Well, that happened.
I can’t totally say I was all that satisfied with this mid-season finale. And not due to the big reveals (we’ll get to my feelings on that in a second), but instead I just didn’t find this to be a super compelling episode to watch. I’m glad to finally have answers to all the questions we’ve been asking for the past five years, but the episode was such an info dump – starting with the Charles reveal at the 10 minute mark and lasting the whole way through until the second to last commercial break – that I felt the action was pretty stagnate. I feel the episode would have done a lot better had it been paired with last week’s much more action packed episode into a two-hour finale event. As it was, I felt a lot like Judy Geller at the end of that Season Six Friends Thanksgiving episode. You know when Monica tells her Ross got high at college, and Ross tells her Monica’s living with Chandler, and Rachel figures out she wasn’t supposed to put beef in the trifle, and Phoebe loves Jacque Cousteau, and Joey just wants to GO! Well, this was a lot of information to get in 30 seconds.
As for the information we received, I will say I’m pleased that most questions got answered. We know all of Charles’ backstory and motivations, how the game exchanged hands from Mona to Charles, what actually happened to Toby’s mother, who “killed” Alison and who killed Bethany, everyone who ever played Red Coat or the Black Widow, and more. It’s nice to finally be at a place where it feels like things have wrapped up to a degree. I appreciated that, just like last week with the shout outs to Jenna and Lucas, we got to touch on a few people from the past like Shana and Wilden. That helped complete the story and make it feel all encompassing from the first season to now. I’m certainly planning to do a rewatch of the whole series soon enough to get a better feeling of closure. I think it’ll be fascinating to watch everything while knowing all the answers (almost like being part of the A team).
But not all the mysteries were solved, and I think I like that. There won’t be a total divide between the past five seasons and the future with these few dangling threads out there. We still don’t know who killed Mrs. DiLaurentis (unless I missed that somewhere – someone help me out if I did). We don’t know how and when the Real Housewives of Rosewood escaped from the DiLaurentis basement. During the Labor Day flash forward Emily cryptically mentioned Sara being out of the hospital and getting an equally cryptic “It wasn’t out fault” reply from Hanna, though for my money I certainly don’t remember her needing a hospital (Emily didn’t hit her that hard). Not to mention, we don’t know the exact nature of Sara’s involvement on the A team. Did she join by choice or was her participation a result of force? And though the game may have ended, what’s happened to Charles?
And let’s be real, none of those mysteries even begin to touch on the new mysteries. The last few seconds of the episode take place five years later where Alison has become a teacher (with shockingly terrible chalkboard handwriting) and the other girls, all grown up now, are rushing home to protect her from some ominous “he.” Plus someone has to solve the mystery of why Spencer chose those bangs.
But let’s leave those questions for the future. Pretty Little Liars will come back sometime in January, and we can start looking for answers then. Instead, let’s focus on tonight’s big reveal: A.
Otherwise known as Charles DiLaurentis.
Also known as Charlotte DiLaurentis.
Also known as CeCe Drake.
That’s right, Pretty Little Liars went in the only direction I was completely against and made their ultimate Big Bad a trans kid.
The moment of the big reveal, I will completely admit, I made a major stank face and it stayed on for the next several minutes. As the episode went on and CeCe told her story, however, my total disagreement with that decision lessened a little, but not completely. So I have a some majorly mixed feelings about A’s identity to work through.
My gut reaction to the reveal was poor. I think it is hugely problematic to have your Big Bad reveal themselves to be a trans character when that character is your only representation of trans people on your show. I think that about the portrayal of most oppressed or underprivileged groups, but I find it particularly true of trans people simply because they are a population that are just now starting to gain recognition and respect. When your only trans character is revealed to be evil, it’s promoting the idea – even if it’s unintentional – that trans equals evil.
I do want to make it clear that I think trans characters should be able to be anything any other character would, including evil. Being trans, just like any other oppressed or underprivileged group, does not automatically turn a person or a character saintly – that idea is similarly problematic. But there needs to be some semblance of balance in the representation. Something to counter the bad behavior and show the trans population as just as varied and complex and well rounded as any other. When you only have one character to represent a whole population of people and their major defining traits are evil, well…that well rounded-ness just can’t come across.
What softened my initial gut reaction was CeCe’s history. Assigned male at birth, CeCe apparently wasn’t comfortable with that identity from a very young age. Much to the displeasure of her father, CeCe would ask her mother for dresses and play dress up in her closet. It was clear from her story that it was this behavior, just as much as the accident with Alison, that led to her father having her committed to Radley. And though her mother loved and supported her for a time, she was still locked away in a sanitarium she didn’t need and thought of by the other patients and physicians as a “freak” and just a “boy in a dress,” someone to be neglected and bullied and abused. So much of what she becomes – someone obsessive and violent and cruel – isn’t who she was born as, but who she was molded into. Her being trans was certainly a part of that. But it wasn’t her being trans that led to her becoming “evil.” It was the cruelty of others in response to her being trans. And that’s an important distinction to make, and one I think the episode did very clearly.
CeCe’s story is one the audience could empathize with. She isn’t just a crazy, evil, horrible person, but someone who’s been hurt badly. Someone whose development was stunted by over reactions, neglect, and hatred. Her father abandoned her and her mother kept her a secret and her identity was something she was made to feel ashamed of. None of this excuses CeCe’s choice to take over the game from Mona and traumatize Alison and the other girls. None of this will ever absolve her for the terrible, terrible crimes that she committed. But they can explain them. And make us feel for a sad girl no one loved.
While I’m not wild about this particular story choice, I do think it fits what so much of this show is about: how one person’s bad behavior affects someone else, particularly when it comes to bullying. CeCe’s story isn’t all that different from Mona’s. Well, okay, it’s wildly different, but what I mean is Mona was shaped into A the same way CeCe was, by being bullied by others. Mona was tormented by Alison. She was tormented so badly that Mona tried to murder Alison. I’m not saying Mona was justified for that action, not in the slightest, but it didn’t come from nowhere. Alison was very clearly a horrible person. She created Mona. And CeCe was the same. CeCe was neglected and abandoned and punished – bullied in her own right – by the people who were supposed to love and accept and support her. And becoming A was the result.
In the end, I’m still very mixed on how I feel about Charles’ identity. I think the show definitely needed to have done a better job at trans representation before going in this direction. But I think they did an okay job with CeCe’s trans identity and her development into A being a result of other people behaving badly towards her because of that identity. Anyone else have thoughts?