Just hours before last night’s Pretty Little Liars Season 5 premiere, ABC Family announced that it had renewed the show for two additional seasons, and didn’t rule out extending its run even further than that. This is the kind of news that would delight fans of most shows, but I imagine I’m not alone among PLL viewers in my ambivalence about it. For one thing, it’ll be torturous to wait until at least 2016 to see the Liars’ mystery definitively solved. Less selfishly, though, I just don’t know that the show has three years’ worth of a worthwhile story left to tell (not to mention that the actors playing teenagers will all be AARP members by the time it wraps; Troian Bellisario, who plays Spencer, turns 30 next fall). After last night’s surprisingly revealing premiere, it’s even harder to imagine PLL‘s long game.
First, the disappointing news: Those of us hoping Ezra would bite it, after an infuriating finale that found this endlessly creepy bookish seducer of teen girls (and bystander in their ongoing torment) finally stepping in to save them from a black-hoodied shooter, were shit out of luck. “EscApe From New York” (see what they did there?!) opens on paramedics rushing Fitz to the hospital as Aria flips out. In the ER, we get a POV shot from black sweatshirt’s perspective, confirming the obvious: A is still in the city. Before heading to the hospital, the Liars regroup, Alison and Spencer debate Sun Tzu — which is totally on-brand for both of them.
Meanwhile, in Rosewood, the Hastings family is having its own pow-wow. While the parents freak out about Spencer and her friends’ disappearing, Melissa is panicking over the thought of Ali’s return. “There’s something you need to know,” she says. But she doesn’t get further than that, because — in a moment of brilliant misdirection — the police show up at their doorstep. It seems like they might be there to arrest Melissa for whatever she’s about to confess, but it turns out they just want to let the family know that CeCe Drake escaped from prison. Later, Papa Hastings (am I the only one who looks at this character/actor and thinks, “Creepy Grown-up Peter Brady”?) warns Melissa about coming clean. “Your mother can never know what you told me,” he says. Now that we know it’s impossible she killed Ali, what else could she be hiding? And does it have anything to do with the dead girl who ended up in Alison DiLaurentis’ grave?
Of course, Melissa isn’t the only one who’s worried about Ali’s homecoming. After catching up via a news report, Mona gets on the phone and hisses, “We’re mobilizing.” Which is to say, she’s raising an army of losers and former losers who survived the slings and arrows of the Liars’ Queen Bitch. Lucas is there, obviously, and so is Paige — but even though she and Emily have broken up, and Mona points out that Ali would never stand for their relationship, she refuses to participate in the conspiracy. Just as she’s leaving, though, Melissa shows up.
As those side plots simmer, the Liars sit in a New York hospital awaiting news about Ezra. Now that he’s undergoing some gross surgery that we absolutely did not need to see, they realize that A will inevitably shift focus to Ali. At first, they put their Art of War expertise to use, faking out A by getting Ali out of the hospital. There���s a chase — in a scary, poorly lit Manhattan that hasn’t existed since the ’70s, complete with a street saxophone player — but the Liars have Ali’s back. (Minus Aria, who’s still keeping a vigil at the hospital, ugh.) When things come to a head in a playground straight out of R.L. Stine, they step out of the shadows… but so does the complete A Team, in all its hoodie-clad spookiness. Lucky for the Liars, the police turn up and the black sweatshirts scatter.
From there, Ali takes the girls to a safe place where they can spend the night. It’s the Fitzgerald Theater — which is, yes, a beautiful theater owned by Ezra’s rich family. In a flashback, we see him and Ali there, talking about how she is an actress, but, like, in real life! At this point, Ezra utters the single worst line in Pretty Little Liars history: “You really are my Holly Golightly.” Dude, congratulations, you just told a 15-year-old she was secret prostitute. Is it too late to start a #KillEzra hashtag? I mean, I just want to do my part for feminism.
At the theater, it becomes clear that Ali is still hiding something from her friends — and it turns out to be that she’s still besties with CeCe, who did kill Wilden (fuck that guy, though, right?) but was never Red Coat. She was, apparently, in Rosewood to supply Ezra with information, and she actually helped Ali save the Liars’ lives. Now, she needs a favor in return: a plane ticket out of the country with Alison DiLaurentis alias Vivian Darkbloom’s name on it. It appears she does get on that plane, just before the end of the episode, but not without pulling a sinister enough mug to raise some questions about whether Ali really knows her friend’s full story.
Back at the hospital, who should show up in the waiting room but Shana? Ali sent her to keep Aria company, she says, and it’s immediately clear that’s total bullshit. There is some Ezra drama, including what looks like a seizure; I continue to have no sympathy for this dude and in fact revel in his continued pain. Finally, unfortunately, he flutters his delicate eyelids and manages to convey to Aria that Shana is the one who shot him. Not that surprising!
Aria heads to the theater to warn her friends, but Shana’s already there with a gun pointed at them. “This isn’t a game,” she’s saying. It’s about “justice” — for Jenna, oh brother, who Shana of course loves. Lucky for the Liars, Aria’s got a prop rifle, and in an attempt to disarm Shana, she ends up knocking her off the stage. Her skull cracks, there’s a pool of blood, someone unnecessarily informs us that she’s dead. The Liars start saying things like, “It’s over” and “Let’s go home.”
They think they’ve finally caught A, but let’s be serious: we’ve got at least three more seasons of this show to go! I highly doubt the central focus of those seasons will be Alison’s reintegration into a town that hates her. Even if this were PLL‘s last season, there’s zero chance that the mystery would be neatly solved in the premiere — or that the mastermind of everything that’s happened on this show would turn out to be goddamn Shana. Still, “EscApe From New York” was a sufficiently suspenseful, surprising start to Season 5, one that laid the groundwork for what could end up being a substantial shift of focus for Pretty Little Liars. But will it be enough to power the show through 2016?