In the Pretty Little Liars
mid-season finale, "Game Over, Charles," after six seasons and over 100 episodes, the identity of 'A' is finally revealed. Tons of questions are answered in what is essentially an hour-long supervillain monologue, sans twirling mustache. 'A' is revealed and humanized, while the liars all make it out alive and even survive five years into the future.
Talk about a shocking finale; I still can't wrap my mind around most of what happens. So, big stuff first: the identity of 'A', aka Charles DiLareuntis, is revealed and the culprit is CeCe Drake. The identity of Red Coat and Black Widow turns out to be Sara Harvey.
Those are two huge reveals in an episode that is basically jam-packed, start to finish, with reveal after reveal after reveal. Like a Rosewood resident taking off a mask to reveal another mask, there are layers upon layers of answers that ultimately just end up making you more confused. The episode drops so much knowledge that at some point it becomes information overload, my brain shuts down and I just want to go into the basement with the Pretty Little Moms and get drunk.
Is this the best finale the show has ever done? I'd say no, not by a long shot. The episode has far, far too much exposition to drop and thus spends the entirety of the mid-season finale explaining mysteries from the previous six seasons. The present sections of the episode basically take place in two locked rooms, as CeCe explains her haunting, sometimes evil and mostly misunderstood backstory to Alison as the rest of the liars look on.
It's nice to get the answers to most of the show's big questions, such as who hit Alison with that rock and who killed Bethany, but the revelations come so fast and so furious that some of the big moments have no time to land.
I'm thinking specifically of the revelation that Mona killed Bethany Young in a fit of rage, thinking it was Alison. Mona basically lets this slip, and the liars all look at her in horror for one second, shrug their shoulders and go back to their regularly scheduled programming.
By packing so much into one episode, the writers were forced to speed past some of the big moments and shocking reveals instead of parceling them out like the show usually does. This gives these moments no time to breath and takes some of the power out of these giant revelations.
It reminds me of the finale where Alison took the liars through her last night before her "death," only this time we're speeding through close to 20 years of material instead of just one jam-packed night. There is really only so much time that can be given to each particular "OMG" moment when you only have 42 minutes to get through that much material.
My guess is that feelings will vary widely on the effectiveness of this episode and of the ultimate "Uber A" reveal. I'm still not 100% sure how I feel about everything, but I do know the show has surprised me by going to some very dark, human and, ultimately, even heartfelt places in this finale.
CeCe is 'A'
The episode begins with the liars bumping into a red-hooded Mona and then running after Alison. They find 'A's' secret lair, which looks like the inside of a futuristic spaceship.
"Oh, you just go on ahead into the spaceship of death. I heard someone say something about a shower," Sara Harvey says, locking the girls in. "That's not suspicious at all. Isn't my new girlfriend great?" Emily asks, completely oblivious to the non-stop sketchiness that is Sara Harvey.
On a hologram screen, the girls watch as Alison confronts her kidnapper and family member. Apparently, CeCe stole the technology from the Situation Room to make her space lair. The liars gasp, one by one, as CeCe is revealed to be Charles DiLaurentis, aka "Uber A."
I don't really have a lot of time to unpack the whole trans issue presented in this episode, except to say that I can't decide if I think the show did a good job or bad job with this sudden narrative turn. CeCe (or Charlotte) is never really presented as a straight-up villain, but clearly she has a few screws loose. (After all, most normal people don't kidnap, torture or murder people.)
Her identity as a trans woman is shown to be a way in which she's oppressed by society and by her father, which causes a lot of hurt and anger. She's not a villain because she's a trans woman, but her identity as a trans woman does humanize her and explain why she's been so obsessed with Alison and the DiLaurentis family. Yet the representation of trans characters in media is so thin, I can definitely see how the idea of a trans woman as a villain can be problematic.
The info-dump begins early in the episode, with CeCe recounting her sad childhood. See, she just loved her sister too much. I know when I love things too much, sometimes I try to drown them too. Just ask Paige. (I miss Paige so much sometimes. Ride back on your bicycle and save this crazy town from itself, McCullers! One love dunk at a time!)
This is what lands "Charles" in the children's ward at Radley, but the assertion by CeCe is that Kenneth knew Charles liked to dress up and wanted her out of the house. So poor CeCe grows up in Radley, where at the very least she has access to unlimited doll supplies. There, she befriends Bethany Young, who casually pushes Toby's mom off the roof because YOLO, I guess? Some of the answers to our long-standing questions end up a little thin in this episode.
"Charles" ends up taking the hit for this murder, and Jessica DiLaurentis pays off Wilden to cover up the crime. "Oh, man, that's why I got stuck in that stupid storyline with Toby for half a season?" Spencer asks in disgust. "Screw Bethany Young."
Charles Becomes Charlotte
Jessica DiLauentis never forgot her child in Radley and eventually pretended that Charles died so that Charlotte could take his place. Jessica worked something out so that CeCe could attend UPenn, but CeCe was too smart for college and decided to go hit on her brother instead. And, thus, the woman, the mystery, the mannequin leg snake-charmer that is CeCe Drake was officially born.
This is a real thing that happens in the episode. They really show CeCe hitting on Jason and then explain that Jason was so high all the time because he couldn't understand why he could never round home base with his girlfriend.
"Eww, Alison, I would never sleep with my own brother! Making out with your brother is totally normal, but sleeping with your brother is a line I wouldn't cross!" At this point, Jason has made out with half of his sisters. Just let that sink in for a minute. Marinate on that.
Jessica is furious, for a lot of reasons, but I'm guessing mostly because you never really want to have to ask one of your children to stop dating her brother. CeCe ends up going on summer vacation with the DiLaurentis family because Kenneth "I'm a Terrible Parent" DiLaurentis never even notices his own child.
Alison is shocked that CeCe could have been so close to her and yet never told her the truth, but really, how do you begin to explain that you're dating your own brother to feel closer to your family? Hallmark doesn't exactly make a card for that one.
Later, CeCe learns that Bethany Young is pissed that Jessica is having an affair with her father and out for blood. CeCe goes to save her mom but hits Alison over the head with a rock instead, thinking she's Bethany. The moral of this story is that if you live in Rosewood and want to stay alive, don't wear yellow and definitely don't have blonde hair. You might as well bathe in blood and then swim with sharks.
At this moment, Mona finally comes clean about how she killed Bethany Young by accident with a shovel, as if only at this moment realizing that she killed someone. Did Mona not know she killed Bethany Young? Did Mona always think she'd killed Alison, and then when Ali showed up she was like "Opps, I guess nah?" and never questioned the body found in a shallow grave? This scene is such a big revelation, cast aside so casually, that I just feel like I have a million more questions instead of answers .
"Whatever, Mona, you've killed all of us at least once," Hanna says, quietly shushing Mona. "I really want to hear the rest of this exposition."
Once again, Wilden takes a stack of money to stay quiet about all the murdering, and Charlotte heads back to Radley for some more arts and crafts. There, she is sucked into the adrenalized hyperreality that is Mona Vanderwaal.
She ends up helping Mona in the game because Mona told her that her sister's friends were all happier with her dead. Later, she began to set up the liars in dangerous situations to see whether or not Alison was actually alive.
"So once I was totes alive again, why did you keep harassing us?" Alison wonders, reasonably. "Because if I didn't, this show would be over!" CeCe says, then explains that she got to really like playing the game with them.
Red Coat, Black Widow and the End
It also turns out that Sara Harvey is both Red Coat and Black Widow. CeCe sent Sara to the funeral to check and make sure Wilden was actually dead.
Alison finally gets angry and wants to know why, among other things, CeCe nearly choked her to death with her own scarf. CeCe points out that all the liars are mostly alive, so they should at least be thankful for that. Ungrateful!
Meanwhile, in the Starship Exposition, Emily Fields swears off dating forevermore.
Here's a fairly massive plot hole that's never adequately explained: why did Sara Harvey do any of this? Did CeCe really kidnap Sara and Stockholm Syndrome her into helping? Is there more to the story? The episode never really has time or attempts to answer these questions. It just sort of skips right past it. Sara Harvey is bad, and not just because Pam Fields will spend the next several years paying off her water bill.
CeCe came back into town because she loved playing the game and couldn't give up on Alison or let her leave town. When she came back into town, she was shocked to discover Jessica already dead in the front yard. So we still have no idea who killed Mrs D.
Things get a little sloppy towards the end of the episode. The liars notice Red Coat setting some explosives, and realize CeCe is planning on blowing herself and her whole family sky high. They break out of the Starship Family Dysfunction just in time for Emily to deliver a mean right hook to Sara's face before she can use her Mickey Mouse voice to explain. There is perhaps no more satisfying moment in this episode.
CeCe escapes to the roof now that her cartoon villain plan to blow everything up has backfired. All of the liars talk her off the roof, by telling her that she's just misunderstood. CeCe doesn't jump but does declare that it's "game over" for her.
Five Years Later
It's Labor Day and the girls are all packing up to go off to their various colleges. In a far-off basement somewhere, the moms are now subsisting mostly on leftover wine and Cheetos dust, waiting for death.
The girls all say goodbye to each other in a really sweet, affecting scene. Alison and Emily hold hands, Spencer calls Hanna "Hanna Banana," and everyone hugs and smiles. Alison decides to stay behind in Rosewood and wishes them all happy travels, as they head to their cars and then off into the world.
"Help us," the Rosewood moms whisper from the dank basement that has become their new home.
The next thing we see is a title card that reads "Five Years Later" and we are officially in time-jump territory. I'm so excited, I'm so scared, I'm so confused as to why a school with such a lavish prom budget still has chalkboards.
Five years down the line, Alison is married and a teacher, when the rest of the liars burst into her classroom. "He's coming for you," they declare breathlessly. They explain that they came back to help her. "He's already here!" They're all out of breath! Spencer has bangs! It's very exciting! Do you think Alison is being hunted by the Terminator?
That's where the show leaves us, gentle viewers, until January 2016. We'll have a long, long time to mull over the events of this mid-season finale. It's a long time to start trying to figure out if this Uber A reveal actually makes any sense whatsoever, a long time to start pasting pictures onto your wall and connecting them with string, a long time to start making masks and wearing them to formal events, a long time to wonder which of his two remaining sisters Jason will kiss next.
Until the new year and the new grown-up liars, tell me what you thought of the mid-season finale! Did you love it? Hate it? Did you see it coming? What do you think of the CeCe is 'A' reveal? Share in the comments!
(Image courtesy of ABC Family)