This week, Pretty Little Liars is heading back in time in the show’s first ever black-and-white episode. After Spencer pops one too many pills, viewers journey inside of her head, into a world of classic film noir. Suddenly, all color is gone, all the drama is heightened, and Ezra is more evil than ever.
We spoke with PLL executive producer Joseph Dougherty, who wrote and directed the episode, to find out what viewers can expect from an old-timey Rosewood, as well as what’s in store for season 4’s final episodes. Here’s what we took away from the chat:
The noir episode was the network’s idea: “It was the brainchild actually of ABC Family. Visually, Pretty Little Liars doesn’t look like anything else on the network. We are a place of darker shadows and more mysteries and more scares, and it was kind of like the network calling us out. They said, ‘Listen, we know where you’re going, we’d like to give you permission to go all the way, would you like to do one that’s in black and white?’ And I was a little shy about it because I couldn’t believe they were asking. They gave us permission to go as far as we wanted to go, and that was a dangerous thing to say because we went all the way and ended up with something I’m incredibly proud of. I’m proud of everybody who worked on it. I had a very early conversation with the director of photography. I said, ‘I want this to be the most beautifully photographed episode we’ve ever done,’ and I think it is. Those girls are just breathtaking in black and white.”
The drama will be heightened: “I just heightened it ever so slightly, just barely two percent. They are not new characters, but the emotions are closer to the surface, and they act on them more aggressively, and from the first day that we started doing it, it was like somebody turned up the air conditioning and everybody woke up. It was like ‘Oh, wow this is different.’ And I think you see it in all of them. But as Ali ‘comes back to life’ I think you can see how the dynamic of the show is going to really be vitalized by Ali. Sasha [Pieterse]was just insanely wonderful. She had so much fun playing those scenes. They all enjoyed the scenes and they all made them real. Everything’s a little closer to the surface. Everything’s a little bolder, but it never stops being the show, and that’s what I wanted to get.”
Expect some Paily romance: “I’m interested in seeing how people react to [the Emily-Paige stuff]. They’re the story that you wouldn’t have actually been able to tell in the 40s and I just know that when we started I said, ‘Well this is the impossible romance, so I’m going to give them all the romantic trappings that a straight couple would get having an affair,’ and it’s interesting. I don’t know if their kiss would be as dramatic if it had been done in the contemporary context. I wanted to give them the hyper romantic moment.”
Aria and Spencer will each have memorable interactions: “[I'm looking forward to fans] watching Aria — although it’s not really Aria, it’s Spencer’s version of Aria in her head — watching Aria start to deconstruct maybe the story’s ending, and also the Spencer-Alison confrontations are interesting because the gloves kind of come off between those two characters.”
It might take place inside of Spencer’s mind, but viewers can feel free to search for clues: “My feeling is it’s fully integrated with the stream of the show. The experience [Spencer] has in the noir world is actually the thing that lets her get the clue at the end that allows the story to move forward, and I think everything that we experience as an audience is completely valid and adds to our understanding of the characters. So I really don’t want people to segregate it from the run of the show. It’s really not as freestanding as you’d think it is.”
After the film noir episode, things are only going to get crazier: “Things usually start accelerating as we approach a finale. Aria’s going to have to find out what the hell is going on. It’s a question of how she finds out and from who she finds out and how the hell she takes it. And we do have the reality of Ali out there as well and what her situation is. There’s an increased tempo in the episodes that are coming up that lead you to the finale. We said a long time ago that season 4 was going to be the season of answers, and we try to be true to that, and Marlene [King] has taken that to heart as she wrote and directed the finale, and there’s a tremendous amount of information throughout the second half of the season culminating in what you get in the finale. Pound-for- pound, there’s more going on in this finale than I think has been going on in any other finale, certainly since Mona dove off the cliff. But again, every answer you get gives you three more questions.”
The woman in black will be back: “Yes, but it might not look like her. Will you see her look the way she did at the funeral? No. But I can’t say that you won’t see her.”
Pretty Little Liars airs tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.