Film and TV

Where did Pretty Little Liars go wrong?

I can remember when I began watching Pretty Little Liars – it had just been added to the On Demand feature on the television subscription package we had at home at the time and I’d been wanting to watch it for what seemed like forever. Sadly, I didn’t have MTV at the time and I think this was the only channel it was being broadcast on in the U.K.

I was excited, yet a little unsure of what my thoughts would be. I had heard a lot about the show from spending time online on Tumblr and Twitter, and part of me expected it to be a typically trashy teen drama that I could binge in a weekend and move on from. Little did I know what I was letting myself get sucked into.

Almost seven years later, as I write this I’ve just finished watching the final episode of series seven. In all honesty, I don’t know how to feel. A show that to me had so much potential and bravery in its offering, despite being deeply rooted in the teen drama genre, somehow shrivelled up and died at least a season and a half prior to the finale.

For it to finally be brought to a close I feel relief, but I also feel like fans have been completely cheated of a proper ending. I feel like so many loose ends have been left dangling in front of us, and those that have been tied up have been rushed for the sake of filling an hour and a half episode.

Now I don’t want to go into an in-depth post about all the things wrong with the finale in particular because I honestly believe that the show began to fall apart a long time ago. This single episode hasn’t ruined things for me in the same way that I never really expected it to bring a sense of fulfilment to the characters I’ve grown to love. I had been tainted by the trauma of the Gossip Girl finale, and no matter how hard I try to be optimistic it is difficult when you can already see the foundations starting to give way.

But, when exactly did Pretty Little Liars go wrong?

Somewhere along the lines, the show lost its way. Every single person I know who has sat through all seven seasons (possibly even less) will tell you the same thing. One of the main things I liked about the show was it got you hooked – the murder-mystery aspect was quite unique at the time for the teen genre, and combining that with relatable teen drama may have been considered a risky move. But it paid off. So much so that the narrative kept going strong even after the premature reveal of A’s identity. If anything this gave Mona’s character a greater depth, and despite it being clear the writers were fumbling around in the dark for some way of continuing the show and maintaining all the things that made it popular, this extra depth gave them breathing room to figure it out. Suddenly, this was a dark, angsty teen drama that could tackle just about anything.

Then something changed. I’m not sure if this was around the time that the programme decided to represent mental health issues with a literal asylum or the repetitive queer baiting for season upon season was ‘progressive’, but a programme that used to empower young women and promoted messages of friendship and sisterhood began to stumble into some seriously grey area. Killing off characters for almost a whole season and them suddenly coming back to life out of nowhere happened far too often, and instead of the plot twists seeming clever they seemed like excuses to keep you tuning in every week.

I think the final nail in the coffin wasn’t the reveal that *spoiler alert* Alison had been alive this whole time or that A was actually CeCe Drake, the transgender sibling of… at this point who knows, half of Rosewood probably. It was the time jump.

The time jump provided us with a completely unnecessary season that tied up very few loose ends and created more questions than it solved (how did the wine mums get out of the basement? I need to know!). Suddenly, our characters had aged five years, yet looked exactly the same as they did when they were in ‘high school’ and had somehow developed these unrealistically successful lives and left Rosewood behind. Then, stupidly, they all returned – as if nothing bad ever happens in Rosewood. Another murder took place, and the hunt for the killer and the new AD dragged out a once popular show for an extra season that it did not need, all because there was still some market value left in the show and not because there was actually any substance left to the story.

I personally fall in love with shows because of the narrative. I live for well-constructed characters with extensive history. Pretty Little Liars gave me that, and more. Not only did we see the characters grow, we got to glimpse into their past and empathise with them and understand why they behaved in the way they did. Although the use of ‘bitch’ as an insult was firmly rooted in the show’s narrative, you could see at times the positive message that they were trying to promote. Friendship, above everything else, can see you through just about anything and that other women are not your enemy and should uplift each other rather than tearing each other down. That’s why the Liars always came out on top because, despite their obvious flaws, they supported one another through thick and thin.

This final season offered none of that. Instead, it offered unnecessary plot twists, wacky murders, forced love triangles that no one asked for and stolen identities, and an incredibly forced resolution to a seven season long queer baiting narrative arc. Had they given Alison and Emily half a chance long before the final three episodes, they could have told a beautiful love story between two queer women that didn’t end in tears. Instead, it just happened, and while I am glad there were no deaths or questionings of identity the relationship felt like a let down – like the writers decided that because we’d waited 7 years for literally anything serious to happen that they had to give it to us, even if they didn’t really want to.

I would have been satisfied with a season where nothing dramatic happened, as long as the narrative was worth the investment of my time. Adding an entirely new narrative arc into the finale episode offers me the exact opposite of that. And while I do look back on this show with fondness, there is a part of me that wishes I’d have called it quits after the dolls house episodes.

What did you think of the finale episode? Do you think the show was on it’s way out long ago, or were you satisfied with the ending? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Make sure you leave a comment below!


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