When Emily returns and overhears Katie admit to telling Naomi about JJ, it’s finally time for the long-overdue twin smackdown, as all of Emily’s pent-up rage boils over and she proceeds to beat Katie down in the middle of the dance floor.
But just as Emily is clearly winning — straddling Katie and about to punch her — Emily suddenly stops, thinks better of it, and helps the now-chastened Katie up. Emily wordlessly takes off the dress Katie gave her to wear (she’s wearing a black slip underneath) to make it clear that she is no longer under her sister’s thumb, before finally taking a verbal stand.
Emily: Katie, I can’t stand this. I’m a person. I’m not you.
Katie: (quietly) I know.
Emily: You have to understand Katie. I love you, and I’ll never really leave you, but I can’t fix this. I like girls. Well, I like a girl. No, I love her. I love…[pointing to Naomi] her. OK?
Emily walks over to Naomi and grabs her hand, and they walk out of the ball together.
Emily, no longer in her sister’s shadow, is finally in charge of her own life. As they are leaving the ball holding hands at the end of the episode, Naomi remarks, "Some party," then tells a smiling Emily, "I love you, too."
What makes this ending work so well is how carefully Emily and Naomi’s individual storylines, and their relationship, were set up.
Naomi is consistently inconsistent throughout the season. A more conventional coming-out story than Emily’s, Naomi wrestles with how to reconcile her attraction to Emily with her attraction to boys, too, and viewers are given a window in her pain and confusion in the episode devoted to her ("Naomi"). In the "Katie and Emily" episode, she tells Emily, "I’m not like you. I’m not sure like you are," and wonders aloud if "Maybe I only like boys, apart from you."
This question is never resolved, but that’s realistic: you usually have more questions than answers when you’re a teenager.
Naomi is weak at times, but she is also braver than she gets credit for. Naomi pursues Emily even when she is terrified of her feelings for her, despite being verbally and physically attacked by members of Emily’s family who don’t want to see them together.
When Naomi finally chooses to go to the ball and to hold Emily’s hand in public, you know how difficult this is for her, and you’re proud of her.
The writers made us even more invested in Emily’s journey by establishing the uneven power dynamic between Emily and Katie is from the first episode, and reinforcing it throughout the season, until the showdown at the ball between the twins feels both inevitable and necessary.
You want Emily to put Katie in her place, and when she does, you’re cheering for her.
Making Emily’s changing relationship with her twin central to her character development also makes Emily sympathetic and relatable to those who might have otherwise have difficulty relating to a lesbian character. Even if you don’t know any lesbians, you probably have a sister (or brother) you have issues with, or know people who do.
By developing Emily and Naomi’s relationship slowly and carefully, and in the context of the girls’ individual struggles, the writers made the audience root for it, and that made the payoff sweeter. Throw in strong acting by Prescott and Loveless, and it makes sense that "Naomily" would be one of the more popular pairings on the show this season.
The show gave us a happy ending, but not a neat-and-tidy one — we still don’t know whether Emily’s parents are going to accept her sexuality, for example, or if Naomi will stay with Emily. But that’s part of what makes it work.
The show isn’t perfect, by any means — some of the characters (like Cook) are too one-dimensional; the characters’ frequent and casual use of sex is problematic to many viewers; and the decision to have Emily sleep with JJ as a charitable act didn’t sit well with a lot of lesbian viewers.
But Emily and Naomi’s relationship is a good example of a well-plotted, well-executed, and well-acted storyline coming to a satisfying conclusion — something that’s all too rare on TV these days, especially in the U.S. And more of that on TV is something viewers of all sexual orientations can get behind.