Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pretty Little Liars: “Game Over, Charles” recap & review

by Melissa Parkin 

You hear that perpetual thumping? Don’t be concerned. It’s just PLL fans banging their heads on whatever hard surface they can find. Why might that be? Well, if you’d just seen the summer finale, you would know all too well. After five and a half seasons, 130 episodes, and all those red herrings, we finally get a face to go with the infamous “A.” The result…is rather underwhelming.

With help from Mona, the Liars try to track down a recently kidnapped Alison and find themselves at the corporate office of the Carissimi Group. Sara Harvey so conveniently helps them break into Rhys Matthews’s locked room, and they walk right into “A”’s evil lair. The vault door closes on them, locking all the girls inside with the exception of the suspicious Sara Harvey. Meanwhile, Alison awakens inside what looks like a prison cell with Mr. D and Jason’s lifeless bodies on the floor outside the room. With a strangely futuristic video feed showing the Liars and Mona everything happening to Alison, they see the notorious “A” lurking in the corner of the cell. The big reveal…Jason’s ex, CeCe Drake, is underneath the infamous black hoodie. Can you say creepy?

The rest of the episode pretty much plays out as exposition to reveal CeCe’s motives for becoming “A” with enormous mounds of information dumping and not a lot of time to digest it all. CeCe, known as Charles back in the day, apparently didn’t try to drown Alison in the bathtub. Yep, it was all just a big misunderstanding. Already unhinged at his son’s predisposition for wanting to wear dresses, Mr. DeLaurentis convinced his wife to lock Charles up in the Radley Institute after the bathtub incident. Mrs. D was more understanding of Charles’s cross-dressing tendencies. She’d buy duplicates of Alison’s wardrobe to give to her son when visiting him at Radley.

Eric McCandless/ABC

Bethany Young was apparently the one responsible for Toby’s mother’s presumed “suicide” when she blatantly pushed her off the roof; she blamed Charles. Mrs. D paid off Wilden to cover up all the secrets after she faked Charles’s death to rename him “Charlotte” before re- administering him back into Radley under a different name and feminine appearance. Things took a turn toward the truly disturbing when Charles a.k.a. “CeCe” managed to sneak back into Rosewood and start a relationship with his/her own unwitting brother Jason--just to get close to the family. Sadly, your head does not work like an Etch-A-Sketch. Doesn’t matter how hard and long you shake it, those incestuous images won’t go away.

Speaking of Jason, both he and his father are in fact alive. “A,” using a mysterious serum, drugged the guys to leave them in a state of paralysis, in which they’re fully awake and conscious of their surroundings, but unable to move whatsoever. One can only assume, after listening to Charles’s sickening confession, that Jason definitely spent a lot of time in the upcoming five year time jump at therapy. Ewwwww.

This disturbing brother/sister relationship came to Mrs. DeLaurentis’s attention only when Jason brought CeCe home to “meet” the family. To say Mrs. D wasn’t happy about this lewd, family affair would be putting it mildly.

It is also revealed that CeCe is the one who hit Alison over the head with the rock that fateful night, mistaking her for Bethany Young. In light of this revelation, Mona confesses to the Liars that she, too, suffered a case of mistaken identity when she hit Bethany with the shovel, thinking it was Ali. CeCe later befriended Mona while the two were holed up in Radley, though Mona was too medicated to remember CeCe. She just assumed her guilt was making her hallucinate that she was really talking to an imaginary Alison. That’s when Mona apparently mentioned that the Liars were happy about Alison being dead, sparking Charles/Charlotte/CeCe’s vengeance towards the group. Oh. My. God. You have a headache yet? Don’t worry; we all do. Lastly, Sara Harvey is revealed to be both Red Coat and the Black Widow, leaving Emily distraught. Show of hands, who was shocked that Sara was a baddie? Anybody? No? I didn’t think so.

The Liars, realizing that the video feed is coming from Radley, manage to break out of “A”’s lair and get to the institute to rescue Ali before CeCe has a chance to blow it all up. What happens to CeCe after that is perfectly UNCLEAR as the scene fades to black after the cops arrive on scene and CeCe surrenders by calling “Game over.”

Well, that was…anticlimactic.

Sure, after five and a half seasons, expectations were undoubtedly high. Perhaps too high. Not all fans would be satisfied, no matter who was revealed to be lurking underneath that black hoodie. But when intended gasps are instead met with groans, it’s a sure sign the showrunners hit a sour note. The allure of “A” has always been the calculated, enigmatic menace behind each threat, taunt, and malevolent act. CeCe’s back story completely derails that appeal by either chalking her behavior up to misunderstandings or plain, impulsive psychosis. And you can’t ignore the elephant in the room. With transgender awareness now at a focal point in the media, Charles/CeCe’s “shocking” reveal reads more as a last minute gimmick than as a genuinely organic idea. What makes this offense worse is the fact that this particular case regarding transgender lifestyles plays out more like Buffalo Bill, given that her gender identity crisis was compounded with ideas that incest and violence were reasonable actions, resulting in a blatantly insulting portrayal of a transgender individual. 
Are we also really expected to believe that the clearly masculine figure that leaped from the rooftop after shooting Ezra in season four’s finale was petite, little CeCe? All signs up to that point made the likelihood that a male, particularly Wren Kingston, was in fact “A.” This information dump of a finale felt more like the creators were more interested in shocking fans than giving them what they really deserved, a perfect villain. Many viewers picked up on tidbits throughout the series that made it hard to ignore Wren’s suspicious behavior. The fact that “A” scheduled the British custom of “tea time” while the girls were trapped in the Dollhouse seemed like a good clue. The fact that Wren owned an eerily similar placard reading “Love Thy Neighbor” that also happened to be hanging on the wall in the Dollhouse was another. Then there’s the fact that the police were suspicious of Wren’s questionable doctoral credentials, in which he somehow worked in both medical and psychiatric branches of the field. The fact he knew Radley all too well without having ever been there can’t be ignored either.

The list goes on and on. It was even hinted that “A” was in the series from the very beginning. CeCe didn’t show up until season three. Plus, the show’s creator, I. Marlene King, tweeted a picture of a young Charles at the farm, along with the caption, “An apple a day….” The old saying, “An apple a day keeps the DOCTOR away,” seemed like a heavy hint at Kingston as well. And lastly, one must suspect that the creators were also responsible for the fake leak from a supposed former employee saying that Wren was in fact Charles. This fan-favorite theory was emphasized so much that it feels like PLL just enjoyed pulling the rug out from everyone’s feet by playing a dirty, five-year trick. Whether that’s the case or not, this mid-season finale was undoubtedly a massive disappointment.

Pretty Little Liars - “Game Over, Charles” Rating:  D -


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