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Haunted: Mean Teen Girls & "Pretty Little Liars"

by Ethan Tussey

by Phoebe Bronstein for IN MEDIA RES

Two compelling and oft-competing anti-heroines occupy the center of ABC Family’s incredibly successful teen drama Pretty Little Liars. The series’ mystery centers on the presumed death of Ali, a blonde queen bee who terrorized her former classmates. Chief among her targets was the nerdy Mona (now also sadly dead), who after Ali’s disappearance transforms herself into a popular girl-cum-villainess extraordinaire. The show revels in its warring anti-heroines with frequent references to their femme fatale predecessors, including episodes that pay homage to classic crime thrillers such as Rear Window and Psycho.

In this short post, I want to focus on the show’s recent Christmas episode, “The A Who Stole Christmas.” The episode, a mash-up of Rear Window and A Christmas Carol, sends the ghost of the recently deceased Mona to haunt Ali, newly revealed to have been alive all along. Re-working the narrative of the dead girl, upon which so many mysteries rely, this sequence features two once-and-future dead girls engaging in a confrontation. Here, the tension between Mona and Ali comes to a head: Mona emerges in Ali’s dreams with big white-ish purple hair, heavy eyeliner, and a dominatrix-like black body suit.

Having left behind her cool-girl fashion sense and her dorky pre-makeover self back in the land of the living, the ghost of Mona finally looks the part of the femme fatale. (Although, femme fatale Mona is also campy and quite funny in Ali’s imagination.) Mona evokes terror in Ali both through her costume and by offering a grim preview of a future in which Ali has died for real--and this time, nobody cares.

Mona also offers Ali something more, something good: a glimpse of Ali’s past via an earlier flashback of Ali’s mother teaching her to lie, perhaps the root of Ali’s evil. Here, the show evokes sympathy for young and presumably innocent Ali via her yellow dress and the soft white light that covers her. This sequence, like many before, suggests that anti-heroines are produced by their social circumstances from parenting to high school and well beyond.

Despite rarely being on-screen together, the Christmas episode is noteworthy because it reveals how Ali and Mona always and already function in conjunction; even in absentia one is never without the other. In pairing the two characters, the show de-stabilizes any singular narrative of evil, perhaps even undermining what it means to be an anti-heroine.

Antiheorines and Pretty Little Liars

A clip from Pretty Little Liars

from Pretty Little Liars (2014)
Creator: ABC Family
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey