Pretty Little Liars Episode 520 Recap: Nobody Puts Hanna In The Corner

Previously on Pretty Little Liars, Emily found out Talia has two last names, a maiden one and a married one, on account of: she’s married to a dude. Spencer continued to be brainwashed by Johnny’s mansplaining wankshite. Aria followed Mike all around town and into the woods and found out he’s leaving candy for ghosts and probably stealing people’s blood. And Hanna got accepted into a hundred colleges but couldn’t get any of her parents to help her pay to go to them, so she decided to enter a beauty pageant and win herself a scholarship.

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No, this can’t be. It looks like Hanna/Emily fanfic written in morse code.

The Liars are just straight pillaging Mike’s room now that Aria has come around to Spencer’s blood thief theory. They rehash the thing that changed her mind, about how she and Emily and Spencer stalked Mike down to some dive bar in the forest where he gave a package to Ali’s fake kidnapper, Cyrus. Right after he handed over the mystery envelope, they got an A-blast with a photo of vials of their blood, which seemed pretty convenient since Mike was known to be lurking around the blood refrigerator at school that very morning. They don’t find their plasma anywhere in Mikey’s bedroom, but they do find a necklace in his gym bag that — wait for it — is jeweled in morse code! I’ve been missing these ridiculous hijinks this half-season! I’m here for the Tippis and the queerness and the way this show can be the gold standard of Bechdel glory when it wants to be!

Fitzgerald Book and Candy Shoppe. Talia is on the phone with Emily’s mom, without Emily’s blessing, exchanging cobbler recipes, which is worse than when Paige tipped off the police about Alison being alive and worse than Alison pretending not to be alive, in terms of things you don’t do to your girlfriend. Emily wants to know if Pam knows about them, and Talia shakes her head no, which, again, is incorrect. Pam Fields counts the Tylenols, Talia. Pam Fields knows everything.* Well and Emily knows Pam knows. Emily also knows she’s in a real pickle here with this married woman. But her girlfriends are in jail and in college, so she’s kind of employing the “get what you get and don’t pitch a fit” method of living, which is always a mature thing to do when you’re talking about eating food someone else cooked for you, but sort of the opposite of mature when you’re choosing who gets to touch your boobs.

(*I’m working on this new theory where Pam is A and this is all an elaborate pantomime to teach Emily a lesson about not talking to strangers.)

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Mona was gay.

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That’s your opinion.

Mike comes in and orders a couple of coffees and it blows Emily’s mind! It makes her more convinced than ever that he’s a murderer! She sends out a text to the other Liars about how Mike is getting scarier, which must means she thinks Spencer is the most terrifying person on the planet. That girl has been having two cups of coffee for breakfast every morning since Pre-K.

Spencer — who is wearing like baseball pants from the ’40s and a plain white-shirt and a messy ponytail, and making my heart ring in my chest like bells on bobtails — is having breakfast at Hollis with Johnny. I know you find this nearly impossible to believe, but this motherfucker is somehow, through some feat of black unknowable sorcery, going to get even more deplorable this episode. Observe as says “Hogwarts” with full-blown contempt and then acts like Toby is a neanderthal because he has no idea what the fuck Johnny is saying when he starts talking like Luigi. “What? It’s an expression. In Italian,” is what Johnny says, after dropping some non-English adieu. Sadly, Toby does not pop him one right in his smug little jaw and be like, “What? It’s a punch. In the head.” Spencer tries to make plans with Toby, who is only on campus picking up something for Jenna, but he blows her off and glares at Johnny with murder eyeballs as he walks away.

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It’s a-me, Mario!

“It’s an expression. In Italian. What are you, a cave man? I can tell by the outline of your pecs in that t-shirt that the answer is yes. In Greece, you would have been a god. Oh, but not me, sir! I have shattered the very concept of god, and have embraced the shifting truth of my own holiness. Was it not Gwenyth Paltrow who said, “I heard the rock say: ‘You have the answers. You are your teacher.'”

Over at Calebzra’s apartment, Hanna explains the plan about entering the beauty pageant, but Caleb thinks it’s an anti-feminist nightmare scenario and strongly advises her against it. See, but here’s what’s great about Caleb: He listens when Hanna’s like, “The world is an anti-feminist nightmare scenario so sometimes you’ve got to figure out how to swindle the machine from inside the engine room.” He offers to solve her problem for her, with his mom’s money, and she tells him no. And so then he immediately switches gears and supports her, because he respects her ability to make her own decisions and doesn’t try to shame her into doing what he thinks is best because he’s got a dick and some feelings.

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I feel like Emily and Hanna are keeping something from me. I know I’m just being paranoid, but…

Speaking of which dicks, Johnny is walking down the street with Spencer when he spots their Hollis graffiti hanging in an art gallery. He and Spencer are livid. They storm into the gallery and bang their tiny fists against the wall and start yelling at the owner about how these paintings belong to them and no one can sell them! Hollis owned the building Johnny vandalized, but the drawings on the wall are his own creative property! Johnny. God. I would rather be locked in a windowless room with no food listening to Ezra talk about being a hot dog for an entire week than get dragged into an art wanker conversation about The Ethics of Being Banksy. You make me hate everything. Get off my TV.

Aria and Andrew are studying The Trial of the Century, which: whoa! Andrew says it’s notable for being the first trial where a temporary insanity plea was successful, and that’s true, but the real deal with the Trial of the Century is it’s about how this woman named Evelyn Nesbit, who most people consider to be the world’s first supermodel, was physically and psychologically tortured and coerced into marrying this full-on sociopathic rich white guy named Harry Thaw, who murdered this other rich white guy named Stanford White, who had seduced Nesbit when she was only 17.

Thaw was a King Joffrey-caliber sadist, no joke. He beat and raped women and men, including Nesbit, and but was obsessed with female chastity. White also was into the same stuff, especially seducing and bedding underage girls. Right, and so when Thaw went to trial for murdering White — on top of Madison Square Garden, in plain view of NYC’s other richies, just shot him right in the face — the story in the press became that Nesbit was some kind of seductress, a “scandalous woman,” a “benevolent vampire.” That she drove Thaw to do what he did.

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What the fuck.


The temporary insanity defense was basically conceived by his own mother as a marketing plan because she knew it would appeal to these ridiculous patriarchal, puritanical ideals of men in America. It was seriously called “Dementia Americana.” It “encompassed the male prerogative to revenge any woman whose sacred chastity had been violated. In essence, murder motivated by such a circumstance was the act of a man justifiably unbalanced.” Justifiably driven to kill another human if he “ruins” your wife, that’s the male prerogative. And of course the press and the jurors ate the crap right up.

Thaw didn’t want the insanity plea because he truly believed he was “one chivalrous man defending innocent womanhood.” This fucker who beat the hell out of young women and prostitutes before sexually assaulting them, all over the country, this guy pitched a full-on crying, stomping toddler tantrum in the courtroom when he realized he was going to be labeled as a madman instead of a hero.

He ultimately went free, of course, and the insanity thing was struck down later, because: dollar dollar bills, y’all. And the person whose reputation and life suffered forever? Not the abuser. Nope, nope, nope. It was the abused, Evelyn Nesbit.

Talk about your Alison DiLaurentis parallels.

Man, I hope Pretty Little Liars sticks it so hard to the Thaws and Whites in the end.

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Everyone keeps saying Mona was gay!

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Calm down, Mike. She may have just been gay for Hanna.

What was I talking about? Oh, right. The Trial of the Century is what Andrew and Aria are studying when Mike comes clomping in with his two whole coffees, and when he realizes Aria and the Liars ransacked his stuff, he comes back out and legit threatens to murder her if she ever goes in his room again. And then he flips over a coffee table. Aria asks Andrew to use his Sports Guy status to follow Mike to the gym and peep on him to see if he’s doing anything with anybody’s blood, or coded jewelry, or even frankly steroids at this point. Andrew says yes.

Hanna has scheduled a meeting with a coach who introduces her to the wide world of beauty pageants by rapid firing a bunch of questions at her about reversing animal extinction, the decay of American infrastructure, the moral quandary of fetal genetic diagnosis, the philosophical difficulties of preemptive military action, what in the world is happening on Scandal this season. Just a lot of really complicated queries with no clear-cut answers. Hanna says she’ll work on the Q&A portion. The main thing her coach needs to know is that she can Dance. Not little ‘d’ dance, no, ma’am. Dance.

Hanna texts Emily  to tell her to cancel all her plans because they’re gonna rhumba all weekend long. Emily is like, “Finally, geez.”

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I heard my wife Talia is gay for you.

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That’s not a thing.

Emily’s still working the coffee counter at the Book & Candy Shoppe when this floppy haired dudebro comes in looking for Talia. He recognizes Emily right away due to Talia’s descriptions of her as “radiant” and “entrancing” and “no seriously, man, otherfuckingwordly beautiful.” So he gets right down to the creepster business of talking about bisexuality like he’s the personification of Glee, all, “Oh, I know all about you, of course, about how Talia needs a little something vagina-shaped on the side, because of bisexuality, and I know about your bike ride and your french kissing and the way you taste like peperminty vanilla. I’m her husband forever and you’re just a blip on the sapphic radar.”

Gross, dude.

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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. why is it every time emily and ms.marin are in the room together, i feel like they are one scene away from jumping each others pants? emily has chemistry with everyone but i feel like with ms. marin its off the charts.

    also, apparently we are going to learn who A is in four episodes, for real this time. on tumblr someone has broken down the previews and says that Aria is A. thoughts?

    • I feel like you’re completely correct about Emily and Ashley. Their chemistry has always freaked me out. It’s like how Spencer and Jason have such crackling chemistry. I want it to stop!

      If Aria really is A, that would just … I don’t even know. HOW could that be possible?

      • RIGHT!!! I literally replayed that scene just because the energy around them was so charged.EVEN before they said anything. but its weird too, nothing can happen, ashley marin would seize to be ashley marin if anything happened.i think the world between these two is best explored in fanfic.

        remember a season or two ago when we would watch an episode and be like “it would be lovely if aria was in this show”. that she seemed so immune to the trauma the other girls were going through, so it makes sense to me in a way. Honestly, ezra was the perfect A so now they really have to sell the “real A”

    • A is not going to be revealed. There’s going to be a big reveal about A. The writers don’t control the promo department for pll and Spent the next day on Twitter doing damage control. Follow the writers on Twitter not the official account.

      • So, Marlene King has very strategically shied away from saying we will find out exactly who A is, BUT, she has also SPECIFICALLY said that
        1) We will see A without the mask/hoodie
        2) We will see their haircolor
        3) We will have enough information to figure out who A is.

        My money is on either Aria or Toby.

        • I think A is going to be a boy, I don’t think the writers would make the mastermind of torturing these girls another girl again…plus they love giving us hints with movies and unrelated dialogue, so now that we know about the trial of the century I think it’s safe to say it’ll be a boy.

          After to this episode I started thinking A is going to be Andrew…he seems to be around for a few episodes almost every season, he’s always being suuuuuuper helpful like when he gave Spencer her speed.

  2. Toby has time to run errands for his family but zero time for Spencer. That’s the issue. Spencer was basically the rebelling teenager trying to get attention….from her boyfriend.

    As much as Jonny sucks I liked how he made Spencer look like an even better criminal.

    • Toby knows that if he spends time with Spencer she’s going to ask him things he can’t tell her and tell him things he can’t know.

  3. It was unbelievable the level of douchebaggery employed in this episode with Johnny (UGH FUCK JOHNNY), Eric, and pre-confession Mike. It’s disturbing how awful every guy is on this show, and how it just reinforces my misandric worldview. (Except Caleb. Because there’s always that one guy who will be saved in the Matriarchal Culling.)

    Also, that dance scene with Emily and Hanna was…umm…quite wow. Me gusta. Shay can dance like whoa.

  4. Thanks to your description of dancing I now have abs like Hanna, is how hard I was laughing.

    Also I was gonna say Johnny was Larry, Spencer could totally be a Piper. I’m not sure about Aria as Alex, except for maybe their kind of gothic looks and their astronomical height difference compared to other humans.

  5. – They name dropped Jenna. Please let her come back.
    – Mike, if you’re doing something shady, then the word you need to live by is S-U-B-T-L-E-T-Y.
    – I actually like what Aria is wearing this episode. That star on her back is adorable.
    – Yes to Aria and Andrew. He’s mature, which she likes, but not OLD.
    – Stop focusing on Hanna during the dance. I want to see Emily.
    – Does Johnny drive a VW bus? What a hipster douchebag.
    – I want to draw your attention, once again, to the fact that Spencer can pick locks.
    – I’m going to have to side with Toby on this one. Spencer, when you act shady, you can’t blame Toby for acting like a cop…when he’s a cop.
    – That pizza that Hanna was nomming on was the worst pizza I’ve ever seen.
    PS – Mike was going to use Mona’s blood to make a Mona wolf that would hunt Spencer at the end of the Hunger Games. Until then, Mona Wolf would hang with Foxface Wolf, because Hanna’s not into zoophilia.
    Spencer is A:

  6. I understand that investing in this crazy wonderful show requires an insane ability to suspend my disbelief but there’s something that’s been bugging me for almost a week now…Didn’t Spencer and fucking Johnny vandalize the roof of a building? Did they tear down the entire building because of spray painted rabbits or were they always going to tear it down? Did that gallery owner hang chunks of roof in his gallery? If they were already going to tear it down, does the gallery now have an asbestos problem?
    Maybe I should just go watch Hanna and Emily dance again – that seemed to stop my brain…

    • I’m so glad that someone else has been confused and annoyed. Maybe in rosewood they have technology to transfer stuff from concrete to canvas. Idk… I think I’ll take your advice and just watch them dance for the 1,000,000th time. I will never get tired of that magic.

  7. So here’s a question. If Mona isn’t in the barrel, who is? It would have to be someone we already know, and it would have to be shocking.

    My guess: Cece.

    • Oh my god! This episode was so full of dancing and all kinds of craziness with Mona maybe being alive but probably still really dead that I forgot all about #whatsinthebarrel!

  8. This is great! I love your take on Toby’s arrest scene. “You’re super under arrest.” “Spencer, where’s Aria?” Bahaha. Good riddance to Johnny Barndweller, and Talia, too! And yay for Supportive!Emily and for the laughs I get from Detective!Aria.

    • Yes! Heather, including the explanation of the Trial of the Century was amazing, and really showcases how intelligent these writers are to drop in these kinds of references. (Ditto for contextualizing that movie from last week’s episode that Mike was watching.)

  9. My money is on either Aria or Toby to be A.

    The Toby theory goes that Bethany was actually his sister, and their mother, Marion, was Jessica DiLaurentis’s twin sister. (This would explain Jessica’s interest in Bethany, the yellow dresses in the piano, and Toby’s going-nowhere subplot a couple seasons ago about finding out what happened to his mother in Radley.) Toby becomes A to get revenge on the people who killed his sister and mother.

    Interestingly, there’s a subtheory of this where Bethany is actually Marion’s daughter by Mr. Marin, Hannah’s dad, and Mrs. Marin is the “Black Widow” at Jessica DiLaurentis’s funeral.

    The Toby as A theory makes me sad though, because Toby is one of the less objectionable males on this show, and him being A would make his relationship with Spencer really predatory and gross.

    I am still hoping that Aria turns out to be A though! This Tumblr outlines the Aria has multiple personality disorder/is A evidence really well:

    Yes, there’s a substantial amount of flimsy evidence like “the shovel is pointing towards her” and “her hand is kind of shaped like an A if you squint” but there’s some good stuff buried in there too. I find all of the allusions to movies and books about people with mental illness around Aria particularly compelling and subtle, not to mention all the As in her shots — just look at the Ace of Hearts on the Christmas Tree in UnMasked.

    Aria being A is probably the only way I will ever like her though, so that’s why I’m clinging so hard to this theory. :(

    • It took me like 4 hours to read through those Aria is A links, and while a number of the posts are far too absurd, I’m really intrigued with the wardrobe and set items that are scattered around Aria.

  10. As a Fine art grad student who drives a Volkswagen bus I just want to say; we are not all like F***ing Johnny. He does not deserve that van.
    I cannot express my hatred for him. The massive Douche. I have never spoken Italian to make myself look good to a girl I liked and simultaneously piss off her boyfriend…well maybe when I was in high school…but not as an adult guys.
    My hatred for him burns like the ginger of Van Gogh’s beard.
    Also Emily telling Hanna she loved her made me tear up a touch which I needed what with the Johnny/Spencer lip lock…Vom. Plus Mr Talia…also vom.
    Can there be an Emily and Mrs Marin advice chat show…I’d watch the hell out of that.
    Glad I’m watching on Netflix so I don’t get spoilery promos :) however I have considered Aria may be A from episode 1…gleaned from comments that that’s what was suggested…?!?

  11. I had Hanna’s dad so much. This is why I’m not sad to have one. Does he not know how college admissions fin aid works? You can just say $1000 a month and be done with it.

    • Does any parent on this show know anything about how college works, really? Or any of the Liars, actually? Please recall the way Spencer applied to UPenn in the woods one night at one of Noel Kahn’s ragers. Like she gave her application to Cece at 10pm, literally in the forest in rural Pennsylvania, and then by midnight she had an email like, “Thanks for your application!” And Spencer was all, “And that’s college taken care of.”

      God, I miss Cece.

  12. I couldn’t even get through half of this recap – “it’s a-me, Mario!”
    I’m literally crying for the past 10 minutes, laughing. this is brilliant.

    • It reminds me of a Dr Seuss book. I shed more years laughing at that play by play than anything I can think of. Pure magic.

  13. Thank you for another glorious recap. I completely forgot that anything had happened other than the dance scenes.

    I rewatched this in tandem with the previous episode, where Hanna’s dad is such a jerk. Found myself talking about how to legislate to stop people in Hanna’s situation not being supported through college by A-hole fathers, and then realized I’d lived in N.America too long. The obvious answer being that college should be free for everyone and paid for by higher taxes on wealthy cuttle-fish-brained idiots like Hanna’s dad.

  14. To whom does one write to start a petition to give Shay and Ashley a dance scene in every remaining PLL episode ever?

    • I don’t know, but if you find out, tell me, because I will canvas door-to-door for that cause.

  15. The Trial of the Century stuff made my brain explode. Thanks for being smart and researching that for us, Heather.
    Now I’m thinking that A is either Wren or Ezra…an entitled, older dude who felt jilted by Ali.
    But I would absolutely LOVE it if Aria was A. She’s been such a useless and annoying character, and having her actually be the villain would be fantastic.

  16. I am seriously hoping that Johnny just leaves and never comes back. His character could not be more useless.

    I can’t wait to see how this pageant rolls out. Emily in a swimsuit? Yumerz!

    • I refuse to believe I’m the only one with this video set as a tab whenever I open chrome?
      No regrets.

  17. Heather, I just love how seripussly you treat pop culture, the themes you bring out of this show, the little things you notice. You’re such an inspurration – your writing is funny, but not at anyone else’s expense, and as ridicmewpuss as this show can get, you don’t dismiss it as trash. You keep pulling things out of it that other people wouldn’t stay still long enough to notice – it’s truly amazing to read!

    ^ I write in cat puns. Cats are always relevant. End of! Also, Autostraddle totally condones this, as I was in the comment awards :p (Life goal achieved!)

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