For 5 years, fans of ABC family’s Pretty Little Liars have been theorising in attempts to find out who the anonymous antagonist of the series – ‘A’ – is. Last week, fans across the world found out; and were met with severe disappointment.
From here on, this article contains spoilers for Season 6 Episode 10 of Pretty Little Liars – you have been warned.
In the finale of season 5, ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’, fans discovered that ‘A’ was ‘Charles DiLaurentis’ who fans later discovered was Alison Dilaurentis’ (Sasha Pieterse) long lost brother, who was locked up in Radley (a mental institution) as a child. Season 6’s main story line has been to discover who ‘Charles’ is – there have been dozens of red herrings, fillers and plot holes throughout the series as a whole, but the revelation that ‘Charles is a transgendered CeCe Drake’ (Vanessa Ray) is extremely disappointing.
In the past there have been forgivable plot holes – the characters having phones that are yet to be invented, dancing to music that is yet to be released, the ages of main characters changing, November lasting a year – and general timeline issues. But this finale brought up huge, unforgivable plot holes.
Pretty Little Liars had the potential to be one of the best mystery series of all time, since up until now it’s had qualities rarely found in most mainstream TV shows. It has championed LGBT+ rights, had dozens of strong female leads, and has centered not around a developing love interest but instead a strong female friendship. Now, instead, Pretty Little Liars is up there with Lost and Gossip Girl as one of the most disappointing reveals of all time. In fact, months before the reveal, the ‘Charles is transgender’ theory was deemed to be one of the worst ‘A’ theories by Reddit users. The majority of Pretty Little Liars fans are livid at the offensive reveal; while the show scores an average of 7.9/10 on IMDB, and most season or mid-season finales score over 9/10, this finale got 4.5/10.
Let’s talk about trans characters on mainstream TV; there are very few, enough that you can probably count them on one hand. This under-representation has made steps in recent years – the wonderful Laverne Cox getting nominated for an Emmy, the brave and beautiful Caitlyn Jenner coming out and her fantastic docu-seires I am Cait have done wonders for the trans community. But it’s not enough – in 2015 casting a cis actress as transgender character is distasteful, especially when the show runner, I. Marlene King says ‘that [trans actors] really wasn’t an option we knew about’.
It’s also extremely problematic to cast a trans character as a psychopathic murderer, given the current struggles of their community. Unfortunately, there’s an uncomfortable history of this in pop culture. I. Marlene King and show director Norman Buckley are both openly LGBT+ and, up until now, they’ve dealt with LGBT+ issues in the show very well. In hindsight however, the constant referrals to ‘A’ as ‘shim’ and ‘He, She, It, Bitch’ is obnoxious to say the least.
Another quandary that occurs as a result of ‘the transgender story line’ is CeCe’s desire to be ‘Charles’ and ‘Prom King’ in the season 5 finale at Prom. She had allegedly been fully transitioned for years, and when the audience meets CeCe as ‘CeCe’ she demonstrates interest in heavily feminine clothing – so why wear a suit after fighting for years to be accepted as female? The tiles in the Dollhouse also spell out ‘Charles’ and she sends messages to her friends and family as ‘Charles’ nor Charlie or CeCe.
Offensiveness aside, the finale was sloppy – and opened up dozens of plot holes. For a start, there was no real motive given for CeCe to torture the four main liars, who were effectively rendered useless as the main storyline for the whole series. Not to mention a character who has no emotional connection with the audience – Sara Harvey (Dre Davis) – cast as Red Coat, and Black Widow, with no explanation given and diabolical acting from Dre Davis.
The biggest plot hole, no doubt, is surrounding the death of Marion Cavanaugh (Karla Droege), which has been a major plot point through all 5 seasons of Pretty Little Liars. In ‘The First Secret’ (2×13), Toby (Keegan Allen) says his mother has been dead a year, meaning she died in 2008, while in this episode we discover CeCe Drake witnessed Marion Cavanaugh’s murder when she was 12 years old, in 1999. Further, Ali meets Marion in 2007, when she’s 13, before she was a patient at Radley – this makes it hard to believe she died in 1999. What’s more, it was allegedly covered up by Detective Darren Wilden – who was also 12 years old at the time.
PLOT HOLE – TOBY'S MOM
This scene as well makes little sense – given that CeCe Drake was also Jessica DiLaurentis’ (Andrea Parker) daughter – and a patient at Radley.
These, among other smaller plot holes have lead many fans to theorise this was a last minute plan.
I. Marlene King has denied jumping on the ‘transgender bandwagon‘, and claims to have had this planned for three years. Some fans have theorised that this was a last minute change after an alleged ‘drunkgate’ leak on Reddit, that said ‘Wren is A’ – some fans even speculating CGI was used in the finale. This theory has some merit, as it is clear it was much lower budget than other finales – and there are minimal shots with CeCe and Ali in the same frame. What’s more, there are plenty of clues pointing to Wren Kingston (Julian Morris) being A, including clues from I. Marlene King herself; this Instagram post is an anagram of “I saw Mom throw Aunt Marion from the Rooftop – so Wren is Charlie”.
Another – arguably more realistic- theory is that CeCe is an unreliable narrator, and not in fact Charles DiLaurentis at all, but another patient at Radley who’s taken his identity.
In short – there are dozens of questions still to be answered, and it’s doubtful that the series can be saved now. How did CeCe perform complex medical surgery, learn to hack, become a multi-millionaire, a spend a summer in Cape May while being a patient in Radley? How did she date her brother for four years without her mother putting an end to it or Jason visiting her house? What’s the relevance of the NAT club? How did CeCe get a visitor’s pass into an institution from which she was an escaped patient? How did Aria, Spencer, or Lucas not recognise CeCe in Radley? If CeCe was ‘A’ because she loved Alison and wanted to protect her, why did she frame her for murder? Why did Bethany draw pictures of Jessica Dilaurentis in her book? Who killed Jessica DiLaurentis? What was the relevance of the Maddie Ziegler dance at Radley? Why in the dollhouse did Spencer wake up with blood on herself? How did Cece date, and sleep with Eric if she was institutionalised?
Pretty Little Liars has never been realistic, and there’s certainly always been a fantastical element – but the continuity errors, constant plot holes and dropped storylines are difficult to dismiss. The only saving grace of the episode was Vanessa Ray herself. Her acting of such a complex character was excellent – despite a poor sloppy script and offensive storyline.