The first deals directly with the previous seasonís aftermath. Detective Wilden is dead and Ashley (Laura Leighton) is the prime suspect. The girls think the always mysterious "A" has something to do with the murder and set out to clear Ashleyís name. Their sleuthing leads them closer to figuring out who "A" is while also leading them closer to the truth behind rumors Alison (Sasha Pieterse) may still be alive. Their discovery launches the second big arc, which involves new revelations about what happened that fateful summer, what really happened to Alison, and the identity of "A."
In addition to unraveling "Aís" latest plot, each of the girls has their own personal problems complicating matters even further. Spencer (Troian Bellisario) develops an addiction to amphetamines, while Emilyís (Shay Mitchell) deals with a major injury, throwing her college plans into a near tailspin. Aria (Lucy Hale) decides to start a new relationship in an attempt to break free of her feelings for Ezra (Ian Harding), who begins to show even more interest in Alisonís case. Hanna (Ashley Benson) gets a heavy dose of legal drama, eventually leading to a new friendship.
In all truth, Pretty Little Liars lost me around Season Two, and I was even less engaged with this season than I was for the last one. This isn't to say it is a bad show, since it certainly has a strong fan base (at least, if my Facebook wall is any indication), it just falls victim to the same issues many shows built around a central mystery do. As far as Iím concerned, the show was effectively over at the end of Season Two. The central mystery was solved and things returned to a state of relative normalcy. Season Three introduced the "A Team," extending things a little further than necessary. Season Four doesn't feel quite as unnecessary; gaps are filled in and it is fun to see the characters chase down a new mystery together.
To its credit, Pretty Little Liars is really good about delivering answers quickly and doesn't fall prey to introducing even more ridiculously complicated elements just for the sake of adding them. But, I also have to wonder if the show wouldn't benefit from a different approach. I realize the show follows the book series, but a model similar to American Horror Story, with different stories and a re-cast cast might work for this show (and other mystery shows). Still, thatís not likely to happen and I have to judge the show on what it is, not what I wish it was.
One of the showís better aspects is in how the girls' personal lives intersect with the main plotlines. Other shows have proven this is a tricky thing to pull off, so it is great to see how well the writers manage to pull it off. Elements rarely feel forced, and though some of the plot intersections can lead to the show feeling a bit claustrophobic, it works here since everything takes place in a small town. As with previous seasons, there are still problems in developing characters beyond a couple of predictable tropes and the girls' unnaturally good luck in solving some problems, but these are minor issues in the grand scheme and, as previously mentioned, are issues that usually annoy me about TV shows.
The DVD set comes with a modest set of extras, none of which I really enjoyed and could be considered a bit spoiler-y in some circles. One offers a much-needed recap of the previous seasons, while the other three feature interviews with cast, producers, and writers discussing the seasonís major plot points. A set of unaired scenes is included, but as always, it is easy to see why they didn't make it to air.
As with previous seasons, Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Fourth Season isnít the best show out there, and is definitely showing signs of dragging beyond its expiration date, though it still manages to find new tricks each season, showing there is definitely still gas in the tank. While by no means a good jumping on point for newcomers, this is great purchase for established fans.