1. Had at least one other trans character on the show
If a character who had been in and out of the show since Season One or Two had been trans, and friendly with the girls, and generally good, it would have gone a long way to supporting the writers’ claims that their reveal wasn’t transphobic. There are tons of lesbians in this small town for Emily to date—surely it doesn’t strain credulity (any more than anything else on this show) for there to be two trans kids. This also would have just been a great plotline for the writers, regardless.
2. Spent a LOT of time in the finale reminding audiences of how many other people harassed and tormented the lairs
Remember Mona, the original A, who taught CeCe everything she knew? Remember creepy Wilden and the way he essentially blackmailed Hanna’s mom into sleeping with him? And the NAT club, whose mission it was to take secret videos of young girls in their bedrooms? And let’s not forget the ultimate creepster (who, let’s be honest, should really have been A): Ezra, who serially spies on and dates under-aged girls, who has boxes and boxes of info on their lives so he can profit off of their lives by writing a book. Make CeCe just part of an awful club, not a uniquely bad egg, and you go a long way toward supporting your claim that her trans status doesn’t make her bad—she’s just bad, like a bunch of other people.
3. Hit harder that CeCe endured abusive parenting from two pretty awful people
Mona mentions this briefly, but it’s not enough. CeCe’s father put her in an insane asylum when she was, like six. That’s just awful. There’s no excuse for that. And her mother let him. And he did it because she liked to wear dresses. And her mother never fought to get her out of there. And her mother bribed cops and covered up murders. And her father was just generally a dick. So, you know, nurture over nature here—CeCe didn’t have much of a chance to be normal. Take more time to show how messed up you get when you’re parents don’t love you like they should, when you don’t get held and kissed as a child, when you’re cut off from everything you know and locked up.
4. Which brings me to: Take the opportunity to talk about institutionalization.
If you lock someone up from the age of six (or whatever), guess what: they’ll become as crazy as you pretend they already are. We shouldn’t be institutionalizing young children. What kind of therapy did she get at Radley? None? Then say that! And spend some time comparing her to Bethany, who was legit crazy. This contrast would serve to normalize CeCe, or at least make her more sympathetic.
5. Address the aftermath more fully, immediately.
PLL is a show about surveillance, about young girls controlling what happens to them, about predators. But, it’s also very much a show about forgiveness. It’s ridiculous that Paige tried to drown Emily and then they ended up dating. It’s ridiculous that Mona was the original A who blackmailed those girls, hit them with her car, and generally tormented them, and they’re all, “well, you’re better now so let’s be friends again. Also, you’re smart so we want you on our side.” If the liars can forgive Paige, if they can forgive Mona, then it’s pretty clear they will have to forgive CeCe. We get hints of this when they beg her not to jump off of the roof. At the very least, though, when that whole scene ended and CeCe said “game over,” Alison should have walked toward her. We don’t even need to see what happens next—do they hug it out? Just stand there staring at each other? Cry?—we just need to see that Alison is already starting to forgive her sister. CeCe then becomes just one in a long string of people who have messed up majorly, but will manage to come out on the other side okay. CeCe then becomes one of the Liars, like Alison and Mona. CeCe then becomes as normal as anyone ever is, minority status aside, which is the argument the show seems at its heart to want to make.
*And yes, I know at this point there’s no way they could have done all this in a single episode. So make it a double-episode, two-hour, mid-season finale. Give this moment, which we’ve all waited years for, the time it deserves and do it right.