Morpheus is the master of dreams in this Netflix series. But the content is nightmarish.
After six grueling years, the pretty little liars from Pretty Little Liars finally graduated high school in 2015—surviving what must surely be the longest and most dangerous senior year in history. But while the ladies might not be attending their Rosewood, Pa., high school anymore, they still wallow in the town’s perpetually high melodrama, where every citizen seems to hide bloody gloves, every newcomer is a potential killer, and rubber masks are issued at the city limits. Such is Pretty Little Liars, Freeform’s high-gloss, low-IQ drama—a show that, just like its main characters, simply refused to die.
Oh, the show will end its seven-season run in the summer of 2017. But it ends on its own terms, despite all the smoking guns and cloaked villains with unlimited data plans lurking in Rosewood, in a show as squirrely as Rocky from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Indeed, one of the pivotal protagonists, Alison DiLaurentis, started out dead but sprang back to life in Season 5. Her former mean-girl clique—Hanna, Spencer, Aria and Emily—has survived all manner of murder attempts and frame jobs themselves.
But while the storyline has now conveniently jumped ahead five years (allowing the oldish-looking characters to get married, drink beer and stop sneaking around their parents so much), life in Rosewood still feels like the same old story. Needlessly complicated schemes? Creepy killer-torturers lurking in the forest? Evil twins? Amazingly lifelike masks? Checkity-check check.
If only the local diner served up the occasional Scooby snack.
If this show has anything going for it, it’s the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Everyone involved seems to be aware that Pretty Little Liars will never be mistaken for Mad Men. The stakes are serious, but the tone is light.
Too bad we can’t say the same about the content. Drug use, sexual liaisons (both gay and straight), provocative clothing and, of course, that titular wall-to-wall lying make this show about as healthy and palatable as a deep-fried Twinkie battered with hot sauce. Millennials behave badly here. Their parents can be worse. And all those pretty faces don’t make all that content any less ugly.
Scheming evildoer A.D. is playing a game with our fair fabulists. And if they flub their roles, it will end with them all being sent (rightly) to prison for the murder of Archer Dunhill. On top of that, they all have pretty little dramas of their own to navigate.
Spencer is angry that her father lied to her about her birth mom who, it turns out, is her adoptive mom’s evil twin, Jane. (She also secretly gave birth to a now-dead boy named Charles who later became Charlotte.)
A pregnant Alison has decided to “terminate the pregnancy,” until she learns that the baby growing inside her wasn’t the product of her own eggs, but those of her friend Emily—forcibly placed and fertilized inside her. Meanwhile, Emily convinces lesbian lover Paige to stay in Rosewood after Paige is offered a job in Iowa. The two kiss after a bicycle race.
Spencer is sleeping with the police officer investigating Archer’s murder. We see them waking up in bed together, both in their skivvies. They kiss. Aria’s engaged to a guy named Ezra, and they’re living together.
Aria throws a game piece, smashing a wine glass. There are references to a severed finger. People drink beer and other alcoholic beverages. Characters say “d–n” twice, “crap” once, “h—” once and misuse God’s name four times.
You know when one word of a three-word episode title is a profanity, you’re in rough waters. And so it is here.
In a flashback to the end of Season Six, Hannah’s apparently lifeless body is pulled down from a church steeple. Of course, she’s not actually dead. “Hanna” was just a doll wearing a lifelike mask. But the doll comes with a warning: If Spencer, Aria, Emily and their crew can’t learn who killed Charlotte (sister of former queen bee Alison) within 24 hours, Hannah will follow Charlotte into the great beyond.
Hannah, dressed only in black panties and a tight tank top, spends most of the episode in captivity, occasionally being tortured. The masked assailant shocks her with a prod. And he/she sends a picture of Hannah, who’s bleeding from the mouth, to all of her friends. In a flashback, we see Emily in bed with Alison and kissing passionately during, it’s suggested, a sleepover. Alas, Alison is now insane, apparently because of some tremendous guilt weighing on her psyche. She slugs her new husband, Elliott, in the throes of a psychotic episode. (She’s twice injected with drugs.)
Aria drinks a beer at a bar. Several characters break in and sneak around other people’s houses. Emily lies. There’s an allusion to sex toys. Alison asks for God to forgive her. Characters say “d–n,” “b–ch,” “h—” and “a–.” God’s name is also misused a half dozen times.
“Songs of Innocence”
After being rescued from a silo where they were held captive and psychologically tortured for at least three weeks, the girls are trying, largely unsuccessfully, to move on. All are reluctant to talk about their experiences, as their worried parents try to help as best they can.
Sometimes they cope in unfortunate ways. But lessons can be learned here. Emily, for instance, breaks into the family gun safe and goes to a shooting range to take out her aggression without her mother’s permission. (Mom is furious, and later Emily admits it was a mistake.) Aria, trying to ensure that her (apparent) captor gets locked away for good, lies to police and tells them she saw his face. Spencer, who has dealt with a drug problem in the past, loves the antianxiety meds the doctor gave her to sleep, and is mad at her mother for taking them away. “I have to be firm in this,” her mother says, “and so do you.” Spencer then steals a pill from Aria, but before she can take it, her mother comes in and offers to sit up with her sleepless daughter and watch a movie. Spencer smiles and accepts the invitation, leaving the pill behind. Alison goes to church.
Hannah and her boyfriend lie comfortably together on a blow-up mattress, Hannah’s mother looking fondly at her sleeping daughter. Spencer and her beau kiss. We see hints of what the girls experienced in captivity—moments where pushing a button would make someone else in another room scream. Characters say “b–ch” twice, and we hear “h—” in a song.
“Miss Me X 100”
Returning to school after seemingly returning from the dead (much to the chagrin of many), Alison tells Emily that she missed her most of all. She says, “Those kisses weren’t just for practice,” and the two are later seen in bed together. It’s implied that Aria has sex with her boyfriend. They’re also seen in bed; his bare torso and her bare back getting a bit of screen time. Spencer and Toby kiss in Toby’s car. And beyond all the sensual visuals, there’s talk of others having sex, getting together or breaking up.
A bomb goes off, leaving a house in flames. We see a murder scene from an old movie. There’s a lot of talk about various murders and accidents and secret plots. Alison and Mona insult and slap each other in a church, with Alison drawing blood.
Hannah gets drunk on spiked punch, passing out in front of her (upset) mother. The very next night, Hannah drinks beer with a former flame. Someone compares dressing in business casual with “wearing vomit.” People lie repeatedly. (Really, they do.) They say “b–ch,” “h—” and “d–n” two or three times each. God’s name is misused four or five times.
“Turn of the Shoe”
The girls speculate on the murder of two police officers and fret about their secrets being exposed. They and mysterious frienemy Mona go looking for a missing RV. But a masked, would-be killer awaits. The interloper tries to strangle Mona, steals her car and nearly runs the girls over. Emily suffers a bad bruise on her shoulder.
To counteract the pain and compete in an important swimmeet, Emily pilfers pills from the family medicine cabinet. But she’s so high during the race that she smacks her head into the wall. She bleeds and is lifted out, unconscious. Elsewhere, Emily and her lesbian lover, Blair, kiss twice and plan out their Stanford dorm room. (Emily thinks they should move the beds closer together.)
Aria takes self-defense lessons and smooches her instructor. Hannah wonders why her mother is lying to her about several things and speculates that perhaps she had something to do with one of the murdered officers. There’s talk of Alison being involved with an older man—spending the weekend with him in her parents’ beach house and leaving beer bottles strewn across the place. Someone steals a parrot and tries to feed it part of a Cornish hen. Characters appear in swimsuits and tight-fitting pants. They say “h‑‑‑” and “frickin’.” They misuse God’s name. Snide references are made about people resembling Satan and going to hell. Kids discuss skipping school. Adults drink wine.
“If These Dolls Could Talk”
The girls’ search for “A” gets a little beyond-the-grave help from Alison, who stops by to visit Spencer in the middle of the night. It could be a dream, but she takes a couple of Spencer’s painkillers “for the road,” and Spencer wakes up to find both her door and the painkiller bottle open.
The girls also visit a creepy doll store, where a boy tells them that Alison visited the business asking about a voodoo doll—adding that he felt bad about how she died (information never released to the public). “He sees things,” the store’s owner explains. “Things that haven’t happened yet. He’s gifted.” Later, the girls break into the store and discover a bloodied doll repeating, “Follow me and end up like me.” They’re freaked and wreck half the store as they run for the door.
When it looks like her parents might send Aria to boarding school (breaking up her affair with teacher Ezra), Aria threatens to blackmail them—revealing her father’s affair with a grad student. Then Ezra gets fired, and he tells Aria he’ll be leaving town—news that prompts the two to start kissing and disrobing as they lie down on the couch. (We see him shirtless, her in a bra). There’s one “h‑‑‑” and one “b‑‑ch.”
“If at First You Don’t Succeed, Lie, Lie Again”
Alison still haunts and perplexes the little liars, seemingly from beyond the grave. In a “previously seen on …” montage, Hanna’s mom “steals” $50,000. In this episode, Alison tries to blackmail Hanna and wants to make sure that Aria’s mother will see Aria with Ezra, the adult English teacher whom the teen is secretly and illicitly dating.
Emily breaks a swim record and is tormented by Paige, a girl who’s gunning to be swim team captain. To defend Emily, Spencer says she “will destroy” Paige. Aria offers to help. Later, Paige holds Emily’s head underwater as a threat.
Couples kiss. Girls wear towels in a locker room. A man goes shirtless. God’s name is misused at least once, as are the words “h‑‑‑” and “d‑‑n.” Hanna mentions tequila. A crass reference to homosexuality is used against Emily. Menstrual cramps and French kissing are joked about. A student steals a car engine part to guarantee that a teacher doesn’t leave town. Spencer spins out a lie—then confesses.
“To Kill a Mocking Girl”
Shoplifting is “justified”—largely by Hanna’s mom using her sexual wiles to derail the investigation of her daughter’s crime. The detective responsible for that investigation is ultimately seen wearing only a towel in front of Hanna and her mom. The four withhold information from police and lie, too.
Having sex in high school is said to be what makes a relationship real, and a friend asks Hanna, “How long can you wait before you lose him?” So is it any wonder Hanna tries to seduce her boyfriend, even giving him a condom? (He walks away.) She tells him not to quote Scripture for why he won’t have sex and is so hurt by his “rejection” that she takes his car and wrecks it (perhaps unintentionally). Emily’s boyfriend, meanwhile, tries to have sex with her even when she fights against it. (A mysterious teen protects her by slugging the guy in the face.) Maya passionately kisses Emily.
Spencer plagiarizes his history paper. Adults and teens drink alcohol. Sexual innuendo—both straight and gay—mixes with expletives such as “bloody,” “d‑‑n” and abuses of God’s name.
“The Jenna Thing”
Hanna pours alcohol into her soda at a restaurant. (Then she’s disrespectful to a shocked adult who watches her.) Spencer sneaks a cocktail or two at dinner with her dad. Drinking games are joked about, as are breast implants. The core four lie to a detective, then try to reassure themselves that they’re A-OK by telling one another that lying’s not a crime. Refusing to take responsibility for their actions, the girls agree that telling the truth about Alison and what happened “that night” will ruin their own lives.
In a flashback, we see an explosive prank that cost Jenna her eyesight. (The perpetrators later framed someone else for it.) Teens and adults kiss passionately, and though Hanna’s boyfriend wants to wait to have sex (his father is a pastor), Hanna doesn’t. Girls and women wear low-cut tops and very short skirts and shorts.
There are several misuses of God’s name, as well as “d‑‑n” and “frickin’.” “Up yours” is said in Latin and English. Sexual innuendo is used. Aria’s teacher continues his “romantic” relationship with her, lying to her mother and his colleagues in the process. Aria’s father refuses to tell his wife about his affair.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Morpheus is the master of dreams in this Netflix series. But the content is nightmarish.
This coming-of-age story based on a children’s book series teaches kids about making friends, fitting in and navigating divorce.
This slice-of-life anime about a suave detective combines a peaceful life with a violent one.
Cartoon animals band together to support each other, solve problems for the citizens—and entertain preschoolers.