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Managing Expect-A-tions – A Review of Pretty Little Liar’s Season 2 Finale “UnmAsked”

[Brief note: This post is simply a “review of” and “reaction to” “UnmAsked.”  A full recap will follow . . . eventually. :)]

Strait jackets .  . . all the cool psychopaths are wearing them . . . 

Greetings, my Pretties!  This week, PLL wrapped up its sophomore season with a season finale that was arguably as polarizing as “A” herself.  Thousands of frustrated fans flooded the message boards, Twitter, and YouTube to express their discontent with the way the season concluded.

Meanwhile, others rushed to defend the controversial choices made by the writers and producers.

The source of this controversy, of course, was the identity of “A” . . . the technologically savvy, ridiculously snarky, and seemingly omniscient super villain, who had been torturing the titular Pretty Little Liars, since the pilot episode.

And while I suspect a large number of fans were surprised by the reveal, it wasn’t necessarily for the reasons the writers intended . . .

Truth be told, this was far from the first time a television series that had been based on a book series chose to remain faithful to some of those novels’ main plot points.  Many television shows have successfully done this, without provoking the inevitable ire of the fandom.  Back in 2008, True Blood was applauded for its faithfulness to the murder mystery storyline that comprised the first book of the Sookie Stackhouse book series (serial killer included).

A season later, they were applauded again for creatively diverting from those same books, in order to save the life of a beloved character, who notoriously met his demise on the first few pages of the series’ second novel.

More recently, in 2011, the producers of Game of Thrones received critical acclaim for their almost slavish loyalty to the book series on which it was based.  Critics particularly appreciated the show’s courageous decapitation of the show’s main character, a moral and mostly likeable protagonist, who also happened to be played by a rather well-known and popular actor.

So what made PLL the high school outcast of this group?

The difference in this situation, I think, was that the producers, writers, and cast of PLL failed to properly manage expectations regarding what viewers could expect to see in the season’s final episode.  In what was undoubtedly an attempt at last-minute damage control, Pretty Little Liars showrunner, Marlene King, assured fans that she had never explicitly told fans that the identity of “A” would be different from who it was in the books.  And yet, when countless articles, and press releases, like THIS ONE, and THIS ONE posited this very theory as stemming directly from King, herself, she never exactly disabused fans of this notion, either.

So, when Mona van der Waal acted so RIDICULOUSLY guilty, throughout the show’s second season, that she all but wore a neon sign on her back that said, “I AM A,” recappers and reviewers, like myself, pointedly avoided listing her as our main suspect, simply because we took for granted the fact that the writers weren’t going to go there.

 

So, when they did, in fact, go there, we couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed and betrayed.

And that’s a shame, because it undermined the integrity of what was, by many other respects, a pretty solid finale episode.

Truth be told, of all the possible “A” suspects — with the exception of, perhaps, Not-so-Blind Jenna, and maybe Lucas — Mona had the best motive to be “A.”  After all, she had been shamelessly tortured by Ali throughout most of high school, while the rest of the PLL girls stood idly by, and let it happen.

To make matters worse, Hanna, Mona’s self-proclaimed “one true friend,” has been noticeably distant from Mona, throughout the series, consistently ditching her to engage in “A-Sleuthing” with the rest of the liars . . . (of course, it could be argued that Hanna’s recent absence from her life was actually MONA’S fault).

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And yet, I would have liked to see the producers push the boundaries a bit, by not necessarily going with the most obvious choice for “A.”

We’ve seen the writers take chances like this, earlier in the series, in a number of ways: by introducing new characters, who weren’t in the books, choosing not to kill characters who died in the books, and, in one particular instance, killing a character who DID survive the series.  So, why not do it again, in this instance, by changing the identity of “A” to someone unexpected . . . someone who seemed a bit less . . . for lack of a better term . . . shady?

Or, conversely, I would have liked for the writers to simply be honest about the direction in which the story was headed, by saying something like this: “There are some aspects of the television series that pay homage to the books.  But even faithful book readers will find some surprises in store for them in the season finale.”

This, at least, is a true, and non-misleading, statement.  After all, the finale DID have some surprises contained within it, even for fans of the book series . . .

Unlike a lot of other series’ season finales, which tend to be slow-moving and uneventful, until the last ten minutes of the episode, “UnmAsked” definitely FELT like a season finale.  The episode moved a long at a brisk pace, throughout the hour.

And the genuinely creepy locales where the drama unfolded . . .  for example, the Psycho-inspired motel (complete with its very own Norman Bates, lookalike) and accompanying Shower Scene . . .

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 . . .  the Masquerade Ball filled with strangers and unsavory looking characters . . .

. . .  the abandoned road on a dark and stormy night, A’s “Lair” which looked like it would have been right at home in the first hour of any episode of Law and Order, SVU . . .

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 . . . only added to the building excitement, and unshakeable feeling of impending doom.

I was also really impressed with the acting in this episode.  As the unhinged Mona, Janel Parrish was just the right mix of campy crazy, unintentionally hilarious, and genuinely terrifying.

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Hanna’s shock and sadness at learning her so-called bestie was a total wackadoodle, who HIT HER WITH A CAR, felt real to me.

Shay Mitchell’s Emily literally had me in tears, during the episodes heartbreaking final moments . . . And this is coming from someone who was never a Maya fan.

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(I also adored the parallel between the pilot episode’s Body Discovery, and this one.  That background song they played during both, will haunt me for the rest of my days . . .)

And who could forget the unbeatable Team Sparia, who provided the episode’s only evidence of comic relief . . . not to mention a nice nod to a certain segment of the fandom?

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Speaking of ships,  fans of Ezria . . .

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Spoby . . .

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  . . . and Haleb . . .

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 . . .  all had something to cheer about, when the aforementioned couples each received their respective Happily Ever Afters Nows, this week.

Of course, I still wanted my Wren to make an appearance . . . (Damn you, writers!  DAMN YOU!)

And while the episode did answer some of the major questions plaguing fans throughout the series, it also presented us with plenty of new ones to get us excited for the upcoming third season (which is set to premiere this summer).  Here are just some of the questions that were swimming around my head, after “UnmAsked” concluded:

(1) Who exactly is on the A Team?

Was Mona REALLY it’s leader?

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 (And why didn’t Spencer “join it,” when she was given the chance?  I mean, wouldn’t that have been the perfect way to keep your ENEMIES CLOSER?)

(2) Which mysterious female dressed as The Black Swan at the Masquerade Ball?

(3) Who was Not-so-Blind Jenna talking to in the park, and what mysterious item did she give her (because it looked much too small to be the Black Swan costume)?  And WHEN DID SHE GET HER DRIVER’S LICENSE?

(4) What the F is the deal between Abs Toby and Dr. Sullivan (a.k.a. as the lame shrink who got scared out of town by an eighty pound high schooler?  Is he her son, or what?  How much did they know about what was going on?  And why was it necessary for Toby to “pretend he didn’t love Spencer?”

(5) Who exactly was the creepy chick with the red dess and gold mask at the Masquerade Ball?

And was she the same creepy chick who visited Mona in the loony bin, at the end of the episode?

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(6) Does Mona’s have Supernatural Powers, which enabled her to BEAT UP Spencer and Emily, on separate occasions, and CARRY SPENCER INTO A CAR?  (Oh and how lame was Dr. Sullivan’s explanation of her PSYCHOSIS?  How exactly does being a psychopath, make you seem omniscient to OTHER PEOPLE?  Where exactly did this b*tch go to shrink school anyway, Dunkin Donuts?)

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(7) Did the flashback featuring Mona and “Ali” dressed as Vivian Darkbloom actually happen?  Did “Ali” really not pick up the phone, when Mona called her, like Mona said?  Or was being “A” the price Mona paid for her so-called popularity?

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(8)Who killed Maya (assuming Maya is actually dead) and why?

(9) And, perhaps, most importantly, “WHERE’S MY WREN?”

So, tell me, my Pretties, what were your thoughts on the Season 2 finale?  Were you disappointed that Mona was “A?”  What are your expectations for next season, in light of some of the cliffhangers / new mysteries introduced here?  Feel free to vent to your heart’s content, in the comment section below.  I’ll see you there!

[www.juliekushner.com][Fangirls Forever]

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