When Spencer reveals herself, Emily’s face looks like murder. It’s intense. Scary intense. Emily has never looked so terrifying. She says Ali will never trust her again, never reach out to her again, never say she’s her favorite again. She’s shaking with rage about losing Ali (a little bit) and losing her status with Ali (a lot bit).
Spencer goes, “Honey, listen to me. Alison’s gift — and you know this, OK? You know this in your soul — is sowing seeds of enmity and discord among us. She takes our secrets and twists them and pantomimes them back to us like freakish shadow puppets, daring us to turn on the lights. She makes us afraid of each other, makes us feel like we can’t trust each other, makes us feel like she’s our only path to salvation. Right? Ems, look at me. Look at my face right now. I am telling you something you already know. She loved you, OK? In her own way, she loved you. Probably more than she loved anyone else because you are golden on the inside. Losing her was the worst thing that has ever happened to you, I know that. But we both know it was the best thing too. Do you want to be her secret again? Kissing her in the dark only to have her shame you for it when the lights come back on? Or do you want to love with all of your remarkable goodness, in the sunlight, where the world can see it? The way you loved Maya? The way you love Paige? The way you love us? Me, you, Aria, Hanna: we are stronger together than we ever were apart. We love you and you love us. We’re in this together, Emily. Don’t let her do this to you again.”
I think this Emily storyline is brilliant for a zillion reasons, one of which is that it’s soul-punchingly real to me. Just as a lesbian teenager who was in love with a straight girl who loved everything about the way I loved her, this resonates on a bruising level. I’m looking at Ali and tilting my head back and forth and wondering where the bullshit stops and the truth of her starts and which things that we’ve seen about her over the years — through memories or flashbacks or journal entries or dreams — have been real. Which ones can be trusted. There’s a danger in believing anything we’ve been told about Ali because the narrators of her presence have always been unreliable. Drugged up or asleep or poisoned or suffering severe trauma from their Ali interactions. And anyway, memories aren’t like watching movies. They’re like watching live theater productions of the last time you remembered the thing you’re remembering now. It’s why doctors are treating PTSD with ecstasy these days.
I think the sample size of Ali canon (real or remembered) means we can say some things for absolute sure: Ali and the Liars were in danger and she knew they were in danger. She was plotting an escape from it, one way or another. She engaged in relationships the way dictators or cult leaders engage in relationships, surrounding herself with people she could coerce into loyalty with a potent mix of affection, apathy, derision, and white-hot fear. The people she could not coax into following her (or the people who couldn’t offer her anything), she wanted them out of the picture, something she achieved with ridicule, slander, and fireworks to the face. She hoarded everyone else’s secrets as a means of control but dispersed her secrets sparingly among people up and down the eastern seaboard, doling them out like shiny rewards for good behavior. She understood the dark, gross things about life in the real world that the Liars either didn’t understand or wouldn’t acknowledge, so at least some of her interactions with them served the purpose of molding them into survivors. In a lot of ways, it almost seems like Ali was trying to make the Liars into soldiers. Which seems noble, kind of. But it also seems like she was making them into soldiers for her own personal army, which seems … slightly less altruistic.
Ali’s main gift was making every person she met feel like they had a singular connection with her. Like she got them and they got her on a wavelength no one else could occupy. It’s no surprise that Emily-the-budding-lesbian interpreted that connection romantically, just like it’s no surprise that Ali found a way to work it to her advantage when she realized it was a thing.
Is Ali in love with Emily? I’d say no. Just based on everything we actually know about her, I’d say no. Is Emily in love with Ali? At least a little bit she is, and always will be, I’d guess. I’m sure Ali is sorry for fucking her over like she did. I’m sure all the cold nights she spent living under Jason’s porch or in that Cicero college murder room or sharing bunk beds with Maya up at Noel Kahn’s Truth or Dare cabin, I’ll bet she wished she could be in Emily’s warm bed while Emily fussed over her and made her hot chocolate and played with her hair and loaded up her iPod with new music. I’ll bet she wished for that real hard. And I’ll also bet she actually is scared for her life and actually does want to come home. But she’s doing it in the most Ali way possible: Making Emily a minion and grasping at the power structure that once made her such a formidable queen bee.
The world isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters, right? Harry did some questionable stuff and Draco had a soul. It’s not Potters on one side and Malfoys on the other. That’s too easy. It’s lazy. I mean, Team McCullers, obviously. Team McCullers forever. But Mona Almighty, this Ali/Emily thing is valid. Also, it’s better than so many of the inane queer storylines on TV right now precisely because it’s so murky. I want to work for my satisfying stories, man. I’m not dumb. Don’t try to hashtag me into some kind of black-and-white shipper war.
ANYWAY. Emily is pissed and Spencer is scared and Hanna feels a little bit better after smashing those plates so she calls Caleb and leaves a beautiful closure message, and Ezra and Aria enjoy a delicious brownie while Jake slices open his foot on his heavy bag at Mojo Dojo because Ezra stashed some literal knives in that thing. It’s one of my favorite #BooRadleyVanCullen shout outs ever. All these years we’ve been going, “Ugh. Ezra. With the peaceful life and the cakes cakes cakes.” And the show smirks and goes, “Yep, here he is with a cake. AND HERE JAKE IS GETTING CHOPPED TO BITS AT THE SAME TIME BY EZRA’S HAND. History: rewritten. Now what?” Love, love, love.
The Risen Mitten pulls a copy of The Tempest out of somebody’s locker. Hanna’s maybe; Ezra found the play in her purse last week when he was ransacking her room. There’s a picture of Ali and Shana as little kids inside the book, so the Risen Mitten goes ahead and rips that in half and lights Shana on fire. Please, please, please let her be playing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on her fiddle when she gets finally gets attacked. “I said, ‘My name’s Shana, and it might be a sin, but I’ll take your bet, you son-of-a-bitch, ’cause I’m the best there’s ever been.’”
My mostest bestest thanks as always to my screencapping partner Maggie, who is jonesing for that Paily love scene more than anyone I know. You can download all her screencaps here. And follow her on Twitter here.