Spoilers galore for episode 310 of Pretty Little Liars.
I’m going to write this in my Pretty Little Liars recap tomorrow, but I’m not going to belabor it here or there because I’ve given way too much energy to the quick-tempered trololololols this year, but here’s the thing about Paily tonight: It was just some fucking fantastic storytelling. Think about it: The writers are in an impossible situation with Paige, right? It’s a three-fold problem. How do you make the audience root for Paige when: 1) She’s got that self-hating homophobia situation from back in season one that people aren’t so quick to forgive. 2) She came before and after Maya, so if you tilt your head the right way, how can you not go, “Huh. Well, she’s probably GLAD Maya died!” 3) She’s always falling and failing and tripping and flailing and Emily’s never made a mistake or said an unkind thing in her life.
How in the world can the writers put the audience on Paige’s side when she’s got those three strikes against her? Here’s how: Do exactly the thing they did tonight! It was a complete game-changer and it put Paige and Emily on a level playing field for the first time ever. Up until now it has always been Emily extending grace to Paige, and after tonight — after Paige eventually extends her grace to Emily, which is obviously going to happen because, duh, they’re still in love in episode 319, a million miles from now — they will meet as equals.
When I heard all those rumors about Emily and Nate, I thought Emily was going to get confused about her feelings for Nate in some kind of multi-episode emotional arc exploring the intersection of grief and sexual fluidity. But nope. The writers threw that Nate/Emily thing down as a gauntlet, a single bizarro whim that flipped the world inside-out and made Paige and Emily’s relationship legitimately sustainable. And in doing so, they chose Paige’s side. They chose the lesbian. The lesban supporting character.
And I guess that’s the thing that excited me most: the lengths the writers went to tonight for Paige. We’re supposed to be on the Liars’ sides always. Sure, you can spare a frown or two for the Calebs and Tobys of the world, but they are straw characters, really, who flit into and out of the Liars’ lives at the writers’ leisure. But to flesh out Paige in such a way that she becomes the sympathetic one in her relationship with Emily, to offer up a main Liar as a betrayer? That’s some risky stuff right there. Some risky, quality stuff.
Also, by doing what they did in this episode — the first in the final three-episode arc — the writers have catapulted Paige and Emliy’s love story right to the center of this season’s climax, meaning that they’ve anchored the emotional punch onto Paige and Emily with as much commitment as they also have with Aria and Ezra, the most beloved power couple in the world. That kick in the gut we felt when Emily kissed Nate with the lips she used to kiss Paige? That wasn’t an accident. The writers wanted us to feel that. Not because they’re betraying us, but because they’re saying, “A lesbian love story is just as important, just as emotionally resonant, and we’re counting on the audience to root for them and feel for them the same way we do with Ezria.”
You can — and some people will, I know — shake this thing down to something to get outraged about. But Emily’s not turning straight, she’s not getting into some kind of laborious gross-off with Nate. She reached out to comfort him in a single moment, and it made us hate him, and narrow our eyes at her, and wrap Paige up in a warm blanket and spoon-feed her ice cream. Pretty Little Liars is better than the simple-minded bullshit that usually dominates these conversations. They think we deserve more than whitewashed gays who give us PSAs. And so do I, and don’t you?
@hhoagie Your logic makes me feel a bit better about the taste of vomit in my mouth.Honestly, I think Paige might be too good for Em now— Lindsay Clemons (@LindsayClemons) August 15, 2012
Who’s the good guy now? Smart writing, that’s who.