Pretty Little Liars Episode 604 Recap: Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame

Previously on Pretty Little Liars, Alison had to break the news to Jason that their mom had been hiding photos of his imaginary childhood friend in her button jar. After escaping from the dollhouse and spending one night in the home of Emily Fields, Sara Harvey cut her hair like Megan Rapinoe and turned gay. Spencer stole a single sleeping pill from Aria and gulped it down to drown out the noise of her mother accusing her of everything from letting Andrew out of jail to Greece’s trouble with the IMF. Hanna wrangled up the Liars and hauled them off to therapy so they could get over how they were forced to emotionally terrorize each other in the dollhouse, and get back to being best friends. And Aria told Ezra three hundred times that she was not going to write down her dollhouse experience for him, so would he please just drop it. (He did not drop it.)


A dead DiLaurentis is a dead DiLaurentis.

Behold Alison DiLaurentis forgetting that one time she got perpetually murdered by a shovel-wielding mob on Labor Day and buried alive by her own mother and pulled from her grave — where she’d been holding her breath for two to four hours — by a little old lady from the Walden Filter Forest, and plucked off the street by Mona Vanderwaal, and remade in her own image of Vivian Darkbloom’s image; after which, she hopped into the cockpit of her private plane and flew off into the sunset.

Alison: So, Charles?
Mr. DiLaurentis: Dead.
Alison: Well, that settles it!


You can hear yourself, right?

Ali tells the Liars her tale about her eldest brother, Charles, whose DiLaurentisian psychosis was of the early onset variety and manifested itself in advanced ways from the get-go. Like that next-door-neighbor kid in Toy Story. Jason did the marijuana and sexually exploited young girls with his video camera; Charles ripped the spleens from live deers and boiled them with Barbie doll heads to make soup. Alison told Hanna she was fat; Charles set the mailman on fire. So, Jessica and — what is Mr. DiLaurentis’ name, even? Vernon? Let’s call him Vernon. Vernon DiLaurentis. So Jessica and Vernon packed up Charles and bought him a lifetime pass to Radley Institute for Troubled Youths and Sapphic Sambas, and shipped him away. When Jason was like, “Hey, where’d my brother Charles go?” They were like, “Charles was your imaginary friend, idiot, and he’s dead.”

Hanna: What happened to him?
Ali: He’s dead.
Hanna: Like you were dead? Like Mona was dead?
Ali: They cremated him.
Hanna: So no body, then? Same as you? Same as Mona?
Ali: My dad told me he’s dead.
Hanna: Like your mom told everyone you were dead?
Ali: My dad wouldn’t lie about Charles.
Hanna: Honey, your dad has been doing nothing but lying about Charles since you were born, apparently.

The Liars want to investigate at Radley, but their off-set budget in this episode has already been allotted to BREAK MY HEART so Radley is closed.


Do you think you could teach me how to make some of your famous popovers?



The next morning, Emily tries to get ready for school while Sara scurries in and out of her bedroom between showers, frowning at her new pixie cut in the mirror. Is it alternative lifestyle enough, though? Has she coded herself gay enough to be noticed by other queer women? Emily is like, “Well, for starters, femme invisibility isn’t a problem in this town when it comes to lesbianism, which you should have known by spending three seconds in my presence. And for seconders—” but Sara has rushed out of the room to take another shower and fails to hear the part where the invisible danger in this town is an omniscient serial killer.

Hanna wakes up and finds Caleb sitting in a chair glaring down at the cops who miss-timed their trade-off and so Hanna was without the protection of the most incompetent police force in history for ten minutes. I mean. Caleb. You literally just helped Alison escape from inside a house swarming with Rosewood police, one of whom was standing right outside the closet Alison was locked inside. The Liars were kidnapped from the back of a police paddywagon. Those dumbasses could miss-time their trade-offs by ten days; it couldn’t matter less.


Journaling about your time in the dollhouse to turn it into a bestselling memoir?



Byron’s contribution to Aria’s emotional healing is to stick his head into her room and suggest french toast, water slides, new shoes, and therapy (in that order), and then leave her to type “charles dilaurentis” into her website page search engine over and over when she refuses.

“charles dilaurentis” “charles dilaurentis dead” “charles dilaurentis dead radley” “charles dilaurentis dead radley big rhonda” “radley big rhonda” “radley big rhonda art” “radley big rhonda art better than aria montgomery art” “aria montgomery”

Spencer is hanging out at the Brew, trying to not make eye contact with Ezra, when this new barista named Sabrina (who looks eerily like Cece Drake) spills coffee all over the place and causes Spencer to have a full-blown PTSD meltdown because spilled coffee reminds her of spilled blood and spilled blood reminds her of that time in the dollhouse when she woke up covered in blood.


I just have a lot of morals.



Sabrina’s like, “You okay, girl? Can I get you a flat white? A double espresso? You know what, I think we need to go in the opposite direction. You want some weed?”

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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. A thought occurred to me about the five year time jump: Emily has taken to wearing her father’s uniform. She also doesn’t have the money to pay for college. What if she enlists for four years, and then is finished with her enlistment when the time jump ends? This would also give her access to the Post 9/11 GI Bill. What if the first we see of Emily is her coming home wearing her full uniform carrying her duffel bag?

  2. I, too, felt personally victimized by that pool scene.

    (Also, for one awful moment I thought Emily snuck into the McCullers’ backyard pool to “swim” with Sara.)

    • Oh, I 100% thought that’s where they were swimming! Thank goodness for
      A’s tracker to inform me it was just a community pool.

      • Yeah, if that tracker hadn’t alerted me to the location, I might have set myself on fire, honestly.

        • I’m just holding on to the hope that Paige is happily “swimming” with lots of girls in gay California.

          • I recently toured Stanford and I can testify that there are plenty of girls there for Paige to “Swim” with.

  3. Just in case anyone else wants to google it, Alison’s dad is called Kenneth. I would definitely have guessed Vernon way before Kenneth.

    • I was really surpurrised about this too – I don’t know why I googled it the other day, but I did. Also don’t know why the idea of his being called Vernon made me snort with laughter. I’m still chuckling. It’s just such an uptight name. And if he’s Vernon, maybe he’s been hiding Charles in the cuppurred under the stairs! MYSTERY SOLVED!

  4. – Does Janel Parrish know that we call her the VanderJesus?
    – I wish to once again bring up the point that if Mona didn’t know about Charles DiLaurentis, then who left the anagrams behind the mirror in her room? *cough*Spencer’sAlternatePersonality*cough*
    – I don’t think that Radley is the type of place that would accept small children.
    – I see Spencer’s next hook-up. I meant for drugs. She’d never cheat on Aria…except with Melissa.
    – It was Spencer. She killed Charles and ate his soul. That’s why she’s covered in blood.
    – Oh Spence, you have it so bad. Digging through the trash for a fix.
    – Spencer is giving me Helena feels in her flashbacks. I need that screechy music.
    – Okay pot girl, give Spencer some meth instead. I really want to see that.
    – Apparently the DiLaurentis aunt’s house is in Ravenswood.
    – I don’t like Emily taking new girl swimming. That’s for her and Paige.
    – “Why would he do this?” Did you miss the part where your father institutionalized him because he was dangerous?
    – “Hi, my name is Aria. For the last few years I’ve been terrorized by a series of anonymous people, and for the last three weeks I was kept in an underground bunker and psychologically tortured. But I just want you to know that I completely trust you, person who I’ve never met before.”
    – Next week looks like The House on Haunted Hill at Radley. Please make this a Spencer centric episode.
    PS – Spencer is -A.
    PPS – A short Pretty Little Liars noir fanfic of mine.

    • – The “Game of Thrones” Hastings house motto is: Genius is Related to Madness.

    • – HH, I think you meant GHOULISH baby dolls, not goulash baby dolls. Not unless you eat some REALLY strange stuff in your house.

    • – If Charles was 15 months older than Jason, then wouldn’t Spencer’s dad have known about him? He did have an affair with Jessica DiLaurentis a little after Charles was born.

      • OHHHHHH excellent point! Yeah I was confused when Mr. D said they didn’t move to Rosewood until after Charles was institutionalized, because Jason would have been born already.

          • That must be it, it’s the only explanation. Maybe that’s why they go OUT OF TOWN so often ;)

      • I a theory on another forum that Charles might have been the secret that Melissa and Mr. Hastings were being all sketch about a few seasons back… like right before Melissa went to London? Though I suppose that secret could have also been that Melissa buried Bethany Young alive. But since I still hold that fake Miley Cyrus (sorry, I refuse to learn the new girl’s name) is actually Bethany Young- I think the idea that Mr. Hastings/Melissa knew about Charles and was trying to protect Spencer is very alluring.

        Also, it was already said, but yeah the Hastings and the DiLaurentises knew each other before the Ali’s family moved to Rosewood. It’s a random, small detail that wasn’t important before now. I was told that it gets mentioned somewhere late season 2. But there it is.

    • “I don’t think that Radley is the type of place that would accept small children.”

      Back in Season 3 we saw actually saw the abandoned children’s wing of Radley. Remember when Hanna and Aria went to see Mona and she ran into to her hideout to gave them Maya’s cursed website’s url via secret code?

    • I was watching the mysteries of Laura and Janel Parrish was in an ep and I straight up shouted Vanderjesus at the TV.

  5. Which is worse though, Emily and Sara in a pool or Emily and Talia (what even happened to her?) riding bikes? Is nothing sacred anymore?

    • I’m about 95% sure that Talia is still camping out in the Fields’ living room just waiting for Emily to remember she exists and needs help processing her divorce. Some people have real problems, Emily.

    • Do you really want to be in the same room with Spencer when she’s high? Maybe that’s what was going on in her flashback. Drugs plus a loose grip on sanity is not a combination that inspires confidence in me.

  6. I think it is important to say that swimming and riding bikes weren’t important to paily they were important to Emily. So yeah she should swim with other girls. Emily was always Paige’s happily ever after but not vice versa. Just like Ali was always Emily’s happily ever after but not the reverse. I think the show is doing a good job of showing how unhealthy Sara/Emily is bc it’s such a caretaker relationship but I just hope Emily can have a healthy, mutual, relationship set in 2018.

    • THANK YOU. Emily can still do things she likes with other people. And should. She didn’t send back her recreational activities in that envelope with Paige’s CDs and old shirt. Like, goddamn you guys.

  7. Oh wow, all your interpretive-dialogue just reminded me of all the super fucked up things Ali and the Liars have gone through because of their families. Christ. I’m glad you’re at least able to keep track of everything.

  8. SOOOO much happening in this season already, but I think the answers to most of the questions brought up in this episode are rather obvious, and I was frustrated the Liars couldn’t figure it out:

    (FYI I am not spoiled on anything after this episode, so this is all pure speculation based on what we learned in this episode.)

    Q1. Is Sara lying about something.
    A1. Duh. Check the title of the show.

    Q2. Are Sara and Emily going to make out?
    A2. Duh. Look at Shay’s face.

    Q3. Did Spencer murder someone?
    A3. I’m thinking no. I think Hanna was right, that A just covered her in blood to make her THINK she’d done something terrible, like with the electric shocks. Spencer’s one weakness is her mental instability. Getting her to stop trusting her own min and memories is the quickest way to break her. I don’t think Spencer inserted the trackers, I think A probably did that when they were knocked out and lying naked in those sheets.

    Q4. Is Charles still alive?
    A4. Duh. Ali, roots on a gravestone mean nothing. LISTEN TO HANNA. A built an underground lair. He can make a few tree roots. So what if there was a funeral. Mona had a funeral. Ali had TWO funerals.

    Q5. Does Mr. DiLaurentis know Charles is still alive?
    Q5. No. This one is harder, but I think the episode made it rather obvious that Jessica faked Charles’ death to get him out of Radley, and Mr. Dilaurentis believed her and had nothing to do with covering it up Mr. DiLaurentis was OUT OF TOWN when it happened. He just HEARD all about Charles’ supposed funeral and cremation second-hand from Jessica. This would also give Jessica motive to cover up the fact that Charles’ attempted to murder Ali. She buried her own daughter alive (thinking she was dead) to hide the fact that she’d faked her son’s death. PLUS it gives Charles motive to then come back to town and murder his own mother to stop her from turning him in.

    HOLY CRAP. THIS IS THE THING THAT MR. HASTINGS AND MELISSA KNEW THAT SPENCER DID NOT KNOW. REMEMBER THAT?! Mr. Hastings and Melissa must have figured out that Jessica lied about Charles having died! They know he’s still alive! Oh my god this show is just the greatest thing ever.

  9. ALSO: I think Spencer is going to be a lot happier with pot brownies than with Adderall or those anti-anxiety meds. I get that this is still an ABC Family show, and they can hardly go around being like “oh my god, pot is a wonder drug, go smoke some weed, kids!” They’ve already been shown to be pretty anti-pot with Maya being sent off to drug camp and all. But still.

    I would really like it if maybe Spencer eating pot brownies was not treated as an after school special on the dangers of drugs and instead treated as a genuine option for the treatment of sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, and PTSD. I know this is probably a long shot, but oh well. At least we have Spencer going to Radley and having noir fever dreams to look forward to if they do go the after-school special route.

    (PS. Ya’ll may not know this, but up here in Canada, our Supreme Court recently ruled that medical marijuana can now legally be sold in the form of pot brownies and other ingestibles. Just saying.)

  10. “radley big rhonda art better than aria montgomery art”


  11. My Wednesday morning recap followed by netflixing the new ep ruined by Netflix apparently not knowing what date it is and not putting the episode on. Also I once had a girlfriend who found out we had been on dates and to places I’d been with an ex, to do stuff like bike ride/swim and she was not happy…like really not happy. So aside from the defiling of Paige’s memory of it all she may be setting herself up for a major argument that not even a request on local radio can fix.

  12. Heather, your recaps change my life every time. I take comfort in knowing that if I was ever imprisoned in a federal penitentiary, Piper-style, at least my loved ones could print out your recaps and mail them to me, and I could sustain myself on the meat of their genius.

  13. “Spencer: Spencer has certainly executed a man with less evidence; let’s go to Aunt Carole’s and see if we find any Cheetos bags under the porch!”

    Spencer would totally talk about herself in the third person while she’s high on pot. Spot on Heather!

  14. You know I was all about Spencer on pot for like half a second until I remembered the serious, life threatening dangers of using it: Fake Cousins.

  15. “Our relationship means the world to my future therapist.” YES.

    Great recap as always!

    Also, it looks like Alison’s non-blonde roots are growing in (they were especially visible at Aunt Carol’s house). Another facet of her physical transformation/wardrobe update? Maybe she is done with being a blonde.

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