“Pretty Little Liars” recap (4.19): Kiss Me Deadly

The story of Paige McCullers — in color, and in black and white — is one about a girl whose attempt to be true was ripped from her hands by someone who built her fortress out of other people’s lies. It’s the story of a girl who wanted to die but wouldn’t let herself because she didn’t want someone else to win. It’s the story of a girl who stumbled and pummeled and bled her way into an understanding of who she was, and clawed her way out of the closet and into the arms of the sweetest, most beautiful person she’d ever known. This moment, with the curtains and the kissing and the trembling and the fingers under bra straps is a triumph for our Paige McCullers, yes; but also for every gay girl whose insecurities and fears and desires and dreams are warring inside her like the crucible of energy inside an ancient star.

Ever since I was a little kid, since I first saw Back to the Future and read A Wrinkle in Time, I’ve been obsessed with the idea that a bajillion different versions of the exact same story can be taking place on the tesseract, and my most romantic fantasies involve these clutch points where every possible timeline in a person’s life intersects, and that person comes soul-to-soul with another person whose timelines are also intersecting. This hits me right there and you know why. This window. Those two girls. Time and time and time and time, coming together, from every direction, forever.

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I know I shouldn’t but I get very, very frustrated with fandom shipping wars. I mean, I know it’s good marketing and everything. God knows Twilight made it into a multi-million dollar art-form. And it’s easy enough to accomplish, what with humanity’s obsession with shaking things down into simple moral binaries. And, you know, Tumblr being what it is. But it just destroys the burning glory of losing yourself in a story. The white spaces between the print. The gaps at the edge of the page. If we brandish our hashtags like swords and charge into books or TV shows or movies determined to slice them up until we’ve proven our point — our basic, basic point — we miss out on their power to transcend and transform us.

It’s coming, and we all know it, the day when Paige McCullers finds out Ali is alive and her world lurches inside-out like food poisoning. Now you can #Paily vs. #Emison it all day, but when you do that, you’re missing: Paige McCullers, the girl Ali shamed into a closet of near self-destruction, but who emerged triumphant and true. And Alison DiLaurentis, the girl who fled to the shadows to save her life, and emerged broken and grasping for hope and for power and for home. And in the middle, Emily Fields, who has loved and been loved by them, both, in very different ways.

You know it’s all about Paige for me. Surely you know by now I’d find it a complete slap in the face for the show to send Paige off into the ether, looking over her shoulder at Alison and Emily cozied up in sapphic bliss on her way to Out of Town. But I don’t think that’s going to happen because that’s not how these writers have ever operated. But you know what else I don’t want? Skim milk storytelling or some lame-o PSA. Most TV writers are still so bamboozled by lesbian TV characters that they kill them, impregnate them, or pretend they don’t exist. These aren’t those writers.

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Remember when Ali intercepted that note Paige intended for Emily? That day in that car with Cece Drake, Paige on her bicycle in khakis and braids? For Ali, it was a transaction, right? In which she collected a secret from Paige that she used to control her, and deposited that secret into her vault where it would never devalue the currency of Emily’s affection for Ali herself. Emily said that Ali collected other people’s love, which was both her fight and her flight mechanism working in sync. She crushed who she crushed to keep herself strong, to keep herself from dying. Pretty Little Liars is packaged like your guilty little pleasure, but in reality it’s a layered, beautiful, sometimes deeply dark story written by a group of people who clearly love the art of story. It’s a play on all the best murder and mystery and noir tropes. And it’s an examination of that ugly struggle over who gets to harness and/or wield the power of female sexuality.

But that doesn’t matter right now. Let me shiver for Paige and Emily, and for me; for the timid, closeted, story-less girls we once were and the lumpin’ righteous women we’re growing up to be. This scene makes me feel the exact opposite of that thing I felt all those years ago, storming around in my yard trying to keep myself from going everywhere at once. This scene makes me feel as alive and as free as fire.

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