Previously on Pretty Little Liars, Hanna and Aria and Emily and Spencer returned to Rosewood at the behest of Ali to testify in Charlotte’s trial. Everyone said they weren’t scared of Charlotte anymore, except for Aria, and then they all retired to Radley (it’s a bar now) to get blitzed and pass out like they did in the barn the night Ali kept getting murdered in high school. Only this time it was a five star hotel and Charlotte is the one who who was killed.
The Liars hop back into debrief mode like they never left this town. For starters, in case you missed it, there are two new men in their worlds: a Liam and a … dammit, I already forgot the other one’s name. Taylor? Aiden? Logan? Jackson? Oh! Jordan. A Liam and a Jordan. One of them belongs to Hanna and one of them belongs to Aria and potentially neither of them have revealed to these fiancés and boyfriends that they spent all twenty years of high school getting stalked and buried and breaking into hospitals and asylums and doll warehouses and throwing people’s therapy files into the river. Spencer doesn’t have a fiancé because every time she is on a date in D.C., Mona shows up, I think. And Emily also doesn’t have a fiancé because she is in the grip of Death.
After being out of college for one single year, every Liar (with the exception of Emily, who is more likely to catch Bubonic Plague than a break) has enjoyed astronomical career successes. Interns? No, sir! Spencer is a high powered lobbyist on The Hill, Aria is a wildly successful book publisher, and Hanna is something about a magazine. They all want to return to their jobs but also they want to abide by the law and submit themselves for questioning about Charlotte’s murder.
As much as we all would love to pretend that Sara Harvey has never existed, we cannot. And for reasons about which I am completely unclear. Everyone’s doing a fine job pretending Paige never existed. The Liars keep talking wacakdoodle smackadoodle about, “Oh, what if Sara tells the cops what we did to her?” And, “Do you think she really has a brain cloud and can’t remember her role as deus ex machina in the #SummerOfAnswers?” And, “Why won’t she take off those gloves?” She also keeps creepin’ around, wearing a veil, trying to be the new Jenna Marshall, glaring and scowling and there’s a servant with her at all times.
Aria is the one who decides to return to her work in Boston, but not before Hanna accosts her and tells her she knows Aria sneaked her ass right out of the hotel the night Charlotte was killed, and only hours after being the only one to testify that she didn’t want Charlotte to get out the hospital, and so.
Ali visits Rosewood PD HQ, once her home away from home, and finds out the details of Charlotte’s death, which, again, the writers treat with all the aplomb of a shovel to the face. Our Trans Editor, Mey Rude, and I watched together as best we could last night, and here are some thoughts and feelings she had:
If they’re going to use the murder of a trans woman to make money and create entertainment, they should also acknowledge that trans women were murdered in the U.S. at a rate of one every other week last year. It’s weird, because on this show murder is something that happens really often, but when a trans woman is murdered, you can’t just treat it like any other murder on a TV show. I’m not saying that one murder is worse than another, but when a show has one trans character and they murder her, they’re sending a specific message. When a trans woman is murdered anywhere in the U.S., it makes all other trans women feel less safe, it makes all of us afraid, it makes all of us sad.
If PLL took place in the real world, Charlotte’s murder would have been written about here on Autostraddle, and on dozens of other websites. On the show, they mention that her murder is being talked about on some “blogs” and Twitter, but it would be much bigger than that. It would have ramifications that would change the lives of trans women all around the country. So I’d like it if the show would treat Charlotte’s murder like that.
How great would it be in PLL used this storyline to do something good? Spencer, being the savvy politically-minded person she is, could talk about ways to help trans women, donating to the SRLP or TLC or local trans organizations and fighting for politicians to protect trans rights. Emily, being a queer woman, could talk about how her community is affected by Charlotte’s murder and every other murder of a trans woman. Ali, being Charlotte’s sister, could talk about how the trans women who are being murdered are people who deserve love and happiness. And at the end of the episode they could show links to places where viewers can donate to help trans women while we’re alive. Pretty Little Liars has a chance to help, they should take it.
Unfortunately, this conversation was muddled from the start because trans women are murdered ALL THE TIME for NO REASON. But on this show, while Charlotte was getting killed, the Liars were sitting in a bar and calling her a psycho in eleven different ways because, hey, guess what, she locked them in a life-size doll house and tortured them. (Ridiculous trans trope number one: All trans women are insane, duplicitous villains!) And when you’re killing her and making Ezra Fitz into a hero; making Ezra Fitz express outrage that “people like Charlotte” never face consequences; giving Ezra Fitz, who stalked and preyed on his own students, a sympathetic backstory and the chance to stay alive and be redeemed, you’re whispering a really ugly thing into the world: “The trans girl deserved it.”
One of the best and most important things I read last year was an article in New York Magazine called “Why Do We Humanize White Men Who Kill People?” You should read it, the whole thing, at least twice. This part, especially, is ringing in my ears right now:
This point, made so sharply by Watkins, is a serious argument for why — even in this season of gibbering about over-the-top political correctness — we must acknowledge the real costs of small injuries perpetrated by institutions and pop culture, simply by continuing to put white men at life’s fulcrum. It matters because it shows us all the ways in which we live in a world made for and shaped around white men. And in aggregate, when the statues are of white men, the buildings and cities and bridges and schools are named after white men, the companies are run by white men and the movie stars are white men and the television shows are about white men and the celebrated authors are white men, the only humanity that is presented as comprehensible — the kind that succeeds and fails, that comprises strength and weakness, that feels love and anger and alienation and fear, that embodies nuance and contradiction, that can be heroic and villainous, abusive and gentle — is the humanity of white men. The repercussions of this kind of thinking? Well, maybe they explain some of what we see on the evening news.
Ezra will never face consequences. And to take that a step further, Ezra will get to walk around in a wounded, self-righteous huff making a distinction between himself and “people like Charlotte” and the audience will believe him, because we live in a real world where we manufacture reasons to believe white men didn’t commit the crimes they obviously committed, and where people of color and women (and trans women of color, especially) are punished for simply existing.
Blarg. Why are you doing this, show? WHY.
Hanna’s fiance, Jordan, is rich and British (UPDATE: he is Australian; my inability to tell men apart extends to accents, apparently; everyone sounds vaguely British?) and he meets her at her hotel with all kinds of New York delicacies and tells her she doesn’t have to worry about getting caught up in the time-warp and zany police shenanigans and murder escapades of Rosewood, PA ever again. Okay, he’s a white man with money and he’s going to fix this thing and they’re going to fly home to New York have sushi and get massages and … whatever people do on the Upper East Side. Count their diamonds and groom their unicorns. Well, Hanna thinks that all sounds very good and she cannot wait to get out of here and return to her life of majesty in the thriving first class industry of magazine publishing.
After blowing off a visit to the cemetery with her mom to see her dad’s grave, Emily heads over to Hollis Medical Center to get some kind of mystery blood treatments. The doctor is confused about how she lives in Rosewood and Malibu and San Diego all at the same time, and Emily explains that she’s still in school and also a bartender and also she had to come to Pennsylvania to weave a hundred lies and check in on the lesbian colony she started in high school. The doctor says Emily really needs to stay in one place to finish her mystery treatments and Emily says she will do that because she really just needs this thing to work.
As if that’s not horrible enough, when she arrives at the parking meter, post-op, her credit card isn’t working and she doesn’t have any cash. So she’s dying and she’s broke! Luckily, Sabrina (from the Brew, the one with the pot gummies that almost got Toby killed by tennis balls in that arcade that time) arrives with a couple of dollars and a half-queer (at least) smile in Emily’s general direction.
Emily follows her to the Brew, where Sabrina is the manager now, because I don’t know if you’ve heard but Ezra cannot even percolate a cup of coffee anymore because something sad happened to him.
Emily: Hey, uh, I’m sure you noticed I’m Pretty, but I’m wondering if you heard I’m also a Little Liar?
Sabrina: Is that code for something gay?
Emily: No. My gayness is the least coded thing about me. What I mean is, I’m going to need you to lie if anyone comes in here and asks you if you saw me leaving the cancer hospital.
Sabrina: Ahhh. Yeah, you know, I had cancer too. It was very scary. I didn’t want to have to lean on people, but it helped me heal when I did.
Emily: My thing is maybe cancer, but also maybe it’s yellow fever or Ebola or my literal blood is infected with some kind of post-apocalyptic hemorrhaging fever poison.
Ezra Fitz: [stumbles down the stairs in a drunken stupor, knocks Sabrina over as he smashes his way out the door to throw up in the street] SOME PEOPLE HAVE REAL PROBLEMS, EMILY!
Things aren’t going so well for Veronica Hastings (relatively speaking). Apparently, some bloggers got wind of the fact that another girl got murdered in Rosewood and even though she wasn’t technically buried in Veronica’s tulip patch this time, Veronica did have a connection to her, due to she was sisters with one of the girls who was buried in Veronica’s tulip patch one time (before being resurrected) and also the sister of her husband’s bastard son who is infamous for being both the first man to survive a head transplant and the first man to survive falling down an elevator shaft. Hot takes are everywhere on Twitter! Caleb arrives to do damage control. At first he offers to rig the voting machines (which, while impressive, has nothing on rigging a receipt machine to print out an entire college application essay), but then decides to just work some hacker magic to produce thousands of retweets with a different spin on Veronica’s murder web.
Spencer thanks him with a flirtatious smile!
Her grin doesn’t last for long, though, because she soon realizes that the specific way Charlotte was killed is the exact way Spencer wrote about in one of her criminal justice classes in an essay on how to commit a perfect crime, and now she’s sure she’s going to be framed for Charlotte’s murder. Which: Hahahaha! A perfect crime! Spencer still doesn’t even know to shut the blinds when she’s dragging a dead body around her living room! She’s never even worn gloves to pick a lock! Her DNA is all over every piece of forensic evidence in the entire Rosewood PD HQ vault! The perfect crime! That’s like Lexa writing a paper on the subtle intricacies of empathetic interpersonal human communication. Like Shaw writing a paper about playing by the rules. Like Jessica Jones writing a paper on how not to be gay for Trish Walker.
In Boston, Aria canoodles with her new beau, Liam. On the sly. Because their office romance is forbidden. Oh, Aria. She tells him she saw Ezra Fitz when she was in Rosewood and he’s decided to give back the advance on his book because he’s too stricken with manpain to write anything of substance at the moment. When their boss calls them into a meeting and Aria reveals this tidbit, her boss assigns Liam to the case immediately, assuming that a little man-to-man rebel rousing is what Ezra needs to get his blood stirring. Aria protests that Liam is twenty years too old to get Ezra’s blood stirring, and that if she can just have another couple of days, she’ll get something out of him. She’ll dye her hair pink again, if she has to, okay? She’ll kill a pigeon and make some earrings, just like the old days. She’ll pretend she doesn’t understand the significance of that green light in Gatsby because nothing makes Ezra happier than Explaining Things To Women.
Both Liam and Aria’s boss know Ezra was her high school teacher; they do not know he was also her chickpea purveyor.
Ali has decided to host a dinner for her friends to suss out which one of them murdered her sister. It’s marvelous, actually. A total Ali move from the days of yore. She says the most passive aggressive pre-meal prayer I have ever heard in my life, seeking Jesus’ council and protection as she roots out the traitor in her midst, quoting various versus from Leviticus about the punishments she is entitled to rain down on the person who betrayed her. But it’s not all vengeance and bloodlust! Everyone gets to meet Jordan for the first time, and it goes just fine. I mean, he bosses Caleb around enough to agitate Spencer — who may or may not have made sweet Ravenclaw love to him on a train in Madrid, years ago after their eyes met across the platform and she was but a lonely scholar and he was a reverted hobo — but mostly everyone’s just thankful Jordan brought a bevy load of booze to share with the group.
Hanna and Caleb tell each other how happy they are for each other that they’re each so well-adjusted. They seem very sincere. I wonder if Hanna knows about Madrid.
After dinner, Emily meets her mom for some coffee and some lies. The problem is that Hollis Medical Center calls and Pam sees it on Em’s phone, so Emily says she’s looking into grad school there, despite the fact that she hasn’t graduated from regular college yet and cannot afford to pay for grad school (or to park her car) because she has used all the money her dad left her to pay the doctors to cure her blood pox. On top of those many worries, Emily sees Aria’s little feets creeping up the stairs to Ezra’s apartment so she has to add that to her plate of troubles.
In said apartment:
Aria: Where’s your book? You’re going to cost me my job.
Ezra: Don’t care.
Aria: Remember when we sneaked around the night Charlotte died? Did you double sneak after I went back to my hotel?
Ezra: Who knows.
Aria: What’s wrong, sweet gentle innocent baby lamb?
Ezra: I’m angry that good guys like me get tortured and bad guys like Charlotte get to walk around with no repercussions.
Aria: Oh, okay.
Ezra: And I blame you, the victim, for the fact of guys like me, the predator, being miserable.
Aria: Our wedding is going to be so romantic and the TV event of the season!
The Liars minus Aria gather round to watch security footage of Aria and Ezra doing their wanderings on the night Charlotte died. Aria tells them later that Ezra for sure didn’t go home because he didn’t look at her when he told her he went home and he’s always not looking at her when he’s lying, which, amazingly, means that he must not have made eye contact with her for the first two years of their relationship. Oh, if only Spencer hadn’t written that Perfect Crime essay! Well, Hanna goes right ahead and deletes the security footage, which will of course result in footage of her deleting the security footage being layered over footage of Caleb and Spencer boning on the Spain train, and the end product being projected onto the jumbotron at the next Eagles game.
Ali skips on down to the police station and tells Lorenzo she thinks one of the Liars killed Charlotte.
Emily visits her dad’s grave and breaks my heart into ten thousand pieces, sobbing and telling him about how she didn’t finish school and she’s dying of the cholera of the brain and she’s trying to make it right, and then she hears a crackle and looks over and sees Sara Harvey standing in the graveyard too and my heart mends itself back together in the shape of a cold, black, impenetrable rock.
Thank you to Nicole (@PLLBigA) for the screencaps and for trying to hard to convince me, weekly, that Emily is going to be okay.