Pretty Little Liars Season 7, Episode 18 Recap: "Choose Or Lose"

Photo: Courtesy of Freeform.
One of the best characters on Pretty Little Liars is back — Detective Tanner. After Spencer called out Marco (Nicholas Gonzalez) on all the ways he has acted unprofessional during the case last week, Marco came clean about his relationship with Spencer (Troian Bellisario) and removed himself from Archer Dunhill's (Huw Collins) murder case. And that means nothing good for the Liars. Detective Tanner (Roma Maffia) was always closer to the truth than anyone else in Rosewood. She's always understood something larger was happening; the girls were keeping a secret and covering it up involved them actually committing crimes. It's been five years since she's seen the Liars, but her hypothesis is more accurate than ever.
Even though Tanner's theory is correct — and she's a woman who prides herself on being right — her actions still feel brash. She's accused these same women of so many crimes, and every time they've been found innocent. Five years ago, when they were 18, she accused them of running away when they had actually been kidnapped. They were tortured by their kidnapper for a month before their friends discovered them. The whole time Detective Tanner was so focused on the solving the whole mystery of Ali's (Sasha Pieterse) disappearance and every unsolved murder, she almost allowed six more young women to die — Sara Harvey (Dre Davis), Mona, and the Liars.
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It seems that Tanner has never been able to forget the puzzle she didn't solve — what exactly were those beautiful young women in Rosewood covering up? Her first stop in Rosewood was to send police with search warrants to the house of every Liar. All of their belongings were fair game for seizure, as well as their computers and phones. Yet A.D. still has a game for them to play, and the police are not a match for him or her. Two phones survived the search — the one A.D. uses to communicate with and blackmail the Liars, and the one A.D. uses to control Aria (Lucy Hale).
As Tanner continually finds more evidence to pin on the girls, the Liars are given an ultimatum by A.D.: They can either chose one person to turn into the police — one person that will fall for the crimes of them all — or they can all go down for the murder of Archer Dunhill. Before they can even process the consequences of their loyalty, Mona (Janel Parrish) stops by to reveal their bond has a weakest link...and she's already donned a black hoodie.
Not only does Mona tell the Liars that Aria has joined the A.D. team, but she brings receipts. She tells them Aria trashed Ali and Emily's nursery, left the recording of Mary Drake (Andrea Parker) and Mr. Hastings (Nolan North) arguing in the Hastings' household, and plays them a recording of Aria's phone call with A.D. Seems a bit too much of a coincidence to me — why would she have all that information? The logical answer is because Mona herself is A.D. and is laying this track so the girls all turn on each other. However, the girls don't grab at that red herring right in front of them. Instead, they ask for proof. They don't just want to see the receipts, but the actual groceries and store surveillance footage too.
They all show up where Aria was supposed to meet A.D. and catch her back hooded. Aria tries to defend herself, but it ultimately comes down to the fact Aria picked the man she loved over the friends who have had her back. It doesn't help that the man she loves is the same man who stalked them all, the same man who had a lair full of illegal video surveillance of them, the same man who hooked up with two of them while they were underage. While they are all in agreement that he's a good guy now, this episode proved that just because you forgive doesn't mean you can forget. If this conversation was about Hanna picking Caleb (Tyler Blackburn) over the Liars it would probably be completely different — Caleb has saved their lives and their freedom multiple times.
The one person who truly could have come to Aria's defense is Spencer (Troian Bellisario). After all, he's already rocked the black hoodie. Spencer joined A.D.'s side in order to save the man she loved once upon a time. We never fully learned how he and Toby (Keegan Allen) escaped the A.D. team, but they were forced to make the exact same decision. Instead, the greatest duo the show has ever had, Sparia, called it quits. Hypocrisy aside, after everything the girls have gone through, it's too much for Spencer. Aria is the reason that Spencer's parents are getting a divorce. Aria is the reason Spencer's mom is giving up her political dreams. Aria is the reason that Spencer will have to live with the knowledge that her dad tried to kill her birth mother and had a part in the death of her birth aunt (and mother of her best friend).
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In some ways seeing the fault lines of the girls' friendship is important. One of the things that has made this show so wonderful for the last seven years is that it is truly a story about female friendship and strength. It's been these five girls against everything — the mistakes of their parents, the older men in their neighbourhood videotaping their every move, everyone in the town ganging up to bully them, murderers and stalkers, divorce, death, breakups, high school and college, and the ever-omnipresent A. Emily (Shay Mitchell) said it best: "We're friends since forever, that is what we do." It's rare that a TV show allows females to be friends and be mad at each other. It's rare that a TV show depicts two friends who have the same ex-boyfriend and handle it with maturity and without a fight. It's rare you get to see the complexities that go into the friendships between women — the competition, the jealousy, the pride, the humour, the love, the sacrifice, and the messiness.
Tonight's episode reminded us how lucky we've been to see these friendships continue to grow and strain, to become more beautiful and more messy with age. Even with Spencer livid at Aria, they were still a united force against Detective Tanner. And Tanner was there to remind us everything young women have to go up against. Tanner blamed them for being kidnapped. She told them if they had just come clean years ago they would have never been tortured. While there may be some logic in her argument, it's a non-nuanced take at what actually happened. It is never the survivors' fault. It is not their fault they were kidnapped, it is not their fault they were physically, emotionally, and mentally abused for a month. It is not their fault they have been chased by a sociopath for the better part of eight years. Yet, so often we tell women whatever they are going through is their fault, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised Detective Tanner went there.
This season is taking a similar path to that of two seasons ago — right around prom when the girls learned Charlotte's (Vanessa Ray) history, they finally started opening up to everyone around them. Their partners and mothers were able to help them connect the pieces. Honestly, there have been few Pretty Little Liars episodes better than when all the moms had their own story time about A and ended up getting locked in the DiLaurentis basement. Finally, the truth is coming out again.
Caleb tells Ms. Marin (Laura Leighton) about A.D. and that Hanna and the girls really did kill Archer Dunhill. Aria lets Ezra (Ian Harding) in on A.D and the police report she wrote about him years ago. He shows a moment of grace by admitting he deserves jail time for what he did. He knows that knowingly dating an underage girl to get information and setting up video surveillance on four underage girls is wrong. I don't know if he should get too much credit for that, but it's nice he admitted it. Yet Aria forgave him long ago. The two of them have a moment together in one of the few scenes of levity this episode.
Ali and Emily are finally together officially. They announce it to the group and are ready to commit and raise their child together. On top of that, they have a romantic night at the kissing rock, of all places. Spencer and Toby reunite. It takes about five sentences before they're ripping each other's clothes off in his cabin. And most importantly, Caleb (Tyler Blackburn) and Hanna (Ashley Benson) go with Ms. Marin to the courthouse to get married. Honestly, these two characters getting married and making it so they legally can't testify against each other has made watching this show for the last seven years worth it. Everything could be a shit show for the next two episodes and I would be happy.
The happy ending is never the true ending on this show though. Their evening of romance doesn't change the reality. Time is up and they never sacrificed one person to the Rosewood P.D. They swear they won't judge the actions of each other going forward. I mean with their lives at risk they might each choose to do a lot of things. Well, everyone but Ali, who is weirdly quiet throughout the scene, and Aria, who is M.I.A. Aria tries to turn herself in, but A.D. informs her it's too late both for her to do the right thing and save her friendship with the Liars. She hangs up on A.D. and calls Spencer, saying she has a plan on how they can stop A.D. for good but at that moment she discovers Archer Dunhill's body in the trunk of her car. Oh, and the police have just pulled her over. The previews show that Aria is not in jail in the next episode, so somehow she'll survive the most damning setup yet.
The episode ends with Caleb and Ezra teaming up once again to solve the A.D. mystery. They track the phone signal of A.D.'s call back to Mona. Honestly, of course Mona got pulled back into the game. She warned Hanna she didn't want to be involved; she warned her the temptation would be too strong for her. If you ask me, Mona is not A.D. She is the final red herring. She saw the game that was stolen from her years ago, she saw her dolls, and she wanted them back. She took them back just like A.D. knew she would. A.D. knew Hanna would show Mona the game, would trust Mona against better judgement, and A.D. knew Mona's weakness was the game. A.D. played them all, but that just means Mona is still a doll just like the rest of them. Until they use their voice, until they truly fight back, they're all nothing more than playthings acting out A.D.'s storylines. And thank goodness those storylines have made for great TV the last seven seasons.
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