The Inexplicable De-Gaying of “Pretty Little Liars”

One thing high school TV shows and long-game mystery TV shows have in common is a limited shelf life. The actors on high school shows age out of looking like teenagers (in large part because they were probably in their 20s when they were first cast to play tenth graders), and audiences have limited patience when it comes to solving mysteries. Another thing those two types of shows have in common is the unlikelihood that they’ll be able to move past their early concepts. It’s rare for a beloved high school show to make a successful leap to college or beyond. And it’s just as unusual for audiences to get invested in a second long-game mystery, after the initial one has been solved.

The original sexually self-aware dead blonde girl show, Twin Peaks, couldn’t sustain its momentum; and neither could its progeny, Veronica Mars. So it’s no surprise that Pretty Little Liars, the heir to both of those series, struggled to find its way in season 6B, after unveiling the answer it had been wildly zig-zagging toward for six years, and aging its characters into adulthood.

What is surprising — shocking, actually; and deeply disappointing; and, frankly, inexplicable — is the fact that Pretty Little Liars completely de-gayed itself in the process of leaping forward.

Queer women have always graded TV on a curve. We know, for example, that lesbian and bisexual characters are not going to enjoy the same kind of physical intimacy as the straight characters on the same show. Their hair will block their faces when they kiss, or the lights will be off, or they’ll be standing in shadows, or the shot will be wide, or their mouths will be closed, or the editor will be forced to cut away almost immediately after their lips touch. And we know that queer relationships aren’t going to get as much screen time as straight ones, or be given the same weight or importance. We know a lesbian or bisexual woman’s love interest will never be folded into the larger narrative of the show, the way a male love interest would.

All of those things have been true on Pretty Little Liars. Yes, Emily had handful of sweeping romantic moments during the five seasons the show took her love life seriously. I can count them off for you like the birth stories of my own children. The night Maya got sent away to rehab and Emily’s friends built a candled wonderland for them to say goodbye. The night Paige stumbled out of the closet and onto Emily’s window seat. The night Maya made Emily an imaginary underwater paradise to comfort her after she was kicked off the swim team. The night Emily caressed Paige’s face and told her not to look away as she confessed her feelings. The night Alison decided to stop pretending she was kissing Emily for practice. The night Paige flew away to Stanford. And, most notably, Paige and Emily’s night by the window in the 100th episode, a black and white fever dream.

And that’s the rub. Emily’s romantic scenes weren’t as frequent or intense as the ones between the other Liars and their boyfriends. Her girlfriends hardly ever participated in the mystery elements of the show, the way the boyfriends did. Her girlfriends hardly ever interacted with the other Liars, the way the boyfriends did. But look at that list: Her romances may not have been treated equally, but they were better than any lesbian teenager we’d ever seen on TV.

All of that changed when season six premiered. Showrunner Marlene King promised viewers that the main mystery would be solved for good by the end of season 6A, and even though the pacing and plotting became more determined, there was still plenty of room for romance between the Liars and the love interests that had been established for them in the show’s first season. They went to prom. They planned for their futures. They came together to make the final push toward unmasking A. Well, everyone except for Emily. Out of her three emotionally resonant love interests: one (Maya) was already dead, one (Paige) was already shipped off to college, and one (Alison) was in a universally loathed relationship with a male character whose presence took all the fire and energy and danger out of her once exciting personality.

Instead of allowing Emily the same emotional beats as the other three main characters and their longtime love interests, Emily was shoved into a last minute relationship with Sara Harvey, who arrived on the show at the very end of the fifth season, and only as a deus ex machina, a catch-all answer to some of the show’s most buzzed about unsolved mysteries. Sara was Red Coat. Sara was Black Widow. Sara was A’s accomplice. Sara was multiple unsatisfying answers, and she was also shoehorned in as Emily’s love interest to try to force some emotional weight onto her story.

Season 6B, which ended last night, did the unthinkable: It completely de-gayed Pretty Little Liars. The three main objectives of this season were for the Liars to find out the identity of their new torturer, to solve the mystery of who killed Charlotte, and to reconcile with their high school boyfriends while tap-dancing around their adult boyfriends. Emily had neither a high school girlfriend to return to, nor an adult girlfriend to tap-dance around. While romance featured more prominently in season 6B than ever before, Emily was not involved in a single romantic scene.

It’s been 24 episodes since Emily had a real love interest. Talia departed in “Bloody Hell,” with four episodes left to go in season five. The longest any other Liar has gone without a love interest is three episodes.

At the Pretty Little Liars panel at New York Comic Con last fall, someone asked the actresses what they would like to change about another character’s storyline. Ashley Benson, who plays Hanna, said that she’d give Emily a boyfriend. A ripple of nervous laughter spread through the room after she answered, not only because Emily had become one of TV’s most beloved and most important lesbian characters, but also because the room was filled with Emison (Alison and Emily) and Paily (Paige and Emily) shippers. I followed them on Twitter as they squealed their excitement while waiting to get into the panel, listened as the chatted happily in every corner of the auditorium about their favorite lesbian ship, and watched person after person ask about Alison and Emily’s future during the Q&A.

Ashley Benson’s answer troubled me at the time, but now I’m starting to wonder if she’d already realized what it took us a whole season to figure out: The only Liars with fan favorite, emotionally engaging relationships in season six were Liars with boyfriends.

The decision to de-gay Pretty Little Liars baffles me more than anything I have ever seen on television. There’s never been any traction on “family friendly” backlash against the lesbian relationships on the show. The loud and proud fandoms surrounding Emily and Alison, Emily and Paige, and Emily and Maya have made their pleas to the writing team as passionately as the straight couple’s fandoms. ABC Family (now Freeform) happily let Pretty Little Liars explore queer relationships for half a decade (including off-screen relationships alluded to between Shana and Paige, and Jenna and Shana; and a whole set dedicated to a lesbian bar). ABC Family even green lit multiple other shows and storylines with lesbian and bisexual characters after Pretty Little Liars‘ revolutionary success.

The Pretty Little Liars writing team engaged both inside the show (with shout-outs and inside jokes) and outside the show with the queer community that live-tweeted weekly with the #BooRadleyVanCullen hashtag. I, personally, have had dozens of conversations with this show’s writers, directors, and producers, in which they’ve expressed such joy about creating so many beloved queer characters. (Though, admittedly, I haven’t spoken to anyone on the creative team since I expressed outrage over their decision to create a trans villain and then murder her.)

For months I’ve been trying to figure out how and why Pretty Little Liars made this choice. Through the middle of season five, Pretty Little Liars featured more lesbian and bisexual characters than any show in TV history, besides The L Word. In the last 24 episodes, it has abandoned that identity — and the queer fans and queer critics who helped catapult it to success — completely. It turns out the biggest mystery of Rosewood might not be the identity of A, after all.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 854 articles for us.

118 Comments

  1. I’ve never watched PLL (was just about to start when they made the big/terrible reveal) and probably never will.

    But this still makes me sad, because I know how much the show/character meant to a lot of people and there’s just no g-ddamn reason to stop giving her romantic storylines NOW.

    Just feels again like a show that is happy to give a queer fandom crumbs to generate online engagement/ratings without actually caring about the fans. After a bit of a gay story line, they can pat themselves on the back and declared how progressive/genius they are for having a queer character and then move on.

    SIGH.

    Great writing, Heather. As much as I hate that you had to write this.

  2. All throughout last night’s episode I kept asking myself “Didn’t this show used to be supper gay? What happened?” I’m really hoping someone gives us some answers.

  3. This might be a really unpopular opinion, but can I offer a possible explanation?

    Is it possible that the seemingly inexplicable de-gaying of Emily this season could be due to the actions of Emaya, Emison, and Paily shippers? Heather, you’ve written yourself in the past how shipper wars in the PLL fandom have gotten completely out of hand, and been subject to some of that behaviour yourself. Is it possible that the PLL writers, after seeing how much the fandom HATED Sara Harvey, just didn’t want to deal with the backlash that would have inevitably occurred if they’d partnered Emily with either Paige, or Alison, or someone completely new, and so just decided not to give her a love interest in 6B?

    I say this because with the straight PLL shippers, there are no such wars. It’s easier to make the fans happy. There’s Ezria, Spoby, and Haleb, and none of those ships really has any legitimate competition. Even this season, with Spaleb happening, it’s been made pretty clear they aren’t endgame.

    Queer fans are insanely passionate – just look at what’s happening in The 100 fandom with Clexa. But sometimes we can go overboard. (And I’m absolutely including myself in this. I’m as guilty as anyone). Maybe the PLL writers just concluded that there was no way to make all the various Emily-shipper fandoms happy, so they decided not to bother even trying.

    Not a happy thought, I know, but it’s the only explanation that makes any kind of sense to me.

    • It’s an interesting theory, but unfortunately, I’ve been on the other end of Ezra shippers hate and it is more ferocious than anything I’ve ever experienced. There might not have been the same kind of ship wars, necessarily, with straight fans, but the outrage and vitriol and passion were there just the same, and in even bigger numbers since there are so many more straight viewers.

      And on the flip side of that, especially with BRVC, queer viewers were offering the smartest, funniest, most insightful commentary on the show, and the writers actually loved engaging with that.

      I just don’t think that’s the answer. 🙁

    • Not saying this is a bad theory and also not justifying ship wars, but maybe the reason wlw ships get into so much drama is because there is, frankly, only one Emily while there are so many Hanna’s or Spencer’s or Aria’s out there. It also doesn’t help when they keep on killing/removing Emily’s love interests, hence giving even more traction for ship wars.

  4. this is so good and thoughtful as always, heather. my personal theory as to the mystery is that the de-gaying is a pretty deliberate and petulant fuck you from a show that thought it was bulletproof and could live without its queer fans, who were increasingly growing used to and demanding higher standards of representation than the show was used to offering.

  5. I have feelings about this.

    Heather started recapping PLL on AE in 2010, when I was 27 and still dating dudes. 2010, when I was so closeted I wouldn’t even bookmark AE on my browser. 2010, when I worried about loaning people the password to my Netflix account in case they saw Queer As Folk in my viewing history.

    Anyway.

    I had always assumed that PLL was just Vapid Fluff, but first I started reading Heather’s recaps, and soon after I started actually watching the show. It was at a time when I was going through queer YA books like they were crack. I was obsessed with adolescence. What would mine have been like if it had been different? If I had been braver, more self-aware? If my childhood had been like Cameron Post’s or Emily Fields, sure, some things would suck, but at least I wouldn’t be stuck in this holding pattern, deflecting all questions about my personal life forever, never having kissed a girl, suffocating.

    I was really hard on myself at that time. For years, over and over, I told my therapist what a coward I was for staying closeted, for not knowing earlier. She told me I wasn’t a coward, and I didn’t believe her.

    But at the same time I was reading HH’s recaps of PLL. I kept reading them, over the years. And Heather was helping me to translate what was ostensibly a silly teen show into a processing session about what life is like, growing up as a queer teenager in this scary patriarchal world. Heather and Emily and Paige, Paige with her bangs and her pools and the self-hatred that, I can only assume, lived like a lump in her throat, a hairshirt she couldn’t take off, Heather and Paige and Emily and that stupid tv show were the ones who taught me that I wasn’t a coward, that I was just a female person who had grown up under the patriarchy and internalized its tricks and pitfalls, been conditioned by its violence, everything.

    I grew up (finally). I came out (mostly). I forgave myself, because there was nothing to forgive myself for. I fell in love (more than once). And of course that’s not all because of Pretty Little Liars. But when I look back on my journey, PLL and HH’s recaps are an inextricable part of my queer and feminist evolution, and that’s something I will never be able to explain to most people, but you all will understand.

    The show that’s on now, though? It’s a totally different show. It’s lost what made it special. It’s harmed the kind of people it used to help. What a total bummer, what a waste. I’ll miss it.

  6. There was something especially sad about this last night, when all of the Liars were reuniting with their old boyfriends and navigating shit with their new boyfriends and all coming together to work on this last mystery and this last plan together… while Emily took Allison, her crush from high school, to the hospital with platonic ease and then showed up as the seventh wheel for the last scene (well, 6th because Hanna, but you know what I mean). I just don’t understand why when every single character got new boyfriends AND old boyfriends for 6B, Emily couldn’t get one or the other.

    Anyway, well said.

    • Riese, it was literally right up until the moment when Emily took Ali to the hospital that I thought this was all a set up for an Emison reunion. And I don’t even necessarily like Emison! But, with the theme of the night appearing to be “reacquainting hook ups with high school loves”, and Emily was volunteering to be a care taker to her own first love, I thought for sure that the story was going to end in an Emily/Allison reunion kiss at the very least.

      It felt like such an organic place for their story to go after what each went through separately in 6b, taking care of each other (and it would have allowed Emily + Ali to join the night’s Pretty Little Cheater Club along w/ Aria and Hannah). It would have changed so little about the outcome of the story, Ali would have still had visions of Wilden and her mom, setting up the final twin and evil Dr. Rollins reveal. Hannah could have still been kidnapped. But, as a bonus Emily could have brought Ali with her (post- hook up) to the motel so that she could be wrapped into the mystery for next year. And it would have been a satisfying pay off after sufficiently degaying both characters for most of the season. I get that Ali had to somehow be conned out of the Carissimi group, but they could have done that easily via her marriage to Dr. Rollins, she could have given him his shares after the honeymoon because dealing with it reminded her too much of her sister. Easy fix! And gives Emily a love interest who is core to very fabric of the show and is already a fan favorite.

      But instead Emily agrees to have Ali committed, when it was clear that something was up. And in that moment I knew that PLL had no intention of being honest or fair or equal to its queer audience. It’s too deliberate at this point to look the other way.

      I heard a rumor on twitter that Paige is confirmed for season 7. But at this point, I’m not sure I’ll hang around for it. Between making Charlotte a transvilian, then degaying Emily, and removing all of Ali’s backbone- it seems pretty clear the story and messages that the PLL team wants to tell. And I don’t have to stick around to watch it unfold.

      • Also the violent murder of Charlotte at a time when the murder rate of trans women in real life is so very high! Ugh. Just, ugh. It’s all awful.

        (And the fact that even I could see the Emison storyline right in front of me, when I am not a paid professional writer and was always more of a Paily fan anyway, is just glaring to me. They aren’t going there simply because they are CHOOSING not to. There is no other justification. And I don’t have to reward bad choices.)

          • “#TeamTrump p.s. Whoever wins, Same shizz, different timeline. Let’s break the whole thing down and start over…. ?”

            “Are you not aware all PLL fandom will see this ?”

            “Omg, they will??!?!? Will anyone without PLL super fandom powers be able to decipher said hashtag also?? #TeamTrump”

            “#teamtrump means whatever you want it to mean, since obviously I’m saying it for you!”

            “I’m retiring. Adios. I hope everyone makes their money and can sleep successfully & peacefully & all of it in one basket. ????????”

            “You people are fucking ridiculous good night good bye learn to fly by yourselves. Adios”

            “Donald Trump, you deserve this place!!!! #TeamTrump”

  7. I’ve never watched PLL, but this was an enlightening read.
    Even at age 49, I can still get enjoyment out of coming of age stories on tv, in movies and in books, and I’m always disappointed when the powers that be treat queer characters with so little regard. I thing the negative impact is much more substantial on younger audiences.

    I do have to say though, that I’m finding the Shonda Rhymes shows to be far more inclusive, respectful and all around positive when it comes to creating fully realized gay characters that are actually intrinsic to the plot lines. From Arizona and Callie on Grey’s Anatomy (both pre and post breakup), to Cyrus on Scandal, and Annalise and Eve (i love that storyline) and Conner and Oliver on How to Get Away With Murder, these are all complex, adult, characters. I think there was a learning curve for Shonda, to be sure, with some early missteps, and there’s still room for improvement when it comes to tit for tat, so to speak, in the sex scenes, but overall, i come away from those shows feeling “a part of” the cultural fabric rather than “apart from.”

    The same can be said for Orphan Black and all the good vibes emanating from there (yes, Delphine died -maybe – but not before cosima had started to find some happiness with a new flame.) and Orange Is the New Black.

    Anyway — during this depressing time of divisive politics, clexa fiascos, and sometimes unbearable negativity, it might make us all feel better to hand out some Atta Girls as well some well deserved WTFs!!!

  8. I finally got to the end of 6A the other night. It just felt kinda sad for a show that’s had ups and downs but had never stalled out like this. Finding out that they unambiguously killed off Charlotte ended most of my desire to watch anymore of it, but it sounds like even I’d kept up with it there wouldn’t have been much point. Had Paige come back or something similar, I’d be a lot more willing to give it a chance.
    The stalling-out has really been going since Paige left though. The storyline where her and Caleb were teamed up to figure out what was going on with their girlfriends was GREAT and it was just dropped like any of a variety of tertiary storylines throughout the show. Imagine if it had had the focus that the Ezra/Caleb/Toby team-up at the end of S5 did.
    It’s really frustrating too, because there are TONS of interesting storylines and conflicts they could have between a repentant Charlotte and pissed off Liars and someone else (Ezra?) starting a stalking campaign. There’s plenty of drama to mine for another season without killing the one fucking trans character on the show.

  9. Did we actually see Talia ever leave though?

    Last I knew, she was staying at Emily’s, and then she just didn’t get mentioned again.

    So maybe Emily goes home to empanadas every night after all 😉

  10. You’re honestly surprised that the same show that used an incredibly offensive trans trope (sprinkled with transphobic slurs) and then killed off a trans character instead of developing her character further… You’re surprised that this show doesn’t actually validate lesbian relationships the way it does straight ones?!

    You know what, I don’t expect PLL, or any show for that matter, to cater to and validate our community. Call me cynical, but that’s not their job. Their job is to entertain the largest audience possible. Most American viewers don’t give a shit about our authentic representation. They only want queer characters when we serve as a plot twist, tokenized diversity displays, or eye candy. Tbh, I’m not even disappointed in shows like PLL anymore because I’ve stopped expecting anything of them. I’ve decided to not expect shit from such shows so I don’t end up disappointed. I enjoy a number of shows that are entertaining and have little to no queer represention. I watcj those shows for other reasons. If I want queer representation specifically, I turn to the few programs that were designed for us (L Word, Orange is the New Black).

    • Yeah, the valuing of this show and the decision to not recap it because it’s not gay enough but continuing to recap it after it falls into every trans woman trope there is to have is still something I’m struggling with.

      • Well, but we have continued to recap this show despite it falling into every lesbian/bisexual trope as well. Bury Your Gays? PLL did that not once, but twice. Psychotic lesbian? Check. Depraved bisexual? Check. Lesbian kisses a dude? Check. Just as we recapped Glee until the end, even though it fell into so many lesbian, bisexual, and trans tropes. Just as Riese is sticking it with Faking It, despite the same. I have continued to recap The Fosters this season, even though it includes a bisexual predator story. And, honestly, this website was founded because of Riese staying with The L Word, despite multiple instances of it digging its way into harmful or cliched lesbian/bisexual tropes. (Yet, she never backed down on speaking to its flaws, and in doing so, giving queer women a place to talk about both the exciting and troubling elements of the show, forcing the writers to engage with criticism, and pushing the broader cultural conversation forward.)

        If we stop watching and recapping/reviewing TV shows every time they step into harmful tropes, there will literally be nothing left for us to watch or recap. The only thing we can do is continue to highlight what we love about a story and continue to write thoroughly and critically about what we find unacceptable. I treated PLL’s harmful trans decisions the same way that I treated PLL’s harmful lesbian/bisexual decisions: by writing about them repeatedly, talking about them on social media, answering questions about them in multiple interviews, and urging the writers to do better. (I turn down interview requests all the time because I am really self-conscious about my weird southern accent and nervous about talking to people in person, but in the wake of the Charlotte reveal, I accepted every interview request so I could talk about how harmful that decision was to every corner of the internet. I’m not saying that so you’ll give me a cookie; I just want you to know that I went further with my criticism of the Charlotte storyline than I have with my criticism of any storyline on any show ever — because we were the only website talking about why it was a problem.)

        What we don’t do is recap shows that don’t have queer characters, which is where PLL seems to be right now, and that’s why I’ve decided to suspend my recaps.

        • “What we don’t do is recap shows that don’t have queer characters, which is where PLL seems to be right now, and that’s why I’ve decided to suspend my recaps.”

          A queer character without a love interest is still queer though. Just like a bisexual dating a man is still bisexual. I know you didn’t write for Autostraddle back then but Autostraddle kept recapping Glee through seasons 4 and 5 even though in like 75% of those episodes Santana was single, and Brittany was either single or dating a guy.

          I’d understand if you stop recapping because the show has fallen into one harmful trope too many, and never seem to learn, but the queer character not having a love interest for a while being the reason to stop recapping is a bit strange for me.

          • You’re right, T. I misspoke. Just because Emily doesn’t have a love interest doesn’t mean she’s not queer. However, it’s not just that she hasn’t had a love interest for a while that’s the problem. It’s that she’s gone eight times longer than any other character without a love interest, more than a full season, while the rest of the main three characters have had important, engaging love storylines nonstop. There’s always been a double standard with Emily and her love interests, but this is just egregious.

        • Thank you for your thoughtful response, Heather. I actually loved your critique of Charlotte’s portrayal, and I fully support your decision to recap or not recap the show as you see fit. I’ve mentioned in previous threads that just because *I* no longer like the show, doesn’t mean others should share my opinion. AND, like you, I do think it’s important to write about the painful, controversial, problematic stuff. I respect diversity of views and freedom of expression.

          But as I mentioned in my original comment, I’m cynical and not at all surprised that the show doesn’t care for lesbian representation. Why shoulud they?

          The problem I have with shows like PLL is that they pretend to care about LGBT inclusion and authenticity. But they don’t, and they still get “cookies” for doing a shitty job because we’re so desperate for representation.

          My favorite show at the moment is Better Call Saul. It’s got no queer characters and miserably fails the Bechdel test. But the show never pretended to be about women or queers in the first place, so it doesn’t bother me in the least.

          • Thank you all for this conversation !
            I’m reminded about the discussion that we had a few weeks ago about the 100, and a couple of posters said they weren’t really surprised that the show had done the LGBT community dirty when you took in consideration their treatment of POC.
            I feel like there is a pattern then. If you crap on a minority, how can we trust you not to crap on every other minority?

            But I also believe that heather and the staff here at Autostraddle is 100% aware of this, and I remember the discussions that we had after Heather’s recap of 610. It felt necessary then to keep having a discussion, to keep critiquing. I was happy with not watching the show and just reading Heather’s recap, but I get why she wants to stop.

            It’s not just that Emily “isn’t gay if she isn’t in a relationship” (as someone below says), it’s just that if Emily isn’t given ANYTHING to do, then what’s the point?

            But I also understand all the comments addressing this issue and feeling like there could have been a double standard.

    • I can’t believe AfterEllen can get away with never calling out the problems with Charlotte’s storyline, never calling out what Heather said here and has been saying all season about the show de-gaying Emily, that AfterEllen can be the only website (not just gay website, but website PERIOD) that is standing behind The 100’s decision to kill Lexa, and that their chief editor just went on a fake outrage crusade against queer The 100 fans claiming that we cannot care about Lexa and Black Lives Matter at the same time even though she has never written about BLM a single time on that website, and that they can continue to participate in this culture of queerbaiting with shows like Rizzoli & Isles – yet its Heather and Autostraddle getting spoken to this way. I don’t know if you watch this show regularly or read this recaps regularly but I have been with them since the beginning – and all of HH’s and Riese’s recaps – and they are the only ones standing up for our community – which unlike AfterEllen also includes trans women.

      • These are all fair points about AE.

        But I understand where Maggie and other commenters are coming from and it’s a valid concern. Raising it also gave Heather the chance to clarify her position better and put this article in a wider context.

        The best thing about this site is that the staff have such a commitment to listening to and engaging with the community and have shown they learn from criticism.

          • Thanks, y’all. We really do listen to every piece of criticism from our readers and talk through it endlessly in an effort to make sure we’re hearing with our brains and hearts and continuing to move forward in ways that will make the world safer, better, and brighter for all the women who read our website. I have fucked up in a couple of different ways writing about PLL — not coming down on Ezra soon enough, not being hard enough about Maya’s death — but I did hear the fair criticisms about that and have tried to learn from it and do better, as I will continue to do for the rest of my life.

            I would have done some kind of circles of hell obstacle course to get to join the Autostraddle team (and I guess, in a way, I did), and one of the main reasons why is because it is led by and populated by writers and editors who put their their brilliant minds and whole souls into their work. It is an honor to work here, every day.

            Thanks again for talking these things through with me.

      • I have devoted way more hours than I should thinking through what has been written by members, readers, and authors/editors of Autostraddle regarding the decision to continue/not continue recapping PLL. Still thinking through all of that and will be for a long time.

        But I needed to respond to this because of the idea that those of us who have critiqued the decisions of authors/editorial staff at AS in this particular case are somehow people who want to kick them or grind them into the ground or don’t have respect or gratitude for all they’ve done.

        You know why I’m not over at AfterEllen commenting or critiquing? Because AfterEllen went so far off the rails that I stopped reading or contributing several years ago. Whereas I bought an A+ membership because of all the content from AS that I consume and because I have felt deeply invested in all the amazing ways this website/community has grown over the years. And that’s the same reason why I’m still working through how I feel about the decision and responses to the PLL debacle.

  11. It just really doesn’t make sense why they wouldn’t give Emily a love interest at all – even a cardboard cut out like Jordan/Liam would be better than nothing.

    I first started watching this show for Emily (and because Heather recommended it) and became a fan because of the crazy plots, the friendship between the girls and the nuanced portrayal of teenage girls. Now all that’s gone and I don’t even have a lesbian character to watch. Why should I keep watching this show?

  12. Like someone else, I’ve also heard rumours about Shay Mitchell requesting to not kiss any girls this half of the season, but nobody provided a source for where they got that information so it may just be a rumour without any truth to it.

    On another note, Lindsey Shaw sent out a strange tweet last night that most people interpreted like she’s supporting Trump. It sounded like this: “#TeamTrump p.s. Whoever wins, Same shizz, different timeline. Let’s break the whole thing down and start over….”

  13. I have to agree with Allison. Gay fans can be so passionate and I love that. But it’s also full of political landmines. I’ve largely dropped out of talking about many shows because I’ve gotten worn out by the discussions of queer-baiting, tropes, etc. I would watch a show, enjoy it, run to the fandom for some mutual gushing, and there’d be some faction going on and on about tropes. (The discussion about tropes is itself a trope I wish would end).

    Now, I admit the only non-gay fandom I’ve participated in was X-Files and it definitely had its share of killjoys, but their gripes weren’t political. It was nit-picking the science or the writing or the acting. There was low risk for a political firestorm if the show misstepped.

    Not so for show with queer characters.

    Creative people have to accept that their work will be criticized and they can’t make everyone happy. And lesbian campaigns and dialogue has gotten positive results in the past, but I think we’ve been encouraged by our moments of success and gone too far at times.

    For instance, we got Glee to expand on a brief Brittany and Santana comment and explore a relationship. But the relationship was quickly sidelined. I don’t think it was for political reasons. It was Glee and that show had zero attention span for side plotlines. Then the fans got more demanding and Ryan Murphy pushed back. Sure, Brittana eventually got their happy ending, but it felt hollow to me because it wasn’t organic. I had seen too much of the online tug-of-war to buy it.

    I agree that Emily has definitely gotten the short end when it comes to girlfriends. It’s always bugged me. I don’t know if it was caused by behind the scenes politics or not. It wouldn’t do me any good to browbeat the show runners on Twitter for it because they wouldn’t be able to tell me why it’s happening. Besides, they might be allies fighting the good fight behind the scenes on our behalf. Or they might be the reason why the queer storylines are rare. Either way, jumping on them definitely doesn’t help.

    The best I can do is say “Emily hasn’t gotten the same treatment romantically and I’d like her to get a solid love interest with more scenes”. That’s it. I shouldn’t demand it. I shouldn’t say they “owe me”. I shouldn’t threaten to stop watching if it doesn’t happen. I shouldn’t accuse them of being anti-gay. I wouldn’t treat a person in my real life that way, so why treat someone that way on Twitter?

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t engage the show runners. I just wish some fans would dial down the passion and be more polite about it. Or else we might see other shows de-gay themselves.

    • I think that vicious fans do come with anything popular though. Supernatural has never had much/any gay fandom (it’s mostly straight women, I think). They still get an enormous amount of shit anytime the main characters find a love interest, which is probably part of why that love interest inevitably dies. Then again, that happens to basically everyone on that show who isn’t Sam or Dean).

      The anger is part of the way many of us react to these shows too. It’s important and enjoyable to gush over the good parts, but there is a pattern here and it’s worth recognizing. And it does feel good to have other people validate that anger.

    • I disagree. I think we should absolutely DEMAND better representation.

      Whenever I make the argument for better representation, the answer I most frequently hear, which you have repeated, is the “you are not owed anything” argument. Every time LGBTQ people go after a show/movie for mistreating an LGBTQ character, people will say “Well, you don’t have to watch it.”

      But that is us effectively being excluded from culture, therefor society. Tropes are tropes for a reason. And as a minority which is disproportionately dependent on pop culture (almost none of us come from LGBTQ families or LGBTQ neighborhoods or LGBTQ tribes/conclaves/cults etc…, as such in most cases the only way for us to make sense of our place in society is through media), we are perfectly well within our rights to not just feel upset, but raise our voices and demand to be treated like everyone else.

      Because yes, they do fucking owe us. We deserve to be seen and respected.

      And about dialing it down just so other showrunners de-gay their shows? I’m sorry, but that is a most cowardly position to take, and I challenge you to find one instance in history where oppressed minorities got results by dialing it down.

    • I agree that we shouldn’t demand anything or take it out on the Twitter managers. But I see nothing wrong with threatening to stop watching the show. They show is *not* a person or a friend. It’s a product, and it’s not entitled to anyone’s loyalty. The producers are free to do what they want with the show. I am free to choose to not buy it, just like with any product I no longer find satisfactory.

    • Maybe they don’t owe us, but if they do include LGBT characters, they have the responsibility to treat them right.

      Like probably every other lesbian on this planet I watched every last tiny snippet of shows with lesbian characters I could get my hands on when I was younger. Needless to say, most of them were really really bad.

      You would think that in the year 2016, we should have enough content to choose the good ones, but sadly that’s not true at all. But I’d rather watch a show without representation than shows with shitty LGBT storylines.

  14. So after the transphobic story lines and tropes we keep watching and give the writers the benefit of the doubt but not so much when it’s homophobia. Gotcha. Makes sense. The T is at the end of LGBT for a reason i guess.

  15. Sometimes I wonder if they just stopped wanting to put in the effort to make quality queer characters/storylines. 🙁

    Like a kid getting tired of their puppy once it gets older and they realize it needs constant care and attention.

  16. Hi Heather, what do you think about how they dress and frame Alison? With all the baggy sweaters and such. And do you think Alison is still queer or even ever was?

  17. I’m honestly not surprised by this and I don’t know why anybody else is either. I have always said that this show gets way too much credit for how progressive it is simply because one of the main girls is a lesbian. They have never treated Emily’s relationships the same way they have the other girls. Particularly in terms of intimacy. I have always heard that is because of the network but that same network does a much better job with Stef and Lena. So who is telling the truth? I would be more shocked if Emily actually ends with another woman at all at this point. I won’t be watching though because I stopped giving this show the benefit of the doubt after what they did with Charlotte. The writers’ reaction to the criticism of that storyline told me all I need to know about them.

    I don’t know if the rumors are true that Shay Mitchell is to blame for Emily’s lack of a love interest this season but I doubt it. Not unless she is a really good liar because she has always talked a good game in terms of representing Emily. Her recent comments in that interview with Ingrid seem very genuine. As for Ashley Benson well I’m just going to leave that alone because there is so much I want to say about her and none of it is pleasant. I don’t know what’s going on with Lindsey Shaw.

    • I’m not sure I agree about ABC Family/Freeform allowing more intimate stuff between two women on The Fosters than on PLL. Stef and Lena does not get many kissing/sex-scenes at all, at least not compared to the straight couples on the same network, and I haven’t counted, but my gut reaction is that Emily has had pretty much as much action as Stef and Lena, albeit spread out over more seasons.

      • I would agree with this. Stef and Lena have more emotional resonance (and perhaps at times sexier dialogue)- but that’s because they have better writers. Physical act for Physical act, I don’t think they have faired better than Emily. It’s probably close to equal.

        Which points to ABC Family/Freeform and its audience base out growing it. Merely having queer women used to be enough on its own. It’s not anymore.

        turkish, I can’t speak for others- but I would categorize myself more as “disappointed” than “surprised”. I have no disillusions about what the show was, but I hoped they would do better. I haven’t had much hope since they revealed Charlotte was the killer and then promptly murdered her, their only trans character. But whatever teeny flicker of hope flame remained got throughly put out over 6b.

        • I’m still mad about that. When I think about the fact that they hyped the shit out of this A-situation only to reveal another trans villain, I get really frustrated. I just cannot understand how anyone thought this was a good idea.

          • The only thing I can think is that they (falsely) believed that because fans had been expecting the villain to be a man for half a season, it would be a shocking twist that it turned out to be a woman after all.

            Truth is, it wasn’t shocking (at least not for the right reasons), the theory that Cece was born as Charles was a theory that popped up in various places almost immidiately after Charles DiLaurentis (C.D.) was revealed as the villain, and for some unexplainable reason, either the writers didn’t understand the implications of another trans villain, or they just didn’t care.

          • The only shocking thing about the Cece-reveal was that the writers actually was so stupid and careless that they took that route.

  18. This whole season has just been a train wreck from the transphobic storyline to the degaying of the show and *barf* the writers trying to force us to sympathize with the creep that is Ezra.
    But a small part of me, the one that has been watching this show from the very beginning, the one that was so amazed by the amount of queer characters, and the fact that a non-white main character was an out lesbian. Has just a little hope that maybe just maybe the reason for this is because they plan on having Emily and Alison being endgame. Which isn’t totally out of the picture especially from what we find out about Alison’s husband last episode.

    • If they do plan to have Alison as Emily’s endgame then I can understand why they don’t want to bring Paige back, and it was important for the general storyline this season that Ali got manipulated into marrying the guy that’s after her money. But that wouldn’t explain why they couldn’t give Emily a generic love interest like the other three girls had.

      • So true, I was hoping that she would have a small thing with the girl that owns the coffee shop, and it seemed like the writers were going in that direction but decided to just stop it before it becomes anything after a few episodes

  19. It’s absurd that Emily had more girlfriends in high school than she does as an adult.

    But I gave up on the show after they murdered Charlotte so I guess I’ve already gotten used to PLL being disappointing by now.

  20. I’ve been assuming throughout this whole mess of a season that the writers are going to throw Emily with Alison in the end to placate the show’s queer fanbase, and last night’s episode has me convinced.

    I read the first 8 books as they came out in middle and high school, and loved the early seasons of the show, but it’s not even hard to say goodbye to the queerbaiting, transmisogynistic thing its become.

    Plus it’s super bland. So so so bland.

  21. Very well written, Heather. When you were listing Emily’s romantic moments, for the first time, they started reading like stunts to me. Emily never really got the ordinary, everyday non-plot related canoodling that the other characters got. I think now that we’ve all come down from the fever of seeing a pioneering character like Emily, really going back and looking at it in context to the other characters will reveal a lot of cracks.

    As for the obvious degaying this past season, I’m torn between feeling this is a little Ryan Murphy like, a petulant reaction to our reaction of Charlotte’s reveal. That, or Freeform is pushing a new direction. Is it a coincidence the network rebrands at the same time?

    Anyway, I’ve mostly stopped watching live. BRVC and your recaps are much more interesting. Though I understand if you stop recapping.

  22. My feeling is that Marlene King has a lot of internalized homophobia and can’t see any queer character be happy or have fully realized stories. I removed PLL from my season pass last night, as I did with The 100 last week, and won’t be back. Thanks for writing this piece.

  23. You’re surprised they degayed a character? How is that possible? They rolled out the old crazy killer trans woman gag without a hint of shame or so much as a blink of an eye and firmly stood by it even after they were called out. Even sent out an “it” tweet and tried to defend that too. They redeemed so many other A co-conspirators but just straight up murdered CeCe. A fate which awaits a large portion of the trans community. I mean you did stick with the show after all that and even tried to explain to some trans readers after your the 611 recap why the show was worth sticking with so I guess this would be surprising to you. I’m not surprised at all. It’s been crystal clear since the A reveal the showrunners don’t care about representation for their LGBT audience.

    But here we are again. A glaring reflection of the LGBT and feminist community. The transphobia is worth talking about yet tolerable when it’s all said and done because yay! there is a lesbian and strong female leads on the show but the homophobia warrants more than just lip service doesn’t it? Action must be taken now that cis lesbian feathers have been ruffled. I don’t blame you for not wanting to write about the show anymore. As a lesbian myself I wouldn’t want to cover a show that does something like this either but it’s about half a season late.

  24. The show is practically queerbaiting now, because Emily and Alison slept together and in the timeline it has been 5 years since that happened, yet they still haven’t talked about it. Thank you for this article

  25. I didn’t know when I began watching PLL back in 2010 that at its height it would grow to be so amazingly progressive, stand alone in it’s representation of queer teens, and become so important to me as a person. Emily and her relationship to Pam mirrored my own similar intolerant mother. Seeing the growth Pam had gave me the hope I needed that my own mother could one day see only good inside me. Emily and her relationship to Hanna showed me that those who love you the most would never judge you for who or how you loved. Paige represented the closeted young person I so very much can still relate to feeling like. She gave me not only courage but the ability to see there is life on the other side of your own inner demons. Maya taught me to embrace the grey. And that the true you that’s just below the surface waiting to experience the world fully is worth waiting for. Ali showed me that the sacred connections we create with others are worth being honest about and to never compromise. Charlotte ultimately taught me to fight for the truth of your own identity. Emily helped me know that acts of forgiveness and second chances can lead to richer relationships and transform hearts. All of these women made me braver. The bonds of friendship between the liars are also a major aspect of PLL I didn’t anticipate being impacted by. When faced against the regular teenage drama of highschool as well as the faceless terror of A’s schemes through out the years, we got to see the ways in which women ultimately can survive and preserver.

    I loved the journey of this show and it saddens me deeply to see the missteps. Often 6b felt like more of an elevated parody of what the show once was, with each episode featuring some sort of version of another previous element we had once already seen before, A’s greatest hits. Or even the fact that the lives of the liars five years forward were so absurdly no longer relatable given the time/story compared to previous seasons. It just didn’t seem to have the same level of magic I once loved. I long to be able to feel like my favorite show can provide for me the things I relied on it to do.

    But sometimes when you aren’t paying attention, new things can unexpectedly grow. Sometimes fate leads you to experiences you never knew you needed, would bring, or dreamed could be real. I can never say I was a passive viewer and HH your recaps & the BRVC crowd, played a major part of this as well. PLL helped me as a young adult, helped me as a woman, helped me as a gay person, and helped me fall for another girl for the very first time. I will forever cherish the seemingly unexplainable things that this show has done for me. Because of this I will never be able to put the final nail in the PLL coffin, even after the show is expired, pronounced dead, buried, dug up in the night, relocated and reburied again and again until the end of time.

    This is the first series I’ve ever followed from premiere all the way through to the final season, so I’m not going to stop watching with the end in sight. I have to know there’s more to the story. I can of course respect others choices of stopping, and I’ll miss your recaps terribly HH, but I wanna see this important work for me come to a close, however that may be. I can never trade the things that PLL gave to my heart and soul.

  26. This makes me so deeply, deeply sad. My roommate just started watching PLL from the beginning, and thank gawd, because if I wasn’t actively watching the old episodes alongside the new (she just got up to the one where Emily knifes Nate in the gut! <3 <3) I would truly be questioning if this show was ever great to begin with, or if we just manufactured the greatness in our little BRVC bubble. It really did used to be a thing of beauty though!

    Thank you for sticking by the show, and us, for as long as you did, Heather. At its peak greatness, you elevated this show times 1 million, and BRVC will always be one of the funnest things I've ever had the pleasure of being a part of. You did good, kid.

    And hey, I mean, you never know, maybe they'll find their way again. Maybe they'll let Maya Goldsmith write the entirety of season 7. Maybe there's something to the fact that in the finale – where everyone suddenly dropped their current beau and paired off with their "endgame" person – not only did Ali spend the episode with Emily, but also Mona spent the entire episode stalking Sara Harvey… (Considering how Mona is categorically the best and Sara Harvey is categorically the worst, I'm surprisingly down for this pairing. Can I get a ship name? VanderGloves? VanderVail? Can they get married in matching black gloves and hoodies and then take over the goddamn world??)

  27. I think that there is maybe more of an underlying message that you and many others seem to be missing. Unfortunately, during those missing 5 years, Emily clearly went through some traumatic events. I don’t think it’s so much as the show neglecting her love life – I think they’re showing that she is strong enough to thrive on her own. That she has faced numerous tragedies since season one and even more that were unseen during the time jump. Sure, a love interest would be pleasing for all with Emily. But you still have to appreciate the value and underlying causes that she is embarking on a self journey completely alone and doesn’t require the presence of a girlfriend to aid her through the process. I’ve been there, and I can see it from that way.
    In no way am I saying I agree with the show not giving Emily a love interest, but I think it’s empowering to see that she is the only of the 5 girls (including Alison) who doesn’t need or require a significant other – she relies on herself for her happiness.

    • Happiness? I’ve never seen a Liar be happy in six seasons, not really. But at least they get to live and keep fighting and sometimes roll around with a partner for some good romance or distraction. There was a LOT of straight boning in the finale. When does Emily get hers?

    • The only reason i dont share in your dismay is that i never felt the show did gay well (or at least in a way i could relate to). The first scene of pll i ever saw was paige force kissing emily. My little sister was watching. I felt uncomfortable and left the room. I wouldn’t start watching for 4 years. And i still find Paige’s character terrible. Not just in a “i don’t want to be friends with her” way but because she was inconsistent. I didn’t find Maya’s storylines complelling. Emily’s storylines had a way of pointing out her sexuality in weird ways (like talia. Wtf was that?) So i guess i don’t know whats worse: no gay or bad gay.

    • Oh man! I love the point you’re making here, and I’m totally with you on this… in theory. I would be pretty bummed if everyone were jumping ship on this show based solely on the number of episodes Emily hasn’t had a love interest, because what does that say to happily-single queer ladies like myself? That our stories aren’t as interesting or worth telling as those of queer women with active love lives?

      The problem is that Emily – for me at least – didn’t embark on anything like a meaningful self-journey this season. She had no story arc. Her whole role in this season played out like an afterthought. They set her up with all of this interesting stuff to navigate; her dad’s death, not finishing college, her guilt/anger about Sara Harvey, being in the same town as Ali for the first time since high school, whatever the heck happened with Paige in California… and instead of letting her engage with any of those things, they saddled her with that f-ing inane egg donation storyline – which dragged on for half the damn season, despite the glaringly obvious fact that not one single person involved in the creative process cared about the storyline enough to, like, google how egg donation works – and then they used her as supporting character in everyone else’s stories for the rest of the season. I mean really, how much f-ing screen time did Ezra get this season to work through his FEELINGS about the tragic loss of his girlfriend of five minutes, and how much did Emily get to process the loss of her own father? Veronica Hastings got a more compelling story arc this season than Emily did!

      I don’t know, man, feel free to disagree, but for me, Emily’s storyline wasn’t lame because she was single; it was lame because it was lame!

  28. Sadly, it’s not that inexplicable. Any time the de-gaying of any show happens, the network tends to have something to do with it. The gay storylines being weaker than the straight ones is then an entirely intentional move. “I don’t think it’s so much as the show neglecting her love life – I think they’re showing that she is strong enough to thrive on her own” = …no, just no. Not even Ryan Murphy gets away with having his gay characters display affection in the same way as his straight characters. Audiences have come a long way, but networks are still lagging behind when it comes to this stuff.

  29. As time has passed since Alison, then the queen bee of the bunch, went missing. Spencer, Aria, Hanna and Emily have gone on with their lives, though they’ve grown apart. As the years go by, each girl finds herself facing a new set of challenges when anonymous text messages from “A” threaten to expose all their secrets — both old secrets the girls were sure only Alison knew, and newer secrets developed after Alison’s disappearance.

  30. I find it interesting that you are only compelled to write this article after only ten episodes where a gay female character has been single. Yet, for the entire last six seasons of this show there has not been ONE gay male. Why is there no outrage about that?

  31. I watched the first episode of this season of PLL and then quit the show. I didn’t mean to initially, I just didn’t make time to watch it and catch up. But then, I realized I had lost interest. Now I’m feeling like it was for the best and I’m missing out on nothing, so… I’ll always hold that black and white Paily noir scene close to my heart and remember when the show was queerer, I guess!

  32. I know I’m late, but I had to say: thank you for writing this, Heather, for always being thoughtful and writing beautifully about this show, and for sticking with it thus far (by the way, the fact that people are yelling at you for not calling this out 5 episodes ago or whatever is some absolute BS and they clearly haven’t been reading your recaps).

    In the wake of Lindsey Shaw’s tweets these past few days, I do wonder if whatever possible thing seems to be going on with her has anything to do with the show not bringing Paige back — this was the season of reconnecting with high school first loves, and it really would have made sense to have Paily there too. I hope that’s not it, for multiple reasons including that I really hope Lindsey is ok, but honestly, I think the real situation is that the show has made a conscious choice to turn away from its queer fans. I think the showrunners and writers feel unfairly critiqued for their handling of Charlotte and are lashing out. They thought they were untouchable, and they’re surprised and hurt to learn that that wasn’t the case and that we’d react in righteous anger to a big enough fuck-up. This isn’t the first time that a show gets cocky about its LGBTQIA fans and thinks it can do no wrong, only to turn on those same fans when they question its decisions, and it won’t be the last.

    Last half-season none of Emily’s love interests were GOOD, sure, but at least they were sort of there. Married Talia and Showers Harvey were boring and awful respectively, but they weren’t so much worse than Kung Fu Jake or Liam/Jordan or Hanna’s cowboy or that guy who Spencer did a strip tease for and then turned Aria into the cops (or whatever??) And the cardboard-love-interest-stand-in-who-turns-out-to-be-a-plot-point is a tale as old as time for PLL. This half-season, though, the lack feels purposeful, and not just because Emily is single. We’re not crazy to think the show used to be really gay, and it’s not just us seeing amazing Sparia and Handerjesus subtext — it really was! Remember that time that Jenna and Shana menacingly held hands for no reason other than that it was awesome?? Remember when they created a whole entire lesbian bar for us for just for one beautiful scene? These were scenes their main lesbian character wasn’t even in! They threw secret winks and an unnecessarily huge number of random lesbian characters and pink drinks at us, and it was glorious.

    They used to love us, and they don’t seem to anymore, and it’s breaking my heart.

  33. Is a reunion between Emily and Alison ruled out? The final episode has her gross husband backlighting her? Is the show perhaps setting them up to be together?

  34. You know what irks me the most, the fact that Marlene King never answers questions on twitter from viewers who have legit problems with the show. That kind of la la la putting your fingers in your ears type of behavior is so off putting. I’ve removed so many shows from my DVR in the past month including this show, Younger (the premise was bothering me as well as the lack of any POC’s on the show), The Good Wife (I hate Alicia and the way the Kings have bowed down to Juliana), Madam Secretary (for propping up McCord’s husband at the expense of the premise of the show), The 100 (for all the reasons we’ve been talking about in the past two or so weeks) and Shameless (for so many reasons). I’m done keeping shows afloat that insult my intelligence and/or shit on minorities of all kinds. I’m about five seconds away from deleting Castle and Blindspot from my DVR because they are beginning to bore me.

  35. no offence I’d think they should take the gayness out of it kind of turns off a lot of viewers think that what happens to a lot of freeform people see the same characters in every series

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