thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Pretty Little Liars Roundtable: “The First Secret”

In teen soaps on October 21, 2011 at 10:18 am

Our beloved PLL came back for one very special Halloween episode! And now, the long wait till January begins…

1) Thoughts on a episode-long flashback for the PLL ladies?

Phoebe: I do love a great flashback episode! I rather enjoyed this episode, although it was rather scary. Especially that creepy person in a creepy mask that was following Ali and the girls around. Also, how scary was the twin story?! So creepy. And Ali really comes off in this episode, more than any others before I think, as terrifying. We really see the way she manipulated the girls, which seemed somehow attached to the fear of being tormented by our currently masked scary person.

Sarah: I was delighted to have a flashback episode where Ali got to be a more central character. I think it’s really helpful to see more of what life was like for the PLLs when she was around. Also, I think it’s a good way to extend the life of the series. If the show backtracks like this sometimes, it gets to develop a richer back-story and open up some new mysteries without falling into common mystery-based double bind of either telling us who the killer is and losing its engine or dragging out the mystery for way too long and driving fans up the wall. Flashbacks all next season would be okay with me!

2) What are your thoughts on meeting Jenna? Her relationship with Ali? And her and Mona’s introduction? Also, who was the better Gaga?

Phoebe: As for the Gaga competition, I’m not gonna lie, Jenna totally won that contest, as Mona duly noted. Jenna looked so great! And so weird and different without her giant sunglasses. Also, it was fun/interesting to see where that rivalry started … AND her and Mona’s introduction … Wow! I feel like that was some sort of huge hint, but I am wary of presuming too much about PLL as they are so sneaky with their red herrings. But I feel like we have all talked about suspecting Mona and we know that the cop and Jenna are in on something. Thus, that made me think, are all three of them working together?  Also, I found myself liking Jenna a lot in this episode, particularly when she told Ali that she wanted to choose her friends.

Sarah: Ha I agree, Jenna was by far the better Gaga (and SUPER-hot, no?). I was really interested to see how her personality must have changed since the accident—here she’s much lighter. She’s got Ali’s determination and queen-bee personality, but she seems less desperate than Ali too. With Ali, you can see all the work she puts into being in a place of power; old Jenna seems like she might be able to do it kind of effortlessly. I was also really excited about her talking with Mona—they would both have good reason to want to team up against Ali.

3) How scary was the creepy costumed person? Also, who do you think it is?

Phoebe: SO scary and that there were randomly so many people in the same costume suddenly was strange and a very creepy twist on the Thomas Crown Affair’s final scene (with the bolo hats … such a good scene!). So, I think that it is clearly someone in the circle of people we know, or at least that the girls are supposed to know. And I think that because at the end, when the person in the creepy costume takes off his/her mask, seemingly he/she belongs at the party/nobody is shocked, otherwise they wouldn’t reveal themselves. Right? But as of yet, I have no good guesses. Unless it is Garrett? But it seems too early for that, because the Jenna/Ali rivalry is just getting going.

Sarah: Oh man, I hated that baby doll-burlap costume of my nightmares. But I think practically everybody is the creepy costumed person, right? We know Lucas and Noel were both wearing that costume, and people like Mona and Ian also could have easily slipped the robe and mask on over their other costumes. Also, I don’t think we saw Jason at the Halloween party, so I’d put him down as another possible candidate.

4) Twins! What did you think about the scary twin story, coupled with the revealing of the doll from the story being real, and also the sanitarium truck, and threatening notes to Ali from A? Does Ali have an evil twin?

Phoebe: So I am convinced that Ali has an evil twin. And I re-watched the pilot last night after the new episode, and there is this one moment where Spencer is staring out her window and she thinks she sees Ali and the next shot is blond hair in a window as the person disappears from Spencer’s view. Evil twin? Perhaps! But also, I thought that the twin story that Ali tells in this episode, was perhaps a true story (minus the killing) of Ali and her twin, especially because we see that doll that is in the story later on when Ali pulls her creepy secret box out of the heater grate. Same doll = true story, yes? Maybe? Anyway, I am totally convinced that A is at least in part something to do with Ali’s creepy background … which she kind of is an emotional terrorist…

Sarah: Good detective work, Phoebe! I’m very much on board with this sleuthing, I think it’s all adding up to a real twin story. (Also: interesting, between the doppelganger storyline on Vampire Diaries and the twins on Ringer and The Lying Game.) Maybe the person throwing down with Ali in the haunted house was actually her twin, too!  

5) Why do you think Ali was so concerned about Aria going to the Halloween party? That seemed so weird.

Phoebe: I don’t know! I thought that was so strange. But then I thought perhaps that once Ali was threatened she kind of started to come undone and go a little crazy and started to treat her friends much worse that usual. Or maybe she was always this way and we just saw a glimpse. But then how could the girls continue to be friends with her?! After all they are all real friends … But yeah …

Sarah: I think part of what made it possible for Ali to consolidate her power was that she was the glue holding the girls together—they become real friends after her death, but beforehand she’s the main link between them. Which would make it harder for any one of them to walk away from Ali’s mean-girl tactics, not knowing if they’d have the support of the rest of their group. But I also thought that Ali’s persistence about Aria going to the party probably had to do with the prank she was planning—and maybe even a bit of the Noel Kahn matchmaker angle, since as we saw in a previous flashback she was interested in making that hookup between him and Aria happen. And then she’s also just controlling and wants her friends do jump when she says so, I think.

6) Which one of the PLLs had the best Halloween costume? 

Phoebe: Firstly, best costume = Spencer. So hilarious! Mary of Scotts, plus the awesome explanation at the party. I love super nerdy Spencer. She is so great.

Sarah: Her explanation was the best line of the episode; she cracks me up. I have to agree that Spencer had the best costume, though I would also like to give a shout-out to Lucas’s festive jack’o’lantern sweater that he was wearing at school. Not a costume persay, but just so in keeping with his character’s lovable nerdiness.

7) Do you think the episode was hinting at the possibility of a Lucas-Mona alliance in their exchange in the hallway, or just showing that both of them were Ali-targets?

Phoebe:  Ooh good point! I think perhaps … But also Mona is SO mean to him once Ali is dead, like she uses him as a punching bad. Hmmm this could be intriguing. But also, I feel like Lucas really really liked Hanna and I would be sad if that was all a farce …

Sarah: Maybe Mona is being mean to him as a front! Actually I guess I don’t really think so, because of that private conversation they have at the dance where Mona kind of apologizes (but doesn’t really) for being so mean to him. But I am always interested in their interactions, both because of the Ali link and the Hanna link, and it seems interesting that they’d both be picked on by the same person and then gravitate to the same person (who, it’s been noted, now resembles Ali in hair/makeup/fashion sense/it-girl status, though Hanna’s much more benevolent).

8) What do you think about the prank Ali pulled on the girls? Was it just a mean trick, or was the idea of being able to count on them to help her really something that was on her mind? Also, what do you think about the various ways we see Ali testing them in flashbacks, and how that corresponds to the way A treats them in texts?

Phoebe: I totally think it corresponds to the way that A treats them. But also, it seems unfair as Ali was terrible to the PLLs. But also, I thought Ali was compensating or something. Like that it wasn’t a set up (the whole scary thing in the scary house) and that she played it off as if she knew what was up. But I don’t know! I was really confused by that whole situation …

Sarah: I thought it was mostly mean-spirited, but that Ali probably was being serious about wanting to know the girls were loyal to her. Especially given that she was already being stalked/threatened. On a side note, the thing that I think is most interesting about Ali’s relationship with the girls is the way she really pushes them—often in bad ways, but not always. Like, Ali’s whole personality is about being a catalyst for action. She’s about power, getting what you want, making things happen. And that’s the effect she’s still having on the girls even after her death—the mystery of her death is constantly pushing them forward, and this time they’re all becoming more powerful by learning how to stand up for themselves without her and even—in Hanna’s case in therapy—to her.

9) So has A been around long before Ali’s death?

Phoebe: It seems like A was tormenting Ali for a solid school year prior to Ali’s death, since Ali died in/at the end of the summer and the tormenting starts right around Halloween.

Sarah: I think this is so interesting, because that means that if we’re assuming the A tormenting Ali is the same A tormenting the PLLs later on—and I think that’s safe to say, or if there are multiple A’s, at least one of them is the same—that A maybe has a grudge against the girls that’s equal to her grudge against Ali. Which makes things complicated, because the PLLs weren’t nearly as mean as Ali; they kind of went along with what she did, but didn’t initiate cruelty on their own. And that kind of leads me back to Jenna’s involvement, because she’s the only person I can think of with reason to hate the PLLs as much as Ali.

10) This flashback episode seemed to be hitting the cop angle pretty hard — what’s the significance of knowing that he’s been around, and interested in Hanna’s mom, for a while?

Phoebe: Good question! I wonder if it is because in the PLL present he is coming back strong and so now it is good to have that background as I had sort of forgot about the whole relationship he had with Hanna’s mom (which started in the pilot!). Also, it makes me wonder if he is involved with Ali’s death as he seemed a little obsessed with Hanna’s mom and not very good at taking ‘no’ for an answer and kind of scary. So yeah … that was interesting and creepy and also I wonder how it will play out!

Sarah: Yeah, I feel like they were highlighting his character so much that it seems like he must be more involved with the mystery than we originally thought. And I don’t know what the connection between his being interested in Hanna’s mom and Ali’s death might be—maybe he was secretly stalking her and Ali caught him? There is a lot of stalking and spying in PLL so that’s usually a safe bet—but I am interested in the thought that they might be linked.

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