Having graduated with an honors criminal justice degree, Jeremy enjoys watching crime dramas and mystery thrillers in his downtime.
A in Pretty Little Liars
Whether you're reading Sara Shepard's books or watching the hit tv series they inspired, Pretty Little Liars focuses on the lives of four teenage girls (Aria, Spencer, Hanna, and Emily) stalked by the mysterious "A", an anonymous figure who blackmails and threatens the girls using information that only their deceased friend Alison would have.
While the four protagonists are essentially the same between book and television, the overall stories and other characters quickly diverge, leading to vastly different outcomes and reveals. So, who is diabolical enough to torment the Liars? Here are the many A's across the PLL books and series!
Of course, major spoilers ahead, so stop now if you don't want to know who A is.
The First "A" (Show)
Identity: Mona Vanderwaal
Hanna Marin's best friend Mona makes a pact with her in middle school to transform from unpopular dork to queen bee, and the pair succeed, becoming glamorous divas every girl wants to be.
But Mona never forgets the torment Alison and her friends put her through, and despite her friendship with Hanna, she uses an old journal to learn the Liars' secrets and terrorize them as A.
Mona is caught and institutionalized, and she goes on to become a complex character in her victims' battles against subsequent A's, switching between scheming villain and reluctant ally at the drop of a dime.
The Second A (Show)
Identity: Cece Drake/Charles DiLaurentis
Born as Alison's older brother Charles, Charles transitioned into Charlotte, who would later call herself Cece Drake (her initials hint towards her identity). She acts as "Big A", the antagonist throughout most of the show's run, initially becoming A as her part of a deal with Mona, later continuing because she found it so addictive.
Cece is ultimately caught and sent for treatment, but killed in self-defense by Mona when Mona realizes Cece intends to continue the A game. Cece had many underlings working for her, including Sara Harvey, Wren Kingston, Mona, and even Spencer and Tony (who were undercover and really wanted to protect the Liars).
The Third A (Show)
Identity: Alex Drake
Alex is Spencer's identical twin, revealing that some scenes with"Spencer" were actually Alex, like when Hanna talked to her "vision" after being kidnapped. Alex uses the monikers A.D. (her initials and possibly a clever reference to "after death", as she follows Cece's demise) and Uber-A.
Alex assumes the A game as revenge for Cece/Charlotte (her half-sister), falsely believing the Liars know who killed her, and to usurp her twin's life, as Alex was jealous of the friends Spencer had made. Alex is ultimately captured and imprisoned by Mona, although in sequel show The Perfectionists it's hinted that she has escaped and is still at large.
1. The First "A" (Book)
Identity: Mona Vanderwaal
The show starts out pretty similarly to the books, with the same person—Hanna's alleged best friend Mona—tormenting the girls as A. Mona plays a smaller role in the novels, however, as once she unmasks herself, her altercation with Spencer leads to an accident when she breaks her neck, and a new A takes over...
2. The Second "A" (Book)
Books: 5-8 (and beyond, through her accomplice, "Helper A")
Identity: Alison DiLaurentis
Note the picture above comes from the show, where Alison isn't A. But in the books, Alison has a twin named Courtney, who the Liars knew as Alison since she switched places with her (against Alison's will), imprisoning Alison within the mental institution Courtney had occupied.
Alison escapes, kills her sister in revenge, and schemes against the Liars, blaming them for inadvertently aiding Courtney in her coup. But don't feel too sorry for this Alison, as it's revealed that she was the one who got Courtney sent to the institution in the first place, manipulating her parents into believing Courtney was unhinged, when the reverse was actually true.
3. The Third "A" (Book)
Books: 9-16 (and priorly as Alison's accomplice)
Identity: Nicholas Maxwell
Nick doesn't have a picture since he doesn't exist in the show, but in the books, he initially dated Courtney, Alison's twin who took her place, until a misunderstanding makes him believe she's cheating on him. In response, he assists her twin in killing Courtney, continuing to support Alison against the Liars after she takes over from Mona.
Nick himself adopts the A role later on, but he's always Alison's pawn, so even when he takes the mantle, it's still her pulling the strings. Alison ultimately uses Nick as a scapegoat, letting her evade the law until Emily finally captures her and brings her to justice. But the series ends with Alison's renewed scheming from prison, ominously stating she'll be back to get them.
Other Villains in "Pretty Little Liars"
Many characters throughout both the books and series have antagonistic roles towards the Liars, just not as A, often leading the girls to mistakenly conclude they are A.
No matter who is under the mask, A is an interesting and terrifying villain, an unknown presence making you question everyone you know. But as nefarious as the A team is, they also have surprisingly sympathetic origins, from Mona's past bullying to Nick's heartbreak from Courtney. Doesn't justify their actions, but it lends them weight and showcases the consequences of secrets and bullying.
You can find more murder-mystery drama in the PLL sequel show The Perfectionists (where Alison and Mona reappear), but for now, vote for your favorite A and I'll see you at our next cinema review!
© 2020 Jeremy Gill
Stephanie from Canada on June 15, 2020:
I've always wanted to watch this show. I'll definitely have to giv it a shot!