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

Obviously, they are planning to make an Oceans Eleven-style pinch to cut the power because both Mona and Spencer have those schematics memorized inside their brains.

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Well, I think Jo March was straight. The least gay character in the history of American literature.

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Now I kill you.

The next morning, the supplies are all there, so Emily and Spencer stage a fight like from their time doing community service.

Emily: I’ma sit down and have a think.
Spencer: Like the time you sat down and had a think while Maya was murdered and Paige was kidnapped.
Emily: [Whispering] That was harsher than we discussed!
Spencer: [Whispering] Just hit me!
Emily: Not a problem.

She tackles Spencer to the floor and they roll around. The camera whips over to watch them wrasslin’, and as soon as it does, Mona pockets some of their new supplies to build the pinch. It only takes her about five minutes, with no instructions, and she does the whole thing behind her back without even looking. Siiiiigh. My Lord and Savior.

The Liars go back to their bedrooms to get ready for prom, and you know A has thought of everything, including makeup and styling products and dresses that fit the Liars’ own personal styles. Hanna is classy Jessica Rabbit. Emily is sexy mermaid. Spencer is wearing one of those ribbon chokers from the ghost story about how when you untie it her head falls off. Aria’s dress is too plain and normal-looking to be anything Aria would ever wear, but A has a lot to do; you can’t expect him to sit around for six hours with a hot glue gun and a bedazzler making an evening gown out of Coke cans and entrails.

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It’s like ten thousand mannequin legs when all you need is a Cece.

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Isn’t it ironic?

The Liars arrive at Hellscape 2004, and walk down the stairs to find a dance floor full of people. Mannequin people. Mannequin people dressed in prom clothes. It’s the creepiest damn thing I have ever seen in my life. Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” plays and the Liars are like, “Oh, and also, here is this year’s prom queen: Alison DiLaurentis!” (I wish they’d gone with the 2004 smash hit “Milkshake,” but you can’t have everything.) Right, and Mona glides in wearing a dress made for a My Little Pony and her Ali mask, and Spencer is like, “Charles! Oh, Charles, we know you’re here! Come on up and accept your prom king crown and escort Alison to the dance floor!”

Charles is lurking around behind the mannequins, and he thinks he will, in fact, accept his crown. As soon as he steps out of the shadows, Aria clicks the pinch and the lights explode and the Liars bolt, right for the noodle dollar vault.

Where have the police and the Hastingses and everyone ended up? At the old Campbell farm. The paddy wagon is there, and also so is A’s new lair. It looks a lot less like Mona’s den of costume shop horrors, and a lot more like Ezra Fitz’s Ravenswood set up. Tanner’s eyes look like they’ve stumbled onto a dinosaur farm. That’s how much she cannot believe that A has been real and under her nose this whole time. She and Toby find some surveillance footage of Hanna eating those brownies.

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Oh thank god. I need to watch the new Game of Thrones before I escape and get spoiled on Twitter.

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Come over here and kiss her. Nothing weird will happen if you fall in love with your sister.

So, in the doll house, the Liars break into the noodle vault, but there’s no dollars in there at all. It’s a house. And one of the things in the house is this film projector that Spencer takes the time to power up, and suddenly there’s this home video on the wall of Jessica DiLaurentis holding a baby at the old Campbell farm, talking to some brothers about, “Come kiss your sister. Tell your sister goodbye.” Jason is the one with the twin! Yes? Charles? Yes!

Okay, and then Charles walks on into the room and stands behind Spencer, quiet as a cat burglar.

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Hang on a second, Charles, this Jaime/Cersei flashback is wigging me out.

Spencer: Charles, is that you?
Spencer: I’m going to turn around and see if it’s you.
Spencer: I’ve turned around and it’s you.
Spencer: I probably should take your mask off and look at your face and see if you look like any half-brothers I know.
Spencer: I’m just going to stand here, though.
Mona: Spencer, girl! Where are — oh, hey. This place is nice, right? I was thinking it was going to be more like — who’s this? A friend of yours?
Charles: [Runs for it]

I have never seen so many people complaining about an episode of Pretty Little Liars in my life, and it was honestly like the most confused I have ever been on the internet, because, first of all: Mona Vanderwaal is alive!

And you know what else? This is not only the second best episode ever, it also takes the show as a whole to a completely new level. 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.

“The second they slam that door shut, you feel ashamed.”

“They treat you like a criminal, and it’s hard to remember that you’re not one.”

“It’s the loneliest feeling you could ever imagine.”

Hanna knows what Hanna means.

This episode a goddamn study in scathing social critique: Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock want to kiss Marlene King on the mouth for this one.  You wanted it to be someone who has been here from the beginning, right? Well, we got someone who’s been here for six thousand years! I’d be happy as a peach if this is all we ever knew about A. I don’t care who. I care about exploring and exposing the grossness of how.

I wonder what it’s like to be a lesbian showrunner in a male-dominated industry, ushering in a golden age of queer and feminist representation on TV, completely revamping ABC Family’s scripted programming model, and the whole time everyone’s yelling at you to make Keegan Allen take off his shirt. Stomping their feet and demanding chicken nuggets when coq au vin is on the menu. (No offense to Keegan Allen’s abs, obviously; those things are a work of art and have never even seen a chicken nugget.)

The Liars finally bust free of the building, but once they’re out in the yard, it is not good news. The whole place is surrounded by a 50-foot fence. And, well, fuck it. Emily is going to climb her ass right over that thing and go home and take a shower and buy a plane ticket to Palo Alto and never come back. She starts running full-throttle toward the chain-link and is a single breath from going all parkour when Spencer shouts, “WAIT, STOP!” Because the fence is glowing blue because it is pulsing with 1.21 jiggawatts of electricity. It’ll fry them like a sack of taters if they touch it.

The Liars stand around in the yard and turn in circles, and Billy Williams’ “Don’t Fence Me In” starts playing on the loud speakers and the camera pans out and out and out and out.

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I see trees of green.

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Red roses too.

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I see them bloom…

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… for me and you.


And I think to myself…


…what a wonderful world.


Mona played with dolls. I play with body parts. Kisses, bitches. – A

My most enormous thanks to Nicole (@PLLBigA) for another amazing season of fantastic screencaps. Follow her in the off-season for all the Pretty Little Liars news your heart needs!

Next page: The top 100 #BooRadleyVanCullen tweets of season 5B!

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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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