'Game Over, Charles'
A's shocking identity is FINALLY revealed—for real this time.
For the first few seasons of PLL, I thought this day would come—maybe at the end of season 2, like a normal murder mystery show. Maybe after season 4—make us work for it a little bit, right? But then, as the show got renewed for seasons 5, 6, 7… it started to feel like maaaybe we were being played, and would continue to be played forever. I was beginning to make my peace with the fact that we’d never find out ‘A’s identity, or that when we did, it would be completely bogus and random, like last season’s “Charles DiLaurentis” letdown.
But oh, boy, did the ‘A’ reveal feel satisfying! All this time, CeCe Drake was right under our noses, plotting evil. According to Twitter reactions, it looks like a lot of people were disappointed by the reveal, but I really don’t understand why! CeCe was always a little too involved, and a little too mysterious. Wren literally would have made no sense. And one of the Liars, least of all. Did you want it to be Ali? Also, we finally have a real reason to hate Sara Harvey! Okay, before I continue this rambling—let’s recap.
We open on an extremely confusing scene: It’s still prom night (because PLL loves to mix drama and ball gowns), and the Liars, Ali included, are running upstairs to the roof. ‘A’ is on the ledge, about to jump, and the girls are saying, “Just because we know who you are, it doesn’t mean the game is over!” and “You’ve been such a bitch to us. But we heard your story—we understand!” Um… say what? How did we go from prom to “understanding” so quickly? But then we’re slapped with an “EARLIER THAT NIGHT.” Phew. I was about to be furious if they just had ‘A’ commit suicide before explaining anything.
Back at prom, the girls are looking for Ali in that weird maze, when who shows up but a red-caped Mona. “I’ve been following Alison since yesterday morning,” Mona says, and then does her usual thing where she explains everything really quickly. Yeah, she knew Clark was a cop. Oh, by the way, Charles has his own cellular network. The servers are at the Carissimi Group. Gotta love Mona.
Meanwhile, we see Ali in a bed that’s a little too familiar: Ah, back at Radley. Home sweet home. There are pictures of Mrs. D on the wall, and what looks like Charles’ little face taped onto photos of Ali’s body. Clues, clues, clues. And also? Mr. DiLaurentis’ lifeless body is sitting outside the bars of the cage/bedroom.
The Liars, Mona, and Sara freaking Harvey head to the Carissimi Group, where Mona is trying to crack the code with a bunch of impressive DiLaurentis facts. Sara pipes up, saying Charles gave her a cupcake every year on September 7—try that date? It works, which is sign 5,058 that Sara is suspicious, but not even Mona barely bats an eye.
After a bit more fiddling, they find the last ‘A’ lair. They all step inside, except Sara who goes, “I’m going to wait in here. It’s a little tight in there.” ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME. No one finds that odd?!?! This room is the most high-tech ‘A’ lair of all, with some sort of fibrous, holographic video screen that springs up, playing a live feed of Ali at Radley.
“Why would you kill them?!” she’s screaming, as we see Jason lying motionless next to Mr. D. “We’re family!”
THEN, the reveal: Hooded ‘A’ turns around and says, “Don’t be so dramatic, Ali. They’re not dead… yet.” It’s CECE DRAKE! The Liars take turns gasping for like 10 minutes (which was hilarious, but I was doing the same thing, so whatever).
“I did everything to help you,” Ali says.
“You gave me a passport and a plane ticket,” CeCe retorts. “That’s hardly everything.” Then she sings a creepy little song (I guess to show that she really is ‘A,’ sharing a penchant for ominous oldies): “Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister.”
Let me just say, I think that Vanessa Ray, who plays CeCe, was a fantastic actress this episode. She didn’t feel like CeCe anymore, she definitely had a lingering masculine affect—talking out of the side of her mouth a bit, sounding a little bit gruffer as Charles/Charlotte than she did when she was playing her created “character” of ultra-girly CeCe. Overall I found her totally compelling—it made me wish she’d continue to be a character on the show next season, though without the games.
“They never understood how much I loved you,” CeCe tells Ali. “From the moment Mom brought you home, I never left your side. You were my very own living doll.”
(IT MAKES SENSE! Well, the abandoned doll factories still don’t make sense, people. But the doll obsession does.)
We re-live that old bathtub murder scene Mr. DiLaurentis had recounted through Charles’ eyes. Baby Ali is crying in her crib. “When my doll was sad, it made me sad, too,” CeCe says. Charles knocks on the window to get Mrs. D’s attention outside, but she can’t hear him. “Know what makes me feel better?” he says, and starts running the bath. OH… he wasn’t evil (yet)… he was just a dumb child who didn’t have enough supervision! (And was that a Marlene cameo?)
ANSWER ALERT: Ali got her “Why do you hate me?” question answered—Charles didn’t hate her. Just everyone else. We’ll get to that.
Mr. D. pulls Baby Ali out of the bath and screams, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Then seemingly without a second thought, he and Mrs. D are dropping this poor, tiny kid off at Radley Sanitarium. Because that’s what you do with a kid who makes one stupid mistake! There was a kid on an episode of Law & Order: SVU I watched once who tried to kill his little sister all the time—that kid needed to be locked up. Charles clearly didn’t actually need to be locked up, and then of course the being locked up made him go crazy. Mr. D does say, “This wasn’t the first time, Jess. We’re doing the right thing,” when Mrs. D is upset about leaving him, but if that were true, couldn’t they have shown us one other time?
NEXT: Ali’s secret twin
But then, CeCe tells Ali what she believes is the true reason she was locked up. “That’s all Dad needed,” she starts. “For as long as I can remember, I asked Mom to buy me dresses…. But Dad found out.” Basically, Mr. D knew Charles wanted to be a girl, so he found a reason to lock him up. Actually one of the most believable things on this show—people like that really exist, as sad as it is.
Mrs. D came to visit whenever she could, CeCe says. “When I turned 12, Mom bought me this beautiful yellow dress for Christmas. From then on, every time she’d buy you clothes, she’d buy me the same outfit. It was almost like we were twins…” I didn’t read the PLL books, but I made my little sister tell me about them back when I was watching season 1 and couldn’t bear the suspense then (ha!), so I knew about the Twin Theory all along, and it was interesting to see the little twin clues pop up every once in a while in flashbacks and random scenes. But when word got out that the writers weren’t giving Ali a twin (and when Ali turned out to be alive), I had no idea how they were going to tie those threads together with whatever new theory they planned. This makes a lot of sense: Neither Jason nor Ali actually had a twin, but each of them sort of did.
Ali had another sort of, kind of twin: Bethany Young. Yep, that name that’s floated around for years is finally coming into play again. In a flashback, we see Charles, dressed up in his pretty dress with a flowy scarf, on the roof of Radley talking to Bethany (who, at this point, I still thought was Sara Harvey). They start talking about escaping: “My mom always says nothing’s more believable than a really good lie,” Charles says, then practices a story on Bethany. “Oh, you’re good,” she says. But then someone else appears on the roof: “Oh, it’s that goody two-shoes, Ms. Cavanagh.” Charles runs and hides, then Bethany (a tiny girl… but maybe Ms. C was weak and on drugs) pushes Ms. Cavanagh off the roof. ANSWER ALERT: Bethany Young killed Toby’s mom. But Bethany blamed Charles for it, and Mrs. D paid DETECTIVE WILDEN off to rule the death a suicide.
We’re getting the Liars’ reactions to these little tidbits as they happen, and Spencer is visibly upset by this one. “He thought she chose to leave him,” she says of Toby’s fraught relationship with his mom’s supposed suicide. “That changed him.” Hanna says, “Mrs. D sacrificed Toby for Charles.” They realize that Mr. D abandoned him, but Mrs. D taught Charles how to be ‘A’.
At Radley, they diagnosed Charles with “intermittent explosive disorder.” “It was an accurate diagnosis,” CeCe says, “… for that crazy bitch Bethany.” Charles was given drugs for a few years, then was let out for a funeral: His own. He and Mrs. D “buried” him at Aunt Carol’s, which was a sign that Mrs. D “finally accepted me as her daughter.” But then she took her back to Radley—as Charlotte.
A sensor goes off on the screen the Liars are watching, and a video appears from the rear west wing at Radley, where Red Coat is walking down the hall toward what looks like a bomb. “There’s another one?” Aria asks. I feel ya, girl. Emily: “I thought Ali and CeCe were the only two Red Coats.” But then Spencer puts us back to reality: “CeCe’s going to blow up Radley.” Yaaaaay.
Years pass, and Charlotte spends her days doing complex math problems as an “escape.” ANSWER ALERT: Why is ‘A’ so smart? She studies! Mrs. D got the board to let Charlotte take classes at UPenn (a privilege available for anyone confined to a terrifying sanitarium—not!). School is boring (“I already knew most of what they were teaching.”) so Charlotte looks for another way to escape. “One day classes were canceled,” she starts. “Okay, I called in a bomb threat.” There’s the ‘A’ we know and love!
She goes to Rosewood and finds Jason, introducing herself as mega-hottie (and not a sibling!) CeCe Drake. “Do you even go to school here?” he asks. “No, but I bet I’ll be the prettiest girl in the yearbook,” she winks.
“I know what you’re going to say: It’s screwed up that I dated my brother,” CeCe tells Ali. Oh, my, god. This is the biggest plot hole for me: There’s no way CeCe could have dated Jason and not even kissed him. This is not because Jason is super hot, but because he was a high school boy, and I don’t know a single one who was that good-looking and that popular who would have been okay with a totally, completely celibate relationship with a college girl. She tries to explain it away: “Why do you think he was so mad all the time? He was so frustrated.” But no. No. That is so gross.
“I can’t believe Mom was okay with this,” Ali says, as we’re all thinking it. But CeCe explains that Momma D didn’t know until they all left for Cape May (ahh, that famous summer!). CeCe and Mrs. D have a heated argument on the porch when she goes home to “meet Jason’s dad” before they were all supposed to leave for vacation. “All this time you’ve been pretending to go to school, while you were running around Rosewood with my children?” Mrs. D says, before CeCe reminds her that she’s her child, too. Ouch.
CeCe asks what would happen if Mr. D found out, and Mrs. D says, “He thinks you’re dead.” Then CeCe realizes—she didn’t fake Charles’ death to protect Charlotte. “You did this for you,” she says. “You buried your dirty little secret.” Anyway, they all end up going to Cape May because there’s no way around this, and Ali asks why she didn’t just tell her everything that summer, since the two girls were so close. It comes back to Bethany again, who snuck out of Radley using Charlotte’s “out” privileges.
CeCe sneaks out and sees a blonde in a yellow top looking into the DiLaurentis’ window—YEP, it’s THAT NIGHT!—and smashes Bethany in the back of the head with a stone. Mrs. D sees—and it wasn’t Bethany, it was Ali. When CeCe realizes who she’s hit, she’s totally distraught. “I swear I didn’t know it was Ali, Mom!” She begs for forgiveness while Mrs. D, seething but calm, throws dirt over her other daughter’s body.
NEXT: Who killed Bethany?
Mona is crying, back in the room. “I killed Bethany,” she says. “I’d been sending Ali threats. I didn’t want to hurt her, just scare her…” Emily says, “You hated Ali so much that you wanted to kill her?” It’s all a jumble of yellow tops and blonde hair and blood, but here’s another ANSWER ALERT: Mona killed Bethany. And there’s one more tidbit: Mrs. D paid Wilden off, so he claims he wasn’t in Rosewood that night, and neither was Ali.
“I thought it would take a long time for Mom to forgive me,” CeCe says. “It never occurred to me that she never totally would.”
In the Lair, another ANSWER ALERT: How does ‘A’ have so much money? “CeCe’s the real Wolf of Wall Street,” Mona says, looking through a stock portfolio. “She never made a bad investment.” Okay, weirdly, and easily believable. Stocks! Oh, and Rhys Matthews? Just a decoy—he legitimately thinks he works at The Carimissi Group. Poor dude.
Now, CeCe’s Radley tale begins to mix with Mona’s: She was alone again at Radley until an even crazier girl (Big M) showed up. “She was so drugged up at the beginning, she thought I was you,” CeCe tells Ali. This is where CeCe got her information on all the Liars from Mona, and where Mona actually met Big A and got into the “Game.”
“I could never trust her,” CeCe tells Ali. “She was Hanna’s legit friend, and she ran her over with a car. Where’s the loyalty in that?” (To which Mona only gives Hanna a tearful “I really am sorry!”) CeCe let Mona continue the ‘A’ game if Mona helped her escape from Radley, which she did. Next thing we know, CeCe is meeting the girls at The Brew (or whatever it was called before Ezra owned it), and the rest is history. Her hatred of the Liars seems to take hold here. “Those girls were supposed to be your friends,” CeCe tells Ali. “They got what they deserved.”
Now the story comes to Fire Night: CeCe says, “I knew if you were alive, you’d show up if the girls were in trouble.” She sent a decoy—Red Coat—to distract them. And here we find out Red Coat’s identity. ANSWER ALERT: Sara Stupid Harvey is Red Coat, or was, CeCe explains, “When I needed her to be.” She was supposed to distract Mona while CeCe trapped the girls in the fire, but “Shana showed up, and all hell broke loose.”
Ali interrupts CeCe. “If you really cared about me, why did you keep playing the game?” CeCe says, “When your friends thought they killed ‘A’ in New York, it was the perfect time to end it. I left the country thinking it was over. But the game… it’s like a drug. And I was really good at playing it.”
This scene was my favorite bit of banter between Ali and CeCe:
Ali: “You attacked me in my own living room.”
CeCe: “I was going to lose you!”
Ali: “You almost froze Emily and Spencer to death.”
CeCe: “Yeah and I almost cut Emily in half, too—but is she hurt?”
She explains that she only got mad at Ali when Ali didn’t listen to her. “I know you won’t believe me, but I love all of my dolls,” CeCe says turning to the camera and facing the Liars. “That’s why you’re still alive. I would never let anything… really bad happen to them.”
Flash to Wilden’s funeral, where CeCe sends Black Widow—again, freaking Sara Harvey—inside to ensure that he’s dead. “He found out you were alive,” she tells Ali. “He was never going to let you come back and tell your story.” ANSWER ALERT: CeCe killed Wilden to protect Ali.
CeCe faces the camera and says, “Sorry, Emily. But not really.” All of her lines are so good. I love CeCe as ‘A’! I love it!
Emily is panicking—obviously. Everyone she’s ever loved is dead or evil, except Paige, who was boring. And Ali, who has other issues. The girls realize this is why the cops aren’t here: Sara never called them, because she is freaking evil. They look for an alternate escape route from the room, find one, and then Mona pulls off the heel of her shoe to reveal a spike (UM… WHAT?! This happened way too fast to fully take in how awesome and ridiculous it was. Are you kidding me? Why haven’t they all been wearing spiked heels this whole freaking time?!)
CeCe sneaked home to say goodbye to Mom, she says, but when she got there, Mrs. D was lying dead on the grass. UNANSWERED QUESTION: Who killed Mrs. D? We don’t know. “Mom was the only person who ever really loved me,” she cries.
The girls, meanwhile, are running to Radley to save Ali. Of course, they find Sara first. “Get out of here! All of you!” she says. She’s a horrible actress. Or maybe I just hate her. Or both. She’s pulling all the alarms, and then we see CeCe with a red button in her hand. She really is about to blow the place up. She presses the button and…. “Damn it,” she curses. Nothing happens—because Spencer has already stopped the bomb. CeCe runs to the roof, while Ali gathers the rest of the Liars to head there, too.
BEST PART OF THE WHOLE EPISODE ALERT: Sara says to Emily: “Hey, I tried to keep you safe.” Emily’s response? SMACKING SARA ACROSS THE FACE. Oh that felt GOOD!!!!!!! Are we still saying #ByeFelicia? Can we just say it this one time?
We’re back on the roof at the beginning scene, but CeCe doesn’t jump. Instead, she jumps right back onto the roof. Game over.
And now for two really quick, kind of awkward fast-forwards (this episode probably could have warranted two hours. If the freaking Bachelor gets two hours for a normal episode, the biggest episode in PLL history could have had more. Come on).
The Liars are setting up for the next five years. Emily is going to Pepperdine, Hanna is off to New York, Spencer is going to Georgetown, and Aria to Savannah College of Art and Design. Ali, meanwhile, is staying in Rosewood.
FIVE YEARS LATER:
Ali is writing a name on the board of a classroom: “Mrs. Rollins.” Is she MARRIED!? Is this a false identity? What is Lorenzo’s last name?!?! The Liars rush in with their new, grown-up hairstyles (Spencer should not have bangs, please let this be short-lived). Aria says, “He’s coming for you.” The girls say, “We came back here for you, Ali, so move it.”
“It’s too late… he’s already here.”
We could ask questions about the next season and the next mystery, but I don’t really care right now. I’m still stuck on CECE! And I can’t wait to hear your thoughts, too.
Things that probably should have been considered: The moms are still in the basement. The moms. Are still. In the basement. Who killed Mrs. D? I expected Melissa to factor into the finale, too. And what about when there were other people on the ‘A’ team? I might need to watch the whole series again… but I’m not sure I can stomach it. (Especially because, even though this tied up pretty well in my book, I imagine the earlier seasons will be chock-full of inconsistencies given the CeCe news.)
Be sure to check out Marlene King’s answers to some of our questions before you go, and comment away!