Pretty Little Liars Episode 514 Recap: The Ghost of Christmas Cataclysm

Previously on Pretty Little Liars, Mona Vanderwaal was mercilessly assassinated by a blonde-headed person only seconds after fingering Ali as Big A. Spencer was arrested for murdering Bethany Young, the Radley patient who was fond of drawing pictures of Mrs. DiLaurentis getting eaten to death by lizardmen and who also was buried in that hole in the yard. You know the one. Toby got hit by a car on the way to the second day of Rosewood Police Academy, which also is the day of graduation from Rosewood Police Academy. Hanna read Emily’s boobs. Paige smooched Emily’s face. And the manger of Christ the Lord was emptied of Christ the Lord and filled with Mona the Vanderjesus.

It’s Christmastime in Rosewood, Pennsylvania, the one town in Pennsylvania where you can walk around outside in December in just a t-shirt and cardigan and not suffer even a nip of frostbite. Spencer is not feeling the holiday spirit because what she got from Santa Claus was money for bail. Hanna also is not particularly in the mood to celebrate because Mona is dead. Emily, no stranger to murdered girlfriends and being at least half-convinced she smashed in someone’s face with a shovel in Ali’s backyard on the Night of a Thousand Nights, suggests that everyone take a deep breath and make a wish on a snowflake.


As long as I don’t get a cow brain in my stocking, I’ll be happy!

In front of a store window, Hanna flashes back to the glory days of Hannily, when the only thing Hanna and Mona had to worry about was how much pilfered swag they could fit in their purses at Bloomingdale’s and whether or not Ashley was going to walk in on them playing a two-person game of spin-the-bottle. Flashback Hanna is like, “I wish for Jimmy Choos” and Flashback Mona is like, “I will get those for you and literally anything else you want including the spleen of a living human being, if it will make you happy.” They laugh. They promise to be best friends forever, to always make the yuletide gay.

In real-time, the Liars sense a ripple in the Force. An alive black person catches their attention due to being alive and black in Rosewood. Spencer’s curiosity goes one step further than everyone else’s, obviously, and within seconds she has constructed a mental list of 100 reasons he is A deduced that he is a lawyer because he is writing with a fancy person’s pen. And she’s right. He is the lawyer of Mona Vanderwaal, who left instructions for him to to deliver a package to Hanna exactly 30 days after her death. The package contains a hand-drawn map of all of Ali’s hiding places in her house and a note that’s like, “Honey, if I can die, it truly is like what Arya Stark said: Anyone can be killed. Be careful and remember I love you.”



Aria: Aww, she mentioned me.
Spencer: She was talking about Arya Stark.
Aria: What’s a Stark?
Spencer: Emily’s a Stark.
Aria: What are you?
Spencer: House Lannister.
Aria: Hanna?
Spencer: Targaryen, born of the dragons.
Aria: OK, but what am I?
Spencer: House Bae.
Aria: Is that a thing?
Spencer: Shhh.

Santa walks by and Aria trades him a fiver for a snow globe. In the snow globe is a picture of all four Liars, and a note from A talking about: “Do you hear what I hear? Spoiler alert, it’s the sound of you being tortured to within an inch of your sanity. Ho ho ho!”

Ali is at home by herself, trying to sleep, but the sound of clanking chains and ghosts wailing in the walls is keeping her awake. Unlike most nights, though, the source of the dark magicks reveals itself, and it is Jessica DiLaurentis(!!!!). She goes, “She’s got a lot to show you, pay attention!” And then vanishes! Ali walks through the house, pausing to play a little holiday ditty on the piano, and then dozes off on the couch. She awakens with a start, exclaims, “My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” Because what her eyes are seeing is Mona Vanderwaal, fully embodying the Ghost of Christmas Cataclysm!


Truly, truly, truly outrageous.

Ali: Nope. Nope, nope, nope.
Mona: Uh huh, honey.
Ali: Why are you dressed like some kind of Jem and the Holograms zombie tribute band?
Mona: Because, much like Mamaw Marin, I do what the fuck I want. Hey, look at little you, playing the piano. Shit’s about to get so for real, though.

Little Ali, who is playing “Silent Night” in a tragic bit of forever foreshadowing, hits a key that makes a weird sound, so she lifts the piano lid and finds a couple of wrapped packages inside. She opens them up and discovers matching dresses that look like the dresses those murdery twin girls wore in the second Halloween episode. Jessica comes rushing in, and Little Ali is like, “Dad’s gonna get a real kick out of the fact that y’all bought me the same present!” And Jessica goes, “The same present? There is only one dress here. You only found one dress. Do you want Daddy to abandon us? No, right? So you only found one dress.”

Little Ali nods and retells the story to her mom about the one dress, to make sure she’s got it just right, and Mona turns to real-time Ali, says, “And so anyway, that’s your superhero/villain origin story. Makes Bruce Wayne’s whole deal look kinda jolly, huh?”


Round yon dumb virgin who can’t drive.

Identity has been a theme of Pretty Little Liars from the minute it hit the ground, which is why it’s always fun when the show goes all in with these balls-out Hitchcock homages. Like, most people think Hitchcock is scary because of shower stabbings and birds, and yeah, that part is true, but the actual terrifying thing Hitchcock did was ask really unnerving questions about the nature of identity.

Most of his movies, including Rear Window, are about people inventing or reinventing themselves. (Rear Window has the added bonus of other pretty little motifs like voyeurism and the male gaze and the line between sex and violence and the ethics of being an amateur detective.) Marnie is about this woman who is a kleptomaniac but has no sense of self outside of the fact that she’s vain and good at stealing shit. Scottie and Madeleine/Judy wander around Vertigo the whole time talking about how they don’t know who they are. North By Northwest is about an innocent guy who gets trapped in a mistaken identity situation where everyone else makes terrible decisions for him and he has no autonomy at all. Rear Window wonders what happens to someone when they can no longer do the thing they excelled at most in the world.

So the questions you come away with when you watch Hitchcock are like: Is identity fluid? Is it just a facade? Is who you are as easy as putting masks on top of masks? And if yes, does that mean that who you are, at your deepest place, is just an expanse of ephemeral nothingness? The idea that the youness if you is not rooted in something substantial and enduring is as horrific as the idea of just floating off by yourself into space.

Hanna dealt with this last year, in the most Hanna way possible, which was to: spiral for ten minutes, confront the ghost in the chair, and claw her way back to the top of the mountain to stand in the sunlight, knowing herself and the spiritual fullness of this life even better than she did before. But Mona and Ali are (and hopefully will continue to be!) locked in this battle about who made who, and who is wearing a mask and who is wearing a real face, and how much of their very selves is defined by the people who are standing next to them. Ali told Mona to put on her face every day before school, in that flashback to the lodge the night Mona rescued Ali and sent her away as Vivian Darkbloom, and on the surface that’s makeup and being pretty, right, but the second layer of that is straight up paper faces on parade. Which circles back around to: If you hide your face so the world will never find you, will you ever find yourself?


Okay, now let’s see if you can hold your breath for two full minutes!

This scene is one of the best this show has ever done, not just because it’s creepy as lumps watching Mrs. D brainwash a small child with threats of abandonment, and not just because Janel and Sasha play so good off each other, and not just because we finally get confirmation that Jessica has stashed away a small Ali-lookalike somewhere, but also because we’re getting to see with our own eyeballs the moment the sapling of Alison’s identity begins to split like an aging willow. And we get to witness it with Mona watching over her shoulder, looking like if Anna never went and rescued Elsa from the woods.

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. Oh, how I have missed your recaps, Heather. Personally, I think they were trying to combine the normal Halloween special with a Christmas special, to make a new one- the Christmoween special. There were masks, ghosts, and of course a MAZE. Because that’s totally what I have at my winter holiday party.

    I really hope that Paige isn’t gone for good- I can’t tell you the impact she has had on not only myself, but of all the baby queers out there who finally get to see themselves in media.

  2. I kinda felt this episode was all over the place or rather no where at all. It was 45 minutes into it and nothing had happened. And somehow it felt really rushed but not actually rushing to get anywhere if that makes any sense.

    Also, it’s great to see Paige, after 5 seasons, finally be included with the significant others but they’re about to ship her off so I feel like that kind negates that achievement. Like, why can’t she be involved like the other significant others in the mystery of this show? Do MK and co literally have no idea what to do with her? Also, why even bring Paige and Emily back together, literally an episode ago, to then ship her off to California? Just all seems kind of like lazy writing.

    I listened to the wonderful podcast you did, Heather, with JacobTWOP and BrosWatchPLLToo and I thought what you said about Paige(and Lindsey) occupying this weird space where she is not included with the guys because the show is heavily marketed to straight teen girls but also not with the girls (because she’s not a liar) was so on point, and I feel like the decision to send Paige off the California just re-enforces it.

    • Heather and Jacob have a podcast together? Is it Christmas already? :) Thanks for the heads up. I don’t listen to any PLL podcast because I hardly watch and merely ship Paily. But Heacob (or Jather) is definely worth a click on iTunes.

      BTW, hello Heather! Glad I found you again. Wishing you all the best in your new career here. Always a pleasure to read you.

  3. JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS ZOMBIE TRIBUTE BAND. We need to start that band.

    Excellent recap, Heather! There was snark, there was comedy, there was philosophizing, there was emotion, it was just an all around good time. Thanks for always bringing your A game. ;)

    I have so many Ali related feelings after this episode! It was so good! I want to write an Ali character study, but instead I’m just going to spew some disorganized thoughts all over this comments section. Okay? Okay.

    I may stand alone in this, but I think this episode was helping to set up Ali as the hero of this show. She will be the one to save them all. At this point, it almost seems like the Liars are obstacles in her way, or perhaps they are on some never ending scavenger hunt that Ali has set up for them in order to keep them occupied and out of her way. More so in this episode than any other, I got a strong feeling that the Liars are just puppets, that this story is not about them and has never been about them.

    Ali has some back story that we don’t know about, that we’ve only gotten the tiniest of hints about, that makes her who she is. Defines her in a way that she hasn’t been able to completely comprehend, and yet she understands herself better than most people do. We started to get some hints into the back story in this ep with Mama DiLaurentis and the creepy Christmas presents, but I think there’s so much more to it. We’re just scratching the surface.

    There’s no way this show can just be about mean girl Ali torturing people who she called her best friends just because she can. There’s not way this can be as simple as Ali being psychotic and cruel. Sure, she’s damaged. And she’s going to go about things in a way that most people wouldn’t. But it’s because it’s the only way she knows how.

    To me, there are three levels of Ali minions in this episode:

    -Cindy, Mindy, Sydney and Jenna are her current puppets. She’s using them as part of her plan, as decoys when she needs them, as errand runners, as spies, everything. Sure, Sydney and Jenna think they’re playing double agent on Ali, but I won’t be shocked at all to find out that Ali knows this, and is using that to her advantage.

    -The Liars themselves. The Liars used to be the current puppets. Now they’ve reached some level of awareness to what’s going on, so Ali can’t use them like that anymore. Ali’s not willing to share her plan with them, though, because for some reason she doesn’t trust them to not screw it up. This could be about their general level of competence, as perceived by Ali. Or it could be that she doesn’t think they’ll understand the big picture, that they won’t be able to do what’s necessary in order to reach whatever Ali’s ultimate goal is.

    – Cece. Cece is much closer to Ali than any other minions. She knows much more of the plan and Ali’s backstory. Still not everything, but she knows more. Ali seems to trust Cece more than she trusts other people, and I think it’s because they are so much alike. Cece understands when you have to make cutthroat decisions to serve the greater good, so Ali will let her in a little bit more.

    There’s no doubt that Ali uses people to get things done in the way she needs to. And yeah, some people are going to judge her for that, but it’s just her way of trying to protect the people that she thinks are innocent.

    I could be setting myself up for great disappointment here. Because to me, what I now need to see from the rest of PLL is the unveiling of how Ali became who she is, and how her plan is working to save her friends and other innocent bystanders from whatever the real evil happens to be. BUT, I don’t think it will need to be told in such a way that reveals Ali to be a hero in the traditional sense of the word. She’s doing bad things. But she’s doing them the best way she knows how.

    Or maybe Ali’s just A and I’m full of it. :)

  4. – Oh come on. We all know that if Mona came back from the dead to haunt someone, it would be Hanna.
    – Apparently Cece’s costume is Ke$ha.
    – “I’m not gay Emily.” I don’t believe you. Jenna’s good at spotting a baby gay, and she’s got you on her gaydar.
    – The twins names are Mindy and Cindy.
    – That archery award has got to be foreshadowing to something later in the season.
    – I call bull**** on Hanna leaving her phone there. Normally she would have to have it surgically amputated to leave it somewhere.

  5. While it’s so SO great that Paige fit in seamlessly with the boyfriends on the show in that one bit, it is endlessly disturbing to me who else fit in seamlessly with the boyfriends: that one boyfriend who is an ADULT and their TEACHER. Like he’s seriously just publicly a high school student’s boyfriend and hanging out in seductive outfits with a bunch of high school kids (some of whom are his students) and nobody bats an eye. And if I’m not mistaken, he’s even technically still employed by that high school.

    It’s kind of exhausting. I’m not naive, I get that as a viewer we just have to accept that this statutory rapist and stalker is a heartthrob and we’re meant to see him that way. Hoping for anything else is a losing battle. But I love SO much about this show, and that one component makes it impossible to feel good about that. So frustrating.

    • Eugh, YES! Ezra hanging out in his underwear with seven of his students is the grossest thing to ever happen. I STILL can’t believe the show is endorsing a student/teacher relationship (shouldn’t parents be complaining and shutting that shit down?) and struggle sometimes with being a fan of this show because of it.

      While I am in the camp that believes Aria is A, my sister has a theory that Aria is doing the same thing Ezra did: she became A to write a “true crime” novel, and that is why they are the perfect couple.

    • YES. I just watched this, and was so utterly skeeved by everything about Ezra that I could hardly enjoy Paige. AND I LOVE PAIGE. Ezra, you ruin everything.

  6. Now all I want for Christmas is Paige to come back! :'( But I don’t think this is the end for Paily. Joseph Dougherty just wrote ANOTHER Paily fanfic on Amazon Worlds so I have no doubts how much he loves her.

  7. BUT HOW DID BOTH RECAPS FORGET TO MENTION THE LOVE EYES ALI AND CECE GAVE EACH OTHER?!?!? THEY ARE IN LOVE (as in love as two heartless zombie ninja ghosts can be)

  8. Miss Havisham? I’ve always seen Ali as Estella, and Emily as her Pip. She wants to love her but the capacity to love anyone has been trained out of her by, well according to this episode Mrs. D. Or maybe, according to this episode, Cece is her Pip.

  9. Well I just put seasons one to four on my amazon wish list because having only seen one and two before it got canned over here I need me some more Paily in my life especially if the recaps will lack them because they’re sending Paige away. Stupid show. Amazing recap as ever.

  10. Loved this recap, Heather!

    Paige and Emily in this episode ::swoon::

    I also felt like nothing happened in this episode, I thought it was a bunch of of running around and the liars and Paige looking hot. But what you said about identity and the scene about the creepy Christmas gifts, I was like “Well, shit. I’ve never thought about this before.” So thanks for writing that and making me see something differently.

    The whole time they were stuck at Spencer’s house, I kept thinking, “Aren’t they all neighbors?! Doesn’t Emily live like down the street?” I mean, I knew they needed an excuse to all be together but it felt like they’re all fucking twenty-five and having a holiday party at someone’s apartment. Like if they were real teenagers (minus creepy Ezra) they’d be on the internet watching cat videos, listening to music, and eating Hot Cheetos. Idk.

  11. The whole ting about telling Ali she’s going to Hell really bothered me. Reminds me of what lats year I hated how AHS Coven ended and how TVD ended Katherine’s story-lines.

    The Gothic horror of the 18th and 19th centuries was usually written by Universalists.

    I simply prefer the horror to end when the character dies, leave the after life out of it please.

    • I don’t know, early Gothic involves loads of religion and conservatism and impending possibility of hell. Or maybe I’m just focusing on this too much because I’m currently adapting ‘The Monk’ into a play. But it did feel a bit random on Mrs D’s part. They’ve mentioned supernatural stuff…but heaven / hell has never come up in this show. I feel like it was supposed to be Ali’s internalised guilt…if she can still feel that. Like she’s her own God, but has a niggling doubt because she’s sort of in her own hell at the moment. Like “why this is hell, nor am I out of it”. Okay…so I need to stop treating TV like literature…

  12. An insightful, hilarious, poignant, literary, brilliant recap of a brilliant, dense, layered episode. After rewatching and rereading I am still trying to wrap my head around both. The A Tale of Two Cities quote in this context to address this situation? If I didn’t love you already …. I would take am Ezra Fitz graduate school level course analyzing this episode and this recap.

  13. I love pailey as well as emison. I keep routing for aly, but she sure makes it hard sometimes. This episode was the definition of overhype. It went by fast, and not much happened. However, every scene that was centered around emily was either super cute or revealing of other characters love interests. The boxer scene was hot.

  14. -I guess its no wonder that abuse of teen girls is everyday business in this town. I mean the school system literally doesnt care when a teacher atends a ball as one of its students date.

    -Anyone else wondering what kind of bond do alison and cece have? I mean why are they so close that cece is willing to risk being arrested to confort her friend.

    – When I saw the naked santas pic, I assumed it was part of a fantasy, dream, ghos of christmas, but it was full on real life rosewood. Honestly, I thought it was kinda ridiculous.

    – I thought it was interesting the recap didnt mention the “was she kissing a boy or a girl?” part of the evening. Other than that the recap was wonderful.

  15. Heather! I love your PLL recaps so much.

    That bit about Hanna and Spencer searching Ali’s house for clues? That PERFECTLY sums up the experience of watching this show: it’s an insane premise to begin with, but each episode/step sort of makes sense on its own, so you can keep going, but taken all together, there is NO WAY you could ever have figured out the master plan because it is just TOO RIDICULOUS AND ABSURD!

  16. Well, here I am registering an account at another website so I can wax poetical about your recaps… :)

    All “plot” (I say this dubiously) aside, can PLL just take a permanent Ravenswood-ish turn and let ghost!Mona stick around? I love that girl, dead or alive. But especially with her dead hair.

  17. I stopped watching PLL after the season 4 finale because I could no longer really suspend my disbelief, as they say. But! then I read this recap, just for old times’ sake, and was reminded of how wonderful your PLL recaps are. So this past week I marathoned all of season 5, mostly because I missed reading the recaps. You have so many smart, insightful things to say about this show, which absolutely enhances my enjoyment of it :)

  18. I hopped onto AfterEllen to get my PLL recap and read a whole page without learning a new GRE word, or being asked to analyze text at a masters-lit-student level and I hadn’t yet laughed out loud or cried and I thought- did HHogan even write this? No. The answer was no. So I did some sleuthing of my own and ended up here. Thank goodness you’re not gone- talk about a Christmas present that you didn’t even know you needed!

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