Pretty Little Liars Episode 603 Recap: A World of Pure Imagination

Previously on Pretty Little Liarsthe Liars dealt with the fallout of being trapped in Charles’ underground hellscape for three weeks, in their own ways. Emily helped herself to her dad’s guns, unloading bullets and rage at paper dummies down at the shooting range. Hanna stripped her room to the barest walls and sat on the floor and stared at the violation and processed it like a metaphor. Aria, who at some point in the dollhouse decided to shoulder exactly zero percent of Ezra Fitz’s bullshit going forward, went full-throttle Spencer while wearing a dress that said “Stop Men!” Spencer glared at everyone, especially her mother for refusing to fill all her prescriptions, and yelled at Ali for a little while about how her family is all Gargamels. And Ali met another age-inappropriate cop named who made it gross immediately.

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I’m hiding from Orange Is the New Black spoilers. If you don’t watch the first weekend, you’re screwed.

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And that’s on straight Twitter. Imagine how hard it is for me to stay unspoiled!

Spencer is tucked away in a corner of the kitchen we’ve never seen before, just huddled down there like a helpless little lamb while her mom sleeps on the couch, guarding the pain pills. Remember that episode when Spencer told that story about how good she was at hide and seek in the most psychotic way? Like staring out the window and it was lighting and her voice was growly about how she used to destroy Melissa’s life playing hide and seek? I think that’s when I knew for sure I would marry Spencer Hastings. And that’s what I thought about when I saw her all scrunched down here, like maybe this was one of her hiding spots from the days of yore.

The Liars do a phone chain for their daily debrief of the facts.

Emily: Well, Sarah — who, just by the way, takes about ten showers an hour — says Andrew isn’t Charles, even though she never heard Charles speak or smelled which Axe body spray he uses.
Spencer: #NotAllMen, Emily! Toby doesn’t bathe in Axe body spray! Caleb doesn’t!
Emily: Whatever. A lot of shit has happened to me, but at least at the end of the day, I’m gay.
Spencer: So Sarah says Andrew doesn’t have a Charles vibe?
Emily: Yeah. To be honest, though, she seems pretty messed up.
Spencer: Don’t date her to make her feel better, Emily.
Emily: Fine.
Spencer: I’m serious.
Emily: I said fine! Anyway, who is going to tell Aria about Andrew?

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Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the gayest of them all?

Hanna: Aria, Andrew isn’t Charles.
Aria: He has to be! I am so tired of getting murdered! I don’t want to get murdered anymore! If Andrew is Charles, I’ll never be murdered again!
Hanna: Shh. Honeybun, I know. We’ll talk about it at school.
Aria: HOW ARE WE STILL IN SCHOOL?
Hanna: Aria, take your Xanax and let’s go. Calculus in half an hour. I’ll see you there.

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Your mom’s not going to make you go to school?

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Sarah gets out of the shower, and gets real squirrelly about Emily leaving to go to school. Does that mean Sarah has to go back to school? Is Pam mad at Sarah for not going to school? Does Sarah look feral? Emily almost answers yes to the feral thing — like she and Aria are somehow morphing into people who could activate some super twin powers and become a mega robot version of Spencer — but she swerves at the last minute and says mostly Sarah just looks like a lost puppy. Then, in a move that is going to come back and bite her like a literal feral cat, Emily gives Sarah a burner phone. Just. Come on, Emily. “Here is unsupervised access to all my shit, a way for you to communicate off the grid, and also how about some french toast and mimosas?”

At the Brew, Aria is cleaning her camera gear for like the eleventh time in two days. Her lenses get more baths than Sarah. Ezra wanders over and offers her some breakfast comfort food, and says she can spend the whole day just hanging out in his office if she wants. He says, “You can write.” And she snaps, “No writing!” So he offers her a million other options, like reading or organizing the kitchen or alphabetizing his mail or polishing her knives or taking a nap while he stares at her through his video camera and journals about immortalizing her youth makes sure no one stabs her in the face.

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Are you fucking kidding me?

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No, you’re right. You’re right. I’ll go to Kroger and get my own chickepeas.

There’s a lot of crafty framing in this episode. (Norman Buckley directing Joseph Dougherty’s writing is always such a treat. It’s as layered as you want to go.) I won’t overwork it; maybe I’ll talk about it on Tumblr later. But: See how Aria and Ezra are pushed to the edge of the frame in the direction they’re talking, how there’s no leading room like the standard way you’re supposed to film this stuff. Like above with Emily framed right and looking left, and Sarah framed left and looking right. That’s comfortable to your eyeballs and brain. It’s the rule of cinematography when it comes to conversation. But Ezra and Aria don’t have any leading room between them.

So it makes you feel kind of creeped out, right? Kind of uneasy? You’ll see it again with Hanna and Dr. Sullivan in a minute. The Liars are experiencing a disconnect and a discomfort trying to relate to anyone who wasn’t in the dollhouse. And also, that negative space behind Aria (and later, behind Hanna), your brain is sending you panic signals when you see that, because you know (without knowing you know) that Norman Buckley is showing you that empty space for a reason. So you’re like, “Who’s going to step into that space?! What are they going to do?!” Your brain doesn’t know if it’s a metaphor or if it’s murder.

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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 882 articles for us.

76 Comments

  1. “I swear to God, if this turns out to be some kind of horrible representation for a trans character, though, I am going to throw myself off a bridge.”

    Yeah like what if Charles were Paige and Paige were a “trans character”? You would have to admit that that would be a lot more satisfying as a matter of narrative than having Charles turn out to be some random peripheral straight dude (Wren, Andrew, the nerdy guy whose name I don’t even remember that used to be in love with Hanna).

    • Lucas! I keep going back and forth between it being Jason or Sarah. Sarah is just weird and we never saw her down there before nor did Mona mention her.

  2. “I swear to God, if this turns out to be some kind of horrible representation for a trans character, though, I am going to throw myself off a bridge.”

    I’m very concerned that’s exactly where this storyline is going ಠ_ಠ

  3. i feel like i know so much more about leading space and camera angles now

    also couldn’t ali’s dad be lying? and charlie isn’t dead? maybe they just THINK he’s dead but it turns out he was buried alive or something wacko like that

  4. Haven’t read the recap yet (thought I’m going to do that immediately), just commenting quickly to say THANK YOU HEATHER for getting this up so quickly! None of us wants to put any added pressure on you, but I think I speak for everyone when I say how much we SUPER APPRECIATE the hard work that you put in every week to create these incredible recaps for us.

    To quote one of my favourite episodes of Gilmore Girls: In a relationship, any relationship, it is important to let the other person know that you appreciate them.

    And now – on to the recap!

  5. – Tell me again why we traded Mona for Alison?
    – Of course Andrew couldn’t keep a hostage while doing that. He doesn’t have adrenalized-hyperreality.
    – Oh Lorenzo, you’re so shady that I don’t even mind that you’re trying to hook up with a psychopath.
    – HH, you’re right about how the men in this town are abusers…and a whole bunch of other things, but that doesn’t mean that Ali is some innocent victim. There’s a reason that everybody in town hates her, and it’s not because she makes a good scapegoat for them to avoid the grossness of other people.
    – I’m just going to say it: I would prefer if Spencer dated Jason over Toby. Their chemistry together is so much better. Yes, I know he’s her brother.
    – Yeah, Spencer did accuse herself of murder, and I haven’t cleared her…at all.
    – Whoever sent the facetime threat must have been the one to call Dr. Sullivan. The timing on that is just too coincidental.
    – Hey look Emily, you’ve got Miley Cyrus in your room.
    – If Spencer has another noir episode, can we get Peggy and Angie in this one?
    PS – In two weeks Mona’s ex makes a scene with her in front of Hanna. Awkward.

  6. The show can’t possibly want to make us think Sara Harvey/Emily is a good pairing right? I’m all for watching disasters but like the whole thing is so fucking creepy.

  7. Okay, now that I’ve actually read the recap…

    Mr. D was totally lying about Charlie being dead. More likely, Mr. and Mrs. D PRETENDED that their son Charlie died, and convinced Jason that he’d been imaginary all along, because Charlie turned out to be psychotic (I’m thinking some Dexter Morgan shit, like slaughtering bunny rabbits or something) so they sent him to Radley. But since that would be embarassing, they told everyone he’d died. If he were actually dead, why wouldn’t Mr. D have just TOLD Ali that?

    The other possibility is that Mr. D told Ali whatever the truth really is, and Ali lied to the liars. I kind of agree with Toby that Ali can’t be trusted. Not because she’s inherently evil, I just think she never gives the Liars enough credit. She’s always trying to hide things from them to protect them, but if she’d told them the truth back when A had first started stalking her, they’d all have been much safer.

    • My BFF and I have a theory that Charlie was either a foster sibling or a friend of Jason’s who deluded himself into believing that he WAS a DiLaurentis or at least was entitled to be part of the family. Then he did some really scary shit and was completely cut off from the family, so this entire A plot is his way of getting back at the family who “abandoned” him but which he still “belongs” to. Really delusional fantasies of betrayal and entitlement.

    • THESE ARE ALL SUCH GOOD THEORIES (both of yours!)

      also I mean, of all towns to lie about someone being dead in, c’mon scrooge mcduck. come up with a better lie to explain why somebody isn’t around anymmore.

  8. “Toby, meanwhile, damages Spencer’s calm by asking her to ask Alison to stay away from Officer Lorenzo so she doesn’t get him into trouble. Spencer doesn’t flip the coffee table and go, “How about telling the ADULT MEN in this town to not SEDUCE TEENAGE GIRLS. How about NOT holding the victims responsible for their own victimization for once, TOBY. HOW ABOUT THAT.””

    YES. THANK YOU. ALL THE FUCKING RAGE WITH THIS PLOT. FUCK LORENZO AND FUCK VICTIM-BLAMING. I don’t care if Ali is a manipulative sociopath, the cartes blanches that are given to every fucking adult male in this show is REPULSIVE and I hate that it’s always the girls’ fault for becoming targets of these predators.

  9. I’d like to point out how mature and amazing Alison’s new look is, which I’ve noticed is in direct juxtapose to how the Liars are made to look like their younger selves. C’mon, Heather, help me psychoanalyze the costume choices for the girls now!! There’s gotta be something deeper there.

    • You know, I think they’re making her look more like her mom, and on purpose for some reason. Ali as a reflection is such a huge theme on this show. Remember that one season when you could barely even tell her and Hanna apart? And Ali is even kind of dressing like a real estate agent now? I need to pull together some photos to support this theory. I will do that.

  10. I think I read Marlene confirming somewhere that Charles isn’t trans. I can’t find it anymore, but I swear I saw it. The biggest reason people assume it is because of Ali’s flashback to her mom hiding a dress, but I assumed that one was for Bethany.

    Also, isn’t the ghost twin supposed to be symbolic of Bethany? (Actually my real theory is that they were going with the Ali/twin book line at first then changed it halfway through the show.) And if Charles was a trans woman, why would she go to the prom as the prom king? It doesn’t make sense. I refuse to let it make sense.

    I don’t think Charles is trans. I don’t think Marlene would do that. But I will be absolutely furious if it happens and I’m already really uncomfortable with the fact that it’s become such a major theory.

    I’m actually with PaperOfFlowers. I think Charles isn’t actually a DiLaurentis (Marlene has said over and over there aren’t any twins) but someone obsessed with the family who wants to be part of it. Perhaps Bethany’s brother, who learned Bethany was actually a half sister (like Andrew and Alison)? I don’t know. In a way I’ve stopped trying to guess. I’m just along for the ride at this point.

  11. I want Emily and Sarah to make out just once because she looks so much like Dianna Agron (if she had Miley Cyrus’ haircut) and it would help to fulfill my dream of seeing Dianna Agron make out with a girl.

  12. Can we talk about how Songs of Experience is one part of a collection of William Blake poems-Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. There is a poem called A Little Girl Lost that kind of has the same patriarchal themes the show has been hitting on. There could be other relevant poems in the Songs of Experience collection. I just started with the most obvious. IDK if there’s anything else here, just thought I would see if anyone wants to english major out with me.<3

    • I want to if it’s not too late! I LOVE Songs of Innocence and Experience so much. Generally a lot of really interesting stuff relating to innocence, sexualkitty and how society fucks you up. Blake had some really cool interesting ideas about how fixed dichotomies don’t really exist – the way this show plays with what Spencer called “the grey places”, with no-one being totally good or evil would really fit in with that. There’s also ‘The Poison Tree’ in Experience, which is so fucking A – it’s about how if you bottle up anger, it can lead to murderous rage. Equally he was really interested in the blurring between innocence and experience, how they’re not mutually exclusive and they both have their benefits and pitfalls. Which is apt given how coming of age this show is. And also maybe relates to the whole weird dolls as an icon of horror motif in the show. I’m not sure about the exact significance, but I’m curious as to why they’d introduce church in an epussode named after Blake – he was incredibly devout, but in a deeply unconventional way, and saw organised religion as evil. It’s also funny that ‘Little Girl Lost’ is followed by ‘Little Girl Found’, and there’s a twinned dyad in Innocence of ‘Little Boy Lost’ and ‘Found’ poems – and in a wider sense there’s the twinning and interlocking of the Innocence and Experience collection itself. Man, I could talk about this all day!

  13. Don’t we think that Sara might actually be Bethany, and that Charlie obviously isn’t dead–but Mrs. D told Mr. D that to get him off her back about having an affair and producing a bastard Whackadoodle with Mr. H?

      • I was thinking the same thing. This might just be a function of having been kept in a bunker for 2 years, but she has a very undead cousin Nate vibe to her. I don’t like it. Also, where’s her group of PLL doppelganger friends? Don’t you think they’d be there trying to prevent her from being murdered again? Or at least looking for her when she runs away again the day after she gets rescued?

  14. Ladies Sarah Harvey Looks Like (updated):
    Stahma Tarr
    Rita Volk
    Ksenia Solo
    That new Kat chick from The Fosters
    Charlotte Sullivan
    Dianna Agron
    Cara Delevigne (thanks to Chelsea Steiner)
    Miley Cyrus (thanks to Kristana)
    Daenerys Targaryen (thanks to Ray)
    The Dag (thanks to Ray, googled and approved)
    Porunn from Vikings (thanks to Ray, googled and approved)

  15. I have this horrible Stockholm syndrome feeling WRT Sara. I hate to not trust her but this show has made me distrust everyone new who comes near Emily…or any of them really. Lorenzo saying he doesn’t take no for an answer made me throw up in my mouth a little, but not as much as Toby trying to protect him from Alison.
    That first set of captions = gold.

  16. Also also: I’ve been saying all along these girls should just be a polyamorous lesbian couple and forget about everyone else. (Caleb and Toby can just date each other. And none for Ezra Fitzgerald.)

  17. I’m getting impatient here: WHERE IS MONA?!?!
    I know I know she’s in out-of-town, but come on show. I need VanderJesus back.

    Aria is significantly less awful now that she has some independence from Ezra. My wife and I started watching the show from the beginning since she never watched it, and we just fast forward through all the Aria-Ezra scenes. My wife already hates Ezra so I don’t even know how to break it to her that he turns out to be literal worst human ever in season 4. Heather if you just decided to recap the rest of show while pretending that Ezra doesn’t exist I wouldn’t be mad about it.

  18. I don’t know if this is intentional, but after reading your view of the framing, Sarah Harvey in that towel outfit reminds me of the Virgin Mary, color and all. I’m not sure how this relates to things, though. I need to think about it, but wanted to throw it out there in case others pick up on anything.

    I’m also incredibly worried this is going to be a really awkward representation of a trans character, especially due to the clues about Sarah Harvey being Charlie. I love Farscape, and they had a character named Harvey that was based on the 1950 film of the same name about an imaginary rabbit. Now, I haven’t seen the film, but we know Charles likes old things and choosing that name as an alias likely knowing what Charlie was written off as to Jason would make perfect sense. That combined with Marlene’s mentioning of Charles’ tragic backstory has me concerned.

  19. I am less concerned about Sarah being violent and more concerned about the stereotype that would be reenforced by Emily sleeping with/starting a relationship with her. I cannot handle this turning into the “women sleep with women because they have been damaged by men” thing. I can’t. I know a lot of folks trust the writers on this show but I don’t…at least not on queer stuff. Paige didn’t move…she was written out of the show, y’all. They killed off Mya and the one time Emily sleeps with Ali, it is never openly discussed. You don’t think they would have been processing the sh*t out of that experience, that night that was years in the making? You don’t think the liars would have had a lot to say to Emily about this?
    I am super worried about Sarah and Emily. Super worried.
    By the way, thanks Heather. Your recaps help me intellectualize this guilty pleasure.

  20. Heather – first I just want to say I absolutely adore your recaps. I only started reading them at the beginning of season 5A but I enjoyed them so much that I went back and read all of the old ones. They make me laugh. They make me think. And they make me enjoy this show on a completely different level than I did before I started reading them. So thank you.

    Second – I’ve never commented before, because I’m more of the silent type, but I’m dying to know what you wanted, but ran out of time, to say about Ali in your last recap. I’m so eager to hear your thoughts on Ali in church and as a queer woman and what she did to both Mona and Paige.

    I’ll be honest, I’m an Emison fan. And while I have a whole slew of reasons why I feel they’re soul mates and a whole slew of other reasons why I believe their relationship, both good and bad, is the crux of this entire show, I appreciate and respect fans like you who identify with Paige and believe that she and Emily belong together.

    I can acknowledge the importance of Paige in Emily’s life and vice versa. I went through my own journey of both liking and disliking Paige at certain points (for the record I’ve gone on that journey with Alison too)but I believe Paige and Emily truly loved one another, probably still love one another.

    But I have to admit I wanted to weep with joy when, in one of your recaps (I can’t remember which one now), you said, in reaction to something Alison had done, basically how could she do whatever she’d done, just when you were opening your heart to her. I always wondered how much you’d be able to do that and how unbiased you could be toward her, considering your affection for Paige.

    As silly as it sounds I was so angry at Ali because I wanted you to open your heart to her and there she went screwing it up by falling back into her old Alison DiLaurentis behavior patterns….lol

    But what makes me hopeful and curious is I think you see Ali more clearly than most (both those who love and hate her). And that’s why I sooooooo want to hear your thoughts on her – for better or worse. You have a brilliant way of dissecting characters and getting down to the very core of them. And you’re so eloquent about it…. not to mention hilarious.

    I know there are those out there who consider her a straight girl who is just screwing with Emily and those who firmly believe she’s gay. Personally I believe she’s bisexual and it’s been obvious from the beginning of the show if a person looks closely enough.

    And it’s easy for some to write her character off as an irredeemable, mean girl, sociopath rather than take the time to look closer; try to see what caused the damage and if she is able to overcome and heal that damaged part of herself.

    Anyway, I hope you find the time to put those thoughts on paper, at some point, because I would suck them up as eagerly as Hermione reads Hogwarts: A History.

    Hope you’re feeling better.

    • Hey, Ellie! I’ll try to tackle this on Tumblr this weekend. I’ll link you when it’s up. In the last days of Paige, what I realized — and I talked about this a lot in real life but I don’t know how much I talked about it in my recaps — was one of the main reasons I wanted Paige and Emily to be together so badly was because it was the only way Paige was going to be on the show. And she’s just so important. But I really did love the way she got to leave. It was a triumph befitting her amazing lesbian growth.

      I feel very confused and frustrated that Ali and Emily aren’t exploring their relationship this season. It doesn’t make sense to me at all. I don’t remember if I said this to my best friend or wrote it somewhere, but why how boring to have Ali fall for a guy because he doesn’t know her past, when the show could have her opening herself up fully to the girl who knows EVERYTHING about her.

      ANYWAY. More later. I’ve got an OITNB recap to finish up!

      • I actually squealed when I read this. Yes, a forty year old woman squealed like a teenager – freaking her cats out, by the way – and feels no shame in it. I can’t wait to read it.

        It’s too bad the writers couldn’t have found a way to keep Paige around as a recurring character without having her storyline have to rely on her being in a relationship with Emily. I know the show is about the liars (I consider it 5 liars, not 4. I don’t think the writers give Ali enough credit as the first pretty little liar who, in essence, created the others)but there still needs to be supporting characters who have an important place. I think they could have done some interesting things with Paige, in her own right, and as a part of the team who could help bring A down, without her needing to be tied to Emily romantically. I mean… why couldn’t there have been another genuine lesbian couple in Rosewood? But that’s a conversation for another time.

        I share your frustration with the way the writers are completely ignoring the elephant in the room. To not explore the dynamic between Ali and Emily is asinine and disrespectful, not only to the audience but to the characters. If they felt trying to explore that was too much to take on during this whole final A reveal, at least have the characters have a short conversation about.

        It could have been as simple as “hey, we hooked up and there is obviously something here between us, that needs to be explored, but we need to just put a pin in it while we figure out who’s torturing and trying to kill us.”

        That would have been a little lame, but at least it would have been an acknowledgement of not only the importance of that moment in the 100th episode but of the fact that there is something powerful that exists between these girls.

        Part of me actually doesn’t even mind if they put off these two exploring their feelings for one another until after the time jump because I don’t think they’re ready for it right now anyway. We’ve watched the other girls mature over these past years but we haven’t seen anything like that for Ali.I know all the girls are now late 17/early 18-ish, but at 15 Ali was alone, living on the streets, after her mother tried to bury her alive, after someone conked her on the head and tried to kill her. The girl has got baggage she needs to work through. It’s going to be a while before she can have a healthy relationship with anyone.

        But don’t ignore it like it never happened. And don’t throw random, creepy (I’m talking to you: Talia, Jonny, Sara, Andrew, and Lorenzo) meaningless love interests into the mix just so they don’t have to deal with the important relationships.

        I love these writers and I think they’re brilliant but sometimes I really feel they’re disrespectful to their audience and their characters. And speaking of disrespecting characters – what the heck happened to Pepe anyway? He was my favorite and the only friend who didn’t turn his back on Alison…. or maybe he did and that’s why he’s gone…

        Okay… I’m off my tangent now. 🙂

        Anyway, I look forward to reading your thoughts when you’re able to get to them.

        • I completely agree with everything you said especially on the Ali/Emily hookup. It would have been perfect if at least Spencer had found out about it and confronted them, forcing them to discuss it. However, I feel like it’s never going to be addressed even more especially after the time jump. What exactly would they have to say about it after 4-5 years have passed?
          Marlene, no one is saying that they have to sleep together again. As a matter of fact, I will be pissed as fuck at Emily if that happens. All what most people want, I think, is for Emily and Alison to talk about it sooner than later and come to some sort of agreement to be friends or whatever.
          On a completely different note, how old is Dre Davis? I mean she seems younger than Shay and the other girls but slightly older than Sasha.

  21. Mr D didn’t say anything about Charles being dead in the episode I watched either (Netflix). He talks to Ali and Jason but there’s no audio.

    As for Lorenzo I assumed he was young like Toby being part of a “new faces” programme implies youth. Now that’s not to say he’s not a shady creeper but he doesn’t seem to be an age inappropriate shady creeper for a change. And Alison can handle anyone so I’m not afraid for her.

  22. I just DON’T GET IT. I don’t get it. Spencer Hastings, the Big Brain of Rosewood High, tries to take a phone call without her mom knowing, by hiding on the other side of the kitchen counter? This is such a minor detail but it drove me crazy omfg. Who the hell. And she. On the other side of the counter? So her mom wouldn’t hear. The visual? So she couldn’t see? Why did she. HOw?

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