“Of Late I Think Of Rosewood,” the premiere episode of the second half of Pretty Little Liars’ sixth season, doesn’t start with a quote from The Godfather: Part III, but it may as well have. After five, peaceful A-less years, Hanna (Ashley Benson), Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Emily (Shay Mitchell) and Aria (Lucy Hale) are dragged back to Rosewood by Alison (Sasha Pieterse), who seeks their help in getting Charlotte DiLaurentis (Vanessa Ray) – or A, the girls’ long-time tormentor – released from prison.
The episode, save from a couple of on-brand twists and turns, is fairly slow for a season opener of PLL, a show which has never shied away from making big splashes. With this flash forward, the thrill of seasons past seems to be replaced with a subtler, palpable feeling of dread – dread of being back in Rosewood, dread of the bad things the Liars know are yet to come. It’s a mature move for a show that has never delved too deep into the psyche of its characters – however, it’s not necessarily an entertaining one.
After five years, the Liars find themselves scattered across the country, beginning their careers and putting the past behind them. Naturally, this doesn’t last long. When Alison summons them with a letter asking for help in getting Charlotte released, they all come running – reluctant to help their psychotic former torturer, but unable to say no to the former Queen Bee who still has a hold on them. The girls are adults now – they wear pencil skirts and drink cocktails and have bangs. Even Alison, who is doing her best June Cleaver impression and working in Rosewood as a teacher, seems to have grown up.
When it comes time to do Alison’s bidding and testify to a judge saying that they feel safe with Charlotte being released, the girls all follow suit – save for Aria, who has an exhilarating moment of clarity and refuses to lie for her friend. It’s no use, as Alison gets her wish and Charlotte is released anyway. However, she isn’t left roaming around Rosewood for long – Charlotte’s dead body is discovered outside the clock tower almost immediately following her release. After witnessing the return of Sara Harvey (Dre Davis), who makes a Jenna-esque entrance to Charlotte’s funeral, and finding out that Charlotte didn’t jump from the tower – she was pushed – the girls find themselves right back where they started: in Rosewood at the center of it all.
More than any other season, the first half of season 6 saw the girls dealing with the after-effects of trauma and torture – this time from their three-month stint being locked in A’s Dollhouse. This episode is no different, with the Liars experiencing flashbacks to this terrible period upon their return to Rosewood.
Often presenting itself in postmodern flashes of the sights and sounds of the underground lair the girls spent three months in, these visions are used effectively, both to add some emotional weight to the stockpiling amount of near-death experiences the girls had while attempting to gain their high school diplomas, but also to infuse an underlying tension to every moment the girls are on screen. When you have a thriller that lasts six seasons, with the main characters constantly and inexplicably avoiding death, this kind of tension is a welcome, and necessary, addition.