by Melissa Parkin
In Rosewood, suspicious behavior is about as common as a cloud in the sky. The most suspicious of the residents is Mike Montgomery. Aria’s average teenage little brother became full-blown Mr. Hyde as he’s on the prowl and up to no good, while being about as subtle as an elephant in a room full of hamsters. As the Liars donate some blood to the local blood drive (with the exception of Emily due to her trip to Haiti), Mike is caught perusing the coolers where all the labeled vials are being stored. Then later that evening, Aria overhears Mike’s phone and answers the call. Surprise, surprise. It’s from the woman’s correctional facility that just so happens to be housing Ali. Aria confronts Mike again, only to end up with a door slammed in her face. Seriously, between his rigorous iron-pumping workout and his sudden anger issues, this kid needs to be tested for steroids, ASAP!
Hanna finds herself in a pickle of her own. After being accepted into a number of first-rate colleges, she discovers that she’s being denied for financial aid on account of her father’s impressive income. Against her mother’s wishes, Hanna decides to pay him a visit at his office, explaining her situation. Things turn sour though when he fails to help her. Apparently, stepsister dearest, Kate, is going to Dartmouth in the fall, and Mr. Marin already agreed to pay for her tuition in full. To add salt to the salt poured in the open wound, he doesn't hide his previous lack of faith towards Hanna’s future. Ouch.
Hanna’s merriment isn't the only one to find itself crushed. Following a romantic bike ride, Emily and Talia appear to be quite happy with their recent love connection. That all goes up in smoke when Emily catches a glimpse at Ezra’s paperwork. Talia isn't exactly who she says she is, literally. Talia’s last name isn't in fact Sandoval, but Mendoza. The name of her husband. It seems only Ms. Hastings is finding any relief these days. Her new house-guest, Jonny, takes Spencer out with him to do a mural at Hollis College. She only finds out after the deed though that Jonny wasn't compensated for the artwork. It’s in fact vandalism. The pair share a quick spat, but Spencer soon forgives him for his deception.
Now, back again to Mike’s dubious behavior. Emily catches Aria’s brother at the ATM machine withdrawing a suspicious amount of cash. When he leaves, Emily approaches the ATM, discovering his forgotten bank receipt. His transaction is more than shifty, having taken out four-hundred dollars from an account stashed with almost twenty grand. Given that this isn't exactly piggy-bank change, Emily darts over to the Montgomery house and accidentally interrupts Aria’s tutor session with Andrew. With no other alternative, the girls enlist Andrew’s help as they tail Mike out to an old backwoods diner. Aria and Emily survey the restaurant, finding Mike meeting up with the mysterious Hank Mahoney, who he’s been communicating with. Lo and behold, the mystery man is in fact Cyrus Petrillo, Ali’s fake kidnapper.
Keeping a low profile, the girls duck outside. Spencer arrives on the scene, relieving Andrew of his services. As the Liars sit and wait for Mike and Cyrus to wrap up their meeting, they all receive a text from “A.” Now, a message from the infamous blackmailer is about as warranted as a shovel to the face, but this particular text holds horrifying news. It reads, “Thanks for donating to my get-into-jail fund. – A,” along with a picture of blood vials with Hanna, Spencer, and Aria’s names stamped on it. Their DNA is now in the hands of the one person who wants to take them all down. Distracted by the development, the Liars realize all too late that Cyrus and Mike have left the diner. They start scouring the parking lot, hoping to find either of them, when Cyrus charges at the trio on his motorcycle. Before things get nasty though, Andrew suddenly appears and comes to the girls’ aid with a baseball bat in hand. Cyrus takes the hint and hits the road.
You can’t end the episode without more suspicious behavior--can you? Following the recent discovery about her brother’s involvement, Aria finds herself unable to return home. She and Hanna crash at the Hastings’ house that night, and the three contemplate the possible implications “A”’s new advantage holds. Just as Spencer goes to fetch an extra blanket for their sleepover, Mike is shown peering through the kitchen window. Yeah, because that’s not weird or anything…. The show closes with the hooded “A” doing some handiwork with Mona’s blood-stained sweater. With the vials to each of the Liars’ blood on display, “A” plucks out Hanna’s and administers a few drops of blood onto the shirt. Uh-oh.
“Out, Dammed Spot” finally gains the momentum that previous episodes were lacking. The downside? The mystery is a bit unraveled in the wrong places. To weave a compelling suspense story, the audience needs to be thrown a bone or two in the process. Unfortunately, everything’s rather muddled. Mike’s abrupt turn to the “dark side” feels more than aberrant. Having never really been a big part of the main story-line, his sudden involvement just looks like another distraction. Does anyone honestly believe for a second that he’s “A,” or even remotely involved with the “A”-team? Let’s face it, after forgetting the bank receipt from his lucrative account, it’s obvious this kid’s not exactly a criminal mastermind. This slip-up doesn't take away from the fun-factor of the episode though. Having toned down the romantic element during its run-time, it focuses on the show’s stronger selling point. If the writers can tidy up on the whodunit aspect, PLL just may deliver one hell of a showdown.
Pretty Little Liars: “Out, Dammed Spot” Rating: B +