A long, long time ago — two entire years ago! — when I started writing these recaps, I made you a promise. I would not try to explain the plot. I would focus only on the element I believed really mattered, and, not coincidentally, the only facet of this alternate reality I was sure I could consistently track: power. And friends, am I ever glad I swore this sacred oath to you. Because what even is happening?
Do we still not know who was the very first A, the one who messed with Ali so much that after being buried alive (once more, with feeling: after being BURIED ALIVE), Ali decided she needed to fake her own kidnapping and live on the lam, with nothing but a curling iron to keep her warm, for years? Is this Charles/Charlotte/Cece reveal supposed to help explain that?
I respect the admirable effort here to weave Cece into the world of this show as if this new story line were embedded in the show this entire time. It brings me warm, fuzzy memories of Gossip Girl’s Hail Dan Humphrey pass. But, obviously, this leaves unexplained about as much as it clarifies, and it ignores so many of the vital, creepy, dangerous stuff that set the show into motion. (Remember the N.A.T. Club? Remember the secret videos of the Liars? Remember Mrs. Grunwald? Remember Jenna?) So I must keep my word to you and, even for this plot-packed finale, deliver what I vowed I would. I present the summer finale Pretty Little Power Rankings!
1. Mona (last week: not ranked)
“Aria, maybe you always thought he was happy to see you, but I could never get past the bulge in his pants.” Honestly, the best thing would be if Mona were the real A the whole time, not only because of this weird thing I’m into called logic (Mona was an early target of Ali’s, has the social and technical savvy to mastermind this whole operation, could easily have money we don’t know about because Rosewood seems like a swanky-enough Main Line place to live, she was in Radley, I could go on) but because she is leagues ahead of everyone, always. Even Spencer. The girl hides spikes inside her high heels, like some kind of sexy Inspector Gadget!
2. Emily (last week: 1)
Violence never solves anything, unless the thing that needs to be solved is how annoying/pointless Sad Robyn has been all season, and then, when Emily clocks her in the jaw, it is awesome.
3. Spencer’s bangs in the future (last week: not ranked)
Is it a rule that everyone has cute straight-across bangs in the future? First Leslie Knope, now our girl Spence? Sure, I’ll take it.
4. Cece (last week: not ranked)
You know how you can tell Cece is a bad person? Because she feels the need to say, “I’m not a bad person.” My favorite thing about Cece is how she can’t believe Ali is so appalled at what Cece has done. (Ali: “You almost froze Aria and Spencer to death!” Cece: “ALMOST.”)
And later, when Ali tells her that “you can’t steal people from their families and lock them up to play with them like they’re your toys,” Cece is all, “Yes, I can, and I did. I know you won’t believe me, but I love my dolls. That’s why they’re still alive.”
But really, the line that cinches it for me with Cece is when she draws the line — not on kidnapping, torture, and the like — but on casual, only-getting-to-second-base levels of incest. “Why do you think he was so mad all the time? He was so frustrated.” Well, DiLaurentis does kind of sound like Dollanganger.
5. Very helpful reminders about things A has done in the past (last week: not ranked)
Emily: “Charles drove a car through my house, Aria.” Cece, re: Mona: “She was Hanna’s legit friend, and she ran her over with a car. Where’s the loyalty in that?”
6. Spencer (last week: 3)
Mona: “I killed an innocent person.” Spencer, granter of pardons: “She wasn’t innocent.” It is so ruled. Quality Winnie the Pooh reference, too.
7. Ali (last week: 5)
Mostly a stunned yet composed listener as she finds out that virtually everything she has ever believed to be true about her family is a lie inside a lie hidden behind another lie. On the bright side, her makeup and hair still look fantastic.
8. The five-year time-jump (last week: not ranked)
Look, I’m as sad as all of you that I won’t be able to make jokes about how all these grown women are pretending to be teenagers! I, too, am crushed to know that never again will an underage Liar find herself in a statutory make-out session with a police officer, an educator, or some other such male adult. But let’s be real: High school was holding our girls back. Even though when I talked to Marlene King last June about the future of the show, she said, “There will come a time where the girls graduate, and have a summer break, and I hope that we end at that point.” Clearly she realized that she could not drag out the next three months of Liar time into 38 hours of television.
9. Aria (last week: 12)
She doesn’t really do anything, but then again, at least she doesn’t really do anything wrong.
10. Mr. DiLaurentis (last week: not ranked)
It’s hard to be the worst parent in Rosewood, but I think Mr. D. takes the crown.
11. Okay, let’s do this Cece/Charlotte/Charles story line (last week: not ranked)
So I’m in for Charles existing — siblings popping up out of the ether, while unorthodox, is not unheard of; it’s all very, “Oh, hey, Dawn Summers, I didn’t know you were a thing” — and sure, I guess I can be along for the ride where Charles was a danger to himself and others so he was institutionalized. And yeah, Mr. DiLaurentis didn’t like that his boy wanted to dress up in girl clothes — this is a terrible thing that happens to trans individuals in real life, and it’s not like we’ve ever seen Mr. D. be even a semi-decent dad.
But still: Really, the reaction to this bathtime screw-up is to send Charles to Radley? Like, indefinitely? For some undiagnosed behavioral disorder that he didn’t really have, so he would never have exhibited symptoms of it while in this Dickensian House for the Vaguely Afflicted? And Jessica DiLaurentis would rather hide her own child away in a mental hospital so old-timey that they probably have an entire wing where women are treated for hysteria, not to mention lie to her other children about their brother’s existence than, I don’t know, divorce her douchey husband, whom she was already cheating on anyway, and lead a relatively peaceful life with her three Barbie babies? And then Jessica gets murdered by some unidentified person — again with the backyard as the scene of the crime? God, even murder has become so derivative — and instead of using this opportunity to come clean to her siblings, Cece/Charlotte/Charlie continues to “play the game” with Ali and the Liars just because she was too good at torturing people to quit? I MEAN, REALLY.
12. Bethany (last week: not ranked)
Handles a very easy-to-solve scenario by shoving Toby’s mom off the roof.
13. Sad Robyn (last week: not ranked)
When she told the Liars about her September 7 cupcake (… why), I wrote: “I guess we finally have a reason to be glad that Sad Robyn is here.” Anyway, huge shock, Sad Robyn was lying this whole time just to help Cece and to get into Emily’s pants. Gee, if only someone had thought her completely MIA family and hazy explanations for why she couldn’t go back to her parents were problematic in any way.
14. Radley (last week: not ranked)
Where children with serious, debilitating mental illness are allowed to hang out on the roof, at night, unsupervised.
15. Jason (last week: not ranked)
I hope Dr. Sullivan is still around in five years because this guy is going to need a lot of therapy.
Lingering concerns: Wait, are the moms still locked in the DiLaurentis basement? Like Huell in the safe house? Who killed Jessica DiLaurentis?
You were like my very own living doll,