What a fantastic episode! It had everything! Everybody was awesome! There was a magic parrot eating a rotisserie chicken! Spencer recreating the night at the Lodge using everybody's dinner in a breadstick-and-cherry-tomato simulacrum matrix! Paige and Emily back having an actual story arc! Alison demonstrating strange new powers! All this plus Ryan Guzman from Step Up: Revolution, the very greatest dance-related film about the Occupy Movement.
Mona, fed up with the girls' continued Mean Girling, offers to take them to the RV that is no longer there, which looks pretty bad. But luckily, A tries to murder her while everybody's standing right there, so then they are only mostly awful to her. (And fascinatingly, it's Aria that ends up spending the most Mona time this week, which is a new and very cool chemistry.) In the process of the attack, two interesting things happen.
Number one is, Emily injures her shoulder. After a sweet scene with Paige about their future life together, and a stepped-up offensive from Halloween Shana, Emily is so stressed about getting into Stanford that she ends up going down a big drug spiral before her big swim meet, and ends up in the hospital. Dark Emily is a scary Emily to watch, but the degree to which her problems are normal problems is actually very refreshing. (This thing and the next thing were both like, oh right, this is a teen show and not just a fever nightmare we're all having at the same time.)
Number two is, Aria makes it all about her and immediately decides that she needs martial arts training, on the off chance that something bad ever happens to her. This results in, awesomely enough, probably the best Aria episode of all time -- besides obviously the time Meredith drugged her and chased her around her house -- because she starts training with the aforementioned Ryan Guzman, Jake, and accidentally kisses him, and is just generally very funny and self-aware and mortified in a way that she rarely is. It ends on an up note, and it's a joy from start to finish. (I feel kinda bad for the shippers, but then that's nothing new.)
Spencer finds out that she is not getting into UPenn, the first person ever to do so, and because she is having a meltdown and Toby's acting super sketch, she ends up crying to Ezra about it. (So distraught is she, in fact, that she does not decipher his code and realize that every time he says "safety school" he means that he wants to date Spencer now that Aria is moving on.) Ezra tries to help with her essay for other schools, but when he tells her that this isn't the Nineties and Girl, Interrupted autopathology is no longer a substitute for being an interesting person -- since he doesn't know that, with A involved, honesty about your weird secrets is the best policy -- she flips! Spencer interrupted all over again!
It's tough to see Spencer feeling down, but pretty cool because it's a completely different down from last season. (A lot of people seem to be regressing back to their first-season selves, come to think about it. Worth considering further.) Anyway, good thing Toby's there to flip twice as hard, revealing his many questions about his mother's suicide and explaining his RV-moving deal with A, who has provided him with her file from Radley. (Sad.) We are doing this, and it is certainly interesting to see him going internal with all this stuff -- and a hugely nice surprise that he comes clean about all of it almost immediately, which is especially good now that Spencer is ramping up to her old powers again.
Hanna's got a lot going on, her own self. Although Aria spends the episode being the Mona contact for some reason, there's still the fact that Ashley (who is back!) is lying about all kinds of shit, putting everybody in danger. Mrs. DiLaurentis saddles her with this crazy parrot and won't stop dicking her around about her body issues, but does give us a flashback that was one of the most harrowingly real things I've ever seen on the show. (I don't know if I can explain it right, but trust that there is this mother/daughter meltdown with Ali that was just chills, like Black Swan style, just completely scary... and banal, and sad.) Anyway, Hanna stomps around being bitchy to everybody and eventually gets stonewalled by a hard-drinking Ashley about her whereabouts the night of Wilden's murder, and it's just a tough night all around for ol' Hanna.
In the end, Spencer figures out that the parrot has had a certain phone number drilled into its head, but there's no answer when she calls it: And when the girls try to confirm it, the parrot is gone, kidnapped by A, who feeds it chicken, which is where mad cow comes from. I am not a scientist but that is my understanding.
Next Week: The taskforce is closing in on the Liars, with a whole yarn-and-photo corkboard like something from The Wire. Ali masks everywhere, which is always good. And a field trip to Radley with Toby, which will probably be sad and super weird. How great is this season, man?
Mona engineered a trip to the loony bin for old Spencer to get her on the A-Team, but once the B-Team (the NAT Girls) got involved, even Mona jumped ship and joined the Liars (or did she?). But understandably enough, the Liars are not buying it, so now Mona is just 24/7 trying to earn back their trust (or is she?). Toby moved the Lair Van for A, which made her look bad but opens up his storyline for the season; A stashed Ashley Marin's phone in Wilden's casket and now the Liars are under investigation in his death, with A poised to pull the trigger on Ashley if they don't cooperate with her madness. Oh, and a mysterious Lady in Black maybe has something or nothing to do with any of this.
Liars: "Wait, so how long has A had your mom's phone?"
Hanna: "Shut up! I don't know!"
Liars: "Are you going to be edgy and rude the entire episode?"
Hanna: "Don't threaten me with a good time! You are not my supervisor!"
Liars: "Is the Lady in Black maybe Melissa? She does put on costumes and go places for no reason, we've seen it before."
Spencer: "I am feeling defensive about her ever since she visited me in the mental hospital and my parents never did. She is in DC."
Hanna: "Interning for the Devil I bet!"
Aria: "Spencer, what are you doing with my fries and all of our food?"
Spencer: "Obviously I'm recreating the geography around the Lodge to determine the likelihood that the person who jumped out of the plane could have pulled you all out of that fire, or if there were multiple Alisons running around the woods."
Liars: "Is this you going crazy again?"
Spencer: "No, I'm more Spencer in this episode than I have been since Toby went to Bucks County, it's okay. Remember my cyberspace Lair simulacrum? It's like that, but with breadsticks and fried mozzarella."
Liars: "What we're really saying here is, Alison DiLaurentis is alive and flying planes and torturing us but also saving us."
Liars: "Depending on the day, or the scene, one or more of us does not believe that! Which one kind of changes. Emily seems to be most firmly on Team That Was Not Alison, despite having had more contact with her ghost than maybe anybody else."
Emily: "No, in this scene I kind of do think maybe she has come back to life."
Mona: "Hey guys! Sorry I'm late for our meal together as friends!"