This is a girl who, in the pilot episode, slinked away to hide in a dark corner of Spencer’s barn when Ali clowned on her for liking Beyonce too much. And would you just look at her now! She has been — literally, at times — beaten down and pushed around; she’s fallen over other people and fallen over her own two feet; she’s bled the blood only gay teenagers bleed as they’re stumbling into the world like brand new lambs, trying to color in the lines of the drawings they’ve been courageous enough to sketch for themselves.
Marlene King and her incomparable writing staff, they could have given Emily some makeout scenes in the first few episodes for titillation, or they could have had her hook-up to shut us up, or they could have thrown her back together with one of the gorgeous men on this show. But no. No. A thousand hallelujahs for the integrity of no. They grew Emily. And Shay Mitchell grew into Emily. And then — did you know daffodils are my favorite flower? There are a lot of reasons why, but one of the main reasons is because they’re springtime flowers, right? They come out when the winter finally gives way to the promise of the sun. But you don’t plant daffodils in the spring. You dig into the unforgiving winter land and stuff the bulbs into the ground and they live down there through the ice and the sleet and the snow and they wait and wait and wait. And then, when the time is right for them, they peek their little heads up: tiny green, tiny green, taller and taller and taller green, and then — boom! — the most beautiful flowers in the whole wide world. And it’s just so satisfying watching them blossom, because you know what they lived through, you know their story, and you know the winter made them strong enough to thrive.
Emily and Maya’s relationship isn’t gratifying because it’s gay. Or because of whatever shipper thing. Emily and Maya’s relationship is gratifying because Emily lived through the winter, because we saw her falling down and getting up and dusting herself off and falling down some more and getting up some more and growing, growing, growing into this Emily. And so when Emily told Maya she loved her and kissed her like fifteen kinds of hungry, it wasn’t about winning a shipping war or placating a minority; it was about an authentic, well-rounded, complicated, lovable character doing the most natural thing in the world — with another woman.
Just like real life. Emily is Emily is Emily is Emily. And love is love is love is love.
Aria’s got lesbian love tomfoolery going on too, of course. She and Ezra have decided to step fully back in the closet. So much so that Aria isn’t even telling her friends, and she and Ezra are conducting all of their dates inside an actual closest. No windows, see, so there’s less chance of being watched/heard/hit in the neck with blow darts on account of Byron tip-toeing around behind Ezra and ducking behind trees and rolling under cars and just general parkour spy stuff. He even gets Ezra set up with some kind of deanship in Louisiana so he’ll get his gorgeous face and iambic pentameter out of Pennsylvania. Which: Ha! Hahaha! Of all the mental things this show has said out loud, “I nominated you, 24-year-old guy with less than two months of college teaching experience, for a deanship” has got to be the most amazing. Ezra’s like, “I don’t know what to say, guy. And I mean that literally. I’d better sit down here on the floor and talk to my journal about my feelings.”