‘A’, Alison, and The Jenna Thing

Pretty Little Liars Season 1, Episodes 1-3
Troian Bellisario, Shay Mitchell, Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson

In the year since their best friend and ring-leader, Alison, went missing, the four main “Liars” (Spencer, Aria, Hanna, and Emily) have drifted apart. They were only really friends because of Alison and without her they have been pretty lost. But with Alison’s confirmed death and the threat of the ‘A’ texts, they are beginning to come back together. Part of what makes A so effective is that they know all of the Liar’s secrets, and what they are willing to do to keep those secrets. Each of the Liars has at least one secret at the beginning that is important enough that A can use it to manipulate them. As the show goes on their secrets will only grow, but so will their friendship.

The Liars and Their Secrets

Alison and the four Liars are characterized in these first few episodes to each fit a different teen character trope.

Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario) is the smart one, and the MVP of every investigation. She comes from a perfectionist family with very high standards. Her sister, Melissa, is an overachiever who usurps Spencer’s barn-living dreams so she can live there with her British pre-med fiancee, Wren. Their entire family is very competitive and they like to celebrate achievements. Spencer is in a constant war with Melissa which is only worsened by the fact that Spencer breaks up Melissa and Wren almost immediately after he is introduced to the family. She then steals Melissa’s essay on the Russian revolution.

Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale) is the sensitive, romantic, artsy one. Her family is less conventional than the others. She is ready to grow up a little too soon. Because of Alison’s disappearance, and knowing about her dad’s infidelity, she feels like she is already an adult at 16. Her family has just returned from spending a year in Iceland where he dad went for a sabbatical. She is very protective of her family and wants to believe that they can work through her dad’s infidelity (which only she knows about), but she doesn’t fully trust him again. She is willing to forget about Meredith if she is really out of her dad’s life, but they still work together which makes matters complicated. However, Aria is starting to understand the complexity of an inappropriate relationship.

Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson) is the insecure, Alison wannabe who shoplifts as a form of therapy. Since Ali’s disappearance she has kind of taken over her look and identity. She has low self-esteem and was “fat” for many years. She needs validation that she has left that life behind, mostly through her popular, Christian boyfriend Sean. Her father recently left them but it has made her close with her mom. Though Ashley Marin is not a great mom, or role model, in these first few episodes, she gets much better.

Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell) is the athletic one who is also the nicest. Her family is a very conventional, military family (her mom doesn’t think that having pink streaks in your hair when you are 14 will get you very far in Rosewood). Emily is also gay and struggling to come to terms with that. She was in love with Alison and therefore misses her more than the others do. She tends to give people the benefit of the doubt. Despite her love for Alison, she is the first willing to see that their opinion of Toby is entirely shaped by what Alison told them and not by their actual experiences with him.

Mysteries and Shady Characters

There are two central mysteries to the show which are certainly connected, but to what extent is constantly in question. To keep a running tally of what we know and don’t know I have set up a separate ‘A’ Lair page. The first mystery is Alison’s disappearance/murder. Though her body is found at the end of the Pilot, the possibility that she is not really dead is brought up many times. Her body was found after it would have been decaying for an entire year. All we really know for now is that she went missing over Labor day weekend during a sleepover in Spencer’s barn. Spencer went looking for her while the other girls were still asleep. She never finds Alison but thinks she heard her scream. Alison’s body is not found for a year and when it is she was found buried in her own backyard. We get a few clues about what may have happened to her. Spencer knew that Alison was seeing an older guy that summer who had a girlfriend but Spencer doesn’t know who it was. After Alison’s body is found the Liars find her friendship bracelet, that she would have been wearing that night, in the woods. Did Alison drop it there? Or did A plant it?

The other major mystery is who is A? And what do they want? At this point A is just taunting them with their own secrets. These are all secrets that only Alison knew about but also are based on what is currently happening to them. At first they think that Alison is messing with them, until her body is found. At the end of Episode 3 (“To Kill a Mocking Girl”) we get our first “A tag” which most episodes from here on out end with. This one is of A hanging a billion copies of the photo booth pictures of Emily and Maya kissing.

At this point they mostly suspect Jenna, though Hanna is not convinced that Alison is really dead. Jenna has the best motive (The Jenna Thing). Alison and the others are responsible for blinding her which she knows but her stepbrother, Toby, has taken the fall for it. Though Alison was the one who did the deed, the other girls didn’t really stop her. Alison claims to have just thrown a stink bomb in their garage but it ends up causing an explosion that blinds Jenna who was in there. Did Alison know that? Jenna is a strong contender for A. She would obviously want revenge on them and she may be getting assistance from Toby. Alison had something on Toby that made him agree to take the fall. She claims he was spying on the girls while they changed but only Alison ever saw him do that.

In addition to these two mysteries there are A LOT of shady characters in Rosewood. The first we are introduced to is Detective Wilden, one of many dirty cops in Rosewood. A major question throughout the series is why can’t the girls just go to the cops? Probably because the cops are super shady. Wilden is in charge of Alison’s murder investigation but also deals with shoplifting charges? He arrests Hanna for stealing sunglasses, which seems way below his pay grade, and uses it to get in Ashley Marin’s bed. He clearly thinks that one of the Liars killed Alison and is using his access to the Marin household to do some after hours investigating. Both Hanna and Ashley call him out for this and he gets kicked to the curb. But Wilden has a lot of power and he diminishes the girls’ faith in Rosewood law enforcement.

Romance

In addition to all of the mysteries and general shadyness, the Liars always make time for romance. Though as their secrets build and their lives become consumed by solving these mysteries, their relationships are constantly being threatened. But for now things are about as simple as they ever will be.

Aria and Ezra are the definition of “It’s complicated”. They meet in a college bar, Ezra has just graduated and Aria is coy about her age. She doesn’t outright lie about it but she carefully picks her words so that she seems older. They immediately hit it off and make out in the bathroom. And then a day later find out that Ezra is Aria’s new English teacher. There is a lot of back and forth. Ezra somewhat makes an effort to stop a very inappropriate relationship from forming but Aria is working to convince him that it is okay. She attempts to transfer out of his class but the motion is denied (can we assume this is A’s doing?). Basically there are multiple opportunities for Ezra to stop things from progressing with Aria and he doesn’t.

Then there is Hanna and Sean. Sigh. Sean is super boring but Hanna likes him for some reason. Hanna wants to kick their relationship up to the next level, but Sean is saving himself. Hanna seeks validation from him to prove that she is no longer “Hefty Hanna”. When Hanna was “fat” he just saw her as a friend and now that she is hot she is still insecure that that is how people still see her. All of her attempts to get physical with him are rebuffed and he calls her “desperate” for wanting to have sex with him. Hanna takes Sean’s not wanting to have sex as about not wanting to have sex with her. She gets pissed and intentionally wrecks his car to get back at him.

Emily also has an awful boyfriend, Ben. Emily clearly picked Ben because he was a swimmer and therefore convenient. She is using him to keep up appearances that she is straight, but she could have picked someone less awful. He objectifies Maya and is too interested in the idea of Maya and Emily sleeping together. However when Ben attempts to rape Emily in the locker room, Toby comes to Emily’s rescue and she breaks up with Ben, who I believe is never to be seen again. Thankfully.

Meanwhile Emily has a budding romance with Maya, the new girl who has moved into Alison’s old house. Maya is the first one to help Emily come to terms with her sexuality. Maya has no boundaries or filter. She refers to Alison as “the dead girl” to two of her best friends. In an attempt to spend a few days out of her murder house, Maya stays with Emily where they get very cuddly. They end up kissing in the photo booth at Noel Kahn’s party. The photos though are stolen by A, so now Emily’s secret might get out.

Finally Spencer splits up Wren and Melissa by simply being the much more interesting and fun sister. There is a lot of sexual tension between Wren and Spencer. He massages Spencer’s “bursa sac” and sneaks her sips of his vodka soda during their awful family dinner. They end up making out in Spencer’s bedroom, which Melissa sees. Wren is seriously into Spencer but she can’t go there. Wren is also a med student which makes him at least 22 and Spencer is 16.

This brings up an important point about PLL. All of the adult men of Rosewood are into underage girls. This is kind of treated as normal. In just these first few episode we have both Ezra and Wren being men in their twenties who are attracted to 16 year olds. The issue of Ezra and Aria’s relationship is always centered on the fact that he is her teacher, and not that he is too old for her. Wren and Spencer’s relationship was inappropriate because he was dating Melissa, not because Wren is too old for her. But in a town where time makes absolutely no sense, this is another one of those things that is better to just go ahead and accept because age inappropriate relationships are just a feature of PLL.

Miscellaneous

  • Though it is not apparent in these episodes, I want to go ahead and get out of the way the fact that time in Rosewood works differently. It is best to just accept this and not think too hard about how much time is supposed to have passed. You can also just look at it as like a supernatural element of the show. This doesn’t stop me from driving myself crazy though when it comes to trying to figure out timelines.
  • Other Teens
    • Mona Vanderwaal (Janel Parrish) – Hanna’s non-Liar BFF who shoplifts with her. She too used to be dumpy looking but has blossomed in Alison’s absence.
    • Noel Kahn (Brant Daugherty) – the important thing about Noel Kahn is that he is Noel Kahn. A man so impressive that he is never referred to by just his first name. He throws epic parties in which having sex is considered mandatory.
  • Notable Quotes:
    • Hanna: “It’s medicinal… cramps” as she pours alcohol in her drink at the Grill.
    • Alison: “Maybe a little too much ‘Em” – on Emily’s interest in the new Beyonce video.
    • Melissa: “I’m not eating pasta. I don’t need to be depressed and fat”

Fashion – PLL is known for having some absurd fashion, especially Aria. In these first three episodes there was Alison’s ugly top that will haunt the entire series, Spencer being ultra preppy, and already at least two absurd Aria outfits.

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