“Pretty Little Liars” recap (5.4): Chaos is what killed the dinosaurs, darling!

Hanna accompanies Ali to her checkup where the doctor pokes around on her skull where she got smashed with that shovel and asks a lot of questions about her kidnapping. He also finds a stab wound on Alison’s inner thigh that she gets very weird about, like so weird that Hanna tries to melt into the wall. Ali finally loses it on the doctor and he takes her to his office to ask her a million more questions, all of which she records and distributes to the Liars with a mask of her face so they can corroborate her testimony or present testimony on her behalf, as her, at any time. The best part of the exam is the doctor goes, “Girl, you’ve got some powerful lungs!” The scariest part is Hanna wants to know where she got that stab scar and Ali says, “Once you know something, you can’t unknow it.”

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Mona appears out of thin air as Paige is walking to her car alone at night like someone who hasn’t been kidnapped and stuffed in a trunk! Paige! What are you doing! She jumps about ten feet in the air and covers her vital organs with her hands in case Mona does some kung fu or hexes her or something.

Mona: Here’s a thing I heard that might interest you. Alison’s dad wants her to move away from Rosewood, which makes my army’s war half-won already.
Paige: I’d be lying if I said my life wouldn’t be sixty times easier if she left town, but I’m not going to force that reality into existence.
Mona: I am so sure you’ve got what it takes to weave realities from the fabric of space and time.
Paige: Huh?
Mona: Nothing. Switzerland claimed to be neutral during World War II, you know, but it harbored more Nazi gold than any other country on earth.
Paige: Fine, I’ll be Portugal.
Mona: Second most Nazi gold after Switzerland.
Paige: Damn your academic decathlon prowess!
Mona: Look, if you don’t join my army, I’m going to assume you’re in bed with the enemy.
Paige: I’m not in bed with anyone.
Mona: You wish you were — but Emily is in bed with Alison.
Paige: BRB, vomiting up everything I have ever eaten.

Then Paige says the thing. The thing: Do you ever wonder when you became the thing you were most afraid of?

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This is everything I wanted for Paige McCullers. Like sure, it’d be great to see her get the girl or whatever, but what I said last season is as true as it ever was: I just wanted to see her be the real Paige McCullers again. I get that supporting characters are around to be the scratching posts of main characters. I understand how stories work. But they gave Paige so much more than a couple of strawman supporting traits. The writers gave her more. Lindsey Shaw gave her more. Paige is polarizing because Paige is real.

If there is a person on this show who actually did wonder when she became the thing she was most afraid of, it is Paige McCullers. The day she shoved Emily’s head underwater was the day she let her torture make her a torturer. I know people like to say Paige came out because she loved Emily, but I think Paige came out because she saw herself becoming Alison. Bullies don’t bully because they actually think they’re superior; bullies bully because they are fucking terrified. Alison bullied because she was afraid of the stuff on the outside getting in; Paige bullied because she was afraid of the stuff on the inside getting out. Say what you want about the sinners in Rosewood, but show me someone else who has faced the darkness inside of them — really, fully cracked themselves open and sifted through their motives and their fears and their pain — and owned the damage it has caused to other people. Show me someone else who was so broken about their own brokenness that they rode their bike through a thunderstorm in the middle of the night to stand on their victim’s porch and say, “I hurt you. I was wrong. I’m sorry.”

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Mona loves The Scarlet Letter because she knows the power of cataloguing other people’s hidden sins. Paige may be the only person on this show who knows the only thing more powerful than lies is wholehearted repentance.

(Just FYI, I did, in fact, meet with a group of trusted advisers, including AfterEllen’s best and brightest and my brilliant buddy Jacob Clifton and some of my smartest TV besties for third, fourth, fifth and sixth opinions about Paige’s storyline this season, just to make sure the hearts in my eyeballs weren’t blinding my brain.)

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