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

Toby is confined to his wheelchair with a cast and a camera, L.B. Jeffries-style, and while he and Spencer ramble off their plan to break into Ali’s house tonight and rifle through her possessions while the Ice Ball is going strong, Spencer changes into a Santa Claus outfit that seems to indicate that Obama’s War on Christmas is over and sexiness has won. Can you even imagine being Toby Cavanaugh? Getting to a place of such familiarity with Spencer Hastings that she steps out of the closet wearing this and you don’t even need smelling salts? What a life.

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I’ve been an awfully good girl, Santa Spencer. (Hurry down the chimney tonight?)

Hanna and Caleb, dressed as matching elves, spread holiday cheer and hard truths at Pastor Ted’s church. Hanna chats to a deaf girl in sign language, then comes right out of the frame when she sees that this one Mean Girl in the crowd is Mean Girling the deaf girl, loud as a Rosewood pharmacist, and encouraging her friends to do the same because the deaf girl can’t hear them. Hanna calls them over and literally says the words “bitches get buried” to these like seven year old children, in church, at Christmas. It’s amazing. It’s perfect. It’s so Hanna. Caleb just stands there and nods, like, “Yep, bitches do get buried” to these small girls. The main Mean Girl acts like she is not scared, so Hanna just glares at her until the girl leaves in a huff. Her friends don’t go with her, though, because Hanna explains to them that when you follow an asshole kid like that around, someone’s going to end up getting their eyeballs poked out with a firecracker.

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I’m dreaming of a scissor-filled Christmas.

At the Shady Pines retirement community, the whole gang gathers to sing carols for Rosewood High Class of 2013. Emily and Paige canoodle adorably and hold hands and snoozle their noses together like eskimo kisses. Paige is wearing a shirt that says “I Go Overboard,” which is like the Paige-est t-shirt in the cosmos. On the back, it’s probably like: #PennyFlavoredCupcakes #NeverForget. Jenna and Sydney are there, and so is Lucas. Ezra also, and this is a conversation he has with Aria:

Ezra: I bought you diamond earrings and a diamond necklace and a dress for the Ice Ball.
Aria: This is slightly more than the gesture we agreed to exchange.
Ezra: I came into several millions dollars when I sold my surveillance equipment back to the CIA.
Aria: I’ll bet your family bought you ponies for Christmas.
Ezra: Yeah, but I only asked for the one.

No, seriously. He says that. He says he only asked for one pony.

Paige is snipping at her mom on the phone about, “No, that’s what you want” and as soon as the words are out of her mouth, you know what’s happening is that her parents have finally decided to be the only parents in Rosewood that actually parent, and shuttle her out of this shitshow of a town. Emily, who has never seen a TV show before and continues to not be as desperate for Paige as I am, for reasons I will never understand, says “sounds like a fun vacation” when Paige says her parents want her to go to California after Christmas. Aria zooms by and points up at the mistletoe, and Paige and Emily kiss, and they still make my heart swell up like a reformed Grinch after all this time.

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What a laugh it would have been if Maya would have risen from the grave and walked in wearing a mask of her own face and saw Emily kissing Paige Claus last night!

The Ice Ball is a big charity Christmas party that Alison is throwing to raise money for Homeless Teen Pilots probably, and everyone looks fly as hell, but Emily and Paige look it the most. Paige is wearing a white suit and Emily is wearing a dress that’s like what we’ve talked about before when costume designer Mandi Line must just give up on trying to make Shay Mitchell look like a regular teenage person and not an otherworldly goddess and is just like, “Fine.” And the result is why painters paint and singers sing and poets poet and Paige McCullers doesn’t give one single damn if living in this hellscape means her whole entire head is going to get set on fire one day while she is eaten alive by trained wolves.

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Last thing I remember is our beautiful bodies grinding up in the club, drunk in looooove.

Tiny Toby is Home Alone, so Spencer breaks from the gang to sit on Lucas Claus’ lap and tell him to be careful tonight because Ali potentially has a group of super-soldiers at her disposal. Then:

Lucas Claus: HO HO HO, LITTLE HASTINGS! SANTA WILL TRY HIS VERY BEST TO—
Spencer: No.
Lucas Claus: [shuts up]

It’s pretty hilarious.

Ali makes a triumphant entrance with four new Liars in tow, all masked up, and the old Liars split up to complete Operation Vanderloot. It’s a terrible plan. Not even the splitting up part, which just Is What It Is at this point, but the part where Hanna and Spencer are going into Ali’s house to ferret out all her hidden trinkets. How do they not know by now that a map to Ali’s hidden trinkets isn’t like: here is a wall safe and here is the combination and viola! here are the documents we need to solve the mystery at hand.

No, it’s like, you go to the place marked on the map and chop through a wall and what you find is a disembodied doll hand, which reminds you of this thing Alison said one time that would have been useful to know back in the pilot episode but you have only just now decided to share it with the class, and that memory leads you to a different place where the claw-like fingers of the disembodied doll hand function as a key, and inside that hidey hole are the rest of the doll parts, and so you assemble the doll back together and finally notice there’s one doll missing from a nearby shelf, so you put it back in its place and when the sun comes through the window at 3:33 p.m., the light hits the reassembled doll in the eyes, and the eyes are actually mirrors, and the sunbeam pings around the room and lands on a crawlspace, and inside the crawlspace —a place you can only open by giving it a sacrifice of your own blood while standing on one leg and singing the lyrics to “Linger” by the Cranberries, backwards— is a child’s toy that looks like it’s from an abandoned circus from the 1800s and inside that toy is another, even creepier toy, and inside the even creepier toy is — YOU’LL NEVER KNOW! Because it took you so long to uncover the actual prize that someone in a hoodie found you and stabbed you in the kidneys with a cleaver!

So anyway, Hanna and Spencer scamper off to do that while the Liars and their partners spread out across the five square-mile auditorium where this dance is being held and creep on Ali.

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Your move, Jessica Rabbit.

Ali has no trouble losing them, though. Firstly, she sneaks off into one winter wonderland to snog Officer Holbrook who is dressed like Sexy Santabro. And secondly, she sneaks off into another winter wonderland to trade presents/skin with Cece Drake. Like this:

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Is that real yeti fur on your hat?! GIVE ME IT.

Holbrook: I’m a skeeze now like every other male authority figure in this town, so I’m going to wear this shit, call you naughty, and say Ezra’s name in a way that’s grosser than anything anyone has ever said to you.
Aria: Bitches get buried, is what I have heard.
Holbrook: Not me, though! I am a man with power!
Aria: Tell it to Wilden. Tell it to Garrett. Tell it to Cousin Nate.
Holbrook: See you around, little girl.
Aria: ACT NORMAL, BITCH!

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Remember when I made up the name “Pigskin” for Paige? Remember when I called Emily “Americano”? I am so good at nicknames.

Ali: Thank you for coming to visit me in the town where you murdered an officer of the law.
Cece: Girl, I brought you some perfume too.
Ali: I’ve been seeing a lot of ghosts, literal ones.
Cece: The first Christmas after losing someone is the toughest.
Ali: Probably not as tough as the last three Christmases I spent gnawing meat off old chicken bones from the trash can at the Greyhound bus station, but I get your point.
Cece: I love me. I mean you. I love you. And me, who is you, and you who are me.
Ali: Merry Christmas, soul sister. Again, I mean that literally.

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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, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1222 articles for us.

25 Comments

  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.

  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. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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…

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. -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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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 :)

  17. 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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