Pretty Little Liars Episode 610 Recap: I Feel A Lot Safer When I’m In Charge Of What Happens to Me

WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for the season six summer finale of Pretty Little Liars, including the definitive identity of A. Proceed with caution! 

Last night, after five years, 130 episodes, a clue-giving parrot, a grave-digging dog, a Cheetos-chomping raccoon, at least one literal witch, and eleventy hundred billion barns and dolls, Pretty Little Liars finally revealed the identity of the omniscient, omnipresent A. It was Cece Drake. Her real name is Charlotte DiLaurentis.

The story goes that once upon a time, Jessica DiLaurentis brought Alison home from the hospital and Charlotte loved her sister with her whole entire heart. So much so that when Jessica and Kenneth inevitably neglected and ignored Ali, the way all Rosewood parents do, warp-zoning in and Out of Town and getting into tangled up adulterous messes with Hastingeses and digging around in the backyard with contraband shovels, Charlotte decided to take care of her baby sister. Charlotte taught baby Ali about all sorts of things: cartoons and nursery rhymes and rerouting her IP address through a series of triangulated portals to anonymously bypass government firewalls.

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The rumors are terrible and cruel, but honey most of them are true.

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Baby, I can build a castle out of all the bricks they’ll throw at me.

One day when Kenneth and Jessica were being particularly absent, baby Ali started crying, so Charlotte decided to give her a bath to help her feel better. Unfortunately, Charlotte almost drowned her, due to being a small child with small hands and small muscles who was unable to hoist a human person into a tub and keep her afloat. Well, Kenneth rushed up in the nick of time to save Alison, and like all grown men in the town of Rosewood, blamed a young girl for what what was very clearly his own mistake. He blamed her so much that he had her locked away in Radley like she was some kind of murdering psychopath.

Well, but there was this one other factor: Charlotte DiLaurentis was assigned male gender at birth. She knew she preferred girls’ clothing and wanted to be called “her” and “she,” and Vernon DiLaurentis did not like that one bit. He locked her into Radley Institute for the Criminally Insane and never once went to visit her.

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Can I get an Americano before you go?

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Yep, A is transgender.

You know the rest of the story, even though you don’t know you know: Charlotte became great friends with Bethany Young in Radley, because Bethany encouraged her to present as a girl, a thing that was made a lot easier because every time Jessica DiLaurentis bought Ali a new dress or a new scarf, she bought Charlotte one too. Unfortunately for young Charlotte and good ol’ Marion Cavenaugh, Bethany wasn’t stuck in Radley for the reason Charlotte was: because in the whole world, and Rosewood especially, no one cares about a woman’s side of the story when a rich white guy is saying a different thing. Bethany was in Radley because she was an actual dangerous person, and so when Marion stumbled up to the roof one night, Bethany just pushed her ass right off. Bethany told everyone Charlotte murdered Marion, and hey, who’s going to believe what a trans girl has to say? (Are you sensing a theme?)

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Your storyline wasted hours of our lives we’ll never get back! GET OUT OF HERE!

So, Jessica paid off the Radley board to make it look like a suicide and took Charlotte away. They wove together a tale about how Charlotte killed herself, they buried her dead name in a real grave. Jessica checked her back into the worst mental hospital in history with her real name with her real gender. She never stopped visiting her daughter, never stopped believing her or believing in her, never stopped loving or supporting her. And because Jessica understood that the way you get into UPenn is not, in fact, to give your application to a stranger in the woods outside a rager at Noel Kahn’s cabin, she got Charlotte admitted to college.

Charlotte came home to Rosewood one weekend, a grown up and very bored university student — because Charlotte had always been a genius, she knew everything everyone was trying to teach her already at her Ivy League University — and met Jason. She told him her name was Cece and he loved her without knowing why he loved her, and suddenly she was back with her family, even vacationing with the whole gang one summer and spending every minute she could with Alison. Jessica was pissed! Super pissed! But what was she going to do?

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Cece, come to the beach with us!

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Can I bring my mannequin leg?

Finally the summer of DiLaurentis family bliss ended and Endless Labor Day rolled around. Alison was out and about, doing things. Flying her plane up and down the east coast, from Philadelphia to Savannah, playing in golf tournaments with Ian and blinding Jenna Marshall with firecrackers and wrapping a do-rag around Toby’s head and carting him off to jail and giving Emily snow globes with secrets stashed inside and visiting the kissing rock and making sex tapes with one of the million predators in town and renting storage lockers to stow away her lunch boxes full of incriminating flash drives and rubbing her friendship bracelet all over Toby’s DNA and visiting Jenna in the blindness hospital and getting almost hit in the head with a hockey stick by Garett Reynolds and almost hit in the head with a boomerang by Byron Montgomery and almost hit in the head with a brick of weed by Jason. Ali went to the Beyonce-themed sleepover in the Hastings barn, drugged her friends, sneaked off into the night, and was walloped in the noggin by Charlotte and buried alive by Jessica.

See, Charlotte thought Alison was Bethany because everyone was wearing that same shirt that summer!

Charlotte was devastated and so was Jessica, but only because they didn’t know Ali’s spiritual gift was holding her breath for hours at a time, or that an elderly magic-eyed seer from Ravenswood was on the way over to pull Ali out of the ground.

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What time’s the lesbian ghost dance party?

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2:00 am, in the basement.

Sometime later that night, the opposite thing happened: Mona arrived and saw Bethany and smacked her in the back of the head with a shovel, thinking she was Ali. And sometime after that, Melissa wandered up and saw a dead body and buried it in the already-dug grave on the off chance Spencer had murdered the girl.

(One of the main lessons of this finale is: When you’re going to kill someone by hitting them with a shovel, do it in the face so you can make sure you’re murdering the correct person.)

Mona had been A the whole time, see, torturing Alison because of how Alison tortured her. And then when “Ali’s” body was found, Mona started up the game again, aiming at the Liars this time. She ended up in Radley, as you know, to quell her adrenalized hyperreality, and that’s where she met Charlotte. Charlotte hated the Liars because of how she felt like they took her sister away from her, and so while Mona was drugged up and her brain was pliable, she spilled all her A beans to Charlotte, and Charlotte took over the game.

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And now a highlight reel of some of my greatest hits.

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The time I did my best Alison.

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The time I did my best Vivian Darkbloom.

Charlotte came back to Rosewood calling herself Cece Drake. And while she was doing that, she was also Being A. She was doing it to punish them, yeah, but also because she believed Alison wasn’t dead, and she knew she could smoke Ali out of hiding if she just set her best friends on fire enough times. It worked! Finally, Alison came back, fully resurrected, and yeah, okay, sometimes Charlotte maybe choked her with her own scarf and stuff, but she had to make it look like she was as angry at Ali as she was at the Liars, and anyway, it’s not like she killed the Liars.

Mona ran under Hanna with her car and they’re still friends!

Well, and that’s the story. All of this information comes tumbling out of Charlotte’s mouth as she explains six seasons of this show to Alison, and also to the Liars and Mona, who are watching on a holographic plasmatic projector in a laser beam-shielded room they arrived in through a portal in the Forbidden Forest at Rosewood High School’s prom. Charlotte thinks maybe she’ll jump off the roof after she’s finished flashbacking and expositioning, but Hanna and Ali beg her to please not do it, and so she does not.

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I think I love Lorenzo!

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Alison, that is the dumbest fucking thing I have ever heard in my life.

She hops down. She says, “Game over.”

And then the Liars go off to college after a group hug full of every love.

Pretty Little Liars made a transgender woman A, and in some ways it was remarkable and wonderful, and in other ways it was painful and damaging, and we should talk about all of those things, because when we love something that has resonated so deeply with us, it deserves our empathy but also our hard wisdom.

I’ve been recapping Pretty Little Liars since day one. I came to it the way we all came to it, knowing it was based on a book series where Emily was bisexual, and with ABC Family telling me it was about fashion! and secrets! and Ian Harding and Keegan Allen’s abs! What I didn’t know at the time, what none of us knew, including the show’s creative team, I’d wager, is that Pretty Little Liars would change the entire ABC Family brand, pushing it to become the most queer network on cable TV, and that the show itself would use those fashions and those abs as a gateway to explore some of the most subversively queer and feminist themes in the history of television. If you think this show is about silly little girls doing silly little things, that says way more about the patriarchal lies you’ve bought into than about the show itself.

The most fascinating thing about recapping Pretty Little Liars from the very beginning has been watching how much our cultural tectonic plates have shifted during the last five years. When Pretty Little Liars premiered in 2010, the queer community was still reeling from Proposition 8, California’s voter-mandated revocation of marriage equality. Same-sex marriage was only legal in five states. Emily Fields came out and went to prom with Maya during a summer that will always be remembered in the LGBTQ community for its devastating pandemic of queer teen suicides. It Gets Better launched one month after the season one summer finale of Pretty Little Liars.

There were very few queer female character on TV during PLL‘s first few seasons, but the creative team chose to do a really risky thing: They decided to treat the queer women in Rosewood they way they treated all women in Rosewood. It wasn’t just Emily who was queer. It was Alison, it was Maya, then Paige, then Samara, and on and on. After Paige said out loud that she is gay, in what was one of the most authentic and stunning coming out scenes I’ve ever seen, PLL portrayed all queerness as a non-issue. Emily’s girlfriends came and went. They died like everyone else died. They lived like everyone else lived. They were psychos sometimes, like our beloved Mona Vanderwaal. Treating minorities equally in every way is PLL‘s ethos, and while it has led to some upsetting and dubious choices (the murders of two black lesbians, for example), it has allowed the show to transcend our gut reactions to many harmful tropes.

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Wait a second, the limit DOES exist?

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I knew you were smarter than Cady Heron!

If we’re going to talk about how A being transgender fits in with that larger pattern, we need to talk about what the world looks like for transgender women at this moment in time. This is the most important thing I’m going to say today: Transgender women are overwhelmingly the victims of the most violence in the LGBTQ community. Of all queer people murdered in 2013, 72 percent were trans women and 67 percent were trans women of color. Last week, a black trans women, Amber Monroe, became the 12th trans woman of color to be murdered in the U.S. this year. As if that wasn’t devastating enough, transgender women have the hardest time of any folks in the LGBTQ community gaining access to fair employment, housing and healthcare. They suffer higher rates of depression and suicide than any members of the LGBTQ community. And they are by far the most underrepresented group of queer people in pop culture, which means that every single time a trans character or person arrives on TV they are shaping society’s perceptions of what it means to be trans in huge, maybe even unchangeable-in-this-generation ways.

I can’t and won’t only analyze last night’s reveal through a dispassionate, academic lens when my trans sisters are being murdered and beaten and denied access to their most basic rights. We do not consume art in a vacuum. Storytelling, more than any other artistic medium, has cultural consequences that reverberate beyond what is calculable. I’m also not going to flip out and start breaking stuff. I assume good intentions when it comes to Pretty Little Liars‘ writers; they’ve proven in many ways to be great allies to our community. However, the fact that Ezra Fitz is still walking around in this world as a protector and hero and viable romantic interest proves how tone deaf the play callers can be. Children defend him to me, you know. Young straight teenage girls tell me it’s okay to be stalked and preyed upon if an adult man really loves you, and they believe it because ABC Family refuses to force Ezra to face consequences for his actions because they want to sell face cleaner.

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You do realize this garden is full of marijuana, right?

We should talk about the harmful transgender stuff first. Our trans editor, Mey Rude, talked through this episode with me last night for a long time. I’m going to amplify all her thoughts and feelings here. (And as we continue to discuss this episode, I encourage us all to remember that when trans women speak to trans issues, it it the job of non-trans folks to be quiet and listen.) The hands down most damaging trope about trans women is that they are deceitful. That they get into romantic relationships by lying about who they are, by withholding information, and tricking people into loving them. Many, many people truly believe this lie and use it to justify murdering, and sexually and physically abusing trans women. That’s a real life one-to-one correlation. The media portrays trans women as deceptive monsters; real life people kill and beat real life trans women.

That Charlotte DiLaurentis seduced her own brother under false pretenses is an egregious storytelling offense. The “deceitful trans person” and “depraved transgender” trope are used more often than not when trans people are represented on television and in film, as we’ve seen in shows and movies including but certainly not limited to GleeThe Crying Game, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Family Guy, and Lost Girl. This is how the media teaches us to hate and fear transgender people. The result is deadly.

I want to quote something Mey said to me last night that I think is really important: “They mostly did a good job of making her villany not directly tied to her transness, but there were a few times when I felt like they crossed over to being like, ‘Oh, she’s crazy and trans and look at how those two things cross over.’ [The audience] might have sympathized with her when she talked about her unloving father or being locked up and being declared insane or not being able to be herself, but when she became a deceiver she didn’t really have a chance at being anything else anymore.”

Some of that overlap is apparent when Charlotte is holding Ali captive in her lair and she pulls out her dolls and starts stroking them and talking about how much she likes playing with them and how she enjoyed having them in her dollhouse. When Mona says that Charlotte’s parents made her A, we can of course see that Jessica and Kenneth teaching her about lying and deception in her most formative years is what Mona means, and if we look deeper we can see that anyone subjected to that level of aggressive inertness would not have any sense of boundary-integrity, but I think that knowledge is probably lost on the majority of PLL‘s audience who used the visual cue of Ali looking at Charlotte like she’s crazy to interpret that scene.

Another huge huge huge problem is that after the show already knew Charlotte was transgender and would be revealed as A, it kept having characters refer to her as — it makes me want to throw up, typing this — “he/she/it/bitch.” And of course when I woke up this morning, I had dozens and dozens of messages on Twitter and Tumblr referring to Charlotte that way. The writers gave these transphobic people that language, just handed it right to them, and now it’s everywhere. Just like Hanna Marin saying she was a-okay with Emily being gay made a generation of young teenage girls okay with themselves/their friends being gay, Hanna Marin saying “he/she/it/bitch” about a trans woman makes it okay for young teenage girls to say that about trans women. Even inside the show, they were misnaming and misgendering Charlotte after she made it clear who she was.

The argument is: How were the writers going to exposit five seasons of supernatural hijinks without using her dead name and exploiting these tropes? But then: If they couldn’t explain it without doing that, they should have found another way to tell the story.

I don’t think it’s a big secret that PLL didn’t have this thing planned out from the beginning. When it came time to finally pull the trigger on revealing the identity of A, they wanted to come up with something that was both surprising and could shoulder most of the zigs and zags they took over the years. That’s fine. It makes sense that’s what you have to do when you’re telling a serial story like this. But when you’re talking about one of the most oppressed and abused minority groups in the world, you have to be more careful when writing your story backwards.

That’s not the whole thing, though. It’s very important and I beg you to take it to heart, but there’s another side of it, too.

At its core, Pretty Little Liars is a story about the way men assume ownership over women’s bodies, strip away their agency, deprive them of their of autonomy, deny them subjectivity, and silence them. It’s a story about how female victims are blamed for the crimes perpetrated against them by men. It’s a story about existing for the male gaze. But it’s also a story about found family, and the blazing blue power of women’s relationships with each other. It’s about dancing like nobody’s watching, even when you know somebody’s watching. It’s about being a woman and getting up and getting dressed and putting on your makeup and eating eggs with your mom and drinking coffee with your soul sisters and going to work and going to school and living living living despite the constant, incessant battle that is raging around you for control of your body and your sexuality. It’s about losing that battle, over and over, and huddling with your friends in the rain until you’re strong enough and brave enough to get up and fight it again. It’s a love story about four women who are empowered by their intimate knowledge of each other and abiding affection for each other.

It is the most ridiculous show on television. It is also the most queer. And the most true. In the middle of season three, Jenna Marshall summed up the central message of this show and the struggle of women every where: “I feel a lot safer when I’m in charge of what happens to me.”

The true villain of Pretty Little Liars is Kenneth DiLaurentis, and in painting Charlotte as a sympathetic character who was the ultimate female victim of the grossness of the patriarchy, the show elevated the very best things about itself. Kenneth DiLaurentis is the embodiment of transmisogyny and the head of Rosewood’s mighty beast of patriarchal oppression. The Liars don’t forgive Charlotte because they feel sorry for her; they forgive her because they see themselves in her. They are fighting the same thing. Masks on masks on masks on masks, performing for the male gaze, clawing for authenticity and freedom.

The best moment of the episode for me (and Mey thought this too) was when the flashbacks finally gave way to Vanessa Ray playing Charlotte, when a woman was playing a female character, and that character was finally, fully presenting her true gender to the world. Jessica saw Charlotte for who she was and continued to buy her the same clothes she bought Alison and fight for her to be herself, and that was really wonderful too. When Alison called out for her sister not to jump and used her real name — “Charlotte, please don’t! — it was deeply moving. All the masks were off and Alison reached out for who Charlotte truly was with an open, forgiving heart.

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Mona Vanderwaal.

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Practically perfect in every way.

Finally, of course, there’s the fact that Mona Vanderwaal is the best and most beloved character on Pretty Little Liars. This is important for lots of reasons. The first is that one of Pretty Little Liars‘ other central themes is redemption. Paige McCullers, for example. And Alison. And but most importantly: Mona. I think the writers and producers were legitimately shocked to see how the audience forgave Mona for being original A and how much we fell in love with her singular brand of loving psychosis and how deeply we grieved her death. I think the writers made that juxtaposition and thought that if Mona could become so important to us and so cherished, Charlotte could become that as well. It was the absolute best best best decision to give that job to Vanessa Ray, who carried the episode on her shoulders with a masterful performance. There is something very Janel Parrish-y about her, a dazzling mix of vulnerability and power. Cece Drake is the only other character who has ever enchanted us like Mona.

The thing about Mona and Alison that gets us, I think, is that they made themselves hard and mean because it was their only way to fight back against the brutal world. And Charlotte is that too.

The show went all in on drawing us into her story and helping us empathize with her and understand why abandonment and abuse and being raised by pathologically lying parents and being confined to a horrific mental institution led to her becoming A. It was those things and those things only that caused her to be a villain. That’s the message they show was blasting as loud as it could. You have to blow up damaging tropes to destroy damaging tropes. We need minority villains (who are not villains because they’re minorities) for true equality. But while I was writing this recap, a 13th black trans woman was found murdered.

We will be talking about this decision for months and probably years. Pretty Little Liars will live on in conversations about queerness and feminism and trans issues for as long as Buffy. We will talk about this show’s revolutionary successes and we will talk about its abysmal failures (Ezra Fitz).

Hey, did I tell you Sara Harvey was both Red Coat and Black Widow? What was her motivation? Where did she come from? Who is she and why why why? No one knows, but you may have heard Emily slugged her right in the face with her fist when she found out. I like seeing Emily punch and stab bad guys as much as everyone else, but this was a dud of a story. Their relationship never had any feeling behind it because she was a vanilla vessel brought in to be a cog in the #SummerOfAnswers, and so no wonder their whole storyline felt like a paint-by-numbers kit. The impact of her was literally zero. It bums me out that Emily’s final weeks of fifth senior year, and all the coming-of-age moments that blew past with it, were wasted on Sara Harvey. Here’s hoping the time jump gives us something real and resonant again for our favorite lesbian killing machine.

Also, though:

+ Did the moms ever get out of that basement?

+ Who killed Jessica DiLaurentis?

+ Who Killed Ian?

+ Who is Beach Hottie?

+ What was that disastrous thing on page five of Ali’s autopsy report?

+ How did Marion die when Charlotte was a little kid but also be alive when Alison was kissing Toby?

+ Where is Jenna? Where is Lucas? Y’all, where is Noel Kahn?

+ Did Charlotte put that snake in Spencer’s dressing room and then SAVE her from it? Total Mona move! Vanderpraise!


I need to take another shower.



In five in-show years, the Liars will converge on Rosewood, where Alison DiLaurentis teaches Act Normal, Bitch classes at Rosewood High. Someone will be after her, a “he.” She will be dressed like a stepford situation that will scare the fuck out of you and with a new last name that suggests she’s please-god-no married to man whose name she took. Aria will be wearing a Lego city printed onto a dress, Hanna will be wearing another one of those inexplicable wigs, Spencer will have very divisive bangs, and Emily will be dressed like devastation.

Until then:


Here are 24 actions you need to take to help trans women of color survive. And don’t tolerate any transphobia or transmisogny in your social media feeds either.

Thank you one badrillon gazillion thank yous to Nicole (@PLLBigA) for being the greatest evangelist for these recaps and the screencapper every recapper dreams of having. Here’s to another season survived, friend! 

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


    • I have heard (and we glimpsed) Sara in the promo for the winter season so i’m guessing we will learn more about her backstory then why she did what she did. I think it came down to her just being a cruel person, remember even most of her friends where glad she was dead. And I think we’ll get a redemption arc out of all this as well I think that’s why we are stuck with her in the next season and yes I do think she’ll end up with Emily.

  1. I could hold up the second part of this post with a lot more light if I thought the majority of PLL viewers could have this analysis or if the show went about it with the care of purposefully and explicitly highlighting that Charlotte’s trans identity isn’t at the root of what she did. However, even if they accomplished the second, they took one of the only (if not the only) recurring trans characters in a TV show and made them a villain and made them reiterate so many harmful tropes of deceit.

    But it won’t happen, and ultimately what it comes down to is super fucked up cissexism and irresponsible story-telling by PLL writers and creators.

    • To me this is far more appalling than Skins: Fire. In this world we live in there is no excuse for having the only trans/gender non-conforming character you will ever put in place be cast as deceitful and continually committing acts of physical, emotional, and mental harm.

    • Not just deceit. Abuse. I can’t think of ANYTHING else that fulfills the Predatory Trans Woman trope more thoroughly, other than maybe Silence Of The Lambs (which unlike this I’ve thankfully never been subjected to). I have no words for how betrayed I feel right now.

  2. There is a TON to process. But my overall impression of the episode is positive. I feel like Charlotte was handled much better than I feared she would be and the acting was fantastic. And her story is definitely about the oppression of toxic masculinity.

    And on a show level, I thought things were handled cleverly.

    • How were we supposed to know these things from last night’s ep Mar? The Author Is Dead and all that. Ugh. I did not want the summer of answers to come from a EW article!

  3. I love every word that you have written here, it really captures a lot of how I felt during and after the episode, and you articulate a number of things that I couldn’t quite put into words when I was thinking about it.

    Moving forward, you mentioned: “Here’s hoping the time jump gives us something real and resonant again for our favorite lesbian killing machine.”

    I really hope so too, but I’m vaguely concerned with the decision to send Emily to Pepperdine University, which is notoriously anti-LGBT and currently has a lawsuit filed against it by two lesbian athletes who were bullied and harassed off their basketball team by players and coaches alike. Maybe they intend to have this factor into Future Emily’s story? Otherwise it seems like a very odd choice compared to the other girls’ plans.

      • I was just going to say the same thing! I didn’t know about Pepperdine’s reputation, but as Andy was pointing it out my mind immediately jumped to Emily sitting on the porch with a beer in the previews talking about how “college wasn’t what I thought it would be”. They also show a clip of her moving what I presume was her graduation photo off of the family mantle/ behind a picture of her dad in his army fatigues.

        Now that I have this little backstory about Pepperdine, my curiosity has really spiked about where they are going to take this storyline!

        (Remember when Paige wanted her to move the (gay) Bay and swim together at Stanford, awwwww. Sigh. Those were the days.)

        • Pepperdine is only 10 hours away from Stanford and Paige. She went with Pepperdine so she could be close to Paige. *happy tears*

    • I agree–sending her to Pepperdine confused me. It’s a tough school to get into (and we know Em’s grades aren’t the best), and more religiously affiliated than I imagined Emily’s future school would be. I wonder if the writers wanted to send Emily to California but for some reason didn’t want to send her to USC or UCLA.

    • Pepperdine is in Malibu, so I’m holding out hope that Emily brings her Beautiful Toyota out west with her to take long drives up the coast to visit Paige at Stanford :)

    • Five years later and they’re still too old to play their characters lol

      But really thank you for this beautifully crafted analysis.

    • Pepperdine is the college Marlene went to. That’s why Emily is headed there. I suspect she will have as good of a time as Marlene did lol.

  4. I have so much to say about the writers making A a trans woman and none of it is good. I was really angry about it last night to tbh. And like Jessica above me, it has a lot to with the fact that I don’t think the audience gets that Charlotte’s trans identity isn’t at the root of what she did. Or is it. The writers certainly didn’t make that clear to me and if I’m confused then I’m sure much of PLL’s young audience(who I imagine don’t know the first thing about trans people as it is) probably are as well. What was the reasoning behind going that route instead of the book route, which would have been far less offensive? And it still doesn’t even explain a lot of the plot holes over the years and trying to explain them in post finale interviews ISN”T CANON, writers.

    What annoys me even more is that Marlene King and the rest involved seem to be behaving like this reveal is epic television when really it isn’t anything a cheap daytime soap wouldn’t have done over the years in order for the purpose of shocking the viewers. So congrats to Marlene King for being just as much of a hack as Robert Guza or Megan McTavish ever were.

    • SPEAK, turkish.

      we need to speak out as much as possible, because they are responsible for any consequences that come from their irresponsible handling of this.

      • I remember that Passions storyline. Passions as a whole existed to be completely over the top and ridiculous and I still found that storyline offensive at the time. And Pretty Little Liars seems to take itself far more seriously than Passions ever did so they really have no excuse.

  5. This was beautiful and well written. Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us, and for writing with such compassion and allowing people the space to come to the conversation with their opinions. Well done.

    I’m still not sure what to think. You are absolutely correct about Kenneth Di’Laurentis being the actual villain of this story, many times over. And that does uphold what has been one of the strongest themes that has run through PLL from the beginning.

    The problem I am having is that I am no longer able to convince myself that these feminist themes are actually as powerful as we have made them to be. I think I have had many conversations over the years with brilliant, wonderful women, and we have dissected this show for everything it is worth and have declared it a masterpiece. But I strongly suspect that unless people take the time to do that dissection, they won’t see past the pretty faces and the questionable relationships.

    Basically, I can’t decide if the PLL writers have an extraordinary amount of faith in the cognitive capabilities of their audience and are catering to that, or if they are just taking advantage of the most marketable to section of society – teenage girls. I can’t decide if they are honestly trying to put these themes out there, or if they’ve decided it’s a happy accident if their viewers pick up on it, but it doesn’t really matter as long as they’re making money.

    I’ve been right on the line of losing faith in this show ever since the redemption of Ezra Fitz began. And I think, for me personally, I feel as if I’ve forgiven too much. They’ve done some amazing things for the queer community. They may have done some amazing things to educate society about suffocating male oppression. But they’ve been so cavalier about it that I’m not sure I trust them anymore.

    • yes, all of this. i think there’s depth there for viewers who are interested in engaging but this show (as seen by the continued insistence on Ezria) is written to keep its fan base of less-developed critical thinkers happy.

      this is the same show that has had an impact on how teenage girls understand power dynamics in heterosexual relationships by making an overage stalker in a position of power into a romantic fucking hero.

    • “I can’t decide if they are honestly trying to put these themes out there, or if they’ve decided it’s a happy accident if their viewers pick up on it, but it doesn’t really matter as long as they’re making money.”

      Summed up my feelings exactly. And, I’m leaning towards the latter.

    • Yup. Honestly I didn’t even start thinking about these feminist themes and other subtle elements of the show until I started reading Heather’s recaps, which, in my opinion, really elevate recaps to an art form. Everything I read of Heather’s about the show I’m like “DAMN you are so smart about this!”, including everything here.

      So I feel that way… but we also all know in our hearts of hearts that the majority of PLL’s audience will never pick up on any of those ideas or themes, and will take most things at face value, which, as far as this episode is concerned, is very very bad news.

    • “Basically, I can’t decide if the PLL writers have an extraordinary amount of faith in the cognitive capabilities of their audience and are catering to that, or if they are just taking advantage of the most marketable to section of society – teenage girls. I can’t decide if they are honestly trying to put these themes out there, or if they’ve decided it’s a happy accident if their viewers pick up on it, but it doesn’t really matter as long as they’re making money.”

      THIS. Sometimes I can’t see the golden feminist thread in this show until Heather picks it out for me. Are we giving the writers too much credit?

    • I completely agree. I think Heather’s recaps articulate the subversive merits of the show so beautifully. But I think these exegetical readings tap into themes that don’t necessarily translate to a wider audience. The disconnect is obvious if you look at the conversations happening on reddit or twitter.

      I was thinking about the now famous Emily punching Sarah Harvey meme and something started to feel unsettling. Like most people, I found Sarah Harvey’s character irritating and emotionally vacant. I can see how the writers pulled us into this framing to lead us up to Emily’s vindicating punch. But that journey and climax makes the punch cathartic for the viewers. The audience delights in that image of Sarah being clocked. I think there’s something problematic with that catharsis, because it’s projected onto a woman’s body in a way that hasn’t been addressed with male love interests. Why can’t that be Ezra, Toby, Ken, or Andrew? I’m not saying I have an issue with the scene itself and I’m all for showing Emily’s agency. I have an issue with how it translates to a bunch of guys on reddit who get to feel pleasure in that meme after criticizing Sarah’s annoying voice, Ellen haircut, and weak presence. In my opinion that moment unwittingly reinforces the male gaze.

      This is related to what makes the show’s trans representation so egregious. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people ignorantly replicating the “he/she/it/bitch” reference. I’ve seen people having long debates about Charlotte’s body and sexuality while using “transgender” as a noun. By questioning whether Charlotte had sex with Jason, the writers invited the audience to dissect and pathologize trans bodies. If the writers want to offer a complicated trans storyline, they have to educate the audience with a well-developed narrative. They have to make subverting heteropatriarchal norms clear.

    • I’ve spoken to a number of teenage girls about this show, and they all say the same thing: the can’t say why, but it feels true. I think something about the experience of overcoming the deck stacked against us is present in this show, and I think that resonates with these girls. They may not understand exactly what they’re reacting to, but something about it speaks to their own experiences.

  6. I feel so let down with this episode, I feel they could have easily told Charlotte’s story without making her A. They could have had A frame Charlotte, making A an even worse character. Then reveal it to be someone like Ezra. It would have been equally as shocking as people wouldn’t have expected them to make Ezra A again. Also, he would finally be punished for being the worst.

    Also, the PLLs never got to win over A. Charlotte just gave up and ended the game. I always thought they’d make the boyfriends step in and ultimately save the PLLs. Which would have angered me even more than A just giving up. I really wanted to see a show end with the liars getting revenge or beating their tormenter in some way. I can’t see this happening now, unless there’s a new A in the time jump.

    • This is such a good point — why not tell Charlotte’s story and make it even more poignant by painting her as yet another victim of A? A always seemed like a pretty conservative/homophobic/sexist character, from the very first moments of slut-shaming Aria, Spencer and Hanna to various degrees in the pilot and mocking Emily for her big gay secret — it would fit in perfectly with whoever-A-is transphobically taunting Charlotte and then having the liars team up with her/come to her defense against A.

    • Yes! I was holding out for it not to be Charlotte for so long… Her being set up by Ezra is actually a dream ending

    • I would love to see this storyline where the Charlotte story is real but she is also a victim of A and therefore also a victim.

  7. Thank you. You’ve put so many important things into words. (I’m just going to go share this with everyone I know.)

  8. So, one of the things I’ve been thinking about is that CeCe didn’t need to be trans, that was a choice the showrunners made. Her storyline would still have fit together in exactly the same way if she had been Ali’s older sister who wasn’t assigned male at birth.
    And since it was a choice of the showrunners to do this, I wonder if its worthwhile to ask WHY they made that choice. CeCe would still have been a victim of the patriarchy in exactly the same way: a girl whose voice wasn’t heard, and who was shoved into Radley and forced to perform for the male gaze.
    And given this show’s obsession with mystery, red herrings, and, frankly, lying to their audience to make reveals more shocking, I feel like they created the character of “Charles” so that we’d be looking for suspects among men, and be especially shocked when CeCe finally showed her face. And using gender identity as a plot device in that way makes me feel icky.
    This doesn’t mean that characters need a REASON to be trans, of course, there should be lots more trans characters who get interesting storylines unrelated to their gender identity. Is that what the writers were trying to do here, elevate a trans character? If so, given that CeCe was the villain, I think they should have handled it more sensitively.

    • I don’t disagree with you. Your comment echoes a lot of the thoughts I’ve had in my head. The only thing I did come to was her parents putting her into Radley. Mr. D might have said it was because he was worried about Ali and Jason’s safety because of the bath tub (and, apparently, other) incident. But really, those are things that happen when you have small children. Accidents just happen. The real reason Mr. D put her in Radley is because he didn’t understand her, he didn’t understand who Charlotte really was. In that sense, if she hadn’t been trans, she never would have been put in Radley, and this storyline wouldn’t have happened.

      All that being said…I still don’t think I really agree with their decision. It’s dangerous, and I wish that had been 1000 times more clear about the fact that all of this is her dad’s fault, not hers.

    • Oh man, THIS. This is where I am so conflicted. If this were a writing class, and the prompt was “assumed male killer is actually a trans woman!” this script would have 100% been the best one in the class. It took a terrible trope and, I think, did a lot of amazing stuff with it (although still problematic in some really icky ways).

      But this wasn’t just handed to them. I want trans characters, and I want trans characters who are well developed and villains and heroes and everything between. But, as of right now, we maybe have enough trans villains? And I think it feels more like a plot device than an elevation. I don’t doubt the writers tried to handle it sensitively, and I don’t think they did a terrible job, but I think that they just shouldn’t have made this decision. It’s not that it’s a bad story – it’s just not the one that has to be told right now.

  9. I am 30 so the fact that the true villain was Kenneth DiLaurentis (kudos for the twist on Mrs D, oh my, now I feel so bad for her death) resonated throughout the whole episode. But PLL viewers are also (if not mostly) teenagers and I am not sure they all got it, although teenagers may surprise us, ya know. So from my point of view, besides some terrible mistakes (Hanna Marin, I love her so much, but she had the worst role ever yesterday night) I have loved the finale.

  10. So obviously, I have a lot of feelings. I think my initial reaction, like most people’s, was ‘oh, no, oh, this is bad’. As the show went on though, I felt like I became more ok with things, but I still have major reservations, based on all the things Heather outlined above. I feel like I get what the show was trying to do; Cece is a villain, albeit a sympathetic one, due to years of neglect and being institutionalized. She also happens to be trans. I think the show tried to emphasize that those are two separate facts. The concern, of course, is that the demographic of viewers is 17-34, with a heavy skew towards the young end (excepting, of course, the Booradleyvancullen crowd). Chances are, they aren’t going to tease those two things apart.

    Here’s where I wonder if things will be ok though. As Heather said, when this show started, the number of LGBTQ characters on screen in 2010 was incredibly low. I feel like Emily Fields and her revolving door of love interests has actually done tons to raise queer visibility. Norman Buckley, one of the previous directors of the show, who frequently engages with the BRVC crowd on Twitter, has said one of the great things about the show, is that it shines a light in dark places. Maybe this is a starting point, whereby standard tropes about trans characters can be challenged and younger viewers can be exposed to a more thoughtful dialogue about trans issues. Or maybe I’m too hopeful and this will all turn into a giant catastrofuck.

  11. thank you for all of this. I felt so so so icky after watching last night’s episode. like i almost stopped when i found out cece/charlotte was A because I couldn’t believe the writers would do that. I also think that this episode answered the question of who A is and why she is A, but otherwise, there are still SO many questions, like the ones you listed at the end. and now that next season is going to be a “5 years later” type deal (and hopefully the last season? please? abc family pretty please end this show) i’m sure there are still going to be tons of questions we never ever get the answers to which is a bummer.

  12. I appreciate every word of this, and you, but I can’t help but be disappointed that as the recapper of a television show, you don’t speak at all to how completely convoluted this narrative is from a storytelling perspective, that it doesn’t add up with the information we’ve been given, that more than Marion Cavanaugh’s death timeline was off, that this hour of television failed to live up to the other 130 hours of television that supposedly paved the way for this to come across our screens. I understand the importance of analyzing the gender politics of it–it’s an important conversation that needs to happen Right Now, openly and at length–but I also want your analysis of it from the perspective of an audience member being told this story. That’s why I read television recaps, for the analysis, the pros and cons of how a story is told. It’s why I read your recaps specifically, because you always see layers and grey and the “can” of things. It enriches my viewing experience, because we’re sharing the same experience from different points of view, and every time I read your recaps, I’m given food for thought, a nugget of an idea I’d never encountered before. And certainly there is a lot to explore in the realm of gender bias, but I also want your exploration of how you received this episode as an audience member having followed this show since day one.

    • I think that’s asking a lot of Heather to do in such a short amount of time. This episode, probably more than any other PLL episode, needed a faster response due to the storyline and the circumstances of our world as it is today. And that kind of analysis takes time to write. So there are trade-offs.

    • Lol damn Anon, you’re hard on Heather Hogan! She’s only human and there were more pressing concerns this time than whether the timeline made total sense. :-)

  13. Thank you for this. Last night I was very angry with this episode, but now that I have time to process, I will try to articulate my thoughts. As of 2013, 21% of all trans people represented in fictional media were killers. While there has been more positive trans representation in the media in the last 2 years, I can’t imagine the 21% has gone down that drastically. Some of these characters were played to be sympathetic, but they were still killers. I think if their were more non stereotypical trans representation in the media, I would be more comfortable with the “villain who happens to be trans”. Because trans representation is so limited, the general audience tends to make the assumption that it’s a “trans villain”. This is an important distinction. With equal representation, than villains who happen to be trans are great! Give me heroes who are trans! Villains who are trans! Rich people who are trans! Poor people who are trans! Trans people of every shape and size, morality, economic income! Please! But we aren’t there yet. And when 21% of trans people in media are villains, even if they are sympathetic villains, it is still damaging.
    I also realized it bothered me because it felt exploitative. They began hinting that Ali had a sister in season two. Making A CeCe was great! And I do believe they considered CeCe for A as soon as she came on screen, but not quite that she was trans. We were led to believe that A was most likely a guy for the last few seasons(even before we knew the name Charles) so by having CeCe as A, that subverted that. Behavior =/= gender is a great message. But because of these hints that Ali has a sister, I think people began to get too close to the mystery that CeCe was A so they decided to go for the “but what if there is a twist!” and made CeCe trans so they could hide the mystery longer, feel like they were being progressive, and go the the “Shock!” factor. That, in my opinion, feels far too exploitative of trans. It’s not a trend, it’s not a “twist!” it’s an identity. I think, if they were really aiming to gave trans representation in PLL, it would have been interesting to make Sara Harvey trans AND had her be up front about it. She’s a trans lesbian woman. It would have been fascinating to see her and Emily navigate that relationship. Yes, she still would have been deceitful about her involvement with A, but she would be upfront about her trans identity, therefore subverting the stereotype.
    This is really long! Sorry guys, I just have a lot of feelings. I’m gonna go now and make a cake out of rainbows and think about how we used to get along so well in middle school.
    Also, something that really bothered my “What IS the time warp in Rosewood” that you briefly mentioned. The season 2 Halloween flashback episode takes place in 2008(roughly nine months before Ali disappears in 2009). Toby mentions that his dad is already getting remarried, despite the fact that his mom died barely a year ago, so 2007. 2007. Three years after Jason, Melissa, Ian, and Garrett all graduated. Making them about twenty at the time. Which would make Charlotte 21, roughly. She and Bethany sure did look pretty damn young for 21. Like, you know, 11 year olds or something…Does anyone know why they chose to use child actors instead of teeange/young twenty some actors to play teenage/young twenty some characters?

    • Ugh! I made so many grammatical errors! This is what happens when I write about emotions AND am at work and have to keep minimizing the window every few minutes. Please forgive my mistakes and hopefully it was at least understandable.

  14. First off: Heather, thank you for braving what is sure to be a complete shitstorm for us. I’m honestly a little scared to read any media coverage of the episode that is not from you or Mey. This recap was incredible. You put so much of what I was thinking and feeling about last night’s episode into words, AND you managed to do that while coherently laying out CeCe’s entire story, and the entire plot of the last 6 years of this show. Not an easy feat :)

    I think that, at the very least, the BRVC crew will be able to interpret CeCe’s actions and motivations in the same way you have, but I admit I’m worried about what everyone else will get from this storyline. I agree that, after 6 years, this show has earned our trust in how it treats its queer characters. The fact that the hashtag was #CeCeisA instead of #CeCeisCharles is encouraging, and if they continue to only refer to her as CeCe or Charlotte, maybe it’ll be okay. But MAN, they are going to have to step carefully next season.

    I get that redemption is a huge theme in this show, but ughhh I just really wanted A to be someone I didn’t feel sympathy for. I really just wanted A to be someone it would be easy to hate – Wren, or Noel, or Holbrook. But I guess that would be too easy for this show, right? There is no good and evil in Rosewood, only shades of grey. Even pedophiles and dirty cops get to be redeemed.

    Also: the “he” the liars are referring to 5 years later – that HAS TO be Kenneth, right!? God, I hope so you. You’re right, he is the First Evil of Rosewood.

    Final point: Was anyone else pissed that Mona and CeCe kept referring to their torture [And enough with that “they’re not dead” crap, the Liars were tortured.] of the Liars as “game”? What do we make of that?

    • I think the continual references to “the game” really just shows how much CeCe–AND Mona–don’t view others as fully human, but mere playthings. And don’t get me wrong, I love Mona, but she’s awesomest as the hyperreality supervillain. So to me the fact that CeCe kept downplaying her actions (“Did she DIE? No!”) goes to show that everything else aside, this girl is nuts.

      That being said. I was agitated with the way this episode played out, because yes you managed to make me feel sympathy for CeCe’s past…but at some point she grew up into an adult who decided to make some really awful choices, and I felt like the writers really swept those actions under the rug. As if they were saying, “No, no, she’s not bad! Look how she was raised!” It just seemed like they were trying to downplay her role as A.

  15. – So the secret prom door just happened to open?
    – And now the Carissimi group secret door just happens to open?
    – Where is all of this super advanced technology coming from?
    – I’m wondering about Cece’s story. It seems a lot like…self deception. I didn’t mean to hurt Alison. It just happened. It was Bethany that killed Mrs. Cavanaugh.
    – It still doesn’t make sense that Mrs. DiLaurentis blamed Spencer for killing Alison.
    – Wait, Mona killed Bethany? Where did that come from?
    – Mona admits to bludgeoning Bethany to death with a shovel, and five seconds later everybody forgets about it. Or maybe like us, they just didn’t care.
    – Hold up. Wasn’t Cece at a fraternity kegger…at night? Did she get a pass from Radley to attend that? Did they staff not notice that she ended up in the hospital from it?
    – Why is Sara helping Cece?
    – Who was the guy that switched the pictures for Aria’s display?
    – Who sent Cece the picture. It said, “From an Ally”. Sara wouldn’t need to sign it like that, so who did it?
    Other Questions:
    – If Wilden was acting on his own in killing Garrett and trying to kill Aria, then why was Melissa there?

  16. Vanessa Ray was fully capable of playing a nuanced trans character, yes. And we had only the barest glimpse of her life. This reveal should have happened in the first episode and the dollhouse should have been left out.

    Because what is the lesson most people, including impressionable young women, will get from this rushed exposition? Trans women think of other women as dolls? I don’t think the show did a good job at all distinguishing the mental illness of A from the story of Charles’s abandonment.

    I mean…CeCe played with the liars as if they were dolls because she got “addicted” to the game?

    Even this could have been presented to make it understandable that Radley made her unable to relate normally to others. But getting Ali sent to jail….?

    • yeah it was the dollhouse stuff that i think really pushed this story over the edge. and they really didn’t try to explain that at all, so it basically just seemed extremely effed up

  17. Long time fan of your recaps, Heather. I have to thank you for putting into words some of what I’m feeling which is very mixed. On the one hand, I have faith in the writers and the story they were trying to tell. Locking your child up in an asylum because you don’t want to deal with them being different would obviously have an effect. As you said, it reaffirmed a lot of the themes of the show.

    On the other hand, that A was a trans character that, however inadvertently, perpetuated negative stereotypes on a show targeted towards young people is problematic. And I understand, you can’t write towards hypothetical interpretations. People will get what they get out of it. It will start a discussion and clearly already has.

    I just remember being a teenage lesbian and seeing shows where the lesbians were evil, pregnant or dead. Where a leading lady would go back to her boyfriend eventually. Where a lesbian had to be flawless because she was standing for a cause. Until eventually we got characters like Emily Fields who is amazing but also deeply flawed, which is great because that means she’s seen as just a person and not a gay person specifically. One of the great things about PLL is that characters don’t seem to be included just to represent something. I just wonder what people are getting out of Charlotte (who is played expertly). I think you’re right that we will be talking about this for a long time.

    On the upside, I watched the girls goodbye scene about a million times because it was nice to see them smiling and together and out of harm’s way for once since we’ve known them.

  18. PLL really hurt me in a way that it’s never hurt me before last night. Sure, I’ve been angry and upset about storylines before. But here I was, as a closeted (to most people) trans woman watching this show with my mom and feeling numb and trying not to cry at the incredibly harmful thing that was happening on my TV screen.

    It got really difficult when my mom started asking questions about Charlotte after the episode was over.

    “Did I miss something? Did she have surgery to look like a woman?”

    “She was probably on hormones before she reached puberty, mom. She wouldn’t need surgery.” (not the greatest answer, but I was blindsided)

    “But she would still have male body parts, right?”

    “Why do you need to know what genitals she has?”

    So, that was awful. I watch shows like this with my mom sometimes to try to get some sort of idea of what her reaction will be like when I do come out. I want her to be exposed to queer characters to make it normal for her. Last night was like an uncomfortable glimpse into the future.

    But beyond my own personal shit, the best thing I can say about the episode is that Vanessa Ray is wonderful. Her storyline may have been a trope, but she didn’t really play it like one. She played Charlotte the way she’d always played CeCe, as a young woman. She didn’t suddenly start doing the Felicity Huffman thing of trying to act like a man acting like a woman. And I was really glad that they didn’t do the Sleepaway Camp thing of crazy mom makes kid trans so trans kid becomes killer. She just was trans and always had been. It was how her parents reacted to that and abandoned her that made her A. Of course, like Heather and others here have said, not everyone watching the show is going to see that.

    Along with trans women getting murdered in this country left and right, you also have the conservatives raging about how young trans girls shouldn’t even be allowed to use the correct restrooms at their schools because of how much of a threat we are to their daughters. So, to reveal that the person who has been torturing these five teenage girls for so many years is a trans woman is incredibly irresponsible.

    This story was fucking with my emotions so hard that I didn’t even notice all of the plotholes while I was watching it last night. It was just like a siren was going off in my head with an ominous voice announcing, “TRANS TRANS TRANS TRANS”. I couldn’t focus.

    This show could have done something really powerful by having one of the hundreds of male predators be A and have Charlotte be the guardian angel on the sidelines, someone who has been watching over Alison and her friends to protect them. Can you imagine that? A transgender hero on a show made for teenagers. It would have been fucking lifesaving.

    • sending you so much love and some hugs if you want them for having to deal with that.

      what you said about the impact within the context of our current society – so so so so true and important.

    • “Along with trans women getting murdered in this country left and right, you also have the conservatives raging about how young trans girls shouldn’t even be allowed to use the correct restrooms at their schools because of how much of a threat we are to their daughters. So, to reveal that the person who has been torturing these five teenage girls for so many years is a trans woman is incredibly irresponsible.”

      THIS. Fuck. My brain didn’t even go there.

      “This show could have done something really powerful by having one of the hundreds of male predators be A and have Charlotte be the guardian angel on the sidelines, someone who has been watching over Alison and her friends to protect them. Can you imagine that? A transgender hero on a show made for teenagers. It would have been fucking lifesaving.”

      PLEASE. Write that fanfiction. That would have been incredible.

      • Unfortunately I don’t have the patience or eye for detail to write fanfiction, but I would absolutely love to read it if someone else sensitive to the issue wrote it!

    • “I want her to be exposed to queer characters to make it normal for her.”

      So wouldn’t it be great if she saw a trans character on tv and that person was…oh, I dunno…NORMAL? Normal like Emily is normal, “even though” she’s gay…

      Ugh I’m sorry you had to sit thru that with your mom, that sounds super uncomfortable.

      • Exactly! And you would think that ABC Family and PLL in particular would be all over that kind of positive representation, but apparently not.

    • I’m sorry this was so hurtful to you, and I’m really grateful to you for sharing your thoughts. <3

    • Wow, thanks for this comment. I think that the LGBTIQ community most of all should let people like you explain their point of view and listen to it, carefully.
      I am definitely not happy that this show didn’t help you to create a positive connection with your mother. As a lesbian I have been through it as well, but agan, it is different for transgender people, I know. So I am not gonna give you any advice, ’cause I can’t, but you have all my sympathy, if that matters.

    • Thank you so much for this and I am so sorry this show caused you that pain. So much love and warmth and hugs from me to you.

      • Thank you, Heather! And thank you for writing this so quickly. I had no one to talk to about how I felt about the episode so this was really helpful!

    • It hurts my heart to read about your experience while watching this finale. I’m gay and still closeted to my family and I’ve definitely squirmed in my seat/have wanted to bolt out of a room while different LGBT things have occurred on tv/film with my parents also watching. It’s like you described, you try to in a sense “test the waters,” but I just can’t handle the negativity. I know the ways PLL has made me feel throughout the years, and it pains me to think that the same show that has lifted so many of us up in the past could give you that same uneasy feeling. This really truly bothers me. I don’t know what else to say other than sorry, and that I hope IMK and the writers will consider the sensitivity of this story and take more responsibility going forward in the series.

  19. Hi Heather!

    I’ve been reading your recaps for a long time, spending equal parts laughing and getting teared up over your comments and insights.

    For what it’s worth (and coming from a white straight girl, it might not mean much), I never once thought they were projecting, intentionally or not, the idea that Charlotte’s psychological problems and her being trans were connected and go hand in hand. I saw them as being two different things. I do think she was lonely and isolated from her family, and that didn’t help her mental state, but I don’t think that was the reason she became A and started blowing up houses to get her sister to listen.

    It’s very unfortunate that they clearly didn’t plan this from the beginning, because if they did, I would like to believe they would have had Cece and Jason just be friends instead of a romantic pairing. I would like to believe this was just the result of them having painted themselves into a corner and that it was not them intentionally perpetuating the trope. Do I believe it? I don’t know. It doesn’t make it any less harmful, but I’m trying to see the good and give people the benefit of the doubt.

    The “he/she/it/bitch” thing is kinda sickening. I’d forgotten about that. That they would have these characters utter that line, more than once, knowing the person on the receiving end is trans is gross.

    On a lighter note, I agree so much with the Shower Harvey thing. I cheered when Emily punched her. I also threw stuff at the computer when Em started crying about Sara’s betrayal – girl, you hardly knew her! It’s only been, what? A couple of weeks, max? It was a huge let down to learn Sara was Red Coat and Black Widow, but she’ll be back in 6B so hopefully we get to know more about that whole thing.

    Also, Vanessa Ray was brilliant last night. I’ve never really liked Cece and was worried that she was a top suspect, because I wasn’t sure if Vanessa could pull it off. I’m so happy I was wrong! The scene of Charlotte discovering her mother’s dead body was devastating

    Anyway, thank you Heather. I was really looking forward to your recap and you did not disappoint. I did like the episode, faults and all.

    • “The “he/she/it/bitch” thing is kinda sickening. I’d forgotten about that. That they would have these characters utter that line, more than once, knowing the person on the receiving end is trans is gross.”


    • Heather, amazing recap.

      As another white straight woman I want to add a two thoughts. Teenagers and preteens have been growing up in a different more accepting world. My kids are being brought up in a time where you can marry whomever you love, where Caitlyn gets a magazine cover, a TV show and praise for being true to herself. They are growing up in a time where seeing two women or men have a relationship on screen is just another story line with struggles and triumphs just like any other character. I know you are fearful that the younger audience won’t get it and they will buy into a evil transgendered stereotype but this happened last night. My 13 year old son (SON!!!) said after the show ended. “Mom, I feel so bad for Charlotte and for what happened to her.” He didn’t call her a monster. He didn’t blame her A’ness on being transgendered. He got it. He got that the monster was Mr.D and that being in Radley and her life experience is what changed Charlotte and drove her to become A. What he didn’t understand was how a parent could do that to a child.

      As for the writers. I had this thought. Usually when a show has this big of a reveal the series is over and the viewer must fill in their own blanks. In this case the story isn’t done. While this main story line of who is A and why she tortured the girls may be finished the writers have plenty of time to expand upon Charlotte and all that she is. As they have done so many times with Ali (and Mona) through flashbacks and storytelling the audience grew to love her. I don’t know that anyone who has followed PLL would call Ali evil even though she was one of the most horrible and abusive characters I have ever seen. I am quite certain the writers are not done with Charlotte and her story as a human, but they are done with her story as A.

      • This is a really good point. My only concern is that not every kid gets to grow up in a household where these things are talked about positively. I know I didn’t. And when I was a teenager, LGBTQ relationships were coming more out into the open and I was exposed to a lot of really great things through the media I consumed. However, I had also internalized and bought into a lot of harmful ideas about the LGBTQ community and it took a really long time for me to get past those. And the biggest break I had with that was when I realized that I’m bisexual.

        So, I am worried about those kids who grow up like I did. Who might see all these great positive messages out there in the media but be surrounded by family and peers who tear that down, either violently or through discourse couched in “it’s just my opinion.” And with the small amount of trans characters even in the media, much less positive ones, I’m not sure that this storyline with Charlotte was the best decision.

        However, I do hope that they make the effort to keep Charlotte in the story, to not make her defeat the end. I really want to see the story of Ali and Charlotte healing together, for Charlotte to be remembered not as A or a villain but by her name. I don’t really trust the writers at this point to do that. But I hope they do.

        • Well, if you trust what Marlene says, (which I do) Charlotte will be in 6B. Also, she said that the reason Ali stays in Rosewood to be close to Charlotte and be the family she always wanted. Apparently there was a scene with Ali and Jason visiting CeCe at a “very non-Radley hospital” where she could actually get help.

      • Liza, this was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your son’s reaction! It brought tears to my eyes. We need hopeful stories like that, sometimes it’s what renews your faith in the future of humankind.
        So thank you!! :)

  20. Alexis Walker just pointed out another thing I wanted to cover when it comes to the significance of making the villain of the entire series, Trans. How many trans characters are on television or in movies?How many trans actors/actresses are there on tv or in movies? When they are, what kind of roles to do they have? Trans representation in the media is just in it’s infant stages. And I really don’t think we are at the point where making your main villain do all the things A has done and revealing them as Trans and correlating it to why she did the things she did was a responsible thing to do in this current climate. Especially on a show where they have romanticized the relationship when between a teacher and a student for six fucking seasons and dismissed all criticism as to why that is also irresponsible. What they have done with Ezria is no different than what OITNB has done with Daya/Bennett and I don’t trust these writers to handle this CeCe story with any more dignity than they have handled the discussion around Ezria.

  21. Heather. I’m near tears. Thank you for this incredible recap.

    I am the mother of a 16 year old transgender daughter. We’ve watched PLL together since the beginning; it’s one of the special things we share. Tuesday nights will find us sitting on the couch together cracking each other up. We’ve never missed an episode. (I might even love it more than she does!)

    You can imagine, however, the stunned silence in our house as CeCe was revealed as A and as transgender. (We thought it was going to be Wren!) My daughter’s first thought was that it was too on trend–and not in a good way. “Being transgender isn’t supposed to be fashionable, Mom.” All the recent intense interest in Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox–which has been an incredibly overall positive for my daughter–has also made her a bit wary.

    I was panicked because I was really concerned about whether PLL was going to handle the reveal with any kind of sensitivity. As you so deftly addressed, making the villain transgender plays right into so many of the stereotypes and prejudices that surround transgender women.

    I was less than pleased with the “she/he/it/bitch” stuff even before the reveal–but I was really appalled by the “funeral” that Mrs. D gave to “Charles.” My daughter is medically transitioning and beginning the process of legally changing her name, and it has NEVER occurred to us to “bury” her old self. As far as we’re concerned, our daughter has and always will be the same person she’s always been–it was we, her family and friends, who were blind to who she really is, even when she was trying to tell us the best way she knew how from toddlerhood. If anything deserves a funeral, it’s the old harmful ways her father and I understood the nuances of sex and gender.

    So anyways, Heather, my daughter is reading your recap as I type this and cracking up over the Cheetos-Loving raccoon and, I hope, knowing that in this world there are smart, sensitive women like yourself and Mey who really GET IT and are hilarious to boot. Thank you so much!

    • I think reading your story about your incredibly supportive and loving relationship with your daughter (and her being able to rebound by laughing at the recap) is the most positive thing to come out of this episode for me. I’m so happy she has someone like you to help her through moments like this. I’m just sad that she had to experience it at all.

      • I am sending you all my mom-hugs and I am sending your own mom a reminder of the unconditional love she has had for you since the day you were born and the strength to see that through. You deserve to be exactly who you are with no apologies, no shame.

    • Can you please tell your daughter we all love CeCe to bits? I mean, that girl killed a snake with a mannequin leg, that’s like in my top 5 of the most epic things that happened on TV! Jokes aside, it could have been definitely handled better.

    • “If anything deserves a funeral, it’s the old harmful ways her father and I understood the nuances of sex and gender.”

      YES. The death/loss-of-a-person narrative that the loved ones of trans people sometimes follow really bothers me. We don’t lose the people in our lives who transition. We get to know them better.

      I had a similar reaction when my (queer) therapist told me my parents had take time to mourn (mourn what? their hetero expectations of me, I guess) when I came out as queer. No, this is 2015, you don’t get to mourn because I like girls. If you had expectations of me that you have to adjust, that’s on you.

      Anyway, I really appreciate what you are saying here. You and your daughter are lucky to have each other :-)

      • Yes, I hate, hate, hate the idea that transition = death, or is even analogous to it. Which is why I don’t even like the popular term “dead name.”

        I didn’t die when transitioned. My son didn’t lose his parent. To suggest that that was the case is an insult to people who really did lose a parent at a young age. Like me.

    • Lea, thank you. I am crying reading this. You and your daughter make quite a team and give me so much hope for this world.

  22. I will be watching this tonight. But I want to say something now.

    I grew up in the nineties. My whole childhood, the media portrayed trans people as crazy, as damaged, and as liars. The only trans characters we saw on scripted television were portrayed by cis actors. Often the character’s trans status was decided on and revealed late in the game, because it made a good plot twist. The character was always a villain and/or a victim. They were always, always irrevocably broken. Their trans status was a terrible secret that they tried to keep at all costs.

    As a child and teenager, this was my only exposure to the idea of trans people. And I was definitely transphobic as a result.

    It wasn’t until I started watching documentaries with ACTUAL trans people in them that I was able to start lifting some of those myths. And it took YEARS to fully lift those prejudices I had grown up with. Years of reading books, watching documentaries, and finally connecting with some of the trans people in my community. Now my life is that much richer with knowing some awesome people and obviously they’re not broken, and they’re not deceitful, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. They’re just fucking PEOPLE, like anyone else. No one needs me to tell them that, obviously, but I had to seek out the tools to learn that, when it should have been a given.

    But now there is a whole new generation of teenagers out there. They’re watching PLL and last night what they saw was a trans character (the first on the show) played by a cis actress, one whose trans status was decided on by showrunners way late in the game because it made a good plot twist, a woman who was damaged and deceitful and she preyed upon and manipulated the hell out of her family and a whole bevy of young women because GROWING UP TRANS BROKE HER (even if it was because her dad was a transphobic douchebag). How is this the narrative that is still getting told, all of these years later?

    I remember a rumor floating around awhile back that C. DiLaurentis was going to be trans and turn out to be Cece and I thought, they wouldn’t dare. They wouldn’t fucking dare. PLL wouldn’t put a trans character into the mix unless the writers knew they were trans from day 1. They wouldn’t make that person a victim/villain. They wouldn’t make the only trans person on the show someone who had been pathologized, broken, turned into a manipulative creature with a deep dark secret. They wouldn’t. I thought we were beyond that now.

    I hope when I watch the show I feel differently, but my initial reaction is that this was really irresponsible and also lazy storytelling. I’m bummed.

    • I have to agree. It’s was specially bad for trans kids, at least it was for me. I grew up in the 90’s and early aughts, where media was no help, and in fact taught me to be a self hating trans person. Most schools aren’t a help either(at least when I went LAUSD and BHUSD, didn’t even really say a word about trans people).

      • Thanks for bringing this up, Al. While I know what it’s like to self-direct/internalize the homophobia that we were also fed, I can’t imagine how much more harmful the messages I was talking about above must have been for trans people growing up at the same time. I am so grateful that you and @ferretsummer and @udrey are sharing so openly and eloquently about it. It is so crap that things were, and apparently ARE, like that. Ugh.

    • Ok finally watching this and like are we gonna talk about how Charlotte has a lair from the future???

    • Often the character’s trans status was decided on and revealed late in the game, because it made a good plot twist. The character was always a villain and/or a victim. They were always, always irrevocably broken. Their trans status was a terrible secret that they tried to keep at all costs.

      YES, this! Above all it felt like such a lazy and tired plot device purely designed for shock value.

      I straight up hated this episode. It was deeply disappointing in every way. Even being right about Sara being Red Coat felt hollow because they didn’t bother to explain why?!

  23. I think more than anything what I want to say is this: I hope that someday we will live in a time when trans people are not so villainized in real life that seeing a character like this on TV doesn’t have to worry us all.

    Right now, with the insane number of trans women being murdered, I worry so much about any negative representation for them – people have a hard enough time dealing with the concept without TV shows using them as plot devices to explain psychotic, sociopathic behavior. Seeing a straight man be revealed to be A would not have made the young girls watching immediately assume all straight men are somewhat damaged… But after seeing that the person behind it all is trans, I fear that that’s what they will take away, that trans women are inherently damaged.

    (I don’t think any of this reads as offensive, but I will admit that I don’t know a ton about the trans community. If anything I said comes across as being negative towards trans people, PLEASE know that that was not my intention and I am truly sorry… And let me know, so I don’t mess up again :) )

    • I’m trans and I didn’t see anything wrong in your comment.

      It’s the creators of this show who are transphobic jerks, not people like you pointing out that fact.

      • Thank you! I just know that a lot of times I see straight people say/do things that are offensive to me as a lesbian, without even realizing it, so I always try to be cognizant of the fact that I may do it as well without realizing it. If that makes any sense?

  24. Excellent and thoughtful recap! From a storytelling point of view, I thought that Charlotte as A was absolutely terrible. It seemed contrived and exploitative. It is clear that it was not planned early on. I think I agree that the writers were trying to make a point to separate her mental illness from her trans identity. But it really is too early in media representation of trans people to do this well. I was desperately hoping that A would turn out to be Paige. I thought it would have been so great to have a gay character turn out to be the villain, as PLL has treated gay characters with the same seriousness as straight characters. I think we are at that point with gay and lesbian representation, but not so much with trans. Its still too sensitive. I wanted Paige so badly! How cool would it have been to have the Ali/Emily/Paige love triangle be the catalyst to the whole show?

  25. Heather and Mey, definitely I have nothing but thanks for you in doing the work of putting out this recap. It really resonated with me and has given me so much to think about. In fact, even though I was anxiously waiting all day to read this, it occurred to me about half way through that getting the recap the immediate day after meant I hadn’t had a chance to go through my own thoughts first, meaning that I don’t have a lot of useful or poignant things to say in this comment. I am still processing through all my thoughts, you know?

    BUT, I did want to give the GLAAD link that Heather presented in her recap another highlight. I just read the whole article and learned so much. It definitely colored how I’m thinking about trans tropes and PLL and media.

    So, if you haven’t yet read the GLAAD article or don’t make a habit of clicking links mid-recap, please please please give it a gander. It’s important:

    • Oh! Except at the very very end when they look to the (then upcoming/ not yet on television) storyline of Unique on Glee as a potential hopeful spot for the “future”. Lol, Glee.

  26. I’m not gonna lie, this really pissed me off.

    Because I know it’s just a melodrama, but I’m sorry, but it’s fucked up to portray the only trans woman character on the show as a villain/victim and it makes me so angry that we’re still DOING this.

    This episode pisses me off now as an adult, but it would have really fucked me up if I was watching it at fifteen.

    Because growing up a trans girl, almost everything in media and culture pushes you to view yourself as a monster. You’re the bogeyman (and I do mean *man*) who’s going to hurt an innocent family’s young girls by going into the bathroom with them. The only way you’re ever going to get anyone to sleep with you is if you trick them. You’re probably violent, or at least prone to violent outbursts that are (of course) fueled by your jealous rage at never having gotten to be a *real girl.* Your violence will almost always be directed at cis women. You are either a pawn in someone else’s evil scheme, or you’re the mastermind yourself. Either way, you are a powder-keg waiting to go off, twisted by the unfairness of your inherently sad, pathetic life.

    I’m wise enough now to know that those tropes are bullshit. I’ve done the hard work of unlearning most of them, and I’m a much stronger person as a result. But that kind of stuff leaves scars.

    I’m beyond furious, however, to think of young trans girls watching this and receiving all those messages at once. And I’m especially furious for the young queer trans girls who had to sit through this and learn one of the tough lessons you have to learn as a queer trans woman: sometimes you’re going to have to cut yourself down the middle, sever your queerness from your transness to find something that heals a part of you. You’re never gonna find something that heals ALL of you. And you can never forget that your place in queer women’s spaces, media, etc (things that heal you) could always blow up in your face at any moment. You’re walking on land mines, girl. They’ll never really want you there. Not all of you, anyway.

    Because this show is SO important for young queer girls, in making us feel seen, feel represented. I agree with the reviewer: “[This show] is the most ridiculous show on television. It is also the most queer.” but if you’re queer and trans, then go fuck yourself, apparently.

    I’m so tired of this shit.

    • *Slow clap*

      Thank you for saying that. Thank you for coming right out and saying that without all the BS excuses like ‘Oh well they didn’t mean it to be transphobic’, which is either untrue or they suck at writing because that’s how a huge group of us interpreted it, or ‘well to be truly equal trans women have to be the villains sometimes’, ignoring that the scale is already tipped almost completely that way with a huge mountain of negative portrayals and a tiny handful of positive ones.

    • Damn, I’ve never seen someone put it into words as well as you just did. That feeling of having to cut yourself into two halves. As a queer woman, I’ve absolutely adored this show. But as a trans woman, I feel an intense betrayal.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience and insights. I’m really sorry these old ideas and harmful tropes were perpetuated and your wounds were reopened. <3

  27. Your PLL recaps are always so surprisingly amazing and thoughtful and meaningful and powerful and thank you for the time and care you put into all of them and this especially. Really really amazing.

  28. Meanwhile, 4 moms are still trapped in the basement of a neighbor’s house they broke into.

    • I know! What about the #WINEMOMS? Honestly the most annoying unawared question of the “Summer of answers”.

  29. Excellent recap, although I would like to say that you shouldn’t refer to Shana and Maya as “two black lesbians”… Maya was bi, calling her lesbian because she mainly dated a girl is bi erasure. Why not refer to them as two black queer girls instead…

  30. I’m probably going to come back to this in a bit with a more thought-out dissent of your POV, but I want to thank you for thoughts and helping me find the good parts of the episode.

    This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me on mental health issues. Ugh. I can even. More later prob when I’m feeling patient with the material and less bitchy.

    Suffice it to say, I feel like this plot took away all the power and mystery of Cece Drake. I like her WAY LESS than before, because her reasoning for torturing the girls sucked so much. The tech stuff was over-the-top, and not in a fun film noir way. This wasn’t camp, it was a shark jump.

    The show was hinting for years that the girls might have done something to abet Bethany Young’s death or something else sinister. The fact that the Liars are collateral damage in the reactions to that Labor Day night is incredibly dis-empowering of the main characters. They are side actors who had the audacity to point out Ali’s faults, and Cece punished them for it.

    It’s bad storytelling, so many pieces contradict each other. Time might be slow in Rosewood, but it should still be in a fucking line. I think the moment they flirted with the supernatural was the kiss of death for logic in the writer’s room. What is the point of watching a mystery if logic does not apply? If you have no hope of solving the riddle, you have no reason to engage. You might as well expect a dog to read Sun Tsu.

  31. Personally, I loved this episode and reveal. When Marlene started with all of the “you will feel bad…” I was yelling “bullshit”. But I did. I DID feel bad for this character. As a child when she was still Charles, and as she grew older and became Charlotte. (Don’t know if I’m sorry for CeCe, because she was a great sketchy character throughout the show.) But my heart broke for Charlotte, which I thought would be impossible.

    I understand that as a cis woman, I cannot fully understand and process this as a trans woman would. I also understand that not all viewers will watch and understand the was this community does, but their was one thing I disagreed about.
    I didn’t read CeCe’s dating Jason as being deceitful. I read it as her being desperte to be near her family. I wasn’t disgusted by her, I felt sad for her. All she wanted, all she ever wanted was to be loved by her family and goddamn Kenneth DiLaurentis screwed that up. Obviously I’m not advocating kissing your siblings, but she did make sure it didn’t go too far.

    Finally, I think that, while I wish the show would vilify Ezra more than they have, I do acknowledge the fact that they haven’t made Ezra very romantic for a long time. There are people who will never recognize that their relationship was horrible, but the show has not portrayed their relationship as being healthy. Aria even made it clear that she DID NOT want him to follow her after graduation. So, baby steps.

    That’s my opinion, for what it’s worth. (And from what I’ve seen on tumblr, the little Ezria shippers are too busy crying about Wren and Melissa not being the A team to even notice the “villain” was trans.)

    To answer Heather’s questions:
    + Did the moms ever get out of that basement?
    “Mom, you home? No? I’m going to Toby’s!”
    “Mom, you home? No? Sara turned out to be evil, so I’m going to California to beg for Paige’s forgiveness!”
    + Who killed Jessica DiLaurentis?
    This will be a leading mystery for the rest of the show.
    + Who Killed Ian?
    He killed himself, Mona staged everything.
    + Who is Beach Hottie?
    Wilden? Ezra?
    + What was that disastrous thing on page five of Ali’s autopsy report?
    Dental records?
    + How did Marion die when Charlotte was a little kid but also be alive when Alison was kissing Toby?
    Either mistake, or who knows if Ali was even telling the truth. (Wasn’t that one of her journal entries? Or did she tell them this story?)
    + Where is Jenna? Where is Lucas? Y’all, where is Noel Kahn?
    After paying for Spencer’s bangs in the flash forward, there was no room to pay these actors.
    + Did Charlotte put that snake in Spencer’s dressing room and then SAVE her from it? Total Mona move! Vanderpraise!
    Yes, confirmed by Marlene.

    • Calling it now: Kenneth killed Jessica, and Kenneth is the “he” the girls mention in the 5 years later scene at the end of the episode.

      • Yes! I’ve been saying that he killed Jessica since it happened. Making him the “he” would really solidify him oas the villain of the show.

    • Am I going crazy, or didn’t we find out that Ali pushed Ian because he was about to kill Spencer? I thought we found that out in that episode when Ali told her whole story about how she’s been watching over the girls for years.

      • Not crazy at all! Yes, Alison pushed Ian off the bell tower, but he disappeared. The fall didn’t actually kill him. I guess he ran off and ended up killing himself? And Mona set up everything to make Melissa think he was alive?

  32. This review is so Good and perfectly puts into words everything I’ve been feeling (also fuck Ezra what a gross dude).

  33. I was definitely pissed off last night, and today- still pissed off. I tweeted last night “The problem with saying that it’s the abuse that made her crazy, not being trans, is that people won’t separate the two. #BooRadleyVanCullen” The director, Norman Buckley retweeted and commented that “the #BooRadleyVanCullen certainly isn’t making that distinction. But that’s the distinction.” To which I call bull shit. First of all, the people who use that tag are mostly LGBTQ people, and the point was they DID understand the distinction, but the average teenager/person would NOT. So, I also woke up to a shit ton of hate tweets at me because he retweeted that and slapped me on the wrist- many of which were SUPER homophobic. So yeah, I’d say that the average teenager did not realize the two were separate.

    I also struggle because the things that PLL did for the lesbian/bi community, especially at a time there wasn’t a whole lot to look forward to, cannot be discounted. That being said, that does not mean they get a free fucking pass on being wrong about this storyline. This storyline, along with the Ezra one, has made me take a good, long hard look at PLL and what it is actually showing teenage girls who don’t necessarily process media like I do. And it’s not so pretty.

    • Edit: My bad, Norman is not the director of that episode, but he did direct many PLL episodes and does engage the fans using that hashtag. Just wanted to clear that up!

    • It’s mostly wishful thinking, and that one comment Mona made about how close she and Hanna were to having their first kiss.

      • Okay, so not enough to base an analysis of the show’s depictions of queer women on, but definitely enough to make her one of your queer lady heroes and plaster her face on your wall? ^^

    • I think at some point during this series Mona had a moment of crushing on someone same-sex.

      The point I think Heather is making is that PLL is one of the few shows that showcased the fluidity of sexuality without making a big deal about it.

      Emily wasn’t the only character on the show who was a woman who liked women.

      Hell if Hannah would have kissed Emily, no one would have batted an eye.

  34. Thank you for including trans voices in this recap and reflecting the responsibility and impact of stories. Thank you for the links to the news stories and how to help.

    I still have more questions than answers. It is telling though isn’t it that Hanna is the first to forgive and Ali is the first to truly see and name Charlotte? (Well after Mona sees herself on Jem’s Jumbotron of Holograms, points and says… wait I know her, I know every bit of her.)

    I keep thinking about the collections of the characters we have thought were A throughout the seasons. Jenna’s snow globes, Mona’s dolls, Charlotte’s museums and dioramas, and thought to myself yes, Jessica saw Charlotte too… but was she also creating a doll, in her dollhouse (Radley) to visit and love and make her own.

    I have so much of this show to unpack from my brain and I am thankful for the community to work through the problematic pieces and the parts that fell just right.

    • Your observation about Charlotte being Jessica’s doll and Radley her dollhouse breaks my heart more than anything we actually saw in the episode. I have a lot of problems with the way Jessica handled things and the way we saw their relationship portrayed, and the idea that Charlotte only *thinks* she had the unconditional love and acceptance of her mother is the saddest thing idea yet.

    • Wow, that is an incredibly astute observation and so fucking heartbreaking to think about.

  35. I’m hoping Alison is in witness protection and that’s why she has such a different look/name.

  36. I have had so many thoughts about this episode and there are so many things I’ve almost said here, but ultimately the only response I have energy for is

    aghsaklfjakldfjasdlf *despair* aghadfleadslferadfs

  37. Gosh, this episode was… poorly planned. I wonder how late they realized that they were gonna have to go with CeCe because there simply were no redeemable male characters? Because if I’m being honest I think that’s the reason she was chosen, and indication is it was decided after the whole ‘A is Charles’ thing, hence this mess.

    It was bizarre hearing a character speak about how no one got hurt as they’re listing murder after murder after assault after assault to the people they’ve given PTSD. Like, what? Of course, CeCe sold it as far as coming off as fairly sympathetic, but her actions have been unforgivable as much as the other parade of assholes on this show (though she still ranks lower than Lorenzo and Dad of the Century on the Characters Most Evil Chart). But still, it just… imagine it were Wren or Jason or Ezra spouting the same thing. How mad would we be with them? We’d be really mad.

    I don’t think this is even close to the queerest show on tv, but that’s another matter. I do like it for the crazy incoherent mess it is, but I think better writing isn’t too much to ask. It is disappointing not that everything doesn’t line up, but it certainly is to know that they set up all these hijinks with not even a thought as to who would do this, why or how. CeCe only makes sense for some of this stuff, and I’d have been ok with more than one villain.

    I am also disappointed about the whole ‘abuse begets abuse’ explanation – who do we then blame for mr. DiLaurentis? Who do we blame for all the things? At what point are you responsible for the shitty things you do in equal measure with the non-shitty things? It’s frustrating that the redemption option is only forwarded whenever it is someone trespassing on the Liars and not anyone else (CeCe and Ezra are forgiven where Wilden and mr. DiLaurentis certainly are not).

  38. Thank you Heather for such great recap of what could not have been an easy episode to analyze.

    I want to give the writers of a show that I’ve loved so much so long the benefit of the doubt. That this is all really a subversion of the trans villain troupe somehow. I want to believe that Charlotte will reach Vanderjesus levels of beloved by the fandom. Instead I can’t get past the way some of the most dangerous and harmful stereotypes about trans women are applied to this character.

    Maybe if Charlotte wasn’t the only trans character in the show it would be different. No one feels weird about Sarah Harvey being a villain because the show has showed a variety of queer women throughout its run. Some were good. Some were bad. Most were too complicated to be easily categorized as either. I just wish the creative team behind PLL gave more thought into how this decision would effect their trans veiwers.

  39. Heather Hogan, you are the sun. I was so terrified when this trans storyline became apparent – I truly thought I would have to just abandon this show and it’s writers for fucking with us for this long, and then just flat out fucking us over.

    This storyline is a problem. A huge problem. And I am very interested to find out just how they plan to redeem themselves.

    Thank you for your recap, and thank you for getting it up so quickly – I honestly would have had zero idea how to process this otherwise. My universe was all off kilter this morning – I used the wrong bags in my tea, I was late for work – I just couldn’t stop trying to work out what the hell had just happened!!!

    • I feel you. I accidentally microwaved my Amy’s Pad Thai today without slitting a hole in the plastic wrapping. My mind was so frazzled I FORGOT HOW TO MICROWAVE FOOD.

      • I tried to walk through the subway turnstile without swiping my card because I was thinking about it! I just smashed right into, sucker-punching my own self!

  40. As someone who was pretty badly traumatized by Silence of the Lambs years back as a trans girl, I am too sick of this for words.

    The fact that this is the most nuanced Silence of the Lambs bullshit to ever make it onscreen doesn’t change the fact that that’s still the same old thing we’ve been dealing with all these years.

    Portray a number of trans folks on your show? Cool, make one or two of them villains, whatever. If you only have the one, then we’re right back to Silence of the Lambs, and it hurts. Please, just don’t.

    Despite whatever merits this show has, it’s dead to me now.

    • Thank you for this comment, Tess. Thank you for sharing how this hurt you as a trans woman. I’m so sorry you had to feel that.

  41. I have a feeling that the more poorly handled aspects of this CeCe storyline stem from a bit of arrogance on the part of the writers. It seems like they have this feeling of “oh we’re cool with the queers! We know what we’re talking about” and it feels like they approached this with the idea that they don’t really have to own up to writing a trans character the same way other people do? I mean, as interesting as it might have seemed from a story point of view, PLL isn’t made and consumed in a vacuum.

    I also think they could have easily made A not trans? I mean I remember a while back when we found out Alison had seen that her mom bought two dresses and how her mom was telling her that her dad could never know and teaching her how to lie about it, but that could have just been because jessica was keeping the secret of their supposedly dead cis-daughter. It would have carried the same emotional weight and not gotten them mixed up in all the messy real-world implications of their storyline.

  42. I’ve been waiting for this recap and I’m impressed you got it up so quickly because there is so much to say. You’re right. We’ll be talking about this episode and the choice the writers made here for years and years. I got sucked back into PLL this season and I was excited for the big reveal. The hype was that it was going to be a shock, unexpected, out of left field, etc. And then, well, the shock was that Charlotte is A. I groaned when Charlotte turned and faced the camera. I just couldn’t believe this is the choice they were making. It was played for shock value and it was all the stereotypes about trans women being sneaky and dangerous and predatory and scary and crazy. I thought that the actual writing and story for Charlotte wasn’t horrible and fit into the story reasonably well (as much as any PLL story fits together). There were things that weren’t awful. I especially appreciated that they made Charlotte sympathetic and I do think a lot of viewers followed her story through the eyes of the Liars and will forgive Charlotte. But when you only have one trans character, you can’t treat her like this. You can’t make her being outed as trans the “big reveal.” You can’t make her the predator and the villain, even if you try to redeem her. You can’t say that you aren’t tying her mental health issues to her being trans when you include a scene where she creepily strokes her dollies and when the character has a history of fetishizing Ali. It says something about media portrayal of trans women in 2015 that Charlotte’s coming out story was treated with respect and that the Liars immediately empathize with her and call her Ali’s sister, but that’s not enough to take the bad taste out of my mouth. “It could have been worse,” does not make it better.

    • When she looked at the camera and said “I love all my dolls, I was done giving them the benefit of the doubt. Like @tessc said, that’s some Silence of the Lambs bullshit right there. This is all upsetting.

    • OH GAWD. UGH.

      Um, if they knew four years ago, why did they not do a better job? Why did they choose to continue to allow people to call her by her dead name? Why did they name the episode using her dead name? Why did they not write the story in a way that honored Charlotte instead of setting her up to be the “big trans surprise”? Why didn’t they write-in more trans characters in the show over the last four years, if they were so committed to trans representation, and to slightly lessen the blow of having Charlotte be A?

      Also, way to pat yourself on the back. Things are not becoming “much, much better for transgender people”. Cis people are finally realizing trans people exist and are human and maybe they should not kill them. That’s like…a level of basic decency that is just becoming a thing. I wouldn’t call it “much, much better,” especially not when the murder of the 13th trans woman of color THIS YEAR was just reported.

      • I honestly don’t believe they knew four years ago. Either she’s covering her ass or they are way shittier/lazy storytellers than we all believed.

    • From the article:

      King also took a moment to clarify one of the loudest complaints: that a cisgender actor was playing a trans character. “I knew people were going to ask why we didn’t cast a trans actor but four years ago, that really wasn’t an option we knew about,” she said.

      Wait. What? You didn’t know that trans actors existed four years ago or that you could cast them in a tv show. What? So much of this article was full of shit and it annoys me that Marlene King is patting herself on the back for this.

      • NO TRANS ACTORS EXISTED FOUR YEARS AGO, ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first from I. Marlene-Chaiken-King

        • Oh my goodness, how amazing would Jamie Clayton (Sense8) have been as Charlotte (if they had HAD to use the trans storyline)? She’s totally got the strong blonde DiLaurentis vibe going. I see from her IMDB she’s been acting on major TV shows since 2010. That’s five years.

          But then I think of an actual trans actor having to play that storyline and it just seems insulting. Which is maybe a litmus test for this plot. It would’ve been a huge step backwards from Sense8: from playing an amazing full-fledged resilient character who happened to be trans, to playing a character who was broken and damaged because of that. I wouldn’t wish that on her, and that probably means that the writers really messed this up.

      • ugh this is also so shitty because imo there are fair arguments to be made for cis actresses playing trans women (certainly if the other mainstream option is cis men playing them) but zero of them are “we didn’t really know any off the top of my head or that google existed”

    • This made me more pissed at Marlene and the rest of the writers, but made me feel for Vanessa. I think she did the best she could with an incredibly problematic role that was thrust upon her at the last minute.

      • Vanessa did a really good job. I love that she came to the conclusion on her own that, like, Cece is Charlotte and that is…pretty much exactly the woman she already knew and played. I’m glad she didn’t let it fundamentally change the character and get caught up in over-playing it Felicity Huffman style. Vanessa is probably the reason that teenybopper fans can hopefully come to forgive and love Charlotte in the coming episodes.

        But yeah, this def made me even more upset with Marlene than I was before.

  43. I truly believe the show was telling us that transphobia and patriarchy are the villains of this show. That doesn’t mean all the cis straight privileged teenage girls who watch this show will see it that way. The ones who believe Ezria is #lifegoals. They’ll blame mental disabilities, and worse, they’ll blame being trans. (Hell they’ll associate the two as the same thing.)

    This story so easily could’ve been told with CeCe being cisgender. It really felt like they were just doing this for the “shock value”, because we were expecting A to be a guy for a season now. But also it felt like they were trying to keep up with all the other shows telling trans stories this last year. Like they thought they had to do it to stay relevant.

    That’s all what really disappointed me about the reveal.

  44. Reading this recap and these comments has been so validating. I watched the episode this afternoon and I have basically been a nervous wreck since. I had a lot invested in this show and I felt really gutted by it. I’m still trying to process it all. I agree with you, Heather, that in some ways, this reveal is in line with the show’s message. But it was still a huge misstep for all the reasons you cited. I really hope the show can come back from this by making Charlotte a badass and widely loved character like Mona. Apparently, according to King, she is going to be in the show a lot when it returns and Ali and Jason have been visiting her in her new institution and giving her the family she never had. I hold out hope that the show will really play up the humanizing tone they attempted (with only modest success) in this finale and bring Charlotte truly into the fold of the other characters who are victims of patriarchal oppression, and that the big bad they’ve just introduced, this ominous “He” they mention, ends up being exactly the villain BRVC crowd all feel A has been a metaphor for all along–an embodiment of the male gaze.

  45. Oh man, I have SO many conflicting thoughts about this episode. First of all, Heather, your recap is fantastic as always; your words are thoughtful and kind and wise in a way that all of us aspire to and rarely achieve, I think. I especially appreciate how you deferred to Mey’s opinions and tried to open up the dialogue in general for trans women to give their own thoughts on the finale.

    My own thoughts about the finale are very fragmented and conflicted — I had been spoiled on the “reveal” before watching the episode today, so I approached the ep with a healthy dose of skepticism. The storyline was definitely dealt with more compassionately than I expected going in, having known that it was a 2015 cell-phone-holographic-tv version of the trans-woman-psycho-killer trope. But, at the same time, I sort of felt like the show depended upon my compassion, if that makes any sense? Like it manipulated my natural sympathy for her, playing up the intolerant father and the apparent-friend-deception backstories, to bring me to a place of pity for Cece/Charlotte and then subvert or play upon that towards the end. For the first 80% of the episode, I was very cautious but hopeful (saying things like, “ok, but she hasn’t actually killed anyone, yet, at least!” which…is problematic in and of itself), but I definitely ended on an iffy note, with Charlotte seeming to devolve into mentally-ill, doll-obsessed land by the end of her monologue. I certainly will be interested to see what, if anything, they do with her in the flash-forward, though.

    The one potentially positive thing that I can add, though, is that I was gchatting with my straight best friend from high school, who I always talk about the show with. She is bad-ass smart and awesome but tends to fall along the party line (aka the teen girl demographic) when it comes to controversial plots — let’s just say, she’s an ardent defender of Ezra Fitz. And her take on this episode was, “yeah, I felt semi-positive about it but they went with this trans storyline that was pretty questionable.” So, not saying every 13-year-old in middle America is going to feel the same way, but maybe we should give average, non-queer viewers a bit more of the benefit of the doubt?

  46. Heather, I love all your recaps. I wish there was a way for me to take any sort of class from you.

  47. So. Many. Wonderful. Comments. Thank you all for making me feel a bit better.

    Despite reading countless reviews (including this brilliant one!)/interpretations/opinions on this episode, and despite (as a trans woman, a lesbian & as someone who studied dramatic TV writing at university) being able to see the poetic beauty of writing it this way, and even empathizing(!) with Charlotte (♡) for a variety of reasons, I can’t help but feel ANGRY.

    See, this show is really special. I started watching this show with my ex-roommate & stuck with it even after we moved apart. It had an amazing lesbian character in Emily, which (despite a TERRIBLE pattern relationships crafted by the writers) provided not only someone to root for/empathize with, but also a means towards an open discussion with my ex-roommate.

    I should point out that my ex-roommate was born and raised here in Japan. She has had plenty of exposure and schooling on LGBT issues, and particularly trans issues, thanks to the fact that she, A. lived abroad and B. lived with me! But this kind of exposure is NOT the norm.

    So, as amazing as feminist critiques of PLL are/can be, as wonderfully complex as this show may be, and as clear as I can imagine the discussions in queer classrooms at universities around the world that are sure to happen for years to come, my biggest concern is the HERE and NOW, and how this trans* “representation” will have an impact on how, not only teenagers & young adults in English speaking countries will see transgender people, but also the kind of impact this will have in countries where LGBT representation, and particularly trans* representation, is minuscule/non-existent.


    It’s not trivial. It’s not something you can just sweep under the rug. Stories are part of how we discover our true self.If you don’t see yourself reflected on TV, you don’t exist. If you DO see yourself reflected on TV, that can have a HUGE impact on how you see yourself, and the kind of feelings or shame you will carry with yourself for years to come.

    Not to mention there’s only a handful of openly LBGT folk here (although this is changing), and of the handful of trans women (no genderqueer folk/trans men) I see on Japanese TV, they are all either:
    A: lumped in with gay men & men in drag
    B made to be butt of jokes
    C: play up their transness in a “woman with something extra” way
    D: have to “pass”/conform/hide their transness so FLAWLESSLY so as not to risk being called a man
    or E: Haruna Ai, who warrants her own letter because, despite having won a trans beauty pageant, she will always be a “woman**” (**who used to be a ___/insert birth name) not just… a woman…

    I guess you can imagine how scared and ashamed that makes me feel to be me… Of course, it’s my choice to live here because I love it here! But, I live my life here HIDING who I am, or at least not openly discussing it (which honestly, is the norm about a lot of stuff, because J culture is all about hiding who you really are). But even so, it’s hard as hell. And lonely.

    And as a lesbian, it’s even harder for me, as many lesbians here do NOT view trans women as women! (But trans men? COME ON IN!) It sure is hard to find a partner when signs that “Only people whose birth marker is female are allowed in.” make you feel unwelcome to join in from the start. Sure, all my IDs have been changed, but that’s NOT the point. These statements make you feel less than, broken, othered & excluded from the beginning, so why should I even bother trying to find anyone? And if I do find someone, how do I tell them about me? If I don’t do it right away, it’s like I’m hiding something from them… or rather, like I’m deceiving them…

    My ex-roommate will hopefully realize that Charlotte’s transness is not what made her “A”, but I don’t know if everyone watching this when it comes out here in Japan will be able to not conflate the two. I don’t know if they will be able to see through the tired trans* tropes of deceit.

    And it’s not like I can point them to Autostraddle comments, because many of them can’t understand English to the extent necessary. At least teens in English speaking countries have that option. (Not to mention worries over what terms will be used in the Japanese version. After all, they didn’t really need to spell it out so much with specific terms in English, because the target audience will get it, but will they just resort to the old “Charlotte used to be a ___” trope in Japanese?)


    This thing is bigger than just the ABC Family, the USA or the English speaking world’s viewing audience. When people look to American produced media for their entertainment (as well as, perhaps, to gain a glimpse into the lives people half a world away), relying on outdated and overused tropes has a GLOBAL impact on the way people in countries around the world may view women, trans* folk, lesbians and LGBT people in general.

    And THAT’S why I’m still angry.

  48. Fantastic article Heather.

    I think PLL has always been fantastic in ideas and themes, and not so much in execution.

    In some ways having A be a trans woman fits right in. It’s actually an aspect of patriarchal norms we haven’t seen in the show, and probably needed to be examined (making Her the villain though..might not be necessary.)

    In other have been mentioned, it’s extremely problematic.

    I do give the show the benefit of the doubt. It has been a friend to the LGBT community from the start, and there was definitely an attempt to be respectful. It’s just the simple fact is..A is a villain..and A is deceitful..and that’s been done to death.

    I feel though, that this episode was far too rushed..and didn’t have time for the story they needed to tell, in order to do this correctly. If you listened, it was made clear that Mr. D was the Villain and CeCe’s mental illness was not transsexuality, and her parents taught her how to be A. But those things needed to be addressed more firmly, so they made an emotional impact.

    • It was definitely way too rushed. A Twitter friend said it should have been two hours, which I agree with. Also, now I’m feeling gross about the time jump (which I had been looking forward to!), because what, we have this big reveal and then…don’t deal with it at all? It is really unfair to Charlotte. She finally speaks her truth and then instead of allowing space to know her as her we’ll just skip all of that time. No. I do not approve.

  49. 1) can we just call her CeCe not Charlotte?
    2) The show really didn’t need to make CeCe trans. She is born Charlotte and the story plays out largely the same. The only thing being trans directly explained was why Bethany would be believed over CeCe. but that could be because Bethany was better at manipulating the nurses ect.
    3) We really didn’t understand why Mona was A until season 5. I feel like CeCe will be the same way. I hope. Getting more and more of the back story of why.

  50. It would have made such a big difference if Jason had known the truth. But removing the relationship deception and pulling Jason into A team it would focus on the shitshow that is the DiLaurentis family.

    Imagine if when Charlotte approached him at school a look of confused recognition “Charlie?” which Charlotte replying with “It’s Charlotte now”.

    Ali: But you were dating that summer!
    Charlotte: Did you ever see us as much as hold hands that summer? It was his idea, a way for me to spend time with you.

  51. People keep saying that Mr. D is the real villain of the story, but that isn’t really true. He is the villain of Charlotte’s story, but Charlotte is the villain of everyone else’s story. Even when Mr. D also happens to be a villain, Charlotte doesn’t come out ahead. For example, Mr. D may be a villain of Jason’s story, but Charlotte threw him down an elevator shaft for pretty much no reason after dating him without telling him they were siblings. This is a categorically different villainy we’re talking about here. And Jason wasn’t even one of Charlotte’s primary targets!

    Mona’s harmful behaviors were the result of untreated mental illness combined with years of abuse. She got treatment, she got her illness under control, and she more or less stopped behaving maliciously and tried to atone. This gives us the excuse we need to forgive her (which we want to do because she is otherwise amazing and we are biased).

    Charlotte’s harmful behaviors are a core part of her being, not untreated illness. They may have been put there by her parents, but they still developed within her alongside her trans identity. Charlotte didn’t snap like Mona. Charlotte is broken. We might be able to say that as trans-supportive people we understand that Charlotte’s brokenness is not connected to the fact that she’s trans, but that’s coming from us, not the show. Within the narrative of the show they are not separate. They might be coincidental, but they are not separate.

    How are we supposed to accept this? I don’t know that I can. And the saddest thing of all is that I really want to. Cece is trans and is secretly Ali’s sister who was abused by their always horrible parents? Wow cool story, I want to watch that, this could be so great! Except that’s not the story. The story is that Cece is the psychopath who has been torturing everyone for years, largely because she thought it was fun.

    Apparently the writers are going to try to redeem Charlotte, and I really hope they figure out a way in which that makes sense, because I can’t think of a way to do it. And they think they redeemed Ezra, so I’m not optimistic about their abilities here.

    • “Charlotte is broken. We might be able to say that as trans-supportive people we understand that Charlotte’s brokenness is not connected to the fact that she’s trans, but that’s coming from us, not the show. Within the narrative of the show they are not separate. They might be coincidental, but they are not separate.

      How are we supposed to accept this? I don’t know that I can.”


  52. So, Charlotte, who tortured and ruined innocent girls’ lives is off the hook. Mona, who also tortured, hurt them on many occasions, and actually murdered somebody is cool too. But you still can’t resist bashing Ezra every chance you get? I don’t even care if you don’t like him, but really? His storyline was no different than this Cece stunt by the writers where it was not planned. I completely agree Ezra’s 4B arc was wrong, I never said any differently. But people preach about “Mona has gotten better and changed”, but when Ezra has done nothing but apologize, protect them (well, Aria), and try to also help, he’s still disgusting. Keep going with your man bashing, Heather.

    • I haven’t fully sorted my thoughts on CeCe, so I can’t address her story yet.

      But on Mona vs Ezra. Mona was a teenager, still a child, with serious mental health issues and a history of intense bullying. Mona in her own terrible way was trying to make Ali and the girls feel as powerless as she had felt for so long. I’m not excusing her behaviour, or saying it was okay. But it is fact that the bullied often become bullies themselves. Add precarious mental health to the situation and that is a dangerous cocktail for disaster.

      Ezra on the other hand, does not have any mental health issues. He grew up male, straight and comfortable in the upper-middle class. He was a FULLY GROWN man when he met Aria, with the intent of becoming close to her, to pump her for information to serve his own purposes. As a teacher, he disgustingly abused his position of power. He stalked and kept watch on 4 teenage girls for approximately 14 months, knowing they were being targeted by Mona, then CeCe and he did nothing to stop this.

      I don’t know about you, but there is no comparison between Mona and Ezra. They are playing two very dangerous, but different ball games.

      Heather provides an incredibly analytical and interesting point of view regarding PLL. She connects dots that many of us cannot connect (partly bc this show is so damn confusing and somehow she manages to keep track of it all). She makes us think beyond the surface value entertainment we see on our screens. She educates us. And for that I am so thankful.

      You can absolutely disagree with her analysis of the show. But to resort to calling her a “man basher” is a bit of a cop out.

  53. Two things:

    Cece getting kicked out of UPenn and thinking Ali and the Liars set her up for this would have been motivation enough. It could’ve also explained away Ian’s murder, because he was standing at the top of the stairs when the girl at the frat party was pushed, and CeCe could’ve started with him to exact her revenge. Ian was never written with the characteristics or personality traits that would lead an audience to believe he would kill himself. That was something that was never hinted at or alluded to. And the slapdash feel of this episode comes across the same way that Sweeps Week Lesbian Kissing does–selfish and exploitative. (So maybe this show is A… and also Ezra?)

    Jessica DiLaurentis worrying about Kenneth leaving her to the point that she forced her daughter to hide who she was and allowed her child to be held in captivity for the majority of her life rang extremely false given that she had so little consideration for her marriage that she had affairs with Peter Hastings and Bethany Young’s father. Her affair with Peter Hastings was long before CeCe was born, so she wasn’t all that invested in her marriage to begin with.

    • Jessica was too good for Kenneth to even be allowed to stand in the same room with her.

    • Well, Jessica could have been scared of the consequences of losing her marriage as much as of actually losing it. Divorce carries a lot more stigma for women than it does for men. But yeah, it seems to me that part of it might also be that she was ashamed of having a trans child, especially a daughter, herself

  54. Honestly? I gave up on PLL a long time ago and read this basically just to satisfy some latent “how the hell did they pull that off” curiosity. But Heather! You always take these shows that have the tendency to be written off as silly teen girl shows (coughskinscough) and bring out the transcendence in their characters and say something really beautiful and smart and deep. Thank you.

    But man. I know a young teenaged friend of the family who is living in an oppressively homophobic religious tradition, and while she is thoughtful and progressive she is also not immune to those messages. I’m so curious and unsure of what she thought of this…or how I could possibly talk to her about it. In fact, the situation was such that though we were close, I never even came out to her.

    My hope when she was so into PLL was that it would make her more open to queer people, and I do think that will be the case, but I’m really unsure about how she’ll feel for trans folk from this, particularly since that seems to be the hardest thing to beat in the bigoted sides of christianity as I’ve experienced it.

    • Yeah, I wish I had a better grasp on what it’s like to internalize these measages as a teenager. I was talking to Riese after the episode and we both agreed the best thing we could do was get this recap up as soon as possible so maybe these young girls who didn’t suss out this stuff for themselves would have some real context and knowledge for what they saw. I hope that’s true, at least a little. Being a teenager is a war.

  55. One thing I have not seen mentioned (forgive me if I missed it) is how CeCe’s treatment of Paige, and her encouragement of Alison’s cruelty towards her, squares with these new revelations. Internalized hatred? Wanting her sister’s acceptance even if it meant torturing and laughing at someone for their differences? Did Cece’s abuse leave her with zero empathy for others? I’m leaning towards the latter given the “didn’t die” quip, but it still bothers me. I can’t be sure, but I also seem to remember her making a “hermie” comment about Lucas or laughing at one, and it’s bothering me.

    Reading that they did not decide to go with Cece/Charlotte as Charles until S6 and that they wrote the story backwards explains a LOT. I was trying to keep my expectations low given the #SummerOfFiller but the show has meant so much to me and made me so happy in the past, I said I’d be okay with any reveal as long as it made sense. Unfortunately, this didn’t hang together for me in any way. I thought it was sloppy, lazy nonsense; a poorly constructed infodump with more inconsistencies and holes than plausible answers, even accounting for Rosewood’s strange reality.

    I feel like they tried to be twisty and shocking simply for the sake of being twisty and shocking. I don’t have a problem with the idea of Cece as a transwoman, but I thought the execution was terrible and didn’t do the subject matter justice or treat it with the sensitivity and detail it deserves. This should have been revealed in 601 or 602 and the rest of the season spent dealing with it and making her motivations clear and seeing who else was involved because Cece alone just doesn’t fit (and the apparently motiveless Sara Harvey being both Red Coat and Black Veil made me incandescent with rage, not just because it’s Sara Frelling Harvey but because how convenient! If Melissa had been Black Veil maybe they would have had to have some follow up, and no time for that! Better to say it’s Sara who disappeared well before Cece even met Mona).

    Being told over and over how this would make me feel and how much I would care maybe hardened me. I did feel for Charlotte at different points throughout the episode, and Kenneth is a monster, but I do not see this great, unconditional love from Jessica. If she really loved and accepted Charlotte as her daughter she would have left Kenneth and kept all of her children. She wouldn’t have kept shipping her back to Radley. She would have maybe paid off Wilden and the board to believe Charlotte over Bethany, not go along with people thinking her daughter was a murderer but overlooking it.

    I know Radley is a joke, but were there no actual doctors, treatments, therapies, people with basic powers of observation? No one noticed that Charlotte didn’t deserve to be there, and had been put there by her awful, transphobic father for the wrong reasons?

    The timing of Marion’s death is either a huge flashing light that something isn’t right with this story, or they just really do not care about what they’re putting out there as long as people are talking about it. Wilden is Charlotte’s age or a year younger, if he was in Jason’s class. He was the cop called out to Marion’s death. Charlotte appeared to be about 10. We’ve been referring to Wilden as kindergarten cop for the past 24 hours, and laughing so we don’t cry (seriously, I cried. This show has meant so much to me as a queer woman, and given me so much joy during my struggles with depression and anxiety, the disappointing mess of this episode felt devastating).

    I winced at the whole “haha, I gave Jason blue balls all summer!” bit, how damaging and gross. The tech and Charlotte’s vast fortune were ridiculous and not in the good way. Abandoned ice cream factories and tennis ball Arias and hyperadrenalized reality and Tippy are the kind of ridiculousness I embrace; this was so sterile and the opposite of every spooky, Hitchcockian moment the show has ever had. The way the girls were separated from the action, watching through a screen, literally just standing there for almost the entire episode…they had no power and no agency. Stand here and gasp in your pretty dresses, girls, soak up the exposition without question. We didn’t even get to see them get Sara away from the bomb! Emily punching Sara doesn’t make up for that.

    The immediate time jump means no follow up, no fall out, no questions or dealing with anything. Years of torture that apparently wasn’t even really about them and “okay, bye”. We saw them dealing with Mona’s reveal, Toby’s, Ezra’s, this should have been the biggest deal yet and there’s nothing.

    I feel crushed but I’ll be back, hoping for something more, or something that makes this make more sense. I know hope breeds eternal misery, but it’s all I’ve got.

  56. HH you have once again in the simplest terms possible brought clarity to this story and I thank you for doing so. At this point I’ve watched the episode 3 times and there were still certain details that were going straight over my head, but you finally made me understand most of it. Also thank you to Mey for sharing your first hand insights and perspective. My gut reaction to the trans reveal were not positive, and while I do understand how many opinions are that this could be considered positive representation when considering the overall story, I’m still not 100% convinced this case was treated respectfully. Presenting A’s initial true name to the audience as Charles to only then reveal the character as a her by the end of this season feels like a disrespectful plot device. I’ve loved the character of Cece since the first time we met her back in S3 at The Brew and honestly I could never have guessed this would have been her fate. She has always been such a charismatic figure and I’m glad to see she was always more than what we ever knew her to initially be.

    My main issue at this point would be that if you want to say PLL is the show that has time and time again held the ugliness of the patriarchy up to the light, then why have Cece torture the Liars at all? Ok yes this could be an example of how women are perpetually pitting each other against one another. Why did Cece even work to destroy these girls even before they had ever met? The Liars and Cece ultimately had a common enemy. These are the men, and the complicit women, who wronged these girls. But why can’t PLL be the show that pushes back against that force?

    If Cece needed to be a character who dealt with her pain by causing more pain, why couldn’t she have instead found inventive ways to make the Liars love ones lives a living hell? Every time those close to the girls had wronged/violated them and their trust this could have been Cece’s motivation, as felt through her own families neglect. Brother and his cronies film you and your underage friends = Cue the A/CECE revenge, Father asks you to lie about his affair = Cue the A/CECE revenge, Mother shames your sexual identity, = Cue the A/CECE revenge, Parents just generally neglect you= Cue the A/CECE revenge. Why not have Cece “use her powers for good,” is the only way I can explain it I guess.

    Since IMK has confirmed that Cece will be returning for S6B I hope these themes will be explored. I genuinely am curious to see the familial relationship develop between Ali and Cece/Charlotte and how this will affect the Liars as well. These two deserve a shot at redemption.

    And I would also have to agree with the sentiment expressed by Tammy. I love the show for the messages it has given us, but when they have failed its viewers I question the true motives of these writers. Not so much that I think they mean intentional harm, but just that they don’t consider the full ramifications of what they put out there. They listen to the fans at times when it serves them, but ignore a lot of glaring problems that have also developed. Yes this show was created for entertainment value but it’s hard to not feel they should want to have some type of responsibility for the messages received.

    (Also can we please do a BRVC rewatch sometime please!)

    • Really good stuff, Allison. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I agree with Tammy too.

  57. I heard a lot in the fandom about how Cece didnt have a good enough reason, but Did Mona? As Cece said she was Hanna’s legit friend and still hit her with a car. However no one seems to have any trouble believing Alison’s “bullying” made her insane (cause that is the justification, right?). So why could’t years of abuse by her parents and the system made Charlotte crazy? Or perhaps, Mr. Dilaurentis was right all along and Charlotte was really a danger to others. I think it is somewhere in between. I think Charlie as a kid, already had issues, and the way she was treated made her worse. So yes, she is kinda crazy, but that crazyness was made worse by her treatment, and that is why yshe tortured everyone.
    But saying she didnt have good ebough reason, means that there was some/any justification for what was done to these girls over the seasons.

    I never really fell in love with Mona as so many seem to, I get what you say about redemption, however I also don’t think that everything can be justified, say the show is very qick to absolve Mona, and blame everyones problems on Alison’s behaviour, but isnt justifying Mona agression over the girls the same as justifying all the guys that had preyed on Alison because of the way she acted? That being said, I do empathyze with Charlotte (and btw Vanessa ray kinda killed it,right?), but hope we dont cast off everything she done.
    Hopefully there will be more answers (im sure there will be more questions) in the seasons to come. I guess Sara’s arc will be explained when we return, and I still think it has something to do with stockhokm syndrome and/or a strangers in a train thing going on with bethany (who we still dont know shit, btw).

    • I agree.

      If we can believe being bullied by Allison can make Mona want to run her best friend over with a car.

      Why can’t we believe that a non-insane child being placed in an INSANE ASYLUM at 4/5 until 18 also adversely affect them? It also doesn’t help that your mother is the queen of hidden truths and your daddy as an asshole who never visits you and your best friend kills a woman and then frames you for it… EMOTIONAL TRAUMA.

  58. So this post and your previous posts have convinced me to get into this show, Heather, and I’m starting from scratch (totally spoiled now that I know A = pretty much everybody on the show, did I get this right?). I really really wanna be able to read your recaps as I view the episodes though. Is there a place on the internet where you’ve got them all listed up ?

  59. No other characters respond to abuse the way Mona and CeCe do. Mona was bullied? She did worse to Ali than Ali did to her. But Mona is an insane person because of her superpower adrenalized hyperreality. This helps explain why she reacts so extremely and without (immediate) empathy towards the plls. She will feel bad you broke your leg but first runs you over with a car. Lucas, Cindy & Mindy, every member of the army didn’t respond to abuse the way Mona did. Mona is different. The show might be trying for “abuse creates abuse” but when your main characters are tortured for 5 seasons and still respond with empathy to assholes like Andrew who don’t deserve it it’s hard to see that message coming across. We can say they have each other but Mona had Hanna and Lucas at different times. Something else has to explain it. And the show did a really good job of that by giving her the made up illness of adrenalized hyperreality. It’s not real so it’s not offensive. It can be whatever the writers need it to be. It explains her obsessive love and hatred. Her view that these humans are her dolls. Because that’s not how other characters respond to the same stress as Mona so there has to be something “off” about her. Mona’s insanity is what I love about her but it’s also what a lot of fans hate about her.

    Now onto CeCe. CeCe tortured 4 girls. For fun. She locked them in solitary for weeks and caused them anguish. She found enjoyment in others’ pain. That’s not how any other character besides Mona (and even Mona wasn’t so harsh) responds to past abuse. Mr. D didn’t love his daughter? Hanna’s dad openly hates her. CeCe is alone? Well she’s had Mrs. D, Jason, and Ali in her life at different times. What makes CeCe different? Why can’t she respond with empathy? Is she insane or is she evil? The show clearly isn’t arguing evil so now you have CeCe being an insane person. The only trans person on the show is insane. It’s hard to not see this as negative harmful representation. And if CeCe was born charlotte everything else plays out largely the same. Only have to explain why Bethany would be believed over CeCe. Well that’s easy Bethany was really good at manipulating nurses or something along those lines. So why do it if it’s potentially harmful and not necessary? I don’t know if the show can really defend this reveal to any degree.

    • Really loved youur analysis. Particularly on the Mona craze.
      I think there is enough space to “save” cece, as in she has a disease or something, but I also understand what you mean about representation of the only trans person on the show. However, I think it is a slippery road to say minorities cant be vallains. I think it is perfectly possible to see cece’s troubles as other than her transgender condition. Agravated, tho not necesserily created, by the abuse shes been through.

    • Really good points, SC. I have enjoyed your crutiques all season long. Thank you for taking the time to write such thoughtful comments. :)

    • To add to this:
      The show likes to do temporary storylines based off whatever limited knowledge the audience has at the time. It really felt like they did the trans reveal because they wanted 1) to throw the audience off by saying A is male but 2) because they wanted to make patriarchal themes in the show more pronounced. ChArles as a concept in the dollhouse and all season long has been a representation of the show’s subtext big bad as adult men in these girls’ lives. But now revealing ChArles is a trans woman leaves a fucked up after taste to the season.

  60. I have been so distracted thinking about all of this since Tuesday night.
    1. I think making Charlotte/A trans was an unfortunate choice. I don’t think it came with malicious, transphobic intent, but it did come from a place of myopic cis-privilege. When you don’t deal with transphobia everyday or spend time thinking about trans representation in the media, it is easy to miss how something like this could be read as harmful.
    2. For everyone who is griping about the plot holes (such as “OMG the Marion Cavanaugh timeline is all wrong!)…seriously what did you expect. PLL has never had air-tight storylines. I think this was good enough. Revealing Cece as A was as satisfying to me (from a mystery standpoint, not a gender politics standpoint) as anyone else. I like that it was someone we knew and cared about (unlike Sarah Harvey!! Don’t get me started…). I liked that there were actually a ton of clues linking Cece to everything. I think people’s disappointment was inevitable regarding the A reveal. We have been building up to this for SIX YEARS! Nothing would have been completely satisfying. I think this is good enough.
    3. I am not ok with this notion of having to suddenly care about and forgive A. Women are constantly put in a position of having to forgive and having to minimize abuse. Yes, Cece, the liars are indeed hurt by what you did to them even if they aren’t dead. And even if you endured horrible abuse and neglect yourself, that doesn’t exonerate you. I really wanted to see the liars conquer and defeat A. NOT say “You’ve been a huge bitch to us, but we understand.” A “huge bitch?” Really, Hannah? No, Mona was a huge bitch when she put worms in your Chinese food or made you eat cupcakes. Kidnapping you, torturing you etc is a whole other level. The liars shouldn’t be put in a position to forgive it, even if the villian is trans. It’s hard for me to imagine a show where the male protagonists are made to feel sorry for someone who has tortured them for years.

    • Loved everything you just said.
      I also felt satisfied enough by Cece being -A. It was never gonna please everyone. I would always leave holes, and I still think it was more interesting than having Wren be it.

      As for your 3rd point, I completely agree! I dont like that all of the sudden Im feeling bad for -A. Thats why I kinda wanted for -A to be a guy – but someone that actually mattered in the story, not someone who has never being that much part of it, as Wren – as so many are crying about. And particullarly a guy that was doing that cause he felt treatened, pissed of by rejection, or something in the lines of “you are the grown up cop…!!!”
      It would have better summed up the “dangers of patriarchy” and victim blaming – that have always surfaced on the show – thats why, it would have being perfect i]f it had been Ezra a couple of seasons ago, but that ship is gone. I always thought that if it had been a girl, it would either be a “bitches always go against each other” thing or a “this person has been even more damaged, so she is the real victim” kind of thing, which is what it will really be.
      But then again, these girls have never being very good at recognizing their own victimizations, since they spent most of their time being either told to feel bad for abusers, or that the abused were really to blame for the situation. It has being that way with Ezra, the multiple guys that have done Alison wrong, Hanna and Ellas boyfriend, and so on.

    • “I am not ok with this notion of having to suddenly care about and forgive A. Women are constantly put in a position of having to forgive and having to minimize abuse.”

      Yes! Your entire third point is golden. That is exactly how I feel about it. If the abused perpetuate abuse, that is still on them – they are still responsible for it. I hate that the show made me sympathize with A – and it did, I couldn’t help it, even though I was sure that would never happen.

  61. The only uncomplicated feelings I have right now are about Janel Parrish dressed in red.

    And I would watch an entire series of her as Red Riding Hood besting the wolf.

    • I would watch a whole series of her alone in a room being both Red Riding Hood *and* the wolf!

  62. Despite evidence to the contrary, I was able to convince myself that Pretty Little Liars was, and could be, a feminist utopia where powerful female friendships were the most important thing, where predatory men would be explicitly revealed as predatory, and everything was sunshine and rainbows. I can no longer convince myself of that.
    How could a show where all of the female characters fit society’s narrow idea of acceptable femininity, a show that markets this unattainability to teenage girls, handle a storyline about gender with the nuance that this one required? A show whose social media seems only focused on objectifying its actresses? I keep going back to the scene where Charlotte is looking in the mirror, apparently in awe of her beauty, while Allison looks on with disgust/confusion. This read as a familiar message to me, that femininity and vanity are one and the same, and should be undesirable and shameful. A familiar message that an “acceptable” woman looks a single type of way, and we should all work to be that, but both the pursuit and the end product are frivolous.
    There is so much good in Pretty Little Liars. I just wish that I didn’t have to pick through layers of patriarchy to get to it.

  63. I don’t follow this show but I did follow the debate after this episode.

    What I find strange about this episode is how several people related to this show (the writer, the director of this episode, the actress that plays CeCe, etc.) had to justified/explained what this episode was about, that it wasn’t transphobic.

    Yes, I know, most of the times, almost everything, is open to different interpretations, but do you think you made a good job if you have to explained yourself so much?

    I was thinking about an analogy related to this question that gives me the big “NO” answer. Imagine a comedian. A comedian that needs to explain her/his punch-lines in every joke. I can’t imagine somebody thinking that this person could be the queen/king of comedy.

    • I feel like the only people their explaining themselves to are the people that never followed or understood this show. I”m really angry at the TheMarySue that chose NOW to be the first time they ever acknowledged this show’s existence.

      • Serah,

        I’m a few seasons behind, but I always figured I’d watch the rest of it on Netflix when I got the chance. I liked this show, a lot.

        But I’m a trans woman, and this is, in no uncertain terms, a dealbreaker. I feel physically ill hearing about it.

        Am I allowed to have an opinion about this? Do I have to make myself sick (and yes, I mean literally) watching all the rest of the episodes knowing what it’s leading up to before I’m qualified to say “Hey, that’s transphobic”?

        You are allowed to feel however you want about this, that’s fine with me. But you being this dismissive of others’ opinions is really disappointing to me.

  64. I still don’t think I’ve fully processed this episode. It didn’t sit well with me when I watched, and two days later, it still doesn’t. I think the writers fully intended for us to see Kenneth DiLaurentis as the true villain and Charlotte as a victim. But it still felt transphobic, especially since the show was clearly relying on the reveal of Charlotte as A to be a huge shock and that feels exploitative and, like a lot of you have said, the language used throughout this season to refer to A when they KNEW that A would be Charlotte only contributes to that problem.

    And, I don’t know, but I feel like we’ve seen this story so much? And, I understand that people who are abused are more likely to become abusers themselves. And it’s not that Charlotte’s story doesn’t make sense in that context. But I’ve always felt like the bigger story, even bigger than the commentary on patriarchy, is that of hope and love and transformation. That just because you were abused, that does not mean you will turn into an abuser. That you can change. That there is hope you will come out on the other side and find light and hope and kindness. For me, that’s the beauty of Ali and Aria and Spencer and Hanna and Emily. Of Mona. And I can’t help but think that Charlotte would have been better served if she had been part of the A game but not actually A.

    I’m still struggling with this.

    • Thank you fur writing this – as a victim of a abuse, I both felt kind of sorry fur Cece, and was like…well at least they’ve maybe intended it to come across as look how awful people were to here, but it also made me feel quite sick. I barely slept last night after I saw it. If anything, I’d say I DON’T want other people to feel how I felt. I know that people repeat problematic patterns of behaviour, and that sometimes people do awful things because awful things have happened to them, but it kind of upset me how now basicatly abuse victims are the same in PLL as the patriarchy in the hoodie we thought A would be. I think I would find it easier to stomach if the purrogression made ANY sense but “I killed you, then I heard these people didn’t really like you when you were awful to them so I randomly tortured them but wasn’t really bothered about them but I love all my dolls”…why not target Vernon then? It was like lol trans bitch be crazy and randomly gets violent. Equally this show is really purroblematic as a non-neurotypicat woman. People with MH purroblems are dehumanised, but also mental illness is just used as an excuse fur efurrything – and it’s nefur clear to what extent Mona was on drugs or was actmewally having a break with realkitty, because in season 3 they imply she knows exactly what’s going on and isn’t taking the drugs. But someone I can accept Mona more as someone who was turned into a monster and then attacked people who were kind of complicit in that. Aaaah I could go on. I’m not even sure how I feel but I’m sad and angry and confused.

    • Also I suffur furom PTSD and I still have nightmares about what happened to me. And I wasn’t in a bunker fur weeks. So the idea of having an abuser tell their story and be furgiven…like I get it. I sympurrthise with people driven to awful things. But…it reminds me of the time someone told me I shouldn’t be angry at my ex, I should want to help her, because something awful must have happened to her. And then Cece becomes a really purroblematic melding of abuser and abused. *Goes to find a cat because efurrything is wrong with the world*

  65. Just about every single psychopathic serial killer/rapist/kidnapper/abuser/etc was abused as a child. It’s okay to feel compassion for the child who was abused, but this notion that CeCe is worthy of sympathy at this stage is bizarre to me. She is an adult who damaged children beyond repair, on purpose and with cruel intent at every turn, and I haven’t got a clue why we were supposed to believe that they all of sudden forgave this evil abuser because of her gender identity.

    What bothers me the most, really, is that the show exploited what it expected as its audience’s compassion for trans people and victims of abuse to pull this stunt. Which is cheap and ugly, and deeply insulting both to trans persons, abuse survivors, and those who love them.

  66. I thought of a positive thing about the episode. Going forward, now that they’re adults, the Liars can all have age-appropriate relationships! Unless Aria brings it full circle and starts dating a teenager.

    • I really want to see that actually, show that women can have a thing for inappropriately younger men too.

  67. Five years later and they’re still too old to play their characters lol

    But really thank you for this beautifully crafted analysis.

  68. Was anyone else really offended by the way they had Charlotte / Cece identify with her dead name? Like she buried her dead self and then kept calling herself a name that she associated with oppression… Also, a transwoman’s grave? I know I just said dead name, but it just feels quite offensive in light of the numpurr of transwomen being murdered. And here the only transwoman is the ultimate villain, murdering others. It was like the show was screaming “feel sorry for her but that bitch be crazy, so also don’t”. I’m starting to wonder if they even had it planned that way until recently. And on top of this really uncomfurtable and upsetting trope, so much wasn’t answered. I feel sick and I honestly woke up wondering if I’d dreamed that this was the ending. I really hoped I’d wake up and remempurr something diffurent.

    • I saw as a purely tactical decision, a way to ensure they’d be looking for the wrong gender.

  69. I don’t think there’s any way to put a positive spin on this, or to pretend that this wasn’t incredibly transphobic. As the saying goes, the “good intentions” of the people behind the decision to do this aren’t magic. Not given the long history of trans women being portrayed in popular culture as psychopaths and killers. As Brynn Tannehill writes in this column today: :

    “While the show’s producers have done a hand wave saying that CeCe comes from a crazy family and that all this has nothing to do with her being transgender, this claim is simply not credible. The rest of the “crazy” family aren’t doing the things that make CeCe the “Big Bad” of the show. . . .

    So let’s look at all the stereotypes they hit:

    Transgender people are crazy. Check

    Transgender people are deceivers. Check.

    Transgender people’s identities aren’t real (because they’re crazy). Check.

    Transgender people are dangerous. Check.

    It’s impressive really. They managed to create a character that simultaneously exemplifies all the negative stereotypes that prevent transgender people from getting jobs, receiving health care, finding housing and being accepted as who they are by their families. It did manage to reaffirm the messages transgender people are probably dangerous, should be locked in asylums, are lying about who they are and are an acceptable target for violence.

    The producers of the show managed to reinforce the talking points of every right wing, anti-LGBT hate group working against the basic human transgender people in the US.

    Great job. Have a cookie.”

    More at link.

    Pretty disgusting, really.

    • She was never actually crazy, that was part of the point.

      And this is a show where the title proclaims all of it’s character to be deceivers, it’d be more odd if the Trans character was the exception.

      • Then they shouldn’t have made her trans. I’ll accept that trans women can be portrayed as psychopathic villains and killers when there are a few hundred portrayals of them in a row as something else. Do you have any remote understanding of how many dozens of times trans women have been portrayed in movies and TV as psycho killers in the last 40 years?

        It’s like casting cis people to play trans people. I’ll concede that that’s acceptable if and when trans people ever get to play trans characters more than one time out of every 50-100.

      • She was never crazy, but plays with people as if they were dolls? Dehumanizing them in the process? Showing a startling lack of empathy for the people who’ve done her no wrong?
        Charlotte is portrayed as having a psychopathic streak to her personality, a truly unsettling one. You can’t deny that.

  70. This was an excellent recap. I’m torn on this episode and reveal so much. On the one hand, Cece being A makes so much sense. All of her motivations and actions make so so so much sense compared to fucking Gossip Dan. Thinking back to all these random plot holes from past seasons, I can suddenly understand them, for example Grunwald’s creepy sorority torture room, was likely a place where Cece could go to be safe if she was having a breakdown. In fact, since I hate the whole magic psychic thing they introduced so much, I’m basically convinced that Cece called Grunwald that night, and she went to talk to Jessica Dilaurentis, instead finding Ali’s hand. Why she didn’t tell Cece Ali was alive, who knows. And why she didn’t tell Ali about Cece, who also knows. But I feel like she’s a person who very much likes to stay passive and see how things play out, and protect the people she loves’ secrets.
    The other great thing about this reveal was how fantastic an actor Vanessa Ray is. Every scene she sold, even though her Radley flashbacks, her present day chats with Ali, and her past scenes in PLL show very different versions of herself. It all felt incredibly accurate and true, and it was great.

    On the other hand, the first time I heard the theories about A being transgender, I was incredibly worried that that would be the real story. I was worried because the trope of trans people being villainous, and dangerous, and crazy is incredibly harmful and pervasive throughout popular culture. I’m not happy with it, but the one thing that did make me feel a bit relieved was as Mey said, I didn’t see any of her villainy being connected to her trans identity. In fact, her identity as a trans woman was the most stable thing about Cece whatsoever. To me, I felt that all of her villainy and crazy actions were caused by her parents, [including Jessica, cos cmon], and the cocophany of drugs she was subjected to as a young child. Not to mention being kept in a 1950s mental institution straight outta AHS for her entire life. I feel like, had Kenneth not existed, Cece would have grown up a happy, stable girl, who was absolutely comfortable with herself [one of the things I loved about her portrayal as a trans girl was just how comfortable she was with herself despite her father and Bethany]. Maybe she would have had a close attachment to her little sister, but I don’t think that’s abnormal, or connected to her identity, since its pretty common for older sisters and brothers to get attached to their little baby siblings.
    That attachment may have verged on dangerous, but like, a little child wouldn’t realise that babies can’t breathe underwater. So, idk about that. But anyway. I’m glad that A was not A because A was trans. I think that the writers just used that to trick us into ruling out the female characters. Which also sucks, because it was not a necessary move.

    I hadn’t thought about the deceitful trans person trope till this recap, when I was watching and she met Jason, I didn’t see it as deceitful about her gender, rather about her relation to him. And even then, I read it more as him reading more into the relationship than she did. That holiday she got with Wilden anyway, so it didn’t last long. And Wilden was aware of her identity, surname and all. But reading this recap, I do have to take that into account as well. Even if the writers did not intend to depict all these negative tropes and stereotypes, I think it was incredibly careless of them to not consider how many viewers would take these, and believe them, and begin to use them.

    So, tl;dr I think the story was told incredibly well. But I’m so uncomfortable with them making A trans, considering its their only trans character and happens to be the most dangerous, villainous character on the show.

  71. Once I saw where this storyline was going I had a knot in my stomach. I think they tried their best, Vanessa Ray did a beautiful job, and in the end it was mostly positive for me, but I worry that it was mainly for shock value. They definitely needed more than the 40 minutes they were given to reveal this story. Maybe we should give the writers the benefit of the doubt and see where they go with this in the season and a half to come. There could be more that they’ve planned to fix the situation.

    I’m not in a position to make a judgement on how respectfully or successful the writers were on this storyline so please correct me if I’m wrong about anything I write here.

    I do think people aren’t giving the audience enough credit. Given a lot of them are teenagers- me included- you would be surprised at how understanding and open minded most teenagers are these days. Yes, there are many that aren’t but for a show with such focus on their queer characters being treated equally to the others, you would think the audience that has grown up with this show have been taught to consider characters like Emily, Maya or Paige as not a novelty or a ‘token’ lesbian but just another character, no different from the others.
    Maybe I’m being optimistic- but given all this, I would hope that most viewers would see CeCe in the same way and be able to separate her being trans to her being the villain. I understood immediately that what the writers were trying to convey was that these were completely separate- and from others I’ve spoken to so far they have all understood this too. I can only hope others saw it the same way.

    On another note, it was really interesting to see them turn A into a character that I sympathised with who was more grey than black and white evil, when I was fully expecting to finish the episode with satisfaction for the girls defeating and unmasking A- although it may have been more satisfying to have someone to hate.

  72. Thank you, Heather, for taking the time to process this so soon after the finale- it helped me a lot to feel that I wasn’t having to stew in my wonderings and feelings without a place here on Autostraddle to read and post and process.

    Thank you even more Heather, and Mey, for having the response to this episode be in large part an amplification of trans voices. One of the things that has been making me the most upset these last few days, actually, has been reading so many responses all over the internet that claim to find answers to and evaluations of this episode without including/considering trans voices as part of those answers and evaluations.

    I have SUCH mixed feelings about this reveal, and am comforted to see such a spectrum of them represented by and in you all as well.

    I do wonder, and would love to hear any/everyone’s opinions on this: Does the treatment of Charlotte’s character in the show going forward affect your opinions and evaluations about the reveal? Because I can imagine that there will be opportunities for the writers to affirm more explicitly the non-relationship between Charlotte’s violence and the fact that she’s trans. I hope they take those opportunities– While they don’t excuse some of the problems already present, I do think they could help viewers (especially young viewers) to integrate this storyline in healthier ways.

  73. For a few years now, my exposure to PLL has been limited to Heather’s recaps…at some point, I grew tired of the shell game that was the A reveal and just stopped watching. But this post reminded me of something I wrote in response to the killing of Maya St. Germain at the end of Season 3:

    …I don’t think there was anything sinister about Marlene King, et. al. killing Maya…but also I don’t think the absence of sinister intent excuses anything. I mean, how do you distinguish sinister intent from non-sinister intent when the outcomes are always the same? At some point, shouldn’t we ask people who we believe know better to aspire to something greater than recycling tropes created by people who definitely did not know better?

    Obviously, the circumstances here are very different, but the overall point remains. I’m disappointed that in the intervening years, the writers haven’t gotten better…that they haven’t learned that just being there, and being trans or a queer woman of color, isn’t sufficient enough. Being well-intentioned is great, but it doesn’t excuse repeatedly using harmful tropes and not listening and learning from their informed audience.

  74. It has taken me a few days to process and to be fair I’m probably not done with it yet. Overall I’m leaning towards positive from both a story line and political point of view. People above have pretty much listed the reasons far better than I can but a few points.

    1) The follow up on this is absolutely key. This being the half-season finale kind of hurts it in some ways. Obviously this is a good time for a reveal from a “entertainment” point of view. But on the other hand we have to wait months to see how Charlotte is dealt with in the future. I think my total perspective on this won’t be clear until we get to the end of the story.

    2) I think we need to give the younger viewers of the show a little more credit than I’ve seen floating around the Internet. I have several students ranging from 15-17 who are fans and we will talk about the show before and after class. All of them seem to have concluded that Charlotte’s actions were a result of the lack of support, neglect,and abuse of her parents. Granted, it is a small sample size but for them they have made no link between Charlotte being a trans woman and her actions as A in terms of it being a “cause.”

  75. It wouldn’t have worked if CeCe was Ali’s older sister, because Daddy D was looking for an excuse to get ride of Charlie. His gender issues were the root of that, and Charlie’s innocent treatment of Alison got the blame.
    Also, I don’t think anyone who watched the finale thought that Charlie was bad (unlike Hogan, I’m not using Charlotte because he was Charlie in the beginning). The way he was abandoned and then treated during the Radley stay is what warped Charles to become the person who could kill or torment others. The fact that he became she (Charlotte) and CeCe at some point is irrelevant to that and I think the audience gets that. Most of the PLL audience isn’t even aware of the “tropes” of lesbians or bi women or trans people being villainous, so let’s not assume they view things the same way older gay women do. Of course, I’m basing that on assuming the majority are younger viewers with some older viewers too.
    Still some questions left to answer, of course … who killed Jessica, why was CeCe (as A) texting Alison before she went missing in the first place? She explained why she went after Ali’s friends after they died, but did I miss the part about why she was doing it to Ali originally?

    • Charlotte might not (or might, even) have chosen a name then, but she was clearly not a boy. Gtfo

  76. The only item that was suddenly shed in a positive light during this entire debacle was Radley.

    For as terrible a place as it was, they actually provided Charlotte with proper Trans related medical care.

  77. Don’t tell me this character wasn’t named “CeCe” because of CeCe McDonald. Someone on that writing staff read about her and decided “CeCe” was a name for a transgender character. Which makes it doubly disgusting a trans woman who was attacked on the street, made the fall person and forced to be in a men’s prison for protecting herself from a white-power, nazi sympathizer provided the name for PLL’s imaginary trans woman homicidal maniac.

    ABC family is a network for tweens and teens. To put this garbage on a channel for that age group is out and out transphobic propaganda (I wonder how the people in this thread would feel if the character was revealed to be a ‘killer lesbian?’ To pretend there was anything well-intentioned, containing a “silver lining” or sophistication to this storyline is shameful and clueless.

    • I really, really hope not, but the timing fits :/ I just looked up the dates after reading your comment and the first episode Cece Drake/Dilaurentis was in aired a month and a half after Cece McDonald’s trial ended

      • I personally highly doubt they had this arch planned from when Cece was introduced in season three, but if they did there is no way this is a coincidence.

  78. Every day since the reveal I feel like I find something else offensive in it. How are we supposed to interpret CeCe choosing to reveal herself to the plls as Charles? That was an important thing for her. She wanted them to know her. She wanted them to know her as a man. What are they trying to say about her gender with that? CeCe’s worst acts came when presenting herself as Charles. That makes a direct connection to CeCe being trans and CeCe being insane/evil. The show should want to avoid that connection not highlight it.

    When I watched Buffy the show was already long over and I knew a lot of major plot points going in but I suspect this reveal feels a lot like what it would have felt like to watch Tara die live. The betrayal.

    I watch shows directed at females (which are 90% teen dramas) because I feel like they respect me and people like me. But after Maya and Shana and now this? Does pll even want lgbt women as an audience?

    • I don’t think she necessarily wanted them to identify her as a guy, she wanted them to know who she was. If she’s left “Charlotte” clues, they’d never know who she was. No living person knew about Charlotte Dilaurentis. By leaving “Charles” clues, her father would figure it out. (And this is all based on the idea that Charlotte was the one who had the girls in the Dollhouse, which I don’t think is true.)

      Regarding the name CeCe, I always thought it was a play on CC, carbon copy. It was always like CeCe and Alison were copies of each other. That’s how I’ve interpreted it.

  79. Thanks for this analysis, it really put into words a lot of the ambivalence I was feeling about the episode. I still am conflicted, but hope that perhaps if they keep CeCe on as a character, they could actually grow her story arc in meaningful ways.

    I am constantly going to bat for Pretty Little Liars as a series grossly undervalued in the contemporary media landscape. I love the way the show plays with narrative, gender, technology, and identity. The fact that most pop-culture critics/self-proclaimed intelligent viewers overlook the series just speaks to the misogynist taste hierarchies that still pervade our society. I just really hope that after the time-jump, Pretty Little Liars continues to be a show I root for, despite the concerning plot twist with CeCe.

  80. The more time passes, the worse this entire situation has sat with me. Part of it due to certain offensive things Marlene has said to try to defend it (For example the following quote from the People article: “King, 53, acknowledges that writing a transgender character as evil could cause backlash. Still, she stands by the trailblazing twist, pointing out that it makes sense out of A’s obsession with dolls.”)

    Initially I did consider Heather and Mey’s comments about possible ways to see the situation positively, but what I keep coming back to is that without the show having multiple Trans characters to strike a counterbalance that entire argument is really lost in context.

    Yes, Cis or Trans, we all deal with abuse differently. But with this being the sole piece of Trans representation in the story along with the overwhelming history of villain/psychotic Trans characters, all this does is reinforce the idea that this is the only way Trans people deal with Transmisogyny.

    In a sense, the audience isn’t necessarily coming away with “Trans people should be treated with dignity and respect because we’re human and deserve it”; they’re coming away with “Respect Trans people otherwise they’ll end up stalk/torture/kidnap/murdering people”.

    I appreciate that there can be a positive way to create a Trans villain, but without other aspects of Trans representation in a story, there really is no positive way to spin a Trans villain.

    What I keep coming back to is this:

    “No one is saying you can’t create a Trans Magneto, but if you do if you need to also include a Trans Professor X”.

  81. I waiting until Friday to watch the finale with a friend and managed to stay spoiler free the whole time. We were playing a really fun drinking game we had invented for the finale, but immediately after the trans reveal we got really tense and started drinking mostly to pacify all the strange feelings we were feeling. In all the years of watching a show thats meant to be scary and confusing, this was the moment I felt the most scared and confused. I watched with bated breath feeling so scared of where they were going to take it. Most of the commenters have already said what I wanted to say, but it bears repeating: the choice to make A trans relied on damaging tropes and you cannot write a trans character that fits all those tropes while failing to write any other trans characters that defy those tropes.

    we cannot pretend this isn’t damaging. I read this recap the day after it was posted and the listed number of trans murders this year was already an old statistic because several deaths had happened in between the publishing of this article and my reading of it. THIS. IS. NOT. OKAY.

    What really gets me is the smugness of the writers in their post-reveal interviews. The way the just barely acknowledge the criticism and pat themselves on the back because A is murderous AND trans, not murderous BECAUSE she is trans. No. Try harder.

    The writers of PLL have done a lot of wonderful things on this show. They have written some fascinating and vibrant queer and female characters. But, dear writers, YOU DID NOT EARN THIS ENDING. your writing up to the reveal was sloppy and duplicitous and, upon retrospect, incredibly offensive. This ending was NOT EARNED. Try harder and do better, writers. Maybe try consulting at least one trans person before attempting a storyline like this too. Just a suggestion.

    Heather and Mey, thank you for this recap. It was like neosporin. We all needed it.

    Also, let’s keep talking about this. We need to keep talking about this. The show isn’t over yet, they are still writing it, and the writers definitely have shown that they listen to fans and read our articles and tweets. If we keep talking about this we may have a chance to get them to turn this ship around, to make things right, to try and be better.

  82. I just listened to the roundtable with Heather, Jacob Clifton, and the Bros Watch PLL Too dudes and I really enjoyed it and better understood the various positions on the finale, but I still have one major, nagging concern.

    I should preface this by saying that I have LOVED this show beyond measure, and I love Heather’s recaps, and I love all the amazing queer/feminist analysis that this show has spawned. I think Heather did a great job of talking about her ambivalent response, but in the end, I found myself thinking:

    Heather has said that she really wants to defer to trans women’s readings of the episode, which I really appreciate. But then in this podcast she also says that all but one trans woman she’s spoken to found this episode hurtful. So then, how can she say that the show ultimately “threaded the needle” successfully? If the vast majority of trans women speaking on this issue have said that it’s damaging and hurtful, how can we as cisgendered women who want to privilege trans voices say that the show succeeded (in any respect) in avoiding a transphobic narrative?

    Again, I say this to everyone, Heather included, with love and solidarity, but I just feel really wrong with trying to pull something redeeming from this episode when so many trans women are hurting from it.

  83. I enjoyed the recap.

    However I do think you underestimate the audience.

    For all intents and purposes A was “the silence” and “it” and “an asshole” and “a bitch” and “the abyss” and “Mona” and “Ezra” and “Shauna” and “the wind” and “Allison” and “Melissa” and “Wren” etc… up until this season.

    Then we realize A is Charles.

    Then we realize Charles is Charlotte / Cece.

    I didn’t at all get a sense that anyone on the show was calling Cece “it” or “Charles” etc… after we realized she was Cece.

    I mean… Cece might be called a bitch, but… Hannah is just upset she terrorized them for all of high school.

    I also thought this episode redeemed Jessica DiLaurentis. She was a loving a mother married to an ass of a husband who literally rid their family of Cece for something ALMOST ALL SIBLINGS HAVE DONE.

    Hell I was 2 and accidentally almost ended my little sister.

    So it was clear Cece was sent away for not conforming and not for the bathtub incident.

    #NoCountryForKenneth !

    • Funny how quickly everybody jumps on the blame train to pin all this A shit on one of Alison’s parents and not the actual perpetrator. It reminds me of all those school shootings where all everyone reports in the news is how ‘sweet’ and ‘gentle’ the shooter was and then they go on to pin the crime on something unrelated like video games or porn or whatever. Cece wasn’t A because she was abandoned by Kenneth for not conforming. Cece was A because she felt entitled to torture those girls. Because she decided that this was gonna be her pound of flesh. Her story-if we can even believe it- had nothing to do with her misdeeds. It wasn’t Kenneth she was after, or Jessica, or Jason, it was Alison she was fixated on and her friends that she tortured, who never did anything to her.

  84. The thing is though, I DON’T for a second believe Charlotte’s story.

    I believe she put on an act in order to plead for leniency down the line because she wanted to give up the game now that the liars were going to college in order to lull them into a false sense of security.

    I believe she put on a show in order to get the liars to empathise or sympathise with her so somewhere down the line they’ll be amenable to any requests she had for leniency.

    I do not for a second believe that she was 12ish when Marion Cavanaugh died. I don’t believe Bethany killed her either. I believe she scapegoated Bethany on purpose because she was dead and couldn’t stand up for herself and because painting her as a monster not only paints herself as more sympathetic and victimised but also lets her set up more noble intentions for hitting Alison with that rock. She can claim she was being defensive, thinking she was Bethany, a loose cannon out to hurt Alison. Pushing Marion off the roof is a long stretch from throwing a bucket at Alison’s mom though and Cece has shown her personal homicidal tendencies on more than one occasion. She murdered Wilden, had people killed and has been personally responsible for several deathtraps that nearly took the lives of the liars. Why is everyone just taking her words as canon?

    She said she didn’t try to hurt Alison, just give her a bath. She also refers to what she did to the liars as playing with her dolls. So who’s to say her version of bathing Alison didn’t involve strangling her or smothering her or drowning her in the tub? Paige copped more flack for dunking Emily than Cece has for nearly drowning Alison or drowning Jenna or any of the other crimes she commited. She always has someone else to blame but with that argument you can stretch the blame back to the original cavemen.

    At what point is the individual going to be held accountable? Because I’ve seen this argument with Alison a lot as well. Oh, it’s her parents that taught her to lie and they’re the reason she’s an absolute bastard in the future because they got her to lie once. Completely diminishing all she did, and placing all the blame squarely on her dad and mom’s shoulders. Is it also Pam’s fault that Emily treated Paige like shit in season four? I mean, Wayne is never around so it can’t be him, can it?

    Paige fucked up. She acknowledged she fucked up. She apologised and made amends and fought hard to become a better person and not fuck up anymore. Alison fucked up. She blamed everyone else for her problems and felt sorry for herself, sooking all over the place about how unfortunate her life is and how her suffering is more important than everyone else’s because it’s happening to her. Cece did the same. Both Alison and Cece blamed everyone else for their problems and bad decisions and tried to play the victim card and that’s why I don’t trust or like either of them.

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