Each Friday in The Televangelists, one of our writers examines the met and missed potential of television.
Tuesday’s Season Three premiere of Pretty Little Liars displayed all the elements that make the show, part teen drama and part mystery, successful: vulnerable but brave teenage girls, rainstorms and secluded rural settings, and layers upon layers of plot twists. This season, there’s a new “A” in town, and the four protagonists face the uncertainty of figuring out the identity of yet another bully when the authorities insist that their tormentor is behind bars. At the close of Season Two, the girls finally felt some relief (along with a slew of other confused emotions) at finding out their frenemy Mona was acting as “A,” but the new season brings heightened anxiety as the girls discover that Mona was only a small player in their torture. As the world around them grows darker and even more dangerous, Aria, Spencer, Emily, and Hanna must band together against a grave-robbing adversary who gloats “Mona played with dolls. I play with body parts.”
Against this backdrop of suspense, the girls’ romances intensify while their familial relationships deteriorate. As one character essentially argues, friends trump family because in friendships, there are no consequences for betraying trust or lying. That concept plays out in numerous ways throughout the episode; Hanna visits Mona in spite of the revelation of Mona’s betrayal because Hanna needs to know “what I did to make you hate me so much.” Aria’s parents hover on the brink of divorce in large part because of the conflict caused by Aria’s sexual relationship with her former English teacher—a relationship the show uncritically romanticizes. Spencer struggles to resist temptation with her boyfriend but consistently lies about her activities to her friends and family alike. And Emily seems caught in a downward spiral of self destruction that only her friends recognize. Each of these scenarios draws the girls further from their families and closer to their friends, further perpetuating the belief that they stand alone in their quest to vanquish “A.” There is no reliable authority to whom they can turn, no one they can trust but each other.
The show takes the stereotypical teenage conviction that adults are untrustworthy and pushes it to extreme conclusions—to the brink of life and death; everyone on the show lies, whoppers and little white lies alike, but in their most important relationships (their friendships), lies are not destructive but protective. In this show, friends lie to nurture, protect, and save each other, always ultimately resulting in revelation and increased closeness. Lies, within this quartet, strengthen relationships, yet the girls must also navigate a network of lies from every relationship outside of their clique. As they struggle to unravel the truth about “A,” there is little regard for truth even with the people they claim to love most. With Mona behind bars and a new “A” emerging, the girls recognize that truths (after all, Mona was acting as “A”) are partial, incomplete, and insufficient to protect them from the dangers of the world. And so, unearthing the whole truth about “A” might set them free in the future, but how many lies and how many broken relationships will be left in the wake of their discovery? No doubt audiences will be watching it all unravel, or get even more tangled, in a stormy setting amplified by eerie music. The Liars are back and the suspense is on.