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[Warning: Minor spoilers ahead for season four of Pretty Little Liars, the Halloween episode and the Ravenswood spinoff.]
Big questions are at play when Pretty Little Liars kicks off season four.
The fiery finale left Aria (Lucy Hale), Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Hanna (Ashley Benson) and Emily (Shay Mitchell) nearly dead and led to the possible reveal of Red Coat’s identity — Alison (Sasha Pieterse), looking as alive as ever — only to drum up even more questions for the unlucky Rosewood residents. Is Mona (Janel Parrish) back on the Liars’ side for good? Will “Ezria” ever come back together? What was in Detective Wilden’s (Bryce Johnson) trunk?
Pretty Little Liars boss Marlene King — and keeper of secrets — promises that loyal viewers of the buzzy series will be rewarded in spades. “It felt like it was time to start delivering some answers,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We’ve been hiding Easter eggs since season one and the pilot, and it felt like it was time to let the audience in on what we’ve been doing.”
Though the drama is known for embarking on circuitous routes in answering the series-long mysteries of Alison’s killer and the identity of the enigmatic “A,” King declares season four “the season of answers — and it starts right away with the premiere.” She adds: “The beauty of season four is [we’re] going deeper with these characters than we’ve ever gone.”
King previews the new season in an in-depth chat with THR, with topics ranging from the aftermath of the surprising Red Coat reveal and Mona joining the Liars to the introduction of a “mystery character” and challenges facing beloved couples “Ezria” and “Spoby.”
The Hollywood Reporter: You have a lot on your plate with Pretty Little Liars, the Halloween special and the Ravenswood spinoff. How are you dealing with the added responsibilities?
Marlene King: Some serious juggling is going on, but it’s all good. It’s an exciting time for us.
THR: You teased that in the season four premiere, the identity of the Queen of Hearts will be unveiled. How will that reveal play into the ongoing mystery? How many more reveals should we expect to be doled out over the course of the season?
King: Yes! The person on the Halloween train who poisoned Aria and stuck her in the box. We’ll definitely answer the question of whether Alison was flying that plane, if she was the one who pulled the girls out of the fire [in the finale], if Alison’s alive or if someone is posing as Alison with an Ali mask on. That’s the big answer that we’ll find out in season four.
THR: Should Alison as Red Coat be taken with a grain of salt?
King: The girls have thought that they’ve seen Ali several times and they had smoke inhalation, so it’s hard to say. [Laughs] Mona shed a little light [in the finale] and re-introduces the idea of doubt. Emily asks her in the finale if it was her who drug her to that grave and drugged her. Mona says, “Well Red Coat was wearing an Ali mask, so I have no idea.” There is the question of whether it was really Ali. We will find out.
THR: There is speculation that Alison has a twin sister or that the girls were hallucinating when they saw her. What’s been the craziest theory that you’ve come across about the Red Coat moment?
King: Gosh, the craziest? There are so many, and they’re so much fun. I’ve read theories that every single person on this show has a twin. There are theories that it’s Spencer’s twin in a blonde wig! There are so many theories out there, I love it. Of course the twin theory comes from the books. In the books, Alison had a twin named Courtney, and we go in and out of the books so you never know.
THR: Now that Mona’s assumed to be on the Liars’ side, what’s the dynamic like with her and the four girls?
King: In some ways, it’s still a mystery. In some ways, it’s comical. In some ways, it’s so heartfelt. Mona and Hanna loved each other once. They were best friends, they needed each other and they helped each other. It’s an emotional ride for them to decide where they’re going from here. We see these moments of two people who really shared so much, and then we remember that Mona hit Hanna with a car. It’s not going to be an easy journey, but they’re all on this journey together.
THR: How does Mona go about proving her loyalty, or does she?
King: Mona retrieves something in the very first few minutes of the premiere that Hanna wants and needs badly, and it’s the first test of her loyalty. It’s safe to say that they attempt to decide can we go back to what we once had or have we moved so far in the opposite direction that we can never be what we were again? It’s a fun part of the story in the premiere episode. I think fans are going to really like it. You leave the story wondering whether you can trust Mona — and that’s shocking to me. I would have thought a year ago we would never even be asking that question. But I think the fans will consider it. Fans love Mona. They love to hate her and sometimes we’ve felt sorry for her. I think she’s such a great three-dimensional character. She keeps getting more and more complex, and we love writing for that character.
THR: What’s ahead for Ezra and Aria, now that they’re no longer together?
King: That’s the big question, and that’s their big story in season four. What will happen to “Ezria”? There are lovely scenes that Ezra (Ian Harding) has with the rest of the Pretty Little Liars in season four. He does go back to Rosewood High and as a result of it, it’s time for the girls to start doing their college essays and he becomes a mentor in some ways to them.
THR: What’s the likelihood of them reuniting at some point?
King: It’s certainly possible.
THR: How will Ezra’s son, Malcolm, and his ex, Maggie (Larisa Oleynik), play into the season?
King: [They’re] definitely an important part of the story.
THR: It’s fascinating that even after several years, Toby (Keegan Allen) still remains an enigma. How much of his past will we find out?
King: There’s a flashback scene in the premiere with Toby’s mom, Marion Cavanaugh, and we find out a little bit more about her. It becomes a mystery ride that we go on all throughout season 4A. [Toby’s past] is surprising and emotional, in addition to it being a mystery story. It’s emotional for that character and we get to see layers of Toby that we haven’t seen before.
THR: What challenges do Spencer and Toby face now?
King: Trust is still a huge issue and Toby was on the “A” team, whether it was for good reasons or bad he was legitimately on the “A” team. Now the question may be is “A” willing to let Toby leave the “A” team or not? That is another question that we will answer.
THR: Because Caleb (Tyler Blackburn) is heading to Pretty Little Liars spinoff Ravenswood later this year, can it be assumed that Hanna and Caleb’s romance is winding down?
King: They have a lovely summer season together and they have lots of big story. Fans are going to love that we’re giving them so much story, and ultimately they have this sort of Casablanca moment in our Halloween episode that will leave Caleb in Ravenswood. It feels seamless and organic and the actors both embraced it. We’re hoping the fans will embrace it, too.
THR: New cops Holbrook (Sean Faris) and Tanner (Roma Maffia) are brought into the fold. How does their presence affect the Liars?
King: [Pennsylvania state police officer Gabriel Holbrook] is an honest cop. Wilden has not been always so honest, and we’ve seen he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get what he’s looking for. Holbrook comes in search of the truth, but that’s a very scary thought for the Liars because they have so many secrets. As “A” says, “The truth won’t set you free, bitches.”
THR: Premiere photos indicate that the girls are attending a funeral. Should it be expected that a body is found in Wilden’s trunk?
King: Well they are dressed in black, looking pretty hot, and that’s all I’ll say. I love that the shot that’s been promoted of them walking across the street. We call that our Reservoir Dogs shot. It’s our Liars looking like total badasses. We’ll let the fans figure out where they’re going.
THR: Is there a moment from the new season that we should look out for?
King: There are a couple new characters who are introduced right away. There is a mystery character introduced in the premiere episode who I love. It’s a new iconic image for us. Mona as sort of the fifth Pretty Little Liar is fun. We’re excited to start sharing some answers and asking some new questions, too.
THR: Any other familiar faces we should expect back?
King: We’re going to see Melissa (Torrey DeVitto), Shana (Aeriel Miranda) and Jenna (Tammin Sursok) — the Trifecta of Evil, I call them. We’ll find out a little bit more about what they were up to in the finale and how they’re connected. Holbrook and Tanner’s dynamic is great with the Liars, and we have a couple of new hotties coming into the show. Jenna shows up at the funeral with a really good-looking guy (Wyatt Nash) on her arm.
THR: What’s keeping you up at night at the moment?
King: Right now we’re breaking the summer finale. We know what needs to happen, but how do we have it happen in an exciting way? The finale’s been keeping me up a little bit. We will pound that out soon.
Pretty Little Liars‘ season four premiere airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ABC Family.
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Michael K. Williams