Pretty Little Endings: Ranking the PLL Finales

After 130 episodes, 10 previous finales, an untold number of secrets, and more people accused of being a stalker and/or murderer than even Spencer could keep track of, Tuesday night’s “Game Over, Charles,” the Pretty Little Liars sixth season summer sendoff, promises answers about A, Charles, Red Coat, Black Widow, and hopefully any other lingering concern that feels significant enough to warrant an answer.  Did it ever really matter who Board Shorts was?  Did Emily even apply to that college where Hanna tried to bury a gun in the woods at a sorority party?  Is it too late for Aria to get with Jake now that she’s done with Ezra?  So many questions, and only an hour to answer them all!

Part of the beauty of the Pretty Little Liars finales is that they tend to focus on the preoccupations of the season that preceded them.  Revelations that can ultimately turn out to mean nothing feel incredibly significant when you first learn them.  But do they hold up in the long run?  Action, suspense, and high drama are always on hand to make the viewing experience an enjoyable one, but whether you’ll remember every twist and unmasking when the next season rolls around is another story.  Behold, a (totally subjective) ranking of every summer and spring PLL finale, based on the strength of the episode itself and the significance of what happened therein.  Which finale just keeps reminding us, “I’m still here, bitches?”

10.  Season 3 Summer Finale (Episode 12) – The Lady Killer

Season three begins an era of unending confusion and many incorrect assumptions about who is or is not a part of the A team, which is roundly reflected in this summer finale.  The two most memorable developments of this finale were Emily having to kill Maya’s murderer Nate, which did provide some closure to the season’s most consistent storyline, and Toby being a part of the A team, which was shocking but ultimately not as it appeared.  I don’t even remember Aria, Hanna and Spencer trying to prove that Paige was A, but that happened, too.  Despite the devastating Toby reveal, most of what happens in this episode is too far removed from anything that feels important now to rank any higher than last place.

9.  Season 5 Spring Finale (Episode 26) – Welcome to the Dollhouse

While this episode feels a little light on actual information, or at least information that is particularly new or useful, it is horror-movie-level creepy.  We do find out that Mona is, in fact, alive, and being forced to pretend to be Ali for her obsessed captor.  But by then, Mona was the third character who had been thought dead but wasn’t, after Alison and Toby.  Instead of the dollhouse plot being resolved, all of Spencer’s great escape planning only leads to old home movies confirming that their captor (and likely A) is “Charles” DiLaurentis, a person they never knew existed.  The open-ended ending made this one of the least satisfying finales to date.

8.  Season 4 Summer Finale (Episode 12) – Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

At this point in the show, shocking finale reveals had become par for the course, whether the revealed information would actually stick or not.  Despite the apparent reveal of Ezra being A, the impact was greatly mitigated by the viewer skepticism over the next few months and the explanation during the spring season that Ezra was, in fact, not A.  The episode also gets demerits for being mired in Ravenswood muck, but did feature Cece being identified as Wilden likely murderer, Ashley Marin finally being cleared of said murder, and, most importantly, Mrs. Grunwald telling the girls that Ali was alive.  Even though Ali not being dead had been a very gradual development starting back in season one, the confirmation here marked a huge shift in the dynamic among the girls and the focus of the show.

7.  Season 5 Summer Finale (Episode 12) – Taking This One to the Grave

The season-long battle between Mona and Ali – for domination of the halls of Rosewood High, biggest crew of minions and being in the PLL’s good graces – comes to a head in devastating fashion when Mona is murdered just as she was uncovering some truth about A and Alison.  The girls have made Ali their newest accused in their game of pin the black hoodie on the psychopath, and their feeling of powerlessness only escalates with Mona’s murder and Spencer’s arrest for murdering Bethany Young.  The combined trauma of Spencer being arrested and Mona being killed made this finale a strong one, even if Mona did turn up alive 12 episodes later.

6.  Season 1 Summer Finale (Episode 10) – Keep Your Friends Close

Ah, the first finale.  Parts of this seem like a lifetime ago, like the police thinking that Toby murdered Alison, Emily being Toby’s point of entry into the group, Emily’s mom wanting to get her away from Maya, Ashley Marin stealing money from clients at the bank, Aria and Mr. Fitz feeling a degree of modesty about their relationship.  The episode ends with a bang as Hanna, after being uninvited from Mona’s birthday glamping party, is hit by a car after almost catching A.  We also get the sketchy return of Melissa’s ex Ian, who promptly becomes the frontrunner to be A and Ali’s killer, back in a simpler time when it was just assumed those were the same person.  Even though nothing here compares to some of the shock and awe of later finales, everything that happens is legitimate, and important for what came before as well as what comes after.  Hanna’s accident also signals everyone that A was about more than humiliation and exposing secrets.

5.  Season 3 Spring Finale (Episode 24) – A dAngerous gAme

In this time of great turmoil for the Liars — everyone try trusted turned out to be lying to them; people were joining the A team left and right; no one knew how or why anyone was connected to anyone else — this finale had just about everything.  Toby is alive!  The Liars catch Spencer working for Red Coat!  Melissa has secret meetings with Jenna and Shauna!  Various teams of villains!  By the end, the Liars are reunited and even have Mona, who is now also getting texts from A after the trap they tried to set ends in them nearly being burned to death in the Hastings cabin.  We also get Hanna, Mona and Spencer all claiming to have seen Ali, who was at that time not only still dead but having her supposed corpse moved from place to place.  The “What’s in the trunk?” ending was also a classic.  The episode nicely closed some of the threads of the third season, as plot points were either resolved or, more often, totally deemphasized in favor of a new set of problems.

4.  Season 2 Summer Finale (Episode 12) – Over My Dead Body

This was probably the only finale where the pretense of getting closer to solving the show’s larger mysteries is mostly dropped in favor of character drama with damaging repercussions for the girls, as A orders Aria, Hanna and Spencer commit some awful acts in order to save their shrink and confidante Dr. Sullivan.  It makes for an exciting episode that largely holds its own consequences, and then there is another instance of one of the Liars being visited by Ali, who appears to save Emily from carbon monoxide poisoning.  In the end, the girls are left holding a shovel that turns out to be the alleged weapon used to murder Ali.  This would not be the last time the girls are tricked into touching an object that later is implicated in a crime.  Like the first season’s summer finale, the action in this episode is legitimate, and rather than smoke and mirror progress in finding A, those actions have real and lasting effects on the relationships between the girls and those around them.

3.  Season 4 Spring Finale (Episode 24) – A is for Answers

The Liars seem to spend most of season four’s spring half stumbling around with bits of information that never add up to anything worth knowing, but in this finale they finally get Alison to recount what happened to her the night she disappeared when it was assumed she was murdered, including interactions with various characters that will make for some interesting dynamics upon Ali’s eventual return to Rosewood.  And while the cops questioning Cece about Wilden’s murder feels so last season, Ezra takes a bullet trying to help the girls escape from A and Mrs. DiLaurentis is murdered before she can share a reunion with her daughter.  The clarity of actual answers feels like a refreshing change of pace four seasons in, and Mrs. DiLaurentis being murdered in Rosewood while A is also after the girls in New York begs the question, can A possibly be stopped?

2.  Season 1 Spring Finale (Episode 22) – For Whom the Bell Tolls

There’s a lovely focus to this episode, as the girls spend much for their time trying to resolve the show’s central mystery, and, in what had been the main focus of the second half of the season, seek to prove that Ian is A and Ali’s killer.  Even the distractions in this episode feel more focused than the ones to which we’ve become accustomed, as they feel more like the distractions of real people rather than endless love interests and red herrings.  This has one of the strongest endings of any finale, with Ian appearing to confirm that he is A by attacking Spencer at the bell tower, being pushed to his apparent death by a hooded figure, and then disappearing just as the girls get a text to let them know they’ve been after the wrong guy.  This was thrilling, and set the show’s basic formula for finales: startling discovery, life-threatening danger, game-changing twist.

1.  Season 2 Spring Finale (Episode 25) – unmAsked

And that formula was never better than in unmAsked.  Considering this episode contains by far the most satisfying reveAl we’ve ever gotten, it’s pretty much unbeatable.  Tense, suspenseful, exciting and ultimately revealing, this finale was the last and really only time we got an answer to who did anything as A that really held up.  Despite Mona’s insistence that there was a larger conspiracy at work and the appearance of Red Coat at the end, Mona was in fact responsible for almost everything the Liars thought she did as A, and the build on Mona’s final rantings were the basis of almost all A-related plot since.  As if that wasn’t enough, this episode also had Emily learning the police found a body they thought was Maya’s, adding a devastating emotional depth to the finale.

"I'm still here, bitches. And I know everything.  -A"

“I’m still here, bitches. And I know everything. -A”

Backwards and Forwards

A Month-by-Month Look at the Best of 2012, and Expectations for the Spring

2012: From Start to Finish

Just as I was preparing to create a top ten list of my favorite shows from 2012, I thought, why not make thing a little easier on myself by picking a favorite show per month?  That way, I’d probably be considering the scope of the year a little more fairly anyway, and I get to pick 12 shows instead of 10.  Any show that aired at least one episode (that I watched, of course) in a given month was eligible to win that month, and each show could only win one month.  Let’s begin!

January: Parks and Recreation

Possibly the best comedy of 2011 (which included all of its fantastic third season and the start of a very good fourth season), Parks and Recreation continued to roll as 2012 began, with Leslie’s best buds jumping in to help her with her campaign for city council.  January’s episodes showed how woefully, hilariously unfit for campaign work the Pawnee Parks and Recreation staff was.  I now chuckle every time I hear the song Get On Your Feet.

February: Happy Endings

For me, Happy Endings could have won almost every month in which it aired, and was overall my favorite show of 2012.  The show really hit its second season stride in February with a run of episode guest starring James Wolk as Max’s too-well-liked boyfriend Grant.  Of course, there was also this.

March: Awake

The dearly departed Awake debuted in March with one of the most interesting dramatic premises for a show I’ve seen in recent years: A man unable to deal with the loss of either his son or his wife after a car accident constructs an elaborate dream in which his dead loved one is alive, but he never knows which world is the reality and which is the dream.  In addition to being enjoyable just from a procedural point of view, the ways in which Detective Briton’s two realities interacted was fascinating and thought provoking.  It’s a shame the show never caught on with audiences, and that those of us who did watch never learned the full story on what was real and what wasn’t.

April: Community

The always-clever, often-meta pop culture reference machine that is Community produced some of its best episodes yet in its fourth season.  October 2011’s Remedial Chaos Theory got all the buzz, but April’s Basic Lupine Urology, in which the study group went on a Law & Order-spoofing quest to find out who sabotaged their biology project, was also excellent.  Not content just with producing smartly referential episodes, Community also spent much of April digging deeper into the characters’ relationships to one another (Abed and Troy’s friendship, Troy’s feelings for Britta) and their quirky but not trivial mental and emotional difficulties.

May: Game of Thrones

Sweeps months are naturally more competitive than others, and Game of Thrones managed to best the competition with its season-best episode Blackwater.  This fantasy drama always boasts incredible production values and a pitch perfect ensemble, but the battle that was waged in this penultimate episode of the second season, one that had been brewing since the season before, was a spectacle among spectacles.  Both the drama and the stakes are always high on Game of Thrones, and the second season did not disappoint after the high expectations set by the first.

June: Veep

Everyone was buzzing about Girls this past spring, but I was much more taken with the other new HBO comedy this spring, Veep.  With Julia Louis-Dreyfus in possibly her best role yet, that of frustrated vice president Selina Meyer, the show would have been appointment television even if it didn’t feature sharp, biting humor and a game and talented supporting cast.  Now that JLD has an Emmy for this role, maybe the underrated gem will catch on with the Twitterverse.

July: Damages

Damages premiered its fifth and final season in July, and came back with quite a bang, setting up a season-long battle between Ellen (the increasingly fantastic Rose Byrne) and Patty (Glenn Close, who already has two Emmys for this role) that felt like it had been brewing since the very first episode.  The anticipation and intrigue started in the season premiere, and didn’t let up until the end of the last episode.  This unique show and these incredible characters will be very much missed.

August: Pretty Little Liars

Like Happy Endings, Pretty Little Liars was competitive in any month that it aired an episode, most especially in May, when (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Mona was revealed at the mysterious A who had been torturing our eponymous heroines.  Instead, the show wins the month of August for the even more sense-shattering revelation that (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Toby was working with Mona.  The show’s popularity has spread this past year beyond the females under 25 demographic, and anyone who would dismiss the show as high school fluff has clearly never watched it.  The show perfectly balances the struggles of friendship, the frustrations of high school, complex family troubles, and of course love and romance, all on the backdrop of an ever-evolving plot of murders, blackmail and revenge.  And when the show goes for chills, it gets them.  I can’t remember the last time a horror movie made me as tense and jumpy as Pretty Little Liars routinely does.

September: So You Think You Can Dance

SYTYCD wrapped its ninth season in September, and despite difficult formatting changes and some scheduling oddities with Fox, the show produced some of its most talented contestants ever doing some of the most remarkable pieces in the show’s history.  The final performance show and season finale are a feast of magnificent and evocative dance numbers that would thrill any person who enjoys the art of movement.  Plus, can one ever get enough of Mary Murphy putting people on her infamous hot tamale train?

October: 30 Rock

I wanted to award 30 Rock, which aired all of its sixth season and most of its seventh in 2012, the month of November for accomplishing the perfect wedding episode, but it was impossible to deny the number of great episodes the show produced when it returned from summer hiatus in October.  What’s better than a Liz Lemon wedding?  Maybe Liz Lemon getting freaky with her Elf Prince in the stationery aisle of what I have assume is a Duane Reed.  30 Rock has quite consistently been among the best shows on television for the last seven seasons, and is the show I’ll miss most after it airs its final episode at the end of January.  October’s episodes highlight the things this show continues to do so incredibly well: hilarious guest stars, Liz and Jack standing firmly at odds over their beliefs, making relentless fun of its own network, and more jokes per minute than you can find anywhere else.

November: The Mindy Project

Comedies have had a rough go of things this fall, and especially ones on Fox.  The reemergence of the sitcom was a wonderful thing for comedy in general, but tough cookies for any new comedy competing against other new comedies for attention.  November’s champ, The Mindy Project, is holding its own in terms of content, though the ratings could use a boost.  November’s episodes really dug into capitalizing on the show’s strongest aspects: the love/hate chemistry between Mindy Kaling’s Mindy and Chris Messina’s Danny and Mindy’s potential to jump headlong into awkward situations.  Mindy and Danny’s competition to see who could endure the discomfort of Danny being Mindy’s gynecologist the longest was hilarious to watch, and Mindy going into a high school and calling a teenage boy “bangable” within earshot of a teacher was almost as good.  Mindy is still tweaking itself and trying to find its groove, but the A it gets for the month of November is not for effort but result.

December: Hart of Dixie

We cap 2012 and our list with the delightful Hart of Dixie, which only became more and more delightful as the year progressed.  The writing is clever and quippy, the situations are often dramatic and hilarious, and lead Rachel Bilson imbues Dr. Zoe Hart with a lovable klutziness that has never failed to turn good deed into small-town disaster.  Even with all this, the show’s hidden strength, and the thing that makes it so very delightful, is the growing backdrop of charming characters and places in the town of Bluebell.  I smile every time Dash DeWitt shows up in a fancy suit and hat or Tom Long freaks out about a New York food he’s never heard of.  The best thing about the bunch is that these aren’t just walking punchlines, but real characters, people I feel I know, who grow and change, surprise and disappoint.  I hope the people of Bluebell and Hart of Dixie are in my life for many years to come.

 . . . In With the New!

With 2012 in the can and the TV world already back to cranking out its 2013 offerings, there’s hardly time between remembering the shows we loved and anticipating their returns to consider all of the new shows hitting the airwaves for the spring half of the season.  What shows can look forward to joining the others in my DVR waiting room?  Here are six that have caught my interest, some of which I may even watch live:

Deception – 10 PM, Monday, January 7, NBC

Just because Deception seems to be something of a copycat of the show Revenge doesn’t mean that I don’t want to check it out.  From the promos, the only thing that’s really clear is the basic premise: a young woman goes undercover to discover the truth about her childhood best friend’s death.  Anyone having a hard time imagining what entertaining shenanigans can come from a situation like this should watch a few episodes of Revenge to find out.  More seriously, though, Deception looks steeped in soapy situations and the finer things in life, all of which should make for a fun watch.

The Carrie Diaries – 8 PM, Monday, January 14, The CW

I’m a little dubious of this Sex and the City-prequel — any fan who’s seen either of the Sex and the City movies would have to feel hesitant about revisiting that franchise — but I’m ultimately much too curious to pass it up.  The prospects of grabbing the original SATC audience seem not great, especially considering that as that audience gets older, Carrie has become a teenager.  It will be interesting to see what audience The Carrie Diaries does capture, and how that affects the series.

The Following – 9 PM, Monday, January 21, Fox

Kevin Bacon is a pretty good draw for a network television drama, and this one looks genuinely interesting from its promos.  Bacon’s FBI agent is pitted against a brilliant professor and serial killer (brilliant serial killers are the best kind, after all) played by James Purefoy, and his group of followers.  This has the potential to be quite chilling, and with Kevin Williamson, the man who gave us Scream and Dawson’s Creek, as the creator, I couldn’t possibly resist.

The Americans – 10 PM, Wednesday, January 30, FX

Despite strong interest in some of the other candidates, The Americans is at the very top of my anticipation index for the spring.  The lovely Keri Russell, who has yet to find a worthwhile post-Felicity television vehicle, stars alongside Brothers and Sisters’ Matthew Rhys as Soviet spies living in 1980s America.  Like many Americans, I find espionage instantly fascinating, and the glimpses of backstory I’ve seen, with the two main characters thrown into this fake life and fake marriage without even having known one another beforehand, just draw me in all the more.

Do No Harm – 10 PM, Thursday, January 31, NBC

I’m not sure what it is exactly that makes me want to see Do No Harm, the Jekyll and Hyde revamp about a doctor with a dark side.  It’s a little difficult to imagine the premise even being pulled off in a way that works and makes sense.  I can much more easily see the show becoming the worst parts of Ringer, without even Sarah Michelle Gellar to mitigate them.  Still, I am . . . curious.  And could it be that after Awake last spring and a sweeps win in the fall, I’ve developed a degree of good faith with NBC?  We’ll see how long that lasts.

Monday Mornings – 10 PM, Monday, February 4, TNT

Hospital shows are not my usual cup of tea, but there’s an undeniable appeal to Monday Mornings, David E. Kelley’s foray into medical drama.  The dynamite cast certainly doesn’t hurt, but what first caught my attention was buzz comparing Monday Mornings to early seasons of The Practice, a show I absolutely loved.  I find Kelley’s record to be iffy these days — I enjoyed Ally McBeal for a while but couldn’t stand to watch Boston Legal — so I’m excited to see him return to a place of exciting and compelling drama that I can actually enjoy.

Happy 2013 and happy viewing!