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

Meanwhile, Emily follows one of Alison’s new minions into a whole other winter nook. The minion unmasks herself and is Sydney. Also, Jenna. Emily goes, “Well, you I already blinded, Jenna, and Sydney, I think I made it perfectly clear that I will be drowning you when swim season starts back, so what do you want?” They explain that they are working as double agents, getting in good with Ali while also being pretty sure that Ali murdered Mona. Emily says they’re sleeping with the enemy, which is ridiculous, because clearly they are sleeping with each other (despite Sydney bullshitting that she’s not gay). It seems like Sydney and Jenna want to form an alliance with the Liars, but Emily hates their beautiful guts so blorpin’ much. It’s not going to happen.


The killing of a guy never bothered me anyway.

When Ali and Cece try to maneuver their way out of the building, Lucas and Paige give chase from one side and Emily and Aria give chase from the other. What they find is that Ali has dressed Mindy and Cindy in Ali masks and they are her robots now.

Things are going equally effectively over at Ali’s, which is to say: impotently. Hanna and Spencer crawl around in the dark whispering for a while, while Toby looks on from the window of Spencer’s bedroom with his telephoto lens. They find one of Ali’s many passports, this one for a lady named Holly Varjak, like if Holly married Paul in Breakfast at Tiffany’s*, and in the basement, Hanna hits the jackpot: There’s an archery certificate that proves Ali has been training for The Hunger Games, a Mad Hatter jack-in-the-box that leads to a stack of box hats that contain a bunch of mad letters from Bethany Young. Just: “Hey, Al! Can’t wait to break out of the asylum and hang out this Labor Day weekend trying on yellow tank tops and hanging around in your backyard!”

But Hanna’s time runs out because A is in the house, brandishing a kitchen knife, lurking all around. Spencer gets so freaked out that she breaks a picture of Mrs. D and crafts herself a quicky shiv. Also, Hanna left her phone upstairs so it’s not like Spencer can text to tell her to make a break for it. And so Toby wheels around in circles in his chair in Spencer’s bedroom and cries and makes the most terrified faces and flashes his camera flash to try to get Hanna’s attention. But nothing works. A bonks Hanna on the head, flies out the window into the night like Toby’s mom on top of a Radley roof, and you want to know the worst part? That goddamn burlap baby zombie is watching from the corner. That thing gives me the heebie jeebies like no other.


Always the court gesture, never the Nancy Drew.

*Spencer says Ali chose “Holly Varjak” as an alias because of a Breakfast at Tiffany‘s (movie) fantasy she’s playing out in her head about her and Ezra, but I don’t believe that for a nanosecond. I don’t think Ali believes in happy endings or thinks she deserves a happy ending and I think if she identifies with anything about Holly Golightly it’s the inability to commit or even name things she loves. So, I don’t reckon that passport is Alison’s, no siree.

The Liars and their girlfriends/boyfriends meet up at Spencer’s house to talk about how if Ali knew Bethany, probably that means Spencer won’t go to jail for murder, based on whatever waggle saggle Rosewood law. They are all sad for a little while that a blizzard has arrived and they will be away from their parents for the first Christmas ever, but then they remember that they don’t have parents and everything is okay. But like super okay. Super duper okay to the max. Because the Liars’ partners put on a little sexy fashion show for them, and guess who also gets herself some Santa boxers? Paige McCullers.


And this will be a sign unto you. You will find a lesbian, wrapped in Santa boxers, standing on a staircase.

When this picture started making the rounds on Monday, everyone was just losing their minds in a pants-flaming way, but let me tell you what I did. I looked at it and I burst into tears. I could tell you right now, off the top of my head, a full list of every queer female TV character in history, what show she was on, what she did with her life, what her appearance meant in the broader scheme of lesbian/bi visibility, what the social impact was of her character, how that character birthed whatever new crop of characters. That’s my job and that’s my brain and I’ve been doing it since forever. Never, ever did I ever think we’d get to a place in my lifetime where a lesbian TV character would be treated with so much affection and dignity and respect that her girlfriend would fit in as seamlessly as all the boyfriends on the show. It’s sweet, yes. But it’s sexy, too. And it’s no big deal in Rosewood, and that’s a big fucking deal in the real world.

So’s this next part, this montage of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” when the Liars come together with their found family and bake a feast and say grace and hold hands and laugh and smile and cuddle and toast and all the things all the best Christmas movies do, and Paige and Emily are there doing it to, and it’s not a Thing? It just Is? Damn, y’all. What a Christmas miracle.


Die Hard! Cheers!

You know how when you’re gay, you don’t think about being gay. It’s not like you wake up and gay-kiss your girlfriend and gay-hold her hand on the train and gay-hug her when she gets home from work and gay-play with her hair while you gay-cuddle and watch Netflix? It’s just what you do because it’s what people do? It’s hard to watch TV like that as a queer woman because we have been so underrepresented and fucked over in so many ways from so many directions for so long that you just want to cast protection spells around these queer characters the whole time an episode is on, to keep them safe from other characters, from writers, from showrunners and networks and stupid fans. Pretty Little Liars is the only show I have ever watched that doesn’t make me feel like I am gay-watching TV. It doesn’t even make me feel like I’m watching TV. It makes me feel like when TV was just a magic box that pulled me in like the force of a TARDIS and transported me to a whole different world.

So yeah, dudes. I cried about that picture. I cried during this whole montage. I cried when Paige said her parents are making her leave school early to move to California where teenage girls have more than a four percent chance of not being buried in Veronica Hastings’ garden. I can’t even deal with that part right now.


Spring semester is still ten years away, though, right? At least we have one more decade of senior year together.

The Ghost of Christmas Cataclysm visits Ali one last time. I think it’s the last time. I honestly wouldn’t mind if Mona shows up like this in every episode. This scene is straight out of The Christmas Carol, even though Ali is very much not Scrooge at all and actually has a lot more in common with Miss Havisham in terms of Dickensian buddies. But whatever. Another thousand words for another time. Anyway, so Mona teleports them to the church and Ali sees herself dead in a casket, with no legs. Then it gets EVEN WORSE because Mrs. D shows up, tells her “they’re” coming for her, and also that she is going to hell. (“We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”)

Then poor Ali wakes up and goes to Spencer’s and peeks in the window at the Merry Little Christmas of all her friends. It’s so sad! Probably she was happier chewing on those trash can chicken bones!


Yes, I SHOULD have won Dancing With the Stars. Thank you.

The Liars holiday reverie is interrupted by someone they think is Santa, but actually is someone else in a red coat, who has trimmed a tree for them and left them a holiday greeting.



Keep the change, ya filthy animal.

A super huge enormous mega holiday-sized thank you to Nicole (@PLLBigA) for the screencaps. She’s got the goods on season 5B, if you follow her on the Twitter machine!

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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer 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 1218 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.

  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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