Credit: ABC FAMILY/Eric McCandless

In many ways, Season 5 of Pretty Little Liars is a character study of Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse). At the heart of the analysis: the question of if anything the former mean girl does is honest, or if every action is a manipulation to get what she wants. Nowhere is this confusion more keenly felt than in Ali’s relationship with Emily (Shay Mitchell), who was in love with Ali before she disappeared and still has lingering feelings for her bestie. In the most recent episode, the two acted on their feelings for one another with a late night makeout session, prompting us to wonder even more fiercely: Is Ali manipulating Emily?!

Yes, Ali can’t be trusted. We really want to trust Alison, but nothing she has done so far implies she can be trusted. This girl is a survivor and, in the wake of her return to Rosewood High, Ali is looking for an irrefutable ally. Don’t think we didn’t notice that Ali’s decision to apologize to Emily and to tell her that her feelings weren’t one-sided came as Ali was struggling to find her place in a high school hierarchy that had changed in her absence. Ali has been back for weeks, and has yet to encourage Emily before last night’s episode. We can’t help but think that Ali’s advances towards Emily were a result of panicked manipulation rather than honesty. We’re seriously worried for Em.

No, Ali is being honest with Emily. On the other hand, there is still so much we don’t know about Alison. It’s just as easy to believe the best about her as the worst, or perhaps most realistically, something in-between: that Ali is a confused, scared teenager looking to start over, and making mistakes along the way. We think Ali’s admission of her feelings for Emily and her botched attempt at leaving her old ways behind could have been Ali struggling to make connections after so long of keeping everything to herself to survive. Ali may be a bully, but she is also a victim. She has (presumably) been living in a state of fear for the last two years. And we haven’t forgotten that, as Ali mentioned in the 100th episode, she stated her feelings for Emily when she had nothing to gain from it. When Ali pulled Em from that barn and saved her life in Season 2, she told Emily that she missed her the most and that she wanted her to come with her. We want to believe that that was the true Ali and that she is being truthful with Emily now.

Do you think Ali is manipulating Emily? Why or why not? Sound off in the comments below!

Catch the next episode of Pretty Little Liars on July 15, 2014 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Kayti Burt is a contributing writer for Wetpaint Entertainment with a penchant for all things pop culture. Follow her on Twitter and Google+!