(originally posted here (x) as an answer to some commentary about the whole mona vs. ali fan perception, but i decided to give it it’s own post because i thought you guys might appreciate it lol)
I totally understand when people dislike either Mona or Alison. I’m cool with it, because YMMV with every character on the show. And I agree wholeheartedly that the writers didn’t make the connections needed clear enough for Alison’s character development to make complete sense.
However, saying it happened “with no explanation,” isn’t exactly right. It has been explained. I’m going to write about it here - not as a way to start a fight, obviously, but just so some people can read it and maybe help them understand more about Alison’s character.
From a young age Alison was taught that lies were better than the truth. Her mother would manipulate and distort Alison’s reality in order to keep her own secrets (i.e. two dresses). Her father basically distorted both her and Jason to erase an entire other sibling from their minds (which is part of the reason Jason is so fucked up).
Growing up, Alison saw lies and deceit as almost the only way to help the people you love. Much like Charlotte, whose expression of this love took on a distorted sense of attachment that disregard people as autonomous beings due to her clear illness, Ali’s manifested itself in bullying.
Yes, a lot of it was her age, but when it came down to her friends, as Alison clearly said: She thought she was helping them. Alison had no concept of how actual love and caring needed to be presented, so she did it how she thought it was: how her parents did it to her. Her bullying to others had to do with making herself feel better, as she said to Paige, it had to do with high school hierarchy bullshit, and most of all, it had to do with control.
I think people take for granted that that need for control is what led to her blackmailing adults. It’s always felt like everybody wanted something from Alison and Alison dealt with that by using her sexuality as her weapon. She used who she was as her asset in pushing people to be honest. Like Spencer, Alison craves the truth, but unlike Spencer and the others - Alison won’t ever be the one who gets hurt once those truths are revealed (i.e. Peter’s affair, Byron’s affair, Jessica’s affairs, Ian’s affair and videos, Jenna’s raping of Toby, etc). Alison pushes because all these people think themselves to be better than her, but they are just as bad if not worse. She was a teenage girl thrown in to play a game with adults who were then mad she was playing it better than them.
Also, let’s not forget Mona. Mona’s -A actions caused a lot of the tension, manipulation, and lies we saw from Alison in some flashbacks. Why? Because we know Alison spent almost a whole year (from Halloween 2008 to Labor Day 2009) dealing with -A all on her own. And she had no clue who it was. It’s why she eventually pushed everyone (Jenna, Byron, Toby, Melissa, Ian) as hard as she did that night and why she drugged the girls - it was her final move against whoever it was that -A was. Like she said in episode 4x24, she thought she had won that night when no pushback came from any of those people. Then Charlotte happened. (And Mona, too).
Charlotte literally saved Alison’s life that night by being the one to almost kill her, which is an interesting concept to think about.
Flashforward to two years on the run: No family she can trust, no friends she can contact out of fear for them, only the little things she managed to save up for herself in case it had come down to this was what she had. She dealt with grifters who abused her, with being homeless, alone, and scared. As she said to Charlotte in the reveal, by the time Alison gave “CeCe” her plane ticket and passport that was literally all Alison had left.
After Charlotte found her and the whole Shana mess was dealt with, Alison was then able to go home.
The Ali that came back then, did it because she thought she was safe. That The -A Game was over. When it wasn’t, because Charlotte couldn’t let it go, she had to reconcile her need for forgiveness and a fresh start with the new devious plans she was forming in order to protect the girls, protect herself, and finally end it all. I think it’s important to note that while people thought that Alison was being manipulative in her search for forgiveness, the show has stated it was all always genuine. Sure, it ultimately benefited her too, but it was genuine.There was no ulterior motive to Alison seeking her friends back, except that she wanted them back.
Then Mona happened. Again. Her pushback caused Alison to have to rise to that challenge. Her lies and omissions here were because, as she stated to Emily, she didn’t want them to have to take the fallout, she didn’t want to lose them again. Then Mona “got murdered” and every little bit of progress Alison was making blew up in her face. The Liars thought she was -A, she was treated like shit by the town, she went through hell in jail, and her friends got kidnapped and tortured because of her and she knew it. She came out doubting herself like crazy and feeling guilty as fuck (to the point is seems she thought she didn’t deserve to still be alive).
But most of all, Alison came out feeling remorseful. She wanted to be a new person, but when you’re wired a certain way, when you’ve been conditioned to have certain beliefs, and coached on how to act - it’s hard. It’s why Alison’s attempt at being better with Lorenzo seemed so tentative and at times false. Because Alison desperately wanted it, but had no clue how to get it.
Alison isn’t an easy character to like. It’s completely understandable if you don’t, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that her attempts at change, at being better, come from nowhere. We know why she acted the way she did as a teenager (there’s not some secret mysterious evil reason for it) and we know why as a young adult she was trying to be a different person. Because literally, Alison was trying to be a completely different person, not The Alison DiLaurentis facade she had cultivated from youth.
She wanted better for herself and a lot of her sympathy for Charlotte stems from the fact that she could see herself in her - even when she thoughts it was Charles. The whole thing about “superficial charm after everything I’ve heard on the news, it almost sounds like a compliment,” was Alison identifying with it completely. It was showing us that Ali at this point truly believes all the awful things people have said about her, that she’s all pretty looks and pretty words, but actually rotten inside. That she was just like Charles (and later, that she could have been just like Charlotte). Because of all that, Alison even reached the point where she had to admit to herself that her friends didn’t understand her, didn’t even like her.
Alison is broken. She never knew how to love, she was hated by most, she lashed out and hurt others and learned the hard way what it meant to truly be sorry, to want to be loved, to want forgiveness, to search for it, and to then come up empty handed.
Alison isn’t a likable character and she hasn’t been painstakingly dissected by the writers like others, but the pieces are there if you want to understand her.
Now, forgive her? That’s totally up to you.