'Pretty Little Liars': A look at the show's big reveal and why many viewers aren't happy

The ABC Family program 'Pretty Little Liars' appeared to reveal the answer to the show's central mystery in the newest episode of the program. How can showrunners keep from displeasing fans with the solution to a show's mystery?

Eric McCandless/ABC Family/AP
'Pretty Little Liars' stars Lucy Hale (l.), Ashley Benson (center), and Shay Mitchell (r.).

“Pretty Little Liars” fans now know more about the central mystery of the show than they ever have before, but most of them aren’t happy about it.

“Liars” airs on ABC Family and tells the story of a group of high school girls who are menaced by someone known only as A. This person seems to know everything about their past and says they will share these secrets with everyone. The four girls – Spencer, Aria, Hanna, and Emily – also experience the death of one of their friends, Alison DiLaurentis. The program is currently airing its sixth season.

So the central conundrum of the show since its debut has been the identity of A, and the most recent episode of “Liars,” which aired on Aug. 12, seemed to answer it: new developments on the show appeared to reveal that A is CeCe Drake, who was formerly Charles DiLaurentis, Alison’s brother.

However, many fans seem unhappy with this resolution.

TV shows with central mysteries have become more and more popular over the last several years, with the recent shows “Lost,” “Heroes,” and even “How I Met Your Mother" all focusing on this. In many cases, shows that waited for years to reveal answers seemed to disappoint fans more, since there had been more build-up to the reveal. While “Liars” is in its sixth season, the ABC drama “Lost,” which centered on a plane crash on a mysterious island, also ran for six seasons before it began wrapping up crucial questions and left many viewers unhappy with the eventual resolution.

“Mother,” which aired on CBS for nine seasons, revealed the identity of the mother in the second-to-last season finale. Many were won over by the character, who was portrayed by actress Cristin Milioti. But further plot resolutions that occurred in the final season angered many fans. 

Of course, mysteries revealed in less time can disappoint fans, too. Critics and viewers praised most of the first season of “Heroes” and were intrigued by its central mystery of how the characters would stop an explosion that could decimate New York City. However, many critics and viewers were then disappointed with how it was accomplished. And some viewers were less than happy with how the mystery at the center of the first season of HBO’s “True Detective” – the identity of the mysterious Yellow King – wrapped up. 

The key may be to not have one large mystery on a show but instead have smaller twists and reveals throughout the show. Many of these same shows were good at this – for example, “Lost” earned praise for a surprising season finale in which the true nature of what the audience thought was flashbacks to characters’ pasts’ was revealed. Similarly, the HBO show “Game of Thrones” doesn’t have a central mystery, unless it’s how the show will finally end. But it’s kept viewers constantly surprised throughout its run, from the death of a main character in season one to the surprising bloody scene known among fans as the Red Wedding. (Okay, most of its surprises come from character deaths.)

If a show surprises viewers with an out-of-nowhere twist, rather than telling the audience there’s a mystery to solve, viewers seem to respond more positively.

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