After all the shootings, explosions, and accidental deaths this season already, I feel like the tag line should be changed to “What do we say to death? Not today.” Alas, that line belongs to a show with more prestige (but surprisingly less backstabbing) and instead we are left with our favorite liars once again trying to figure out who tried to set them on fire most recently. Coming off an episode where many of the loose threads in regards to the relationships on the show came to a head in the most awkward possible way, only to have Toby’s house blown to bits in the closing moments, it was obvious heading into this hour we were in for a heavy case of moody Liars. Disappointed, I was not.
Not a scene went by without someone (Spencer or Ali) crying, or someone (Aria) being incredibly dumb, or someone (Hannah and Emily) having tense confrontations with people who don’t have their best interests at heart. We barely even got a light coffee shop scene this week! Only a brief stop-in with awkward Caleb and Spencer’s mom being blindsided by her estranged husband while sipping a very Hastings-esque espresso. Although there were decidedly fewer songs used this week in favor of the show’s standard horror-tinged score, there was still one quality choice that I appreciated, albeit in a scene that I did not.
But first, the “coffee shop soundtrack” portion of this week’s musical lineup…
“It Wants What It Wants” by Andrew Belle
Hannah and Caleb being awkward exes in public is going to get very old very quickly, but until then I’m completely OK with her trying to awkwardly resist his hotness and convince herself that Travis is the better choice. Only so many times you can drunk dial your ex-boyfriend until your current boyfriend catches on, hun! Pretty Little Liars is at its best when laying the sappiness on thick, and this was no exception. One of the many skills of the PLL music department is making every coffee shop scene in the show seem like a meet cute when it could be a murder plotting session or a stalker staking out the best surveillance corner. It’s a tactic that works best in this show only because every scene without someone bleeding out or being chased through a dark forest can effectively be treated as a relaxed tableau and thus be soundtracked that way. If the lyrics of this Andrew Belle song were actually audible during Hannah and Caleb’s conversation the song would be exposed as the overtly-literal choice it was, but with ambient noises drowning the specifics out, it works just fine. Belle’s voice is slightly too much of a Gregory Alan Isakov or Jeremy Messersmith rip-off so I can’t give him too much praise for originality, but his aesthetic works in a “free CD at Starbucks” sort of way.
“On The Other Side” by Peter Bradley Adams and “Gonna Be Okay” by Matthew Perryman Jones
Well, it seems as if the only action the coffee shop got this week was to be the setting for incredibly awkward encounters. Both meetings between Mrs. Hastings and Spencer were tinged with stress and sadness, the first time these emotions represented by Mrs. Hastings side of the table and the second by Spencer’s understandable emotional response about her parents’ continuing separation. Not every family on PLL is represented in an entirely honest or accurate representation, but the Hastings family has consistently been the exception to that trend, especially when it comes to conversations between Spencer and her mother. They are probably the only two people on the show who understand a lot of the craziness that is happening in their lives and are willing to discuss it even when it could lead to distress for either themselves or other members of the family. Both of these song choices faded into the background quite a bit, but if you listen to them outside of the show and imagine you could have heard them playing in these scenes they work fairly well. The Jones choice was just short of too literal, seeing as the song title being used for a repetitive chorus was a little much for when Spencer finds out her parents are splitting up permanently in a public place, but those are options I can live with as long as the general feel of the scene meshes with the music.
“Fool For You” by Garrison Starr & AG
It almost feel bad for disliking the Alison/Emily scene so much, as the music choice was my favorite of the episode by a long shot and perfect for what the show was aiming for here. My main issue stems from how this attraction has been handled in the past when looking back on how Alison treated the other girls during their original friendship. Hannah’s weight problems, Spencer’s academics-induced drug issues, and Aria’s sullenness due to Alison’s presence years ago were all treated as side effects that had a huge impact on their early high school experiences, and therefore we were made aware of these interactions and pressures as close as possible to the beginning of the series. In Emily’s case however, we didn’t get any insight in regards to her relationship with Alison until multiple seasons into the show, and at that point the entire storyline about Alison knowing about her preference in partners came off as exploitative and shoehorned compared to the rest of the girls’ memories of their manipulative best friend. Even giving the show the benefit of the doubt as to when they deployed these flashbacks, seeing as the audience didn’t know Emily was gay until well into the series as well, I’ve never bought in to the theory that Alison could be bisexual or flat out gay and the writers never put in the legwork that would convince me as such.
The show doesn’t seem to want to go so far as to admit she was exploiting Emily the entire time and still may be in order to give Alison some additional emotional shading as a character, but until they commit fully one way or another I have no interest in this dance between the two girls and would much prefer Emily to find herself in a healthy relationship with someone who supports her sexuality and has no interest in manipulating it or her for their own gains. A narrative choice such as that would also go a long way towards the show having a healthy representation of a same-sex relationship now that they blew up the Paige and Emily romance that was so nice to see for multiple seasons and character arcs. This may not be the goal of the show, but seeing as how many LGBTQ youths are assuredly watching PLL, maybe it would be in their best interests to give Emily (or Paige) a relationship with a trustworthy partner like the other girls have been fortunate enough to receive in their narratives instead of someone who once tried to kill them or someone who has ulterior motives and is using a gay friend who they know is vulnerable in order to achieve them. Aria, Spencer, and Hannah have all had multiple boyfriends or temporary love interests with no shady background (or a suspicion that only lasted one episode before being proven incorrect by well-timed sleuthing), yet Emily got a semi-abusive ex-boyfriend shortly before she came out and incredibly suspicious girlfriends every step of the way after that. I beg of you, PLL writers, let Emily have a happy relationship for at least a little while and don’t turn Alison coming home into an exploitative mess of a storyline.
Now, putting this mini-rant aside for the moment, the song choice was actually very good. Garrison Starr has a Weepies sort of quality to her voice without seeming like a rip-off of any particular artist. She is a Southern songstress originally hailing from Mississippi, and the loneliness of many of her songs seem to stem directly from her time growing up in that area of the country. “Fool For You” is not currently available to listen online, but another song that I am a fan of was and if you substituted it into this scene it would have worked in a similarly effective way.