The Liars escaped the doll house, but in a way, that only worked as a reminder that it was only a metaphor for what their lives have been like this whole time. There is a reason why A chose to trap them in versions of their own rooms: they have lived in a world created by A this whole time, not just since being trapped in the bunker. They’ve been forced to react to his moves, to design their lives around A’s ploys. Pretty Little Liars is the brilliant, exciting show that it is because it knows that the only way the girls can survive in this environment is by sticking together. Mutual self-help, friendship, love is what makes them stronger than A will ever be. At the same time, the question of who A is almost becomes a distraction from the main thing, which is that everything is A – it is one of the central mysteries of the show, the why and who of A, but it doesn’t take away from the main point that Aria, Hanna, Spencer and Emily (and every other woman in Rosewood) are trapped in a whole world that looks down on and hates girls and women. It’s in the police force that is never trustworthy, never a source of support, in the adult men who prey on teenage girls for their own gratification.
Their strength and their agency come from supporting each other and combining their skills to form a stronger unit. And each of them has grown so much in the process.
This is why A’s strategy is so heinous: he pits them against each other in a series of experiments (modelled on Milgram’s), forcing them to be cruel against each other, to make choices that will hurt each other. In all his scheming, all his detailed planning, A has discovered that the way that he can do the most harm is not by hurting the Liars, but by making them hurt each other. They emerge profoundly traumatized, but then, they’ve always been traumatized, and this is a fiercer, more explicit expression of something that has also always happened: the patriarchy attempting to pit girls against each other to prevent them from finding strategies of resistance.
After this, Aria decides to stop writing because A has shaped it into a tool against her (and she has outgrown Ezra a hundredfold), Hanna rips up her room because she fiercely insists that she be allowed to determine what home is and looks like, Spencer struggles against her mother trying to control her recovery, and Emily, of course, picks up a gun so she can protect everyone she loves.
Pretty Little Liars is eloquent in its darkness, and beautiful in its deep faith in the girls’ love for each other. They will survive this; they will grow stronger in the broken places.
Sara was down there for years
The way the show portrays what happened in the doll house and during the experiments is haunting in how non-explicit it is – the horror comes from not quite knowing, not from seeing the violence. Something to keep in mind whenever violence against women is explicitly shown on TV.
Caleb runs circles around all the others. And Aria rages against Ezra’s attempt to shape her reaction to the doll house (I still have hope that the show will eventually be as eloquent with Aria and Ezra as it has been in other areas).
EMILY FIELDS. Trying to protect everyone and telling the girl she loves to stay away because that’s the only way she knows to protect her.