Stepsibling incest. Teachers dating high school students. Police officers dating high school students. Parents sleeping with police officers to get their children out of trouble. Fathers blackmailing their daughters' best friends. Bodies disappearing from bell towers. Disappearing parents. Dressing rooms filled with snakes. Cannibalistic birds. And Adam Lambert.
For the past four seasons, Pretty Little Liars fans have seen innumerable absurdities, from the simply ludicrous to the truly abhorrent and criminal. Of course, the ABC Family hit drama, based on the young adult book series of the same name by Sara Shepard, is exactly that: a soapy television drama. And one that centers on four high school friends who are being blackmailed by an unknown person (or persons) named "A" who knows all their secrets, including the fact that their believed-to-be-dead friend Ali (Sasha Pieterse) is actually alive. So yes, some suspension of disbelief is necessary in telling such a fantastic tale. But the Feb. 18 episode of Pretty Little Liars really went too far.
Since August of last year, when the show's Season 4 summer finale ended with Ezra's outburst in "A's lair," viewers have been waiting for the Liars, as they're called, to catch on.
The Feb. 18 episode was set up as the one in which Aria (Lucy Hale) would find out that her English teacher turned boyfriend Ezra (Ian Harding) was "A" himself, the person who had been mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically torturing her and her friends throughout their high school years — and who had been also statutorily raping her, of course.
In the episodes that followed the summer finale, Spencer (Troian Bellisario), the token brain of the group, did some digging — while hopped up on massive amounts of pills — and cracked the code. She later told Hanna (Ashley Benson) and Emily (Shay Mitchell) what she'd discovered, in the hopes that they would help her break the news to Aria. But in the Feb. 18 episode, six months and eight episodes after fans first found out Ezra was "A," the audience never got that payoff. Instead, Ezra told Aria — who then convinced Hanna and Emily — that the real problem was Spencer's pill-popping.
And later, Aria found out that Ezra was an aspiring author, who did know Ali, and was using Aria and their friends as research for a true crime novel.
A. True. Crime. Novel.
Instead of being "A," as fans were manipulated into believing for months, the "twist" — a generous term for this incredibly weak storyline — was that Ezra is instead a maniacal, Machiavellian journalist who took advantage Aria's naiveté and of Rosewood High's negligence when it comes to hiring teachers (not only Ezra, but Meredith, Aria's almost-stepmother who poisoned her and locked her in a basement). And more than a red herring, that just doesn't make sense.
As the earlier laundry list indicates, Pretty Little Liars has had its shark-jumping moments, but this reveal is the show's most disrespectful move yet, especially since the writers must have been aware of the countless wrenches they've thrown and the theories fans have developed as a result. Ezra being "A" was certainly a prominent one and it's one those behind the series have teased in a way that's almost as contrived as the game "A" is playing.
If Ezra was just an aspiring novelist, why did he need high tech equipment and cameras to track Aria, Spencer, Hanna, and Emily's every move? Why did he have massive images of Ali wallpapering his various investigative lairs? Why did he have various investigative lairs in the first place? Why does he need a half-dozen white boards to map out every detail of the last couple years? Why has he printed out his alleged novel, making it so plausible for Aria to find it in his cabin? And for her to drop it from atop a chair lift? Doesn't he have a digital copy since he has about 50 computers from his aforementioned lairs? Why did he need to get on one of said computers so badly one day, that he sent Aria on an hours-long quest for chickpeas? And why would his demeanor with the girls — mainly Spencer — completely change after that Season 4 summer finale, when he realized they were onto him?
It just does not add up.
But this isn't the first time the writers have twisted the plot to tell a nonsensical story and insulted the Pretty Little Liars audience in the process. Seeds and characters have been planted without follow through or only serve to exploit the audience's emotions time and time again, particularly in regards to the "A" reveal.
First, it was Mona (Janel Parrish)— a former nerd, tormented by Ali, who became Hanna's co-queen bee in the wake of Ali's supposed death and then, a member of the "A" Team, the supposed group of blackmailers operating under the "A" alias. "She hit Hanna with her car and now people feel sorry for her," Pretty Little Liars creator Marlene King told BuzzFeed earlier this week.
Then, it was Toby (Keegan Allen) — an original "A" suspect who turned out to be a friend to Emily and a boyfriend to Spencer, but then actually joined the "A" Team as well. Fans were teased with that reveal for months until the show returned and Toby later confessed that he joined the merry band of black-hooded blackmailers solely to help Spencer and Co. Apparently, according to those behind Pretty Little Liars, this is what significant others do.
Because, now, it's Ezra. "I feel like this is the same situation I was in a year ago with you right after the big 'Toby is "A"' reveal," former TVLine reporter Megan Masters told executive producer Oliver Goldstick after that summer finale when Ezra was revealed to be "A." "You're not. I promise you you're not. I assure you that there is something going on here with Ezra. There is something very real going on here," he said.
Flash-forward six months later to King telling E! News, "Ezra is not 'A,' but he is a pretty little liar." Yes, this is Toby all over again. King also confirmed to BuzzFeed that Ezra will play a big role in the Liars' search for "A," saying, "Ezra's found out some information that will help the girls truly unmask 'A' — so some good will come out of all this pain."
This man is a teacher, and a significant other to one of his students, who put security cameras all over his apartment and cabin to film these four girls (including the one he claims to love), who hired someone to take photos of them, who sits in a car in all black, leering at them. And he does it without their consent and all for the sake of a true crime novel.
He is apparently going to be the hero. And as completely unrealistic and horribly cheap as that awful Ezra reveal was, it's also still despicable what he was doing, even if he isn't "A."
Though the upcoming Feb. 25 episode teases Aria's struggle to come to terms with the lies Ezra told her, King seemingly hopes the character can be redeemed. "The big worry was that fans would just want him to go away," she told BuzzFeed. But they should want him to go away, and, at the very least, to suffer the consequences for what he's done.
The writers created a character who got involved with a minor. A minor who was also his student. And then, he psychologically abused her and her friends. And now we know he did it all intentionally. What seemed to be a chance encounter in the pilot was actually a calculated move an adult made to seduce a minor, one who he knew would be his student, and all to get information on her missing underage friend.
It is beyond disturbing and just plain wrong to hope that fans redeem Ezra.
Pretty Little Liars' massive teen audience — and the twentysomething, thirtysomething, and fortysomething viewers who also fell in love with what was a deliciously soapy drama back when it premiered in 2010 — simply deserve better than the show has given them. At this point, we can't trust that we'll ever get the payoff that's long been promised. But more importantly than the writers' inability to tell a cohesive story, the behavior the show excuses (or attempts to) is truly alarming and potentially damaging to its viewers.