After the twists and turns of the last few episodes, things seem to be slowing down on Pretty Little Liars — delving deep into the nuances of character development and really exploring the interpersonal dynamics of each relationship. Which is great and all, but sometimes we just want to see car crashes, explosions, and locker-room brawls. Even if we didn't get any of those this week, we were still satisfied by the parental shouting match (punctuated by Holly Marie Combs shattering a picture frame — oooh, Mom's mad!) and a new romance for Spencer that looks like it has the potential to get muy caliente. Even without a Bristol Palin guest-spot, we're still pretty sure that Pretty Little Liars is the crown jewel in ABC Family's current show lineup. Read on to get the play-by-play of what happened on this week's ep, "Reality Bites Me." Or, scroll to the bottom to watch our three-minute recap of all the highlights. Onward!
The show kicks off with a group discussion of the letter from "A," which mysteriously found its way into Ella Montgomery's hands. The girls sported their slumber party best: Aria in Ed Hardy sweats and some sort of message tee, Emily looking characteristically athletic, Spencer in preppy basics, and Hanna somehow managing to combine every bad '80s trend into one teensy-tiny top. Neon? Check. Cropped? Check. Off-the-shoulder? Check. Fugly print? Check, check, check! The girls receive a video text that shows "A" was actually filming them as they reacted to the lipstick message from inside Spencer's closet (suggesting to us that "A" is, in fact, Hanna's boyfriend Sean). Closer inspection reveals the offending tube of lipstick was left behind. Maybe we've been watching too much CSI, but wouldn't the appropriate next move be to send that off to the lab to be dusted for prints? Either that, or a super-cute makeover montage featuring that hot new shade of lipstick. Instead, the scene just faded to the show's opening credits. That was kind of a cop-out, PLL producers!
Speaking of cosmetics, we're drawn into Aria's kitschy attic boudoir, where she and her brother discuss Aria's mascara application technique. Also, they talk about the state of their parents' union, but mostly Aria's eyeliner stays front and center in the convo. In the kitchen, more marriage troubles follow for Chad Lowe and Hilary Swank — oops, we mean, Byron and Ella Montgomery. Aria interrupts and her mom who deflects from her marital troubles by discussing breakfast options, but runs out of steam before she can fully deliver: "Do you want some breakfast? There's... yogurt." Yeah. We'd take the granola bar, too.
Meanwhile, in class, there's certainly some chemistry between Toby and Emily, which is curious, since Toby isn't a sultry lesbian with a drug habit. It really doesn't seem like he should be Emily's type, does it? Maybe it's the fumes from the sour green appletini they're cooking up on that Bunsen burner. Down the hall in another classroom, sparks fly (the literary variety) between Ezra and Aria, as Fitzy alludes to a performance of a story he's written, which he'll be reading at some sort of open-mic night, we think — the searing specificity of his description ("Well, no, it's not a thing, it's just... a thing") didn't give us much to work with. We thought the MTV generation was all about fast-paced storytelling and ADHD editing, so there's something kind of poetic, if ultimately unconvincing, about a bunch of upper-crust suburbanites packing into a bar to hear a high school English teacher read his Wesleyan thesis verbatim to a rapt audience.
Elsewhere, in a horrific Eastern bloc-inspired office building, Jenna and Hanna have a creeptastic elevator encounter, involving — what else? — lipstick, which bears an eerie resemblance to A's shade of choice. Clearly, there was a missed opportunity for some MAC product placement, although given the recent success of Microsoft in that department, we don't blame them for steering clear.
Later in the evening at the bar, Aria is mesmerized by Ezra's literary prowess: "And in an instant, her life was undone. Everything she'd known disappeared, drifting into the summer sky." Somebody call Random House, we've got a hot new talent on the rise. Aria chats with Ezra's college roommate, Hardy, who has an old-fashioned brodown with Ezra about their tawdry past. In a very different corner of Rosewood, Spencer, looking Wimbledon-fresh, flirts with Mexican pop star Diego Boneta, who is moonlighting at a country club tennis coach. This willing suspension of disbelief is neatly juxtaposed with the first sensible thing to happen in the entire series: back at the bar, Hardy gets real with Ezra about his teenage girlfriend. We know you don't want to hear it, Fitzy, but denial isn't going to make Aria legal — or make you any less of a skeeze. Admittedly, he's a hot skeeze, who makes us wish we were sixteen again. Le sigh.Spencer's dad offers her some buttercreams (calories, girl!) as a congratulation for winning the essay contest, to which Spencer hems and haws, claiming that her paper is "really not one of my best." Obvi, Spence — it was your sister's best! Her men, her essays — is there anything of Melissa's that Spencer doesn't covet? Her crappy attitude, perhaps?
Back in the depressing and seemingly windowless medical dental building, Hanna lamely attempts to find Jenna, who has disappeared into an anonymous office suites. What's she expecting to find — Jenna performing Satanic rituals with a pack of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers and a Microsoft KIN? Speaking of Satanic rituals, that creepy Toby and Emily bond over Toby's doodles and a shared love of fictional bands. They make a date to meet up at the Grille later. In the bushes, Maya weeps into the scarf she's been knotting for Emily. (Okay, we made that last part up.)
Hanna tracks down that skinny-latte-loving, boyfriend-stealing hussy Amber on an anonymous social networking site and has a heart-to-heart with her mom about this new girl in Sean's social life. Rather than assuring Hanna that Amber is just Sean's new shopping buddy, to try on fitted polos and rumpled chinos at Aber with him, Ashley somehow manages to make it all about her failed marriage. Thanks, Mom. Hanna goes bug-eyed when she gets a new message from "A" who attached one of the photo booth pictures of Emily from Maya in the message. Over super-secret-stealth-snacks at the Grille, Hanna and Spencer brainstorm a plan of action in this crazy, post-lipstick world, but when Emily shows up for her date with Toby, the girls beckon her over to join in their scheming. We hate when the guy we're crushing on just got out of a mental hospital and then when we run into our girlfriends at the only restaurant in town, we totally can't even say hi to him because they think he's the one blackmailing us with our secrets. So. Annoying.
Over smoothies (we guess they finished off the buttercreams?), Spencer's dad tells her to throw the tennis match so he can sign a new client. On the court, Spencer is hesitant to comply — after all, she has a hot new townie to impress. At the medical office building, Hanna is mistaken for a mental patient named Martha. She convincingly fakes a Sybil-esque breakdown and runs out, having had the revelation that Jenna is just in therapy. Wow, we can't imagine why a teenager who was blinded by a stink bomb gone wrong (aside: are stink bombs ever right?) would need therapy.
We move to Ezra's place, where Aria makes a pretty good case for her maturity, despite Ezra's misgivings having been reality-checked by the one sane person in Rosewood. Can we get Hardy in a recurring role, to provide a much-needed voice of reason to all of the decisions made by these morally bankrupt sweethearts? It's growing increasingly necessary. Back at the Grille, a helpful waitress (maybe she's "A"!) drops off the CD that Toby left for Emily, causing Hanna to believe that Maya is the object of Emily's affection. Sorry, H — Maya is so last week.
Byron and Ella finally get into the long-overdue knock-down-drag-out fight we'd been waiting for, and it's reasonably explosive, although the fillers that are currently padding Holly Marie Combs' face make realistic displays of emotion a distant fantasy. In other breaking news, Spencer cowtows to her dad's demands and throws the match, and Ashley Marin is self-centered. Moving on...
While attempting to break into another office suite, Hanna runs into Sean at his mom's office. The true identity of Skinny Latte Bitch is revealed: it turns out that she's Sean's friend from RLW, or "Real Love Waits." We're quite curious about this little organization — sounds like a great place to pick up a Jonas Brother or three. Incidentally, so is Hanna, who actually offers to accompany Sean to their next meeting. It's a sweet gesture, but it also keeps Hanna from snatching the guard's keys as she'd originally planned. Oh, the sacrifices we make for love!
Aria goes over to Ezra's place to prepare the romantic dinner they'd planned ("enhanced mac and cheese"), but upon her arrival, she's greeted with a Sad Fitzy face. She accidentally left her phone there, and — surprise! — a scandalicious message from "A" just happened to arrive: "Lucky you, Aria! Other girls have to do their homework. You get to do the teacher..." While this may be our favorite message from "A" ever, Ezra seems thoroughly unamused, interrogating Aria about with whom she's shared the details of their secret romance. Obviously, "nobody" isn't a convincing response, and Aria gets kicked to the curb with nothing to show for it besides, we're guessing, a paper she'll actually have to write tonight, rather than just sleeping with her hot teacher for extra credit.
Spencer's dad reveals to her that he used the hot townie, Alex, as collateral damage when signing his deal, and Spencer one-ups him by telling him that her prize-winning paper is plagiarized. We love Spencer's holier-than-thou response to her dad's competitive nature — spoken like a true teenager. Elsewhere, Emily and Toby reconnect, and Spencer shows up at the club, presumably to console Alex about losing his job. He doesn't look too upset about it, but then again, Spencer is kind of a fox. We'd take her over a minimum-wage job shoveling tennis balls to entitled d-bags, too. And finally, Aria and Mike eat dinner together, since Aria's been permanently exiled from Ezra's place. See, guys? The real message of Pretty Little Liars: it's family that matters most. Oh, and also, lying, backstabbing, manipulating, seducing, coercing, and otherwise compromising your integrity to achieve your selfish means. Now that's a moral message we're happy to see on TV!