Emily walks to Paige’s house, completely sober this time. And there’s no way I can do it better than them, so here it is for real:
Paige: I’m sorry.
Emily: It wasn’t your fault.
Paige: I shouldn’t have let it happen. It was wrong. If I ever find out who put that stuff in your flask, I swear, I’ll kill them.
Emily: Don’t say that.
Paige: I mean it.
Emily: I don’t want you to say it. I don’t want you to mean it. I want you to listen.
Piano: [Plays lovingly]
Emily: I haven’t been with anyone since Maya. I haven’t even thought about it. Or at least I didn’t think I was thinking about it.
Paige’s face: [I know you loved Maya. I know I missed my chance.]
Emily: I was drunk that night, and I got lost.
Paige’s face: [I know you didn't come to me on purpose. I know that now.]
Emily: Only I didn’t really get lost. I was looking for something. I was looking … for somebody.
Paige’s face: [Wait, what?]
Emily’s body: [Moves closer and closer and closer.]
Emily: And I came here.
Paige’s lungs: [Stops breathing]
Emily: Don’t look away.
They kiss and it is the sexiest thing that has ever, ever happened on this show and easily one of the best lesbian kisses we’ve ever had on TV, and honestly, I’ve watched it about 600 times now and it just keeps getting better. It’s so raw and so real and Emily has been lonely for so long and Paige has been waiting for so long and however dizzy I was when Emily didn’t go for Nate after all, you can multiply that times a million and calculate how much my head is spinning and I’ll just be over here breathing into a paper bag trying not to hyperventilate.
I’m not sure any lesbian character on TV has ever resonated with me like Paige McCullers. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like Maya. I loved Maya. But she’s gone. And through the power of inspired writing, and Lindsey Shaw just throwing herself into this character, I have glimpsed the glory of truth in Paige’s story. Keats said he was sure of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination, and there’s something about Paige — about the way she wages war on her desires, nurses her self-inflicted shame, craves and fears being known in equal measure — that feels profoundly genuine to me.
Supporting characters, as a general rule, only exist as catalysts for main characters. They set up the jokes so main characters can deliver the punchlines. They get themselves into trouble so main characters can come to the rescue. They ask questions so main characters can provide answers that propel along the story. Not always, but mostly, they are stick figures that could not exist out in the world on their own. But Paige, to me, feels real, feels solid, feels not like a type of character, but like an actual person, with deep wishes and desperate urges and a consuming fear of failing.
The central conflict of human life can pretty much be summed by a self-hating rant the Apostle Paul goes on in the book of Romans, during the middle of which he lays down this tongue twister: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” That’s the kind of conundrum most writers wouldn’t be ballsy enough to throw at even the main-est of main characters — hell, it took Terrence Malick years to explore that concept in The Tree of Life — much less a supporting minority character. But that nuanced enigma is Paige’s whole entire deal: What happens when you hate the thing you want? Then hate the embodiment of your desire? Then fall hopelessly in love with her?
She could tell you her despair, and you could tell her yours. She could reach for your hand, and you could reach for hers. You could try to choke her out like a fever dream, she could try to push you out of the closet. You could ride your bike for miles in the rain to tell her that you’re sorry; kiss her at precisely the wrong moment, then tell her that you’re sorry; upend a pile of birthday cupcakes looking for a goddamn coconut one, then tell her that you’re sorry. You could get it all wrong. Always, always wrong. Not understanding what you do. Doing the thing you hate. And then one night, by the light of the moon, she could crack you open and coax out your shame and demand that you look at it, look at her. And you could finally — even just for a moment — stop hating yourself for wanting.
First love is a great story, but my favorite tale is one of redemption.
That this one exists on ABC Family, in the form of a lesbian supporting character who gets the girl, boggles the mind. Boggles the mind and slays the heart and makes me want to beg for more, kind of like Paige leaning and leaning and leaning into this kiss.