“Pretty Little Liars” just keeps getting creepier.
Tonight marked the start of the show’s sixth season and the return of that pink streak Aria used to wear in her hair. Before we get to that, I’d like to point out that the Liars really brought their A game (sorry!) in their quest to get away from Charles DiLaurentis. That’s the one problem with A’s relentless game — the girls have become really, really good at playing it. Let’s recap!
The episode opened right where we left off in the season five finale — actually, just before. We see a mysterious blonde, who looks like she’s being held in the same makeshift dollhouse as the Liars. There are dozens of tally marks, written in chalk, on the wall behind her. She’s definitely got an Ali vibe, but she’s not Ali. She’s not Mona pretending to be Ali either — Mona’s with the girls.
You’ll remember that the Liars had managed to escape only to find that their compound was surrounded by an electrified fence. The doors to the building lock and they realize they’re stuck outside, with nowhere to run. Spencer tells the girls that Charles was in the room with her and that there was something familiar about him. “Was there anything you recognized?” someone asks. “A smell?”
“She’s not Jenna,” says (who else?) Aria. This is good news. The girls haven’t lost their sense of humor or themselves. Spencer says she knows they’re in the northern hemisphere because she can see the waning moon. And everyone acts shocked when Hanna uses the word “facetiously.”
They huddle close when the rain starts to pour and they spend at least one night outside in last season’s prom wear. There’s a spirited discussion about last-ditch survival techniques and how long they can go without food and water. Aria says she’s not sure she can handle their situation.
Mona offers encouraging words: “You can handle, it Aria, we all can.”
The doors open and an announcement tells the girls to “please enter and follow the lighted pathway.” After a period of consideration, they re-enter the building, vowing to stick together. Unfortunately, Charles has other plans: He unleashes toxic smoke and separates Mona from the group. The Liars end up in what appears to be a morgue. They’ve clearly been out for a few hours. Emily checks to make sure her organs haven’t been harvested because who could put anything past Charles at this point? Mona enters as a candy striper and instructs the girls to call her Ali.
Another announcement: Everyone is instructed to go to their rooms and find their “surprises.” Mona tries saying no. It does not go well. They hear three chimes over the loudspeaker. “Three chimes means we have to go to our rooms, or else,” Mona explains.
“Or else” turns out to be pretty terrifying. Mona ends up in a deep hole, singing “hush little baby” to herself in a weak soprano. And the girls resurface weeks later looking like previous versions of themselves — literally. Poor Aria is forced to rock neon strips of hair, knowing full well the current trend is pastel.
Back in Rosewood, the situation is dire. The girls have been gone for a month and Andrew Campbell is the prime suspect. A journal entry confirms that Andrew harbors some serious resentment against the girls. Ali makes an impassioned, televised plea for their safe return. “Without them, I am lost in the woods, totally alone.” Ali ends her press conference by saying she just needs to be with her family. “No police, please.”
Inside the DiLaurentis house, it’s a different story. Tanner, Toby and their colleagues have set up camp under the assumption that Andrew is really after Ali. If they can lure him to Ali’s house, they can find the girls. Ali gets a call from a blocked number and efforts to track it reveal that — horror film 101 — the caller is inside the DiLaurentis house! The caller says nothing, but plays one of those old-fashioned records A loves so much. Tanner hides Ali away while she and the other cops search the property. The search turns up nothing, except for a cleverly-placed hoodie and a pig mask, slapped on top of another mask. That is so A!
By this time, Ali is already gone. She meets up with Caleb and Ezra and we find out that this was all part of a pretty genius, albeit risky, plan. Ali had been baiting Charles in her press conference, but not in the way everyone thought — the “lost in the woods” part was a reference to the storied kissing rock. Ali goes there in search of Charles and finds an abandoned vehicle. Since this is A’s world, Ali gets into the car, turns on the ignition and is promptly given directions via GPS. Ezra and Caleb are able to track Ali using the same magical technology, hidden in the heel of Ali’s boot.
Ali ends up at a state park, where she promptly runs out of gas. Roadside assistance addresses her by name and tells her that everything she needs is in the trunk. When Ezra and Caleb get there, they find that she has already been made to change clothes and that she had to ditch the boots. But she provides some clues as to her whereabouts.
Back at the dollhouse, the girls are instructed to go to “Ali’s room and prepare for arrival.” It doesn’t take them long to realize that they’re setting up Ali’s room with her actual belongings. They find newspaper clippings about their disappearance and learn the toll that it’s taking on their families. Hanna’s mom had to be taken to the hospital. While organizing Ali’s closet, Aria finds a desperate message from Mona — Charles is going to kill her.
Spencer decides enough is enough — they’re rescuing Mona and getting out of there as soon as possible. Spencer reveals that she is an award-winning Etch-a-Sketch artist when she delivers an off-camera message to her friends. Charles is a DiLaurentis. She confirmed what we already knew when she saw C.D. engraved on some of Ali’s childhood toys.
Spence leads the girls toward the room where she first saw Charles and his home videos. The alarm sounds briefly, but stops once they reach Charles’s vault. Spence looks straight into the camera and says “Game on, Charles” and she means it. When he fails to appear, she starts setting fire to the film and other clearly valuable items. As the fire spreads, the Liars look for a blanket to extinguish it with and Charles is revealed to be on the other side of the curtain. He eventually pulls the fire alarm, setting off sprinklers in the room.
Thanks to the alarm, the Liars are able to run away and find Mona. They somehow manage to get her out of the hole and run toward the exit, which appears to be a hole in the ground. The alarm leads Ali, Ezra and Caleb to the girls and a teary reunion ensues. And that mysterious blonde from the opening scene? It’s Sarah Harvey, the girl who went missing from a nearby town around the same time that Ali disappeared!
It looks like our Summer of Answers is starting with a lot of questions. Here’s a really important one: Is Andrew working alone?
Lingering questions: Is Charles really Jason’s twin? Does Ali remember him? Why didn’t Andrew react immediately when he saw his belongings being set on fire? Why is Sarah Harvey involved in all of this?