After five long years and multiple fake reveals, we finally found out A’s identity on “Pretty Little Liars.” Wow. Insert obligatory spoiler alert here.
The episode was billed as revealing all and it came pretty close — for a show built around secrets, anyway. Ultimately, A ended up being someone we know pretty well. The answer ended up making more sense than, say, the time you-know-who was revealed to be Gossip Girl, but it also feels sort of obvious/disappointing for the reasons outlined in BuzzFeed’s brilliant pre-finale ranking of potential A candidates.
There are many layers to PLL’s summer finale — not least the mystery that’s kept us watching for the past five years — so let’s get to it:
At the start of the episode, we see the Liars running up to the roof of a building where they see A, hoodie and all, standing on the ledge. With the police on the ground, A has nowhere to run. “Please don’t do this,” Ali says. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help you.” The Liars echo Ali’s sentiments, urging A not to jump.
This meet-and-greet would not be possible if not for Mona, who always did know how to make an entrance. At the prom, Mona appeared in a mask and red cape to reveal that she’d been tracking Ali — and her text messages — for the past few days and managed to figure out where Charles’s texts were coming from. I rolled my eyes hard when Mona said “I coded a program to decrypt the signal source,” but I was also on the edge of my seat, so well done, Vanderwaal.
This leads Mona, Sara and the girls to the Carissimi Group headquarters. Sara recalls that Charles used to give her a cupcake every year on September 7 and the date ends up unlocking the security keypad. The Liars realize they have made it into A’s real lair and that A is aware of their presence. Sara feigns claustrophobia and stays behind, which is super shady. Mona takes the controls and brings up a live feed of Ali talking to A.
“Why would you kill them?” Ali asks as the feed expands to show both Mr. DiLaurentis and Jason lying lifelessly on the ground, separated by jail-like bars from Ali. A turns around and reveals herself to be none other than CeCe Drake! “Don’t be so dramatic, Ali,” CeCe says.”They’re not dead … yet.”
As the story goes, CeCe was born Charles DiLaurentis. Charles loved Ali. “From the moment mom brought you home, you were like my very own living doll.”
Remember the story Kenneth recently told Ali and Jason about Charles trying to kill Ali when she was a baby? CeCe remembers it differently. Ali was crying and when Charles couldn’t get Jessica’s attention, he drew Ali a bath to soothe her. But Charles was a kid and things didn’t quite go as planned. Kenneth insisted that Charles might be a danger to their other children and that Radley was the best place for him.
CeCe tells Ali about her isolated childhood — Jessica was the only one who visited her consistently, but it was still rare. And visits from her Kenneth were non-existent. CeCe says that her father painted her as troubled to get rid of her. “For as long as I can remember, I asked mom to buy me dresses, but he wouldn’t let her so I just played dress up in her closet. She thought it was cute. but dad found out and …”
CeCe says that when she turned 12, Jessica started to buy her the dresses she longed for. In fact, whenever she would buy an outfit for Ali, CeCe would get a matching one “almost like we were twins.” Leave it to this little nugget of information to teach me to never look down on a Christmas episode (remember the duplicate dress flashback?).
It was around this time that Charles met Bethany Young, who has long been a mysterious figure in the PLL universe. Bethany pushed Toby’s mother, Marion Cavanaugh, off of Radley’s roof and blamed it on Charles. This led to a diagnosis of “intermittent explosive disorder” and years of powerful, mind-numbing medication. Jessica paid Detective Wilden to say that Marion committed suicide, which we know had painful implications for her son.
CeCe reveals that after the tranquilizers almost killed her, Radley allowed her to leave — for a funeral. Jessica buried “Charles” in the backyard at her Aunt Carol’s house and allowed CeCe to return to Radley as Charlotte. “Mom finally accepted me as her daughter,” CeCe remembers. Later though, Jessica would reveal that the funeral had been real for Kenneth, who truly believed that Charles was dead.
As CeCe grew up, she gained more freedom from Radley, taking part-time classes at the University of Pennsylvania. “I thought going to school would be fun, but I already knew most of what they were teaching,” she says, which makes sense because A is a genius. To overcome her boredom, CeCe made her way to Rosewood. “I knew it was a risk, but I needed to see my family.”
In the flimsiest aspect of the CeCe as A development, we’re reminded that CeCe used to date Jason. As in, her brother. She says that she never let them get close and that’s why Jason “was so mad all the time.” Jessica found out that Charlotte was posing as CeCe Drake when Jason asked if his new girlfriend could join the family in Cape May for the summer. Kenneth, of course, had no idea that CeCe was actually his child.
Ali asks CeCe why she never just told her the truth. CeCe says that she wanted to, but that Bethany “ruined everything.” Bethany found out Jessica was having an affair with her father and wanted to hurt Jessica. CeCe followed Bethany to her mother’s house to stop her and, well, you know what happened next. CeCe assumed that the blonde wearing her clothes in the yard was Bethany, but it was actually Ali. Jessica buried Ali alive to protect CeCe and paid Wilden to say that CeCe was never in Rosewood.
Apparently, CeCe isn’t the only one that slings rocks before confirming that her target is, in fact, her target. Mona tearfully confessed that she was the one who killed Bethany Young, thinking that Bethany was Ali. “I killed an innocent person,” she says before Spencer reminds her that Bethany was anything but innocent.
Speaking of the not-so-innocent, Sara was revealed to be Red Coat and The Black Widow, which is a real bummer for Emily. It’s unclear why Sara was working for CeCe in the first place, but money may have been a motive. As Mona put it, “CeCe is the real ‘Wolf of Wall Street.’ She’s never made a bad investment.”
If we’re talking money, sure. But the never-made-a-bad-investment theory may not be totally true for someone who spent years terrorizing people she claims to care about. CeCe said that she planned to leave town after the girls thought they killed A in New York, but that “the game is like a drug and I was really good at playing it.”
When Ali reminds her of all the stuff she put the girls through — almost sawing Emily in half and nearly freezing Aria and Spencer to death — CeCe is quick to point out that almost doesn’t count. “I know you won’t believe me, but I love all my dolls. That’s why you’re still alive.”
It’s worth noting that Sara appeared to be putting the finishing touches on a bomb designed to blow up Radley, where the Liars had gathered to try and save Ali. Spencer managed to dismantle the bomb before CeCe could detonate it. That’s how we ended up on the roof, where CeCe conceded: “Game Over.”
It would almost be anti-climactic if not for the still unanswered questions like: Who killed Mrs. DiLaurentis? (CeCe only found her body) How did Sara end up on the A team? Is Rhys Matthews really just a decoy? Was Tanner working for CeCe also? Are Jason and Kenneth DiLaurentis okay?
And thanks to a preview of our five-year time jump, we’re inclined to wonder if Ali got married to someone with the last name Rollins. And just who is this mysterious man looking for Ali, much to the Liars’ alarm? Equally important: Does Haleb make it?
Also: it’s cute that the girls all got into college and out of Rosewood, but it’s kind of odd to spend all that time in high school, only to breeze through college and land abruptly into adulthood.
Perhaps all will be revealed in the end — I just hope it doesn’t take another five years.