Pretty Little Liars Episode 525 Recap: The Greatest Show on Earth

Down this one hallway is a door to a vault filled with noodle dollars, probably. Down this other hallway is a portal to that doll hospital in Brookhaven. That hallway leads to a replica of the inside of Kahn Kabin. This one goes to a Beauty and the Beast-style library where every book is Lolita. There’s a room full of those burlap baby-face zombie masks. A room with nothing but photos of the inside of Aria’s ear. A pit full of snakes. A simulator where you get run under, over and over, by a car. One room looks exactly like the English classroom at Rosewood High, with an animatronic Ezra Fitz inside teaching The Great Gatsby all day every day until the end of time, and sometimes between talking about the themes of class and the dissolution of the American dream, the animatron snaps, “Some people have real problems, Emily!”

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So. How’s Caleb?

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Caleb who?

What Mona has figured out, besides all that, is if you don’t make it back to your room in three minutes, A+ leaves you out there in the hallway in the dark with the sirens going off and no food and water for days, and sometimes it’s like those Jabberjays from The Hunger Games squawking your loved ones’ voices at you, screaming and crying and begging to die.

But have those torture tactics cracked Mona Vandejesus Vanderwaal? No, ma’am, they have not.

Mona: Is my mom okay, though?
Hanna: I mean, I saw her all the time at first. She slapped Ali at your funeral for sure. Things got weird when Leslie Stone came to town trying to rifle through your shit and claiming to be your lover. I was guarding your bedroom 24/7. I think your mom was creeped out. Anyway, who the fuck is Leslie Stone?
Mona: Shoot, that was the warning click. 17 seconds until the generator is working again; we’d better scoot.

Sadly, this episode is not just all Liars all the time. Mercifully, though, the boys have holed up in Calebzra’s apartment and are hanging out there and impotently interacting with one another, and also with the Hastingses, who have been clued in by Toby that Spencer and the others have been hijacked and are being held hostage. Ezra is the best in these scenes. Just the absolute best. He stomps around and pulls at his hair and falls to his knees and shouts at the sky and rips his clothes and talks about how all he cares about in the world is keeping Aria safe, and then he presents dozens of boxes of stalking notes to Veronica and Peter, from the several years he spent watching Aria get chopped into tiny pieces and fed to wolves every day without ever intervening to help her.

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You can’t have a pet parrot in prison, I’m sorry.

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I hate everything.

The Hastingses decide to tag-team and question Ali about the roofied paddy wagon drivers who careened their van into a ditch, thereby enabling the kidnapping of their daughter.

Ali: I mean, it was A.
Peter: Fuck wank bugger shitting arse head and hole!
Veronica: Pardon me?
Peter: That’s some slang I learned from Colin, Melissa’s British roommate, when I was Out of Town.
Veronica: Alison, we know Mona was A. Dr. Annabeth Gish explained how she was living in a perpetual state of hyperreality after Spencer drove her off a cliff, remember? And now she’s dead for a second time? That’s kind of why you’re in here?
Alison: It’s true Mona was A, but after she checked into Radley, a whole other even more sinister A stepped up to the plate, and it stopped being kid’s stuff like nasty little text messages and occasionally getting stuffed into a woodchipper, and started being real terror stuff like — okay, one time I had to land my plane in the forest and pull Hanna from a burning building.
Peter: Blimey, mate! Bugger all chunder kerfuffle!

In the doll house, Spencer finally takes Emily’s advice to think like Mona and decodes the lettered blocks she peeped in the game room earlier. She wakes up and legit goes, “IT HAS A NAME!” And its name is Charles.

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God separated the light from the darkness.

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And it was good.

Mona wakes up and smiles so sweetly into the camera peering down at her. The camera waggles its finger toward Mona’s dresser. There’s a gas mask there and a note saying it’s a gift because she’s A’s favorite. Mona smiles as bright as an Oklahoma morning, says, “Want me to put it on?” And she does. And then she stands in front of a mirror in the fake room of a girl she’s being forced to pretend to be, while the actual girl who lives in the real version of this room is in jail for her murder, wearing a gas mask and brushing her fake hair. This episode is one of the most monumentally fucked up things I have ever seen on television. I love it so much.

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You don’t know-oh-oh! That’s what makes you beautiful!

The Liars make their way down to the basement of the doll house. It kind of (kind of) looks like the Batcave from the 1960s Batman TV show. All of the Liars have been assigned to work stations to help prepare for prom, the theme of which is: Hellscape 2004. Incidentally, that was the theme of Ian and Melissa’s prom. Emily is like, “Nuh uh, no! I did not start a lesbian revolution on television to be sent back in time to a year when gay women only had sex on premium cable! Absolutely not!” Frankly, Mona agrees. Hanna is in charge of the snacks station, so she flips off the camera and tells A+ to bite her, before chomping (awesomely) into a brownie.

Mona invites the Liars to her station to help her fill out Prom Queen & King ballots, which only makes Emily madder. 2004 was so heteronormative! But Mona doesn’t care about the ballots; she wants them to use the ballots to pass notes between each other.

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I want to work at Mona and Emily’s station!

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Maybe polyamory isn’t for me.

Meanwhile, at Calebzra’s, Ezra gets a text from someone letting him know that Tanner & Co. are on their way to arrest Caleb. He willingly goes in for questioning because he’s never gotten to sit across from Tanner and give her a piece of his mind and now seems like a good time.

Tanner: Well, the girls were cyberjacked, and are you not a cyberjacker?
Caleb: Maybe, and good luck killing me, because I’m also a ghost.
Tanner: Where is Hanna?
Caleb: Do you not think if I were the cyberjacker who jacked her paddy wagon that I would be with her right now, instead of hanging around in my apartment with these Hastingses and Ezra Fitz?
Tanner: Can you think of anyone else who would want to jack Hanna’s paddy wagon?
Caleb: Yes, but she’s dead. Anyway, I already found the paddy wagon, from my iPhone.
Tanner: We’ll talk about your arrest after you help us crack the case of these missing Liars.
Toby: Yessssss. Solving a mystery! Making arrests! Officer Cavanaugh is on the—
Tanner: Toby, go get us some coffee.

Caleb takes over RPD’s intranet, shows Tanner where the paddy wagon has landed, and so off everyone goes to save the day. On the way, Melissa calls Veronica to check in on things, and Andrew “Cousin Nate” Campbell is somehow tapped into that phone conversation, just listening in on it while he plays Tetris in another window on his laptop down at Fitzgerald Candy & Book Shoppe.

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Do you think we could use this as a dildo, or nah?

In the doll house basement, Spencer suddenly starts flipping tables and yelling about how subpar all these materials are, and what she could really use is some copper wire and three packs of nine-volt batteries and and a handful of D-sub connectors and a modular connectivity port and half a dozen capacitors and resistors. Mona’s eyes get bright and she chimes in, talking about, “Shit, yeah! And a toggle switch and a liner taper potentiometer and about six hundred light bulbs!” Aria starts yelling too: “Yeah! And, um, a bag of bird feathers and a leather-bound journal with unruled free range organic paper and some coconut water!” Spencer and Mona dialogue about how if they had those things, they could rig up this fancy stairway entrance and when Ali walks down it to get her crown, all the light bulbs will flash at her like the paparazzi!

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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. You were waiting for after Easter to let us know that the Vanderjesus had risen, weren’t you?

  2. I think the comment about I. Marlene King sneaking in all this subversive feminist commentary on the grossness of the patriarchy while having to appease the patriarchy (network execs) to even get this show on the air is the truest thing ever.

    Some lingering questions I have:

    1. How long does everyone think the girls will be kept in the dollhouse? Does Mona use her brain power to just teleport everyone out there?

    2. Since Tanner has now seen Mona alive does she just release Ali from prison? Do they keep her in there so A doesn’t think they’re onto him?

    3. Where the hell is Pam Fields? Her daughter is in JAIL (well was, now she’s just kidnapped)!

    • “I think the comment about I. Marlene King sneaking in all this subversive feminist commentary on the grossness of the patriarchy while having to appease the patriarchy (network execs) to even get this show on the air is the truest thing ever.”

      100% agree.

    • Seriously, WHERE is Pam? She’d be tearing down buildings with her bare hands looking for Emily. The whole town, brick-by-brick.

      • Seriously, we were robbed of everybody in Emily’s life responding to her arrest and subsequent disappearance from jail. Yes, Pam Fields would tear Rosewood apart looking for her. Wayne Fields would scale all the buildings with no regard for his heart or their propensity for coming to life. And Paige Fucking McCullers would leave the most epic trail of overturned trashcans as she literally ran all the way across the country to try and rescue Emily.

        • I feel like the only reason the Hastings were the ones the writers clued in was because they’re the only ones you can count on to be weirdly chill about their daughter being kidnapped. Between Pam, Ashley and Ella Rosewood would have been torn apart crypt by crypt until they found their daughters.

  3. – Awwwwww, it’s Sparia.
    – Aria. Accessories. The jokes just write themselves.
    – If this is the Dollhouse, where’s Echo?
    – When Spencer breaks the glass in her room you can see her reflected in the glass. Heather Hogan said about the noir episode, “Showing a person in a mirror to symbolize his/her duplicitous ego is a famous noir convention…”
    – Yes. YESSSSSS. The VanderJesus has risen.
    – Of course Mona can play the piano.
    – Hanna is the first one to talk to Mona. I refuse to believe that that is coincidence.
    – F**k these guys. Go back to the girls.
    – I know how you can snap Mona back to herself Hanna.
    – “We have three minutes.” That all you’ll need…for me or Hanna.
    – When Risen Mitten is watching them through the monitors, is Spencer in her bed?

    – Spencer’s in her mind again.
    – Who’s Charles? Of course a show about four girls turns to one stuffy guy.
    – “How did we not know this was going on?” I’ve got a few theories. Most of them center around trips to Out of Town.
    – Boy, when the Hastings Lawyer Team goes up against the police, they really beat the po po down.
    – The girls are dancing…but not with each other. Lame.
    – Apparently A likes Hanna’s cleavage as much as I do.
    – Is Charles A, or just a minion?
    – It seems a little cheating to bring in this person at the eleventh hour.
    – Is it actually Charles, or is it Jason?
    – If Mona’s not in the barrel, then who is?
    – So, if Mona left those three anagrams of Charles Dilaurentis behind the mirror, then why didn’t she realize that those blocks spelled Charles? She’d been there for months. Only Spencer realized it. Did she also leave the notecard behind the mirror? Spencer is A.
    – The thing I love most about the VanderJesus still being alive is that now there’s still a chance for PinkDrink to be canon.

  4. when mona appeared onscreen i let out a howl of pure joy and delight to see her lovely face again. MONA. MONAAAAA.

    so wait — is that rumor about a 4 year time jump true? are they going to be in the bunker for 4 years? is season 6 going to be unbreakable little liars???

    • I don’t think that that’s going to happen. I think that A gave the gas mask to Mona/Ali because he was going to kill the other Liars after the prom. If that’s true, then I don’t think that he’ll change his mind after their escape attempt.

  5. I love the BRVC community so damn much.

    Also, I kept getting teased because I refused to accept Mona’s death and HAHAHAHAHA I LOVE BEING RIGHT.

  6. Am I the only one who thought these last two episodes were funny as hell? Emily and Spencer are a comic goldmine.

    “If your main thing when you are watching Pretty Little Liars is whatever circus promos ABC Family has on blast, go watch Scooby-Doo. You know who A is! It has been confirmed! A is the male gaze powered by surveillance culture and enabled by a victim-blaming society saturated in sexism and obsessed with denying women their agency. Who has been systematically torturing the Liars all this time? The patriarchy, just as we suspected! Who thinks women are interchangeable play things created to act out male fantasies? The patriarchy.”

    This is why we come to you for recaps! I didn’t even know what a woman’s agency was, till I started reading your stuff.

  7. Yeeeeeeeessss thank you Heather for this amazing recap, you truly are the best. You said everything I wanted to say to the people criticizing the episode. I kept coming back here every day after the episode waiting for your recap because I knew you would understand it. I was very touched by what you wrote about patriarchy, so thank you!!!

  8. The thing about A being Jasons twin is that A’s lair looks like a shrine to Charles. I think Mrs. D had a twin and that twin had a son Jasons age give or take a month named Charles and he died around the time of the video (which I don’t think the baby is Ali because jason/Charles would have to be 7 but look at most 5) and this twin went insane and got committed where shenanigans with Bethany young and Marion cavanough took place. And now her son is one of her personalities. At wildens funeral A had a distinctly female form and that was the A (bc the dress is in the background) that blew up tobys house and sent flowers to Bethany’s parents. Both radly connections.

  9. Top notch recap, Heather Hogan! Long live Vanderjesus!

    Related: can I now add “Composed a Top 100 Season 5B #BooRadleyVanCullen Tweet” to my resume? Would that get me hired places, you think?

  10. “This episode is one of the most monumentally fucked up things I have ever seen on television. I love it so much.”

    These two sentences sum up my feelings about this show perfectly.

  11. O HAPPY DAY!

    This recap was definitely worth the wait. And I am not going to stay up rewatching Sister Act 2, THOUGH I AM SORELY TEMPTED.

  12. Heather. Heather, Heather, Heather. I may have bitched to my gf about this recap being so late, I may have thrashed around and moaned and gotten caught in a bear trap in the woods, but truly, this show would be nothing for me without your recaps. As much as I love it, and I would watch it anyway, you’re the one who got us on to PLL and you’re the one who will always make the show worth watching. I savour these recaps like fine wine. Perfect, as always. Xxx

  13. This post was great! It actually makes me want to start watching the show again. I stopped watching it after Ali came back. It just got to be too much and I felt like the producers and writers liked messing w my emotions lol!

  14. I’m so glad you felt the same way I did about the finale – I was baffled by the number of people who hated it. I love that they’re upping the darkness with the show. It was deliciously fucked up! Out of interest, Heather, which is your fafurite epussode, if this is your second?

  15. If Mona is Vanderjesus, Heather must be her best disciple! She’s the apostle Heather!

    In other words, thank you.

  16. “You know who A is! It has been confirmed! A is the male gaze powered by surveillance culture and enabled by a victim-blaming society saturated in sexism and obsessed with denying women their agency. Who has been systematically torturing the Liars all this time? The patriarchy, just as we suspected! Who thinks women are interchangeable play things created to act out male fantasies? The patriarchy.”

    Heather, I LOVE how smart you are. And I love how right you were about this show. When I started watching in season 1 it was because I had read a few of your recaps on AE first and you promised me that the show was smart and subversive and that these women were going to rescue themselves every damn time and I didn’t always believe you, and I didn’t always see what you saw, but you’re right. You’re right you’re right you’re right. You told me so. Any time I tell people to watch PLL and they roll their eyes at me I say “but start at season 1, and read Heather’s recap after each ep. You will DIE.”

    Here’s hoping someday there’s a college course on PLL, and you’re the professor.

  17. Your recaps are half the enjoyment of watching this show. They’re golden. Thank you so much for your wonderful wit and the flawlessness of your literary technique. I loved that metaphor specifically, about chicken nuggets and coq du vin, and not just b/c i love food. Marlene King is a genius and this show deserves all the viewers and respect any “adult” show does. I’ve seen too many ppl belittle it w/o watching it, because it’s about a bunch of teenage girls- a demographic seen as inconsequential. I’m not a teenager anymore, but I wholeheartedly support the agency of girls and women and believe in their potential. I too, don’t care if this is all we get to know about A. it was never just about A; this show shows the dazzling possibilities of female friendship. I’m glad they’ve never stooped to the petty overdone trope of having the Liars fight over a boy or something. It passes the Bechdel test, hell it passes almost any test relating to the depiction of females on american tv. A truly groundbreaking phenomenon. I haven’t said anything you prolly haven’t heard, but i just want you to know that I’m so grateful for your work in these recaps.

  18. If they Unbreakable PLL those women next season this female will be mad as hell. Many many thanks for the stunning recaps HH, truly they are genius, and witty, and amazing, and always always worth the wait. The pAtriarchy is real. Vanderjesus is risen.

  19. I don’t understand the people who try to make sense of all the crazy plot stuff PLL throws out there over the years. Trying to figure out Pretty Little Liars is like trying to understand the mechanics of a rollercoaster WHILE YOU ARE ON THAT ROLLERCOASTER. Just hang on and enjoy the ride, man.

    I loved this episode SO. MUCH. and I’m glad you also enjoyed this episode because it was the kind of crazy and disturbing and wonderful that only PLL can pull off and it got so much hate it didn’t deserve. I mean I do wish they hadn’t pushed the “BIG A REVEAL FOR REAL WE REALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME” thing because I genuinely thought it was going to happen in the same way that “Ali is Alive!” happened and instead of the “Is she/isn’t she” thing they had dragged out, they were like “no really she is” and the show moved on to the aftermath of that reveal, so I was thinking this would be the same but since it wasn’t that I was inevitably disappointed in a way I wouldn’t have been otherwise.

    My only other gripe was that when Mona was revealed she wasn’t actually A which I was FREAKING OUT ABOUT BECAUSE HOLY SHIT WHAT A DELICIOUS PLOT TWIST THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN. I was so fucking excited when I thought she was the Big A reveal and she had just been Loony Toons Psychopants this whole time and actually lived in this mega A lair and faked her death and her sanity and everything, and then I was kind of let down when that wasn’t the situation but eh, I’ll take alive Mona in any way I can get. (ALIVE MONA!!)

  20. Fuck wank bugger shitting arse head and hole that was good! (The episode and the recap!)

  21. So did I miss something or is Talia still at Emily’s house sharing recipes with Pam wondering why Emily didn’t return home from court? Or after blackmailing the beauty pageant lady did she high-tail it out of Rosewood for California with Paige where it is safer for Emily’s exs and women of colour?

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