As the second half of the seventh and final season of Pretty Little Liars builds up steam, we can’t help but take some time to reflect on these characters and how they have evolved over the years. Thanks to the show’s decision to skip forward five years after season 5, fans have been able to see what changes, and what doesn’t, from teen angst to adulthood.
Although the Liars aren’t always the most desirable role models when it comes to the gold standard for a teen girl’s behavior (sleeping with your teacher, sneaking around and lying), Pretty Little Liars has succeeded in creating one of the most important points of reference for LGBTQ teens and adults alike. Although Emily Fields can lie with the best of them, her journey from a youthful teen who struggles with coming out to an adult who is comfortable and confident in her sexuality is one that is rare yet undeniably vital to the young LGBTQ community.
Pretty Little Liars wastes little time delving into Emily’s journey as a high schooler who struggles with her sexuality. Everyone thinks she has the perfect life as star of the swim team and a dreamy, popular boyfriend, but Emily proves that superficial status quo doesn’t equate pure bliss. Coming out in high school is hard, and that’s an understatement. I didn’t come out until I was 28, and no one I knew in high school came out until well after graduation, because it was harder for kids to bully from a distance back in 2005.
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Bold, unapologetic Emily forged ahead when she met and fell for free-spirited Maya and decided to introduce her to her family and friends. While the horror stories of coming out are essential to portray on screen as an example of what not to do, the realistic ones are even more vital. The Liars, in the most open display of compassion and maturity, accepted Emily’s sexuality seamlessly, and her mother portrayed an honest and moving journey toward acceptance and pride.
As trailblazing as Emily’s teen coming out story has been on Pretty Little Liars, what really carves her out as the most important character on the show is the way that her sexuality enhances her role, but doesn’t define it. Emily’s relationship trials and tribulations are explored no more or less deeply than any other Liar, and her storyline isn’t limited to plots that revolve around her sexuality. Emily has struggled with her academics, sacrificed her swimming career for her health, come to the rescue for her friends, and most recently managed to earn a position as the high school swimming coach.
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The show has succeeded in creating an empowering female character who just happens to be attracted to members of the same sex, and those attractions are given the same amount of respect and screen time as those of her straight castmates. Just as Aria and Ezra, Spencer and Toby, and Hanna and Caleb tend to weave in and out of one another’s lives romantically, Emily and Paige continue to be forced to confront their feelings for one another. She also never gets left out of the love triangle drama the show has become known for. Team Alison anyone?
Pretty Little Liars never shies away from tackling hot-button social issues, as was evident in its recognition of transgender struggles with A as Charlotte. This season, the show decides to shed some light on the serious nature of teen sexual harassment, specifically the ramifications and potential consequences of false accusations. With sexual harassment, we rarely witness a scenario that involves two women, but this issue is highlighted as a troublemaking girl claims that Emily has made inappropriate advances on her and other members of the swim team.
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No one person, regardless of his or her sexuality, is exempt from the cruelties of other human beings, and Pretty Little Liars deserves to be commended for utilizing Emily to examine an issue that can affect people regardless of their sexuality. Emily is just as strong, kind, smart, developed, and occasionally manipulative as any other character on the show, and her absence will be felt far and wide after Pretty Little Liars wraps up for good this summer. Here’s to hoping Emily and the rest of the Liars all get their happy endings.
Who is your favorite Liar? What would you like to see happen Emily in the series finale? Are you Team Paige or Team Alison? Let us know in the comments!
Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on Freeform. Want more news? Like our Pretty Little Liars page on Facebook.
(Image courtesy of Freeform)