This review contains spoilers.
6.10 Game Over, Charles
Cece Drake, or more accurately, Charlotte DiLaurentis is A.
With that decision, Pretty Little Liars exploded everything we knew and thought we knew about this show. Cece Drake was not an outside choice, of course, even before the Charles reveal in Welcome To The Dollhouse. As we approached this big finale, she was one of the strongest contenders, and that’s without seeing her for almost a full season. People were always going to be upset whomever the writers chose, but with Cece the reasons to revolt suddenly multiply.
I’m not going to talk in-depth about the fact that Pretty Little Liars chose to make its villain a transgender woman. That’s been covered by people far smarter and more informed than me and in far more detail. Personally, that aspect of the reveal can be taken either way, as an example of negative representation or a summation of the point this show has been trying to make all along. Which one you choose depends on who you are.
We begin the episode still at the prom, moments after the end of Last Dance. The mothers are still locked in the DiLaurentis basement and, along with Ezra, Toby, Caleb and the entire supporting cast of the show, they are absent for this finale. The only people we see are the Liars, Mona, Alison and Sarah. This was the first and probably the most glaring disappointment of the episode for me.
This is a finale – in many ways a series finale. When we come back, we’ll be five years in the future, with no idea which characters beloved and/or detested will be alive and living in Rosewood by then. We’ll see the love interests again, I’m sure, but the absence of all the characters that populated this marvellous world leaves a hole that no amount of answers can fill. In revealing the mystery, I can’t help but feel they forgot about the show.
But at least Mona turns up, fulfilling her role as the sixth honorary Liar. While the others have been dancing with their beaus, Mona has been watching Ali. She helps the gang track Alison to the Carissimi Group, where they gather around to watch the Big A reveal along with the rest of us.
The holographic screen? The cheesiest, most insane thing this show has ever done, and something that made the action feel oddly separate from both the audience and the Liars themselves. It’s fitting that so much of this finale occurred inside Radley, though. I at least liked that.
Kenneth and Jason have been drugged and dragged to Radley too, passively witnessing all of their mistakes personified by one damaged, angry and unhinged family member they both chose to forget about – a tragic villain of their own careless creation.
The whole episode is exposition and flashbacks, which was expected. Cece tells the story of her admittance to Radley a little differently than Ken, saying she just loved her baby sister far too much. The ‘drowning in a bath’ incident was an accident but that, along with Charles’ tendency to dress in little girl’s clothes, was the last straw for Ken. With this, Ken became the most hateful of the hateful men in Rosewood.
But Jessica supported her child, buying her the same clothes as Alison and quite literally burying the Charles identity as Charlotte grew up. This explained the yellow top, which young Bethany stole from Charlotte on that fateful Labour Day weekend to go and confront Alison. Charlotte, thinking that Alison was Bethany, hit her with that rock. Mona, thinking Bethany was Alison, hit her with that shovel. Neither were dead, both were buried in the same hole.
It’s so, so curious that we’ve never seen grown-up Bethany’s face, yet it feels as though the time for attempting to figure out her identity as someone on the show has passed. We are all out of mysterious blondes, guys.
Which brings me to another disappointment of Game Over Charles – Sarah Harvey. Sarah is Red Coat and Black Widow, as if that’s a satisfying conclusion to a mystery that’s arguably been going on longer than the one about Big A. We met Sarah Harvey just nine weeks ago, and the character has been – putting it nicely – divisive. It’s not that it’s a bad reveal, in terms of the established narrative, it’s just that there are so many other characters to choose from.
As we go through Cece’s account of her life up to this point, things get more twisted and more bogged down by established events. She dated Jason, for one. That’s retroactively made sexless – just like Alison’s relationships with known creepers Ezra Fitz and Ian Thomas at age 14 – just so we’re not running around thinking that Cece went as far as to sleep with her own brother. Side note – Jason dated two of his sisters by accident.
She stole the game from Mona while she was in Radley, attempting to draw out of the shadows the sister she thought she’d killed two years ago. As motives go, it’s a pretty good one, but, as we know from Mona, it’s not that easy putting down the dolls and giving it all up. After having no control over anything in her whole entire life, you can kind of understand how the high of controlling Alison and her friends could infect her.
She took Sarah Harvey, and then Mona, to fill the Alison role before she could get the real thing, and the Dollhouse was her way of finally taking back some of her stolen power at others’ expense. Like Mona before her, Cece genuinely admired and cared for her dolls. She loathes them and loves them at the same time, just like she does herself.
So now we know everything, and five years of theories and red herrings have come to an end. Cece is Charlotte is Charles is A. It makes sense and doesn’t make sense. It’s satisfying and underwhelming at the same time. Whether she was on your list, you can’t deny that she was always on the writers’.
Might it have been better for one of Rosewood’s unsuitable male suitors to have been A? Probably. As much as the show always perpetuated that A was a woman – a “bitch” and a mean girl – it always felt to me like it should be a man. That’s why Ezra felt so right back in season four, and why so much of the fandom never recovered from that particular bit of backtracking.
But maybe the show wasn’t trying to use A as a symbol of misused male power, but rather as an example of the result such damaging social structures have on so many. In just one family, that structure created Alison and Charlotte – two girls who both had to fake their own deaths to get away from the horrors their circumstances had afforded them – yet let Jason get away with creating the NAT Club, spying on and recording young girls long before A got the idea.
So many wonderful symbolic threads run though Pretty Little Liars, and this is simply the one it chose to go with for its second big A reveal. If you love this show, it’s hard not to appreciate the thought that seems to have gone into that, and the conversation – both good and bad – that it’s opened up. The show is not just the mystery, but the mystery seems to at least get what the show is about.
When we return, the girls will be five years older and wiser but, as seen in the brief flash-forward tacked onto the end of this episode, they won’t necessarily have escaped the threats that consumed their adolescent years.
“He’s coming for you,” the Liars run into a 23-year-old Alison’s classroom and scream. Who “he” is, we’ll have to wait until January to discover.
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Last Dance, here.
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