Previously on Pretty Little Liars, Caleb returned to Rosewood to break up with Hanna because being best friends with a ghost for three years did not prepare her to understand how he is now best friends with a ghost. Ezra enticed Aria to go for a ride with him to his murder cabin by waving some feathers out the window of his car, all, “Hey, little girl…” Spencer agreed to help Toby help her dad shut down Radley for good, even though her brainspace and heartspace aren’t quite ready to let the secrets (and secret lesbian zombie waltzes!) of that place go. And Emily lost her damn mind trying to wrap it around the fact that the first murdered girl she loved had risen from the grave.
The Liars are not very happy that Hanna nicked Ali’s journal from [Ezr]A’s lair over in Ravenswood and sat on it for like a week before revealing its existence. She tries to explain the way that Horcrux diaries work, but they’re too stubborn to listen to her. The book isn’t just full of stories about Ali and also the shrapnel of her undead soul; it’s a coded expose about all of their lives. Stuff they want to forget, stuff they don’t know about each other, shitty shitty things Ali thought about each of them on the regular. Reading it is like playing out your nightmares on a stage in front of your family and she thinks they might not be ready.
Emily grabs that journal from Hanna’s hands, says, “I didn’t get to be Emily Fields by ignoring the hard stuff and hoping it would go away.”
She stays up half the night reading the chronicle of her love for Ali and is rewarded with a spectral visit from the young woman herself. I’m trying to think of a scene on this show that is harder to watch than this, and I honestly can’t come up with one, and I’m including that dog I thought A was going to kill for digging up evidence in Jason’s yard. I talked to Dana Piccoli about this on her LadyTV podcast a couple of weeks ago, but I haven’t really written about it much in my recaps: This stuff with Alison and Emily is almost unbearably real. My Lord and Savior Mona Vanderjesus has done some monstrous shit, but it’s all so adrenalized in its hyperreality that it only woos me to her. She hits people with cars, wears masks on top of masks on top of masks for a chance to dance with Hanna on a haunted train, buys the blind girl’s time-traveling Mustang and wears the blind girl’s sunglasses while cruising through the Rosewood High parking lot, blows up the substitute history teacher with dynamite during a school-sponsored 5K just for giggles. You know, mad crazy TV stuff. But Alison DiLaurentis, man. What she did to Paige, what she did to Emily, what she’s doing to Emily: I only know maybe three gay girls on the planet who haven’t had their heart smashed to bits in this way at least once in their lives.
It goes like this: Ali flies in through Emily’s open window and says she needs Emily’s help to come home, says she always loved Emily best because Emily always saw the best version of her, says she knows Emily is probably a little mad but maybe she deserves some slack because she did save Emily’s life twice. But Emily is not mad. Emily is livid. She loved Ali, mourned Ali, wore that goddamn friendship bracelet around ages after everyone else had taken theirs off. Wore that thing the whole time she was dating Maya, the first time she dated Paige, was wearing it when she met Samara.
Ali laid out postcards and played Emily’s heartstrings like a harp, planning an imaginary world of togetherness and letting Emily kiss her and collecting her secrets with a lover’s whisper, promising to keep them safe. But Ali didn’t love Emily. Ali loved Emily’s love. Watch her face, even now, when Emily screams, “You destroyed me!” Ali gets off on it, emotionally, to have infiltrated a heart as pure as Emily’s. It takes a long time sometimes, as a lesbian lady, to realize that a girl who loves your love doesn’t necessarily love you. Sometimes it’s malevolence on their part, sometimes it’s that you’re not even speaking the same language because your heart and your body have a whole different vocabulary than girls who don’t like other girls. With Ali, I think it was both. Emily Fields is probably the only person on earth who ever loved Ali with the kind of love all human beings crave. Sometimes she reflected the song of Emily’s heart right back at her and other times she distorted Emily’s heartsong and played it back in a way that made her afraid and ashamed, like there was something unnaturally wrong with her deepest longings and desperate desires. And once Ali realized that’s the kind of thing that works on gay teenagers, she recorded Paige’s heartsong for Emily and did the same exact thing to her.
When Emily let go of Ali, she let go of all the shame Ali had hexed her with over the years. She came out, she loved Maya hard and real and out loud, she found a soul connection so deep with Paige that she started planning a future with her. She stopped apologizing for being. She looked inside herself with the light of Maya’s affection and her mother’s acceptance and her father’s protection and Paige’s adoration and Samara’s lust and the other Liars’ loyalty and she realized there was nothing to be afraid of. Ali’s resurrection fucks up Emily so bad because, yeah, she loved that girl, but also she can feel the creeping, crawling, strangling shame sneaking its way back up on her and wrapping its disgusting, grimy fingers around her perfect, perfect neck. It doesn’t just make her remember the person she used to be; it makes her feel like the person she used to be, back before she realized it wasn’t darkness that made her different. The light of her heart shined in a whole other direction, but it was still light. It was beautiful.
She loved Ali. Ali loved her love. Emily gave and Ali took, and when Emily asked for anything in return, Ali called her a freak for giving in the first place. For wanting.
What a funny thing to try to shake this storyline down into some kind of shipping war when what we’re talking about is is the subtle shading of a courageous soul. Emily’s mad. Hella mad. And scared and heartbroken all over again too.
Anyway, Emily tells Alison to slither right back out her window — “I always liked Beyonce the correct amount, bitch!” — and then her alarm clock goes off and she doesn’t know if it was real or if it was just a dream.