EXCLUSIVE: Marlene King on “Pretty Little Liars” season four

 
 

AE: You sure do know how to make a girl happy. Make me even happier: Let’s talk about Emily Fields. What’s coming her way?
MK:
This season, A decides that since he or she hasn’t been able to fracture the Liars from within, he or she is going to go after their parents. There’s some shocking twists that happen to Emily and her mother. And because of an A-intervention, Emily and Paige are going to face some challenges in their relationship. But it’s the kind of challenges every couple has to face in high school, so it becomes sort of a high school story for them as they start to think about their future, and where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

AE: So Paige is definitely back in full force?
MK:
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

AE: Does Ali’s return — or what we assume to be Ali’s return — have an impact on Paige and Emily’s relationship, in terms of Ali being Emily’s first love? Or is that all buried and said and done for Emily?
MK:
Well, it’s definitely a cloud that hangs over them, especially since we saw that flashback of Ali being so horrible to Paige, calling her “Pigskin” and being so mean to her. There’s an episode coming up where Emily sleeps in Ali’s old bedroom, and being there sort of colors what’s happening right then in her relationship Paige.

AE: Did you know there’s like a really firm and vocal group of Ali and Emily shippers?
MK:
[Laughs] I did know! I occasionally see them on Twitter.

AE: I fell down this Tumblr hole the other day and found like sixty-three Ali/Emily fan videos all set to the tune of Chris Isaacs’ “Wicked Game.”
MK:
Well, they were really the first gay couple on Pretty Little Liars, right? In terms of flashbacks, at least. They shared the first kiss. In fact, one of my favorite flashbacks — it’s actually not even really a flashback, but it’s that vision when Emily believes that Ali pulled her out of the barn where she was getting poisoned with car exhaust. I love that moment where Emily looks up with tears in her eyes because it’s so real to her, and then they kiss. It takes those moments for us to remember that Emily was in love with Allison. She adored her.

AE: The first time my heart got confused, the first time I might have gotten tricked into believing it, was in the flashback with the postcards, when Ali was talking about traveling the world with Emily. I was like, “Wait, did Ali have real feelings for Emily?”
MK:
I think she did. I really do think Emily was Ali’s favorite.

AE: Tell me a secret. I can keep it. Is Ali really alive?
MK:
That’s what we really explore in the summer season! Two of the girls think they saw Ali the night of the fire, the other two think they’re delusional. So, we ask that question. Is Ali alive? Was someone else posing as Ali, possibly wearing some kind of Ali mask? And we will get answers to that, too, sooner rather than later.

AE: I’m going to keep this gay thing rolling. Jenna and Shana from the finale. I interpreted that as they’re totally together. Is that for real?
MK:
That’s how I interpreted it.

AE: Brilliant.
MK:
[Laughs] We’re going to see more of Shana and Jenna. Mona has a theory about them that she’s going to share with the Liars in the premiere, and I like that theory. I think it’s fun.

AE: I wrote an article at the end of last season asking our readers if Pretty Little Liars is better even than The L Word at showing the full spectrum of gay lady experience, and a lot of people said yes.
MK:
Oh, good! I am so glad!

AE: Is that something you think about consciously as you write, or have you now just established that there’s a lot of queer experience in the Pretty Little Liars world and so now you can just play in it?
MK:
I think it’s just the world of Rosewood. I think originally we thought we had a responsibility to Emily to make sure she was well-rounded and that she was just like the other Liars, but now it’s just the way it is. We don’t even think twice about — well, like right now, we’re talking about the finale and there’s this thing all the couples are doing, and so of course Emily is going to be doing it too. It’s not even a question. Emily is our Emily. Just Emily. We love her.

AE: Are you writing Ravenswood already?
MK:
Well, we introduce the town in the seventh episode of this summer season of Pretty Little Liars. Spencer and Toby follow an Ali clue to Ravenswood, so we get kind of a sense of what the town is like. And right now we’re filming our Halloween episode that really will launch us into the Ravenswood world. And then in August, we film our first episode.

AE: You know, reaction was really positive until you guys announced Tyler Blackburn is heading to Ravenswood. It just made me wonder how you balance shipper expectations with your convictions for what’s right for a storyline and for a character. Do you take that into the writers room, or do you kind of have to check it at the door?
MK:
We do sort of have to check it at the door. We never want our fans to be disheartened or heartbroken, but, you know, without conflict, there’s no story. So, you have to say, “OK, we’re going to make an Ezria storm or a Haleb storm in this episode,” and trust that people will see it through with you and continue to love the show. There have been so many times that I’ve thought, “Oh, these shippers will check out after this happens,” but they stick with us. To me, the ultimate ship is the Pretty Little Liars themselves.

AE: I totally agree. Spencer scared me last season. I thought she was jumping ship for Toby.
MK:
That’s the perfect example of what we’re talking about. Even the Liars’ relationships will fracture at times, because we need that drama and that conflict.

AE: What are you most excited to share with fans this season?
MK:
One thing we did this year is that we partnered up a bunch of people who have never really had scenes together. So, now they’re having scenes together. There’s a great Mr. Fitz/Emily scene and a Mr. Fitz/Hanna scene. We’ve got a Toby/Caleb bromance happening.

AE: I love seeing anyone besides Aria in a scene with Mr. Fitz because it’s always so weird. He’s their teacher, you know?
MK:
One of my favorite scenes is when he’s sitting in his car and Spencer jumps in and he’s like, “Uh. Do you, uh, need a ride or something?”

AE: OK, I just have one more question. I want to know if Ravenswood, the town, shares a water supply with Rosewood, because I want to know if the water there is also going to turn a bunch of beautiful women into lesbians.
MK:
[Laughs] It may share a water supply with Rosewood; we’re still talking about that. We love representing all shapes and sizes and sexualities on our shows.

Pretty Little Liars’ summer season kicks off on Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. on ABC Family. Join us as we live-tweet the episode with the hashtag #BooRadleyVanCullen.

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