“Pretty Little Liars” recap (4.21): The Scarlet Letter

 
 

Paige grabs the envelope of money from Emily’s hands and threatens to turn it over to the police if she doesn’t start talking, a thing that makes my internal temperature rise about ten degrees, and not in a good way, because you know this conversation is heading straight to Ultimatumville. Finally Emily shouts out, in the middle of the day in the middle of the street, “ALISON DILAURENTIS IS ALIVE, OK?”

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Paige’s face looks like when you see Godzilla for the first time after a lifetime of people telling you there’s no such things as Godzillas.
They go to the park and sit on a bench and:

Emily: I really wanted to tell you.
Paige: Nope.
Emily: She’s afraid and alone and she needs that money.
Paige: I’m sorry, I just — the girl who made both of our lives, and the lives of your three best friends, a series of hellscapes has been faking her own death for two years and now she’s back and you’re very clearly putting your life, my life, and our relationship in jeopardy to help this monster?
Emily: Kind of. Yes, to the jeopardy thing, but she’s not a monster anymore.
Paige: Let me just say again: Nope.

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Emily: Look, regardless of what she’s done, she’s in serious trouble and she’s broke and she’s on the run and who I am on the inside will not allow me to ignore that.
Paige: Fine, you can have this money back … if you promise to cut off contact with her.
Emily: Fine, but if you tell literally anyone about this, I will seriously never forgive you.
Paige: Cool, so we’ve both just taken away each other’s autonomy in one single conversation?
Emily: Sure sounds like it!

One of the things that makes serial storytelling so tricky is that every writer on earth is working from the same Big Book of Stories and the temptation is to turn the page to a different thing but land the same punches over and over and over again. It’s why on most shows, after about three seasons, characters usually become caricatures of themselves. Their redeeming qualities and their comical conditioning and their foibles become more and more exaggerated and they end up sort of collapsing in on themselves as they live out the same tale in a different room or a different city or with a different partner.

Pretty Little Liars falls victim to that sometimes because all TV falls victim to that sometimes, and life is that way too — a Spencer Hastings, for example, is never only going to Radley one time — but the character they’ve sidestepped that trap with the most has been Emily, which is something I find shocking almost every time I think about it. It’s not just that she’s a lesbian and I’m so used to tired tropes or elementary school fables when it comes to gay characters on TV, but also because Emily’s whole deal is: she works hard, she loves everyone, and she makes courage look easy. There’s a reason the Harry Potter series didn’t revolve around the Hufflepuff house; there are only so many ways you can say how nice a person is before the audience falls asleep. Gryffindors and Slytherins, that’s where the action is.

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But Emily Fields, the writers keep putting her in these impossible situations and asking her to fight her way out without violating her core goodness, a conundrum that is as rare as a unicorn on television and seventy-eleven billion times more interesting than whatever coming out/cheating/pregnancy/death thing is everywhere else. And this story she finds herself in right now is like the ultimate challenge of her innate Emily-ness.

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