The 'Pretty Little Liars' Legacy Will Be Its Focus On Female Friendships

by Samantha Atzeni
Eric McCandless/Freeform

As Season 7 enters the June 27 finale, the friendships on Pretty Little Liars will face the ultimate test. But I have no doubt they'll come through the other side even stronger. Over the years, the show emphasized the importance of female bonding as a coping mechanism for the show's darkest moments — and the finale should be no different than how it all started.

The show's premise set up four friends who lose touch after the disappearance of their friend, but come back together when her "body" is discovered and a mysterious “A” begins threatening them. Through its sensational storytelling and focus on female friendships, Pretty Little Liars invites viewers to be part of their secret society every week. Together, viewers and the female characters get to grow together as a family through the events of each “OMG moment” that awaits them.

In an article for The Atlantic, Emma Green picked up on how special the show's formula has always been.

The show seems pretty self-aware, as the characters often poke fun at their own stereotypes. Yet it embraces the idea that girls can grow from having a tight-knit group of girlfriends — a somewhat radical stance for a post-Mean Girls world.

The title itself — Pretty Little Liars — suggests a barrage of stereotypes in which the characters are one-dimensional. But, it's been anything but that. The constant threat of "A" places the Liars in unconventional situations that are resolved usually by sticking together, indicating they are stronger as a team.

This show always had a unique look at female friendship in comparison with other representations out there. Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes, the basis for the film Mean Girls, was mentioned in a 2002 New York Times article where Margaret Talbot wrote, “Later on, however, social expectations force their hostilities underground, where their assaults on one another are more indirect, less physical, and less visible to adults. Secrets they share in one context, for example, can sometimes be used against them in another.”

This is keenly exhibited in Mean Girls, which created a cultural performance of female friendships highlighting bullies, gossip, and a complicated sense of loyalty. Yes, teenage girls are capable of lying to each other and bullying — isn’t that how the audience meets Mona in the first place? But, while Pretty Little Liars addresses these issues, it still allows the characters to mature into women seeking long-lasting friendships.

Most YA narratives rely on the preconceived expectations of how young women should treat each other. Often, the tricky concept of establishing realistic sisterhood can lead to stereotypes. If they are too close-knit, they run the risk of saccharine friendships, resulting in contrite storytelling. If there are too many power struggles among the Queen Bee and her minions, it becomes soapy and ridiculous like Gossip Girl.

Yet Pretty Little Liars strikes a balance between the complications of being childhood friends and growing apart. "A" may have brought the Liars together, but they are the ones maintaining the friendship.

When Vulture's Devon Ivie interviewed the cast in April, she referenced the show's time jump, which showed the Liars as friends five years later. Troian Bellisario, who plays Spencer, said, "And when we did the time jump, you felt that our characters were still keeping up with each other, but they were living totally different lives. It’s like those friends that you have — you don’t have to talk to them every day, but when something major something happens…" to which Lucy Hale, who plays Aria, added, "It’s like no time has passed."

The most traumatic moments of the show bind the Liars together, illustrating their friendship is deeper than Rosewood's drama. This is exhibited in the Season 5 finale where the Liars are held captive in A's Dollhouse.

As Spencer, Aria, Hanna, Emily, and Mona try to figure out a way to escape, Alison continued in her search for them, even if it meant heading straight for A, who wanted nothing more than to terrorize her. In the Season 6 premiere, Alison made a statement to the press, begging for their release from the Dollhouse: "My friends have always been my rock. Without them, I am lost in the woods." Alison remained true to these words when she used herself as bait to save her friends.

It is clear that A views them as little playthings and underestimates how far they will go to protect each other. A mistakenly believes the Liars will turn on each other eventually, but the Liars always stand united against A, creating good TV and an even better representation of healthy female friendships.

In a separate interview with Vulture, show creator I. Marlene King said her own childhood friends was an inspiration for the show. "For me, the most important part of the show is the friendship the girls have with each other, and I think I was lucky enough to have that growing up."

When Season 7 finally ends, the Liars will be on their way to living the rest of their adult lives and the events of the show will be a memory. Despite A's best attempts and the suggestive nature of its title, Pretty Little Liars has shown viewers that strong female relationships are possible through all phases of life. Regardless of how the finale plays out, the Liars got to this point together, and they'll finish it together too.