Pretty Little Liars continued it’s jaw dropping, scandal-filled fourth season with ‘The Guilty Girl’s Handbook,’ an episode that wisely took a step back from ‘A.’

PLL fans know that it’s not Pretty Little Liars unless somebody is getting threatening text messages from the all-knowing ‘A’ or Red Coat, but the show has evolved past needing one such text to move the plot along. The constant threat has already been established, and ‘A’ has so completely manipulated Aria (Lucy Hale), Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Hanna (Ashley Benson) and Emily (Shay Mitchell) and their lives that it would be a disservice to the characters and the viewers to constantly remind them of ‘A’s existence.

‘The Guilty Girl’s Handbook’ was a smart episode because ‘A’ was remarkably absent, yet played a huge role in the plot, and what’s more, almost every character knew it. Ashley (Laura Leighton) knows that someone is setting her up for murder; even the eternally clueless Ezra Fitz (Ian Harding) knew something was up when he talked to Emily about the car that ran into her living room. (Unless Ezra couldn’t tell she was lying, in which case, I have greatly overestimated his intelligence.)

Leaving out ‘A’s voice for a whole episode also manages to make the wild and crazy plot she/he has orchestrated a bit more real. Instead of Hanna dealing with a crazy stalker setting her mother up for murder, Hanna is dealing with the reality that her mother is in jail, and might be there for the foreseeable future. It makes her intense desire to confess to killing Detective Wilden (Bryce Johnson) and trade places with her mother even worse.

This was a big episode for the mother-daughter relationships on Pretty Little Liars. In fact, exploring the mother-daughter dynamics seems to be a theme this season – and a good one, at that. By breaking up the closest mother-daughter pair (Ashley and Hanna), PLL has opened up the chance for other mother characters to take on a bigger role in their respective daughters’ lives. It’s an interesting twist for the show to do so late in the game, especially when you consider the fact that the romantic elements of the show (aka: hot boys Keegan Allen, Tyler Blackburn and Harding) have been surprisingly absent from the season so far. But, it’s certainly a direction I am enjoying, and, if last night’s crazy twist ending is any indication, it looks like PLL is going to pay off in a big way.

Okay, now let’s talk Mona (Janel Parrish) – she seems to have confessed to killing Detective Wilden to somehow prove her loyalty to Hanna, but I’m not buying it. Not for one second. Did Mona put herself there because she thought that it had been ‘A’s plan to get Hanna to confess all along? Ripping the rug out from under ‘A’ like that would be a pretty cool move, if only Mona hadn’t already proven herself to be an evil, double-crosser. Or, maybe Mona did, in fact, kill Detective Wilden. After all, she did know a whole lot about police interrogations, and, you know, murder in general. It’s true, the girls believe she was at the lodge the night of the fire, and she supposedly found out about the death when they did, but this is Mona. If anyone knows how to be in two places at once, it’s her. So I remain skeptical, but Mona is one of the most deliciously entertaining characters on the show, so I’ll take her any way I can get her.

Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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