Got a Secret? About PLL’s “It’s Alive” and “The Goodbye Look”

We’re baack. I don’t know how often we’re baack, but who cares about petty details when there’s dead murderers running around Rosewood impregnating characters’ mean-spirited older sisters? And when Danby is recruiting Emily for its nationally renowned swim team???

I tried not to think of my last three months as life without Pretty Little Liars so much as life with The Killing and Parks and Recreation and any number of cheap knockoffs of the greatest show on television. It failed, though, and now that PLL is back, it’s officially prime television season.

Here’s why:

1. “It’s Alive” does a strong job reframing the dramatic ending to Season One—isn’t it nice that we can finally call it “Season One” instead of talking about interrupted quasi-seasons now?—with a long “Previously on…” and Garrett’s insistence that they lie to the police. Anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet—I’m sure there’s a person or two out there—would thus know, “Oh, lying is essential to the plot.”

2. A guy named Garrett being Machiavellian? Come on, like 98 percent of Garretts in the world are Canadian.

3. “It’s Alive” as an episode title of course conjures up images of 1950s-style science-fiction monster cinema. The “It” in the title can refer to any number of things, but the ending revelation pretty clearly identifies “It” as Ian, and thus the choice of pronoun dehumanizes him. Those old sci-fi films were of course proxies for fears regarding nuclear technology—Godzilla the preeminent example obvs—and Pretty Little Liars merely drops the “nuclear” modifier. At this point, it wants us to view Ian as a monster crafted out of an increasing reliance on technology—a monster that feeds off of it and whose potency increases with access to it.

The Bad Seed
The New Normal
Je Suis Un Ami
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Lie, Lie Again
Careful What U Wish 4
Know Your Frenemies
Salt Meets Wounds
Moments Later
Keep Your Friends Close
The Perfect Storm
Please Do Talk About Me When I’m Gone

4. Rosewood’s resemblance to any number of pleasant small towns from films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still only accentuates such a comparison to those old genre films.

5. Ian—and these comparisons only hold true if he indeed is the murderer, the implications of which were nicely undercut by that cross-examination of Spencer by Jason DiLaurentis II in the second episode—is the evolutionary merger of the voyeur and the killer from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Voyeurism in that film is excused and indeed championed; here, it’s relegated back to a shameful and dangerous status.

6. So I know I didn’t write explicitly about last season’s finale, but man, were there a lot of Vertigo callbacks in that or what? It also reiterated a pet peeve of mine: In a chase scene like that, why would Spencer go up? She’s smart enough to know there’s no way out from up. That was the lesson of Up.

7. If I had to describe the first two episodes of Season Two with one word, it would be: sleepwear. Lot of pajama scenes. I’m not complaining.

8. Which of course lets PLL have indoor scenes in the dark.

9. I really like how the show is turning the town against the Core Four. Their erratic behavior, particularly that of Spencer, is deservedly drawing some negative attention, and their credibility has become increasingly shot. It’s an intriguing way to take the narrative. Breaking the four of them apart—which may have only lasted half an episode—was another interesting step, albeit one that led to slow-motion swimming montages of Emily.

9b. All the “You’re telling me I can’t see my friends???” lines, though, just sounded like lame LeBron James whining.

10. Can we get some Pretty Little Liars-In Treatment cross-promotion? If they had walked into that office and had Gabriel Byrne staring back at them, how awesome would that have been?

11. Even if it were just Amy Ryan…

12. How long did Lucas drive for Caleb? It’s morning by the time they’re returning. He was so nice to Caleb I expected him to drop him off at Hanna’s and give him a pat on the shoulder and a “F*** her for me, buddy.”

13. At which point Caleb would turn and say, “I’m not your buddy.”

14. “WHAT REALLY HAPPENED” headline in the Rosewood newspaper. It’s that kind of hastily conclusive sensationalist reports that are killing journalism. That one scene was a more judicious and relevant critique of the journalism industry than Season Five of The Wire.

15. Ian and Melissa’s devil spawn is going to be named “Taylor,” which works for a boy or a girl, according to Melissa. In saying this, she accurately summarizes everything wrong with the name Taylor.

16. And with like half of the top 100 names given children in this country these days.

17. The title of the second episode, “The Goodbye Look,” is a hat tip to the Donald Fagen (or possibly Steely Dan) song of the same name. The operative lyrics to think about are “I know what happens / I read the book / I believe I just got the goodbye look.” I read this as a sign that what happens in the PLL books may not necessarily dictate what happens on the series.

18. I do not know what happens, as I have not read the books.

19. And I don’t recommend listening to the song. It’s bad.

20. Of course, others may try to connect the title to Aria and Ezra, with Mr. Fitz leaving Rosewood High in the episode. I, on the other hand, am doing my best to ignore everything about that relationship these days. I’d make a jumping the shark reference, and tie it in with the fact that Rosewood High’s mascot is a shark, but it would just feel forced.

21. “Zombies don’t text.” Hanna describes an upcoming plot twist in The Walking Dead. Or Twilight. Or those cretinous zombie-fiction remakes.

22. Pam Fields takes Emily’s phone in a vicious act of parental totalitarianism (what else is new for her?), but then Emily is able to call Spencer right after. Methinks a continuity error.

23. Speaking of things I didn’t quite comprehend, where was the Hastings family all episode? Why are Spencer and Melissa the only two people ever in that house?

24. Samarra’s back! This is like the 96th most significant part of Season Two.

25. Where is Maya, btw? Why did her family move out already, allowing Jason DiLaurentis II—he’s being played by a different, less Brandon Frasier-esque actor—to move back in? At least when Alex disappeared, he landed Mean Girls 2.

26. Jason II’s deconstruction of Spencer’s “version” of events was terrific and continued to subvert the credibility of the Core Four, even to the viewer. What seemed like an upfront confession from Ian in the season finale doesn’t feel quite as absolute anymore.

27. Flashbacks that include him, though, should include Jason I and not Jason II.

28. “Don’t you read the paper or listen to the news?”

“No.”

—Mona

29. Danby is recruiting Emily! This is like the 102nd most significant part of Season Two. Just move already. (And could she be more naïve about college recruiting?)

30. Ezra would have a chessboard on his coffee table.

31. Liked Aria calling Spencer “the master of time,” even if I can’t think of one instance in which it’s been borne out in the series.

32. Why would a college want Mr. Fitz? He seems like a pretty mediocre high school English teacher to me. (There appeared to be fill-in-the-blank questions on his chalkboard in the first episode.)

33. I did think, for once, that the final scene between Aria and Ezra making out in the parking lot, with all the school buses in the background, was well-done. It captured the conflicted nature of that relationship much better than anything else the series has done with those two.

34. “I would have done something.”

“What would you have done?”

“I don’t know.”

—Toby and Spencer

35. The Hanna-Mona forgiveness scene was like when LC forgave Heidi—except not at all.

36. The shot of the kettle boiling, followed by a strike of lightning, was as Twin Peaks as PLL has gotten in two seasons. Seemed weird for weird’s sake.

37. “It just looks like a town” Toby says of Rosewood from atop the mountain where he and Spencer do all their hanging out. “It’s like one of those collective-mind creatures in the movies. One with a really long memory.” Nice monster callback and kind of a hat tip toward classic modernism’s sense of the city. PLL operates within different genres.

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One response to this post.

  1. [...] NPI has made it to 1,000 posts. Can you believe it? That’s 1,000 posts, only a few hundred of which have been collections of links, one-sentence jokes, or reviews of commercials! Somewhere in there we actually had substantive arguments about political and legal theory, the value of film criticism, and candy. We’ve chatted about college basketball, the World Series, and the BCS (oh so much about the BCS). We’ve reviewed all kinds of television, from reality shows on MTV to HBO dramas to teen soaps on ABC Family. [...]

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