Nate sniffs one of the scarves from the bag and determines the exact time and date that Maya was wearing it the last time he saw her. He cries. Emily cries. He leans in for a kiss. Emily leans in for a kiss. They kiss. Emily pulls away and he’s like, “I’ve been wanting to taste the lips that tasted Maya’s lips for so long now, ever since I made my first measurements for my Emily-skin suit.”
Paige is be-bopping down the sidewalk with some Chinese food in her hands a song in her heart. She rounds the corner of Emily’s yard, smiling, and then she spots her kissing Nate. Her face breaks like her heart inside of her, and she runs back down the sidewalk slinging chicken lo mein everywhere and knocking over trash cans. It’s crazy. Crazy hot. I don’t know how, but it is. (Also, this is hilarious.)
Now, look, I don’t trust Nate as far as I can throw Ezra’s Delaware lovechild, but I think we should really unpack this Nate-snog. I’ve already seen half the lesbian internet lose its mind over this thing. But, OK. Say for a second you’re Emily Fields. And the first girl you loved was stolen by death. And the second girl you loved was stolen by death. And in the middle of trying to solve the mystery of both of those things, your heart (gloriously!) (unexpectedly!) opens itself up to a plucky gal with the widest smile and the brownest eyes and an earnest, abiding affection reserved just for you. Even if you have the courage to tell that girl there’s an aching chasm of grief just outside her reach inside your heart, there are some things she can never know.
Because how do you explain that kissing her makes you feel alive like fire, but that you miss Maya’s kiss so much it makes you die a little inside every time you remember it? How do you explain that you’re eager to move forward with her, but that a part of you will always be rooted in sorrow in the past? How do you tell her the hard truth of exactly who you are when you can feel her heart beating like a terrified puppy in your hands, just shaking and shivering and trying so hard to be brave enough to survive the thunder for both of you?
You tell her what you can tell her. You tell her what it’s fair to tell her. But then what? What about the grief that is spilling out of you like an impossible water cycle: always present, never ebbing, raining down and evaporating and fogging up your soul.
Well, then Nate would feel like a gift, wouldn’t he? Someone who knew Maya as well as you, loved Maya as much as you, who is as consumed with finding her killer as you are — as much for the promise of self-healing as for retribution.
You can brain out over this scene if you want, throw things at the TV because another lesbian kissed another dude. You can refuse to contextualize it, refuse to examine it from any other angle than your own indignant black-and-white moral superiority, refuse to give in to empathy or even to reason. You can do that. But this right here, this thing with Emily, it’s not whatever sweeps weeks bullshit we’ve been subjected to for the past 20 years. This show has never, ever, ever been about satisfying the male gaze. This right here, it stands alone. Emily is not turning straight, she’s not questioning her sexuality, there’s no message here about how gay women just need the right man to straighten them out.
At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch says to her brother, “Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” And in this moment, Emily isn’t thinking about how Nate is equipped with a dick; in her mind, she has stripped him down to one kind of folk, the same kind of folk as every other kind of folk, and when she looks at him like that, she sees the fury and desperation of her own grief reflected back at her. And she reaches out to comfort them both.
Not only does it make perfect sense for Emily, it’s also a damn fine piece of writing. Tell me three weeks ago you believed a time would ever come when you would want to comfort Paige and wallop Emily. Tell me you believed in a time when you would take anybody’s side over Emily’s. These writers broke down Paige not to discard her like failed-date Chinese food, but to tenderly knit her back together, to set her free and let her come alive. Don’t you get what that means? What it means that we’re on Paige’s side right now, that we’re actively rooting for the girl who one time shoved Emily’s head under water, that we now see in Paige all of the panic and promise we see in ourselves? We didn’t get here on our own; we got here because the writers brought us here. We believe in Paige because they gave us a Paige to believe in. This scene isn’t about taking away the lesbian we root for; it’s about giving us a pair of lesbians to stand behind.
A pair of lesbians who now can, for the very first time, approach one another on a level playing field.
A pair of lesbians who are, above all, people.
Real love isn’t written in the spaces between the stars. Real love is standing in front of a person with your hands outstretched, all of your scars and failures and desperate insecurities on display. It’s about asking a person to cherish you, yes; but more than that it’s about asking a person to forgive you. Find that, find a girl who sees you and allows herself to be seen, who extends to you the kind of grace she, too, needs to have extended — not once, but always and always, over and over — and then you’ll have discovered true storybook love. Fairy tales are about wishing on stars; actual life is about crawling around on your hands and knees in the dirt, digging to the dirty truth of yourself and letting that self be loved.
Or, as ol’ Scout Finch’s dad would say: “Real courage is … when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
This is the way I want to be told stories, the way that makes me reach for my favorite books to explain how I feel. I’m not telling you to like it. But I am telling you I like it. I like it an awful lot.
Paige texts Emily to say she’s physically ill and needs to cancel their date. Emily’s face says she knows Paige knows.
OK, I’m running out of time and I’m like ten thousand words over my limit so here’s the rest of the episode shakedown: Ezra confesses to Aria that he found Maggie and then kicks her out of his apartment without much ceremony. Spencer and Aria and Hanna watch the Kahn Kabin video footage, the timing of which proves that Jenna and Noel and Garett could not have killed her, and at the end of which Maya gets jerked out of the frame by her kidnapper, presumably. Ella and Zach decide to make a real go of it, and I cannot wait to see Byron Montgomery’s face when he finds out. And at swim practice, Paige is positively vibrating with pain and rage. Emily thinks about confessing, is halfway to confessing, but a coach who is not Coachprah — >:( —calls them to the pool.
The Risen Mitten irons and hangs up a team’s worth of black hoodies, and on the TV all you can hear is “WHEEL. OF. FORTUNE.” Which, if my guess is correct, means we’re going to see a Russian Roulette style smackdown complete with a torture wheel next week. Two episodes episode until the summer finale. Will the Liars survive? WILL WE?
If, by chance, these are my last written words due to the angry lesbian mob that is about to lock me inside Noel Kahn’s cabin, I just want to leave you with this: WOOD SHOP!
Please allow me to shout out my screencapping partner Maggie, who busted her ass to get these pictures to me today even though she was traveling. Follow her on Twitter; I’m still convinced she’s Maggie of the Delaware Maggies.