (Lindsey Shaw); the return of Holden (Shane Coffey)- I don’t dislike the character, but it’s inconsequential if he isn’t involved and I doubt that to be the case- and a near-entire episode devoted to the shenanigans of minor character Addison (Ava Allan).

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Indeed, all of this served to lessen the impact of, say, the death of Yvonne (Kara Royster), which, granted, she’s not exactly a major character, per se, but she probably deserved a little more- at the very least, an additional scene with Toby (Keegan Allen) dealing with the fallout of her passing. Instead, we barely got a glimpse of him after, before he was shipped off for a “fishing” trip with Caleb (Tyler Blackburn), also somewhat conspicuous in his absence.

I think I speak for a lot of “PLL” fans when I say they need to stop messing around with all this minor character stuff and get back to focusing on the main mystery at hand and stop wasting our time with glorified filler, and/or possible fishing on the show’s own behalf to see if a spin-off might fly. Judging from the overall fan reaction to the whole Addison thing, I’m guessing that’s a big no. Better they should have waited until the show was done, then maybe try launching a new show. Have they learned nothing from “Ravenswood”?

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Granted, not all of it was a waste. Hanna (Ashley Benson), who was much put upon in these early episodes, got some great dramatic moments, and Spencer (Troian Bellisario) even more so, thanks to some loaded conversations with her (adoptive) mother, Veronica (Lesley Fera) and later on, her father, Peter (Nolan North), who had some serious mansplaining to do.

We also got some choice moments with evil doppelgangers Jenna (Tammin Sursok) and Sydney (Chloe Bridges), both of whom are actually directly connected with AD, aka Uber A, which we know for a fact now. I do think that, as some of the girls suggested, such was not always the case. I think Jenna and Noel (Brant Daugherty) had their own thing going on, which expanded to include Sara (Dre Davis) and Archer Dunhill, aka Dr. Rollins (Huw Collins), who was himself also involved with Mary Drake (Andrea Parker).

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But overall, “Boots” and “Piece” were astonishingly juicy development-free, which is no good for a show so close to coming to its final bow. We simply don’t have time to waste on such frivolities, and you’d think the writers would know that. I can only surmise that they put all the good stuff in the back half of the final episodes, and, as such, needed to pad out the first few episodes accordingly. Or so I hope. I just pray that it doesn’t feel too rushed/jam-packed as a result, when they could have spaced things out in a more satisfying way.

Thankfully, after those two episodes, the show tightened up considerably, and we got some bona fide reveals, beginning with “Power Play” and continuing into the most recent episode, “In the Eye Abides the Heart.” Sure, a lot of people had figured out what AD was up to when he stole Emily’s eggs, so revealing that Ali was indeed pregnant with Emily’s baby was somewhat anticlimactic as a result, but, in focusing on all that, we forgot one key component: who’s the daddy?

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It isn’t Rollins/Dunhill- that much we know. But it could literally be anyone else. Hell, it could even be Peter Hastings. That guy gets around, after all! Whatever the case, all of this led to some great Emison moments, as well as individual moments for the both of them, notably Ali’s having to face her then-choice to have an abortion when AD forced her to pick out baby items for her registry at a store.

Pieterse knocked that scene out of the park, as we saw her try to barrel through AD’s calculated machinations, only to have to face the consequences of her decision, like it or not, when she discovered Emily was the mother, as it were. Though Ali continued to struggle with the decision, a plea by Emily finally resulted in the two opting to move forward with the pregnancy, despite the shadiness of its conception.

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I imagine finding out Dunhill wasn’t the father- or even responsible- was part of that, though whoever was may be even worse- and probably is. Would you want to have a raging lunatic’s baby? It’s not an easy question to answer, and though it could well be a random sperm donor- but probably isn’t- kudos to the show for at least trying to tackle such thorny issues. Though the whole abortion thing may have been side-stepped, at least they showed Ali seriously considering it, until the big Emily reveal. I’ve no doubt she would have done it otherwise.

Of course, the bigger picture end result was the end of Emily’s relationship with Paige and the beginning in earnest of having one with Ali. It was undeniably satisfying to have Ali reveal, more or less, her true underlying feelings for Emily in a somewhat forced conversation with Paige, who confronted her about it by waltzing into Ali’s house unannounced and demanding she admit she might be in love with Emily.

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Ali stopped short of actually saying the words- all the better for her to do so with Emily present- but I dug that it was Paige who forced her to deal with it all. In ensuring that Emily would be in good hands, Paige was able to get over her own (understandable) misgivings about Ali and let go of her own relationship with Emily in the process, allowing her to get on with her life, once and for all. I’ve never been a huge Paige fan, but I never respected and liked her more than I did in that scene. Well played, Paige, and well-acted, on both Pieterse and Shaw’s respective ends.

This is not to short change Mitchell’s work, either, who showed Emily’s struggles to come to terms with all sorts of heavy-duty issues, including the fact that she’d essentially been forced into motherhood, along with Ali, who had been outright violated in the process. And yet, despite the truly awful circumstances that led to it all, Emily found herself making a plea to Ali to keep the baby, committing herself to helping to raise it in the process- truly a big, adult-sized step forward for both Emily and Ali’s characters. Good stuff all around, “PLL.”

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In addition to all of that, we got several other, more unexpected reveals, including the fact that, of all people, Pastor Ted (Edward Kerr), was the father of… wait for it- Charles, aka Charlotte, aka CeCe (Vanessa Ray)! It seems that he and Mary Drake were an item in college, and she found herself pregnant with his child, which he never knew about until recently. What’s more, back when Charlotte was Charles, he attended a camp in which Ted was a counselor.

But wait, there’s more! It seems that Charles had a best bud at camp, and it was none other than… Lucas (Brendan Robinson)! It was all the sweeter that this reveal came when, as Hanna pointed out, Ted was sitting in Lucas’ home, unbeknownst to him, at the time. Though Hanna, naturally, defended Lucas’ honor, the plot thickened when it was discovered that Lucas and Charles concocted a comic book together, back in the day, in which a shape-shifting antihero avenged the wrongs of a kid bullied by other kids and even his own family. Hmm… that sounds familiar.

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Of course, the fact that the girls were attacked in Lucas’ smart house that time makes him look plenty guilty, as does the fact that we know him to be extremely computer-savvy. Factor in that he appears to have put the factory he supposedly put aside for Hanna’s fashion line on the market for sale and things don’t look so good for Lucas.

However, I don’t think he’s AD, but rather, the long-lost “Emoji A,” aka the one messing with the girls that was determined to find out who killed Charlotte. That makes perfect sense, given that the two were friends back in the day, and he would certainly would want to know who killed her, even though he likely knew about her decided issues, back when she was the post-Mona “A.” I’m sure he also helped her with all of that, too, so he’s hardly innocent in all this, but I don’t think he’s AD, either.

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Nope, I still maintain that AD is someone a bit older, if not an adult, then my long-maintained chief suspect, Melissa (Torrey DeVitto), likely in cahoots with another big returnee to the show, none other than Dr. Wren (Julian Morris), at long last back, after much demand from the fans, who have long suspected his involvement in things. He only showed up at the end of “Eye,” so we didn’t get much there, but it was confirmed that he knew Charlotte and helped her get in and out of Radley, back when it was a mental hospital, so there’s that.

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However, he and Spencer were acting pretty shady, and she did tell Ezra (Ian Harding) not to tell anyone Wren was in town, so that was kind of weird. Might Spencer be involved with everything, more than we know? Or does this lend credence to the whole “Spencer has an evil twin, too” theory? Hard to say, but it is an intriguing development, to be sure.

Speaking of Ezra, he’s certainly played his part in a lot of Aria (Lucy Hale) drama, as he’s see-sawed between her and Nicole (Rebecca Breeds), who got a rude awakening when she sought refuge from her overbearing parents after her unexpected return from the jungle at Ezra’s, only to discover that he and Aria were engaged the hard way. As in she spotted Aria’s wedding dress in his closet. Awkward!

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All of this has no doubt contributed to Aria’s fragile state of mind, which has directly resulted in her contemplating metaphorically sleeping with the enemy, as it were, which is to say, joining forces with AD. After swiftly calling Sydney’s bluff, after she falsely claimed to be AD herself, Sydney entreated her to join the “winning” team- and Aria took her up on it, albeit eventually, and only after AD threatened to “expose” Ezra’s wrongdoings- and her own- revealing that they had Aria’s long-missing files.

Since then, she’s been confronted time and again with an admittedly creep-tastic AD video chat in which her own face has been adopted to “speak” with her and bark out commands, which she has so far agreed to, including snagging the aforementioned comic and delivering it to AD and keeping AD informed on what the latest developments are in general.

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We also know from Mona (Janel Parrish) that AD might have that wacky interactive board game at their disposal, but that AD is not using it to listen in on the girls, as it would run down the limited-life battery that keeps the thing operational. (“I thought it ran on bitchiness,” snarked Hanna, hilariously.) I loved that scene with Mona geeking out on the game, admiring its craftsmanship and the like.

Is Hanna playing with fire, recruiting Mona, a former “A” game player herself, back into the frontlines? Well, it takes a wacko to know how a wacko thinks, I guess, but who’s to say AD might not try to recruit Mona as well? That could be an even more valuable acquisition than Aria, in a way.

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Plus, AD wouldn’t have to worry as much about trust there as they do with Aria, though, lest we forget, Mona is still attempting to make amends with the girls for her actions- even if they still don’t trust her, understandably. But is that mistrust enough to turn her to the AD side? We shall see. She certainly got a gleam in her eye when she spotted that game, though, that’s for sure.

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Finally, the police department, led by Marco Furey (Nicholas Gonzalez) is closing in on the murderer of Archer Dunhill, which they confirmed as such when someone- likely AD- sent the cops a severed finger belonging to the late con artist, which they confirmed came from a dead body. Despite his feelings for Spencer, who he is currently sleeping with, one can see where he’d be inherently suspicious of a girl whose first words to him, before she knew he was a cop, involved a line about burying a body, albeit meant in a tongue-in-cheek way.

More troubling for Spencer is the fact that she used Dunhill’s credit car at the Radley bar that night, and thinks she might have signed her name to the receipt when she paid for her drinks. If so, that’s a problematic paper trail that leads right to her door. Of course, as Ali pointed out, why would Dunhill’s killer go to the lengths of proving he was alive and on the run, only to prove he was dead when they sent the finger? Obviously, we know it’s because Dunhill’s killer is technically Hanna, and she didn’t send that finger, that’s for sure.

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The girls’ only hope to get out of this is, naturally, to keep playing the game, praying that AD doesn’t drop the hammer on them, leading to their ending up back in the clink, yet again. I don’t think AD will, but it may not matter if Furey gets to the bottom of it first. At the very least, it could be big trouble for Spencer, who would have a hard time explaining how she happened to be in possession of a dead man’s credit card. I suppose she could say she lifted it from him before he was dead, but it still doesn’t look good.

I suspect that Spencer meeting up with Dr. Wren is about her doing some damage control on the whole Dunhill situation. Who better to help cover it up than someone with some past experience with doing some shady things? The fact that he admits to helping CeCe sneak in and out of Radley begs the question- why? The obvious answer: because he’s involved with everything going down. But by extension, that may mean Spencer is too. We shall see.

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All of this added up to two solid episodes in a row after two decidedly lackluster ones. I can live with that, I suppose- no use crying over spilt milk- but the show would do well to no longer mess around with wonky subplots moving forward. Of course, the series is already in the can at this point, so there’s not much they can do about it now, whatever the final episodes are, and what happens in them.

We’re now down to five episodes, regardless, so no more fooling around, let’s hope. There’s still a lot of stuff to resolve and a whole lot of plot holes to retcon, if they even can. I did forget to mention one: Peter Hastings confirmed that it was indeed Mary that was in the house that night we saw her creeping on Spencer, thinking it was Jessica. He confronted her, and Mary tried to recruit him to go after her sister, Jessica, but he refused.

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In retaliation, Mary took some pills from his house and used them to frame Peter for her sister’s murder, which she committed, burying the body in his backyard to make him further look guilty. Peter took full responsibility for his mistakes, and admitted, rather than having “passport issues,” when he was late getting back, that he had instead been trying to hunt down Mary, with the help of a private investigator.

Spencer tried to track down Mary herself, leaving a literal message in a bottle for her and arranging a meet-up, but unintentionally blew it when she discovered that Detective Furey had been following her, which she wasn’t aware of at the time. Jessica saw him and got spooked, and has subsequently closed ranks, cutting off ties with Spencer as a result of thinking she had turned against her. I think that about covers the main things I missed.

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Props to Troian Bellisario for her fine job directing the “Eye” episode- nicely done. She might just have a future there. Given that both her parents are big-name writer/producers: Donald P. Bellisario (“NCIS,” “JAG”) and Deborah Pratt (“The Net,” “Quantum Leap”); it clearly runs in the family.

Fun fact: Like her daughter, Pratt was once an actress, narrating “Quantum Leap” and at one point on the show playing a character named… Troian. Her daughter had already been born at the time of the episode, so it was no coincidence. Also, Pratt’s parents are both African American/Creole, which makes Troian herself of that heritage as well. Who knew?

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Troian also has produced and written/co-written several short films (including “Exiles” and “We are Here”), and wrote and produced the upcoming feature film, “Feed,” which comes out this summer. So, in the unlikely event this whole acting thing doesn’t work out- wink, wink- I think she has a bright future in filmmaking to fall back on.

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That about does it for now. Join me next month for another look at the show: hopefully, we’ll have lots to talk about next time. Until then, thanks for reading, and as always, be sure and post your crazy theories and comments down below!