Tonight across the country, covens of girls will scrunch close to their TV screens, searching for murder clues, suicide hints, or maybe just the brand names on Lucy Hale's handbags.
It's all part of the game that ABC Family started last year with four high school Lolitas named Emily, Spencer, Aria, and Hannah. They primped; they flirted; they made everyone jealous. Then their best friend turned up dead - though no one ever saw the body - and all of a sudden, they found themselves terrorized via iPhone and Sidekick by a ghostly brat named "A." Is it Alison? Or someone else, like maybe Emma Stone? And what does she really want?
The latest chapter, which airs tonight on ABC Family, doesn't really solve any of those questions. But it sure is fun. The first five minutes put Poor Little Rich Girl Hannah (Ashley Benson) in the hospital, a victim of a suspiciously vicious hit-and-run. As she receives visitors and hallucinates back to Alison's last days, subplots hover like jangling - though very fashionable - accessories. Aria (Lucy Hale) still trysts with her English teacher, which (sorry) is getting to the point of "Ew, gross!" Meanwhile Spencer (Troian Avery Bellisario) still pines for her older sister's man, who's also her lacrosse coach, who's also... whatever, the point is, these girls should stop!
But then there's Emily (Shay Mitchell). Emily is gay, her mom is probably a Tea Party member, and her dad's in the military. And despite the bitchy comments, the flashes of underwear, and the shiny lip glosses that coat each PLL episode, Emily's plotline tonight (and the actors carrying it) feels heartbreaking, sweet, and real. It may be buried under ten tons of Juicy Couture with the tags still on, but like it or not, this show and its heroines have a soul.
At least, they do unless "A" comes out of the bushes and kills them with a chainsaw. But we're betting that won't happen until at least Season Four.
Pretty Little Liars airs tonight on ABC Family; watch the first ten episodes free on Hulu.