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Throwback Thursday - Pretty Little Liars - Pilot

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Throwback Thursday, a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from over the years.

I know I’m a little late to the game, but I just finished binging Pretty Little Liars last week. And, just like apparently a lot of fans (I’ve done my due diligence and gone back to read all the reaction tweets and Buzzfeed compilation lists from the day after the finale,) I was confused by what the heck I just watched. But ultimately I decided that I didn’t even care how insane it was, since the whole thing was so deliciously ridiculous.

(I think this should go without saying, but SPOILER ALERT from this point on for the entire show. I know this TBT piece is about the pilot, but I can’t write something reflecting on the pilot without comparing it to the 159 episodes that followed.)

So, just a quick recap on how the show ended:

Alison, the girl who died in the pilot, is very much alive and has been for years. She is in a relationship and raising twins with Emily. Those twins, by the way, are from Emily’s donated and subsequently stolen eggs, fertilized by Wren, (Spencer’s sister’s ex-boyfriend who was killed, cremated, and turned into a piece of jewelry,) and then implanted in Allison when she was drugged and unconscious. (Just wrap your brain around how insane and horrible that is for a minute.) Aria is married to her former high school English teacher and they’re discussing adoption. They wrote a book together about his relationship with another woman, who was thought to be dead but is actually alive. Caleb, fresh off of a pretty intense relationship with Spencer, marries Hanna and she gets pregnant, but it’s important to note that they got married so he couldn’t testify against her since she committed murder. Toby and Spencer are referenced as being back together, which seems to signify that he’s gotten over the death of his wife, which happened a solid 30 seconds after they said their vows. Oh, and last but not least… Spencer has a literal evil twin. With a Cockney accent. Who had sex with Toby while pretending to be Spencer.

Also, and this goes without saying, every single person on this show has:

  • A secret identical twin
  • Unclear parentage
  • Done work as “A” at least once
  • Been kidnapped and psychologically tortured for various lengths of time in unbelievably elaborate and expensive holding cells
  • Checked into Radley Sanitarium
  • Dumped and been dumped 100 different ways
  • Been arrested
  • Flirted with substance abuse

So there you have it. Very, very complicated, no? And deliciously twisted and fun to watch. Please note: I’m not complaining about how insane the show got at the end, I just seem to recall that it wasn’t quite this level of crazy in the beginning. It was more of your everyday teen drama with a little unsolved mystery thrown in for fun, and not a single identical twin in sight.

So with the finale still fresh in my mind, I wanted to rewatch the Pilot and reminiscence about a simpler time. A time before A discovered emojis and Spencer discovered bangs.

Pretty Little Liars: Pilot Episode

The series starts with the girls hanging out together, giggling and passing around a glass of some sort of alcoholic beverage. They’re simply a group of normal teenage girls being just a little bit bad, wearing normal teenager clothes like sweats and t-shirts (except for Spencer, who is identified immediately as “the smart one” by her prep school wardrobe,) talking about normal things. They have not yet escalated their hangouts to including murder and breaking and entering. Also, Aria has pink streaks in her hair.

Ali strolls in, too cool for school, and drops a line that immediately tells viewers that she’s the cool girl that everyone hates but wants to be friends with. Because that’s just how high school works. “Friends share secrets, that’s what keeps us close,” she smirks, wearing that dang ruffled yellow top.

Here’s significant pilot observation #1: As the show continued into seven seasons, they turned Ali into a sympathetic character. I never liked that. I know it shows growth, and you’re not always the person you were in high school, and it teaches forgiveness, and really she was a great character in the final seasons, but… Storyline-wise, she was always really easy to hate. Also, I always kind of thought they should keep her dead - the way Lilly was actually dead in Veronica Mars.

Anyway, back to the show. The girls wake up and see Spencer wandering around outside, saying she can’t find Ali. Which I never thought was weird before. But now, I can’t help but wonder WHAT WERE YOU DOING OUTSIDE, SPENCER, IF THAT’S EVEN YOUR REAL NAME.

Flash-forward to one year later and we have our first look at that over-the-shoulder pic of Ali we’ll see approximately 452,000 more times. Ali’s been missing a year and all the girls have lost touch.

Lucy Hale is clearly still marketed as the star of the show at this point and has the unbelievably on-point makeup and styling (and no more pink hair, surprise!) to prove it. And oh, hi! It’s her brother Mike!

We find out that Aria’s keeping a vague secret for her dad, and it’s nice to see into the future and know everything that will happen with her parents’ relationship.

We also see our first example of children who have just acquired their drivers licenses behaving and being treated like full-grown 30-something adults. After having a heart-to-heart with her father, 16-year old Aria goes to the local bar at 5 pm to order dinner, where she straight-up picks up a stranger (hi, young Ezra!) at the bar and makes out with him in the bathroom.

Typical 16-year old behavior.

Also, because I know where this is going, I very carefully noted all references to age in this scene: Aria is at least 16 since she drove herself. Ezra says he “just graduated” from Hollis (which we know from several context clues is the local college,) which means he is probably 22 years old. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt - maybe he was a year young for his graduating class and he took enough college credits while in high school to skip a year of college… He would still be AT THE ABSOLUTE MINIMUM 20 years old.

But in both of their defenses, neither of them know that yet.

Roll Credits. Lucy Hale is doing the shh at the end! Remember how she was the only one who did that for 6 seasons?

Time to see Hanna shoplifting with Mona, which I totally forgot happened. But it does establish that Hanna was friends with Mona from the beginning, a thread that carries through the whole show.

This episode has a few flashbacks to Ali spending time with the girls one-on-one, just really driving home the fact that she is the absolute worst. She also turns everyone around her into the worst, making Aria into a patented mean girl when loser Mona (pre-makeover, of course,) just wants to hang out.

Which presents the question that haunted me for several seasons of this show: Why do these girls feel such loyalty to find out what happened to Allison? She legitimately made their lives absolutely miserable. Especially Hanna, whom it could be argued she was mentally abusive toward.

Okay, off my soapbox and back to the show: It’s established that everyone kind of assumes Alison is dead, although no one really wants to say it out loud. Also, not a single one of these girls is wearing an outfit that would pass 99.99% of American high school dress codes.

(Except for Spencer, of course. She’s the smart one. You can tell by her outfit.)

The girls are all in the same English class, and wouldn’t you know it, the new teacher is Aria’s bar bathroom boyfriend. Ezra stares at Aria in front of the entire class and says “holy crap,” which is what brings me to…

Significant pilot observation #2: The only thing I really remembered from the pilot was being COMPLETELY creeped out by the Ezra/Aria relationship. And I was even more creeped out by how all the fans seemed so onboard with #ezria immediately. NO. This is not cute. This is not swoon-worthy. If this goes any farther, this is a felony.

But really, I can get past all of that; I recognize that this is fiction and clandestine teacher/student relationships make for juicy drama, etc., etc., I get it. I’ve seen Gossip Girl. And once Aria graduated and was no longer a student, I completely got on board with Ezria shippers.

The problem that I had with the whole Ezra/Aria relationship was the anxiety I felt because I just knew they were going to get caught and he would get anything from fired to jail time. Oh my gosh, I can’t even tell you how much I FREAKED OUT at how casual they were about the relationship. Y’ALL ARE GONNA GET CAUGHT. YOU’RE GOING TO GET SO CAUGHT. THIS ISN’T CUTE UNDERCOVER FLIRTING, THIS IS DARING YOUR TEACHER TO PERMANENTLY BE LISTED ON THE SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY.

I can’t even tell you how much I couldn’t stand watching their scenes for years because I was so angry with them at being so terrible about keeping their secret.

Anyway, it’s time for our first A text! It references Aria’s dad’s infidelity and is signed A, which Aria immediately interprets as Alison. Hahaha! What a simple world she lives in! Doesn’t she know there are about 100 different A’s they have to work through in the next 7 seasons?!

Cut to a conversation between Emily and her mom in which it’s implied that Emily wants to get out of this town and she thinks her parents are too controlling. Mrs. Fields thinks he daughter is being a dramatic teenager, so Emily gets it in her mind that she’s going to be ~rebellious~ now. So she runs into Maya St. Germain, who’s very mysterious and sexy and likes to smoke weed, and Emily is on board with being corrupted.

Oh look it’s Spencer’s sister, Melissa! Who is dressed like she’s about to marry into a royal family! And we have our first sister fight - which, now that I think about it, is ironic on so many levels. In a move that is obviously history repeating itself, Melissa is swooping in on something that belongs to Spencer, setting Spencer up to take her down in some well thought-out way later. And OH MY GOSH IT’S WREN, THE HUMAN NECKLACE. (I still can’t get over that.)

I guess the stage really was set from the pilot for Spencer to be the one who always fights back.

And here she is, doing exactly that. Wearing the top Hanna encouraged her to wear, flirting with Wren, WEARING A BIKINI AND ASKING FOR A MASSAGE. Dang, Spence. Forgot how insane you get when your sister did you wrong. Oh wait…

(BTW, this pilot doesn’t have Toby and Caleb, and it bummed me out.)

Back at school, Aria is making me all sorts of cringey by going to talk to her teacher, Mr. Fitz, holding his hand in the classroom and essentially begging him to think of her as that same girl he made out with in a bar bathroom. #romance. Ezra says that he thought she was amazing, which, SOMEONE CALL THE COPS, but then does the right thing by rejecting her and walking out of the room.

Yeah, someone better be thinking about your career, because it certainly isn’t your future wife.

Elsewhere, Maya and Emily have an almost kiss, and Emily later finds a handwritten note in her locker from A. It appears A knows that Emily likes kissing her female friends, which is something she apparently did with Alison.

Back at her house, Spencer is studying in another private school-worthy outfit and she’s staring out the window at Melissa and Diamond Necklace Boyfriend when she gets an A e-mail. (When did A switch to exclusively texting?) This message is the first we’ve seen that includes a threat, which is fun, since Spencer likes to fight back.

Flashback to Ali calling Hanna on eating cookies, which breaks my heart all over again because Hanna is the girl who needs the most TLC of them all, and Alison is downright awful to her. Then Ali threatens Spencer, telling her that she’ll expose her for kissing Melissa’s boyfriend if she doesn’t fess up. This girl lived for the drama. And Spencer threatens right back that she’ll tell everyone about “the Jenna Thing.” First “Jenna Thing” reference!

Back to present day, where Hanna’s picking croutons off her salad and talking to her mom about how her dad left them. WHERE’S CALEB, BRING IN CALEB. THIS GIRL NEEDS A HUG.

Mother-daughter bonding time is interrupted by a knock on the door. It's Detective Wilden, ready to handcuff Hanna for shoplift g a pair of sunglasses. That seems… Unnecessary. At the police station, Hanna gets her first A text, referencing her weight. Ugh. The worst. Later that night, Hanna’s enjoying some ice-cream on the couch when her mom starts making out with her arresting officer in the hall then takes him upstairs, turning to stare at Hanna so it’s made very clear that she’s doing this for her. What a terrible thing to openly show off to your child.

Emily goes to see Maya who says “they found your friend,” and Emily responds that she knew Alison was alive, and Maya clarifies that she means her body. Oh. Not a great way to deliver news, Maya. I forgot how much I disliked Maya.

The gang’s all here now, showing up to watch the cops wheel away a body bag. Later, at Alison’s funeral, which reporters say is being attended by hundreds of mourners - hundreds? Really? - the girls quickly compare notes. They’re all hiding something, including “the Jenna Thing.” And would you look at that, there’s Jenna herself, tapping down the aisle with… Is that supposed to be Toby? Not cool. I want real Toby, and I want him now. Apparently, Toby was recast after the pilot, along with Mrs. DeLaurentis.

I don’t know when Aria has the time, or why Ezra is even there (although that actually makes sense when you consider the future reveal that he knew Alison very well before even meeting Aria,) but at some point during the funeral, our star-crossed lovers meet in the church’s stairwell. Ezra obviously wants to be a comforting boyfriend, but this time Aria is the responsible one, saying goodbye to him and walking away. Then he grabs her and starts making out with her in a VERY PUBLIC place and I am so. very. uncomfortable. with how easy it would be for them to get caught. Man, they went from zero to married so quickly. Maybe that’s another reason I had a hard time with them - they went straight to “I’d go to jail for you” before they even had date one under their belts.

The front row of the funeral is filled with four very fashionable young ladies, but Emily is the only one devastated, so Hanna offers her a flask and they all compare notes about getting messages from A.

Detective Wilden grabs the Liars walking out of the church and makes it clear that now that this is officially a murder investigation, he will get to the bottom of their involvement… Which is not a thing an adult should say to a bunch of high school fashion models who just buried their friend’s body.

Time for our first group text message! “I’m still here, bitches, and I know everything. - A”

Very exciting! All the girls look concerned, and look exactly the same in this episode as they do in the series finale, minus a few haircuts and makeup changes. Spencer is the only one who looks slightly younger in the pilot.

The final scene of the episode cuts to the funeral home and zooms in on Ali’s portrait, where we see.. No closing shot with black gloved hands! That must’ve come later.

Well… What does everyone think, now that you’ve refreshed yourself on what happened in the pilot? Do you remember how everything was so simple and there was only one mystery? How did we wind up with the insanity that we had in the finale? How many times do you think the writers plotted out a series finale that tied up every loose end, only to find out that they had another full season to stretch out the mysteries?

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