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?”

Because Radley is proven to be above reproach as a legitimate mental illness clinic and a studious keeper of accurate medical records, the Liars decide if they really want to know what happened to Charles, they have to steal his Radley file. It is not, as I mentioned, at Radley. Instead, it is in a warehouse awaiting shredding, the address of which Spencer finds out by ringing up Radley’s answering service and asking if she can please have Charles’ file.

The Liars want to go to there, Hanna especially. Emily wants to bring Sara, but Hanna slaps her right in the face when she suggests it because Sara is feral at best and Charles at worst. And Caleb isn’t coming either. Nobody’s telling anybody anything anymore; all lovers are getting the Paige McCullers treatment!


I can’t just kick a wounded lesbian when she’s down!


Why? You did it to Paige about a hundred times.

Spencer: Before we go to that warehouse, though, just out of mild curiosity, your anti-anxiety meds, how are they helping y’all with your anxiety?
Aria: I tossed mine.
Aria: …yes?
Spencer: Like your bedroom one that gets emptied into the larger bin outside on garbage pickup day, which is today?
Aria: …yes?
Spencer says: I have to go … to school … for a test … to get into college.
The Liars hear: Seussian nonsense words.

Spencer goes to Aria’s and rifles through the Montgomery’s filth, but there are no pills in Aria’s Xanax bottle. Spencer feels gross in so many ways when she realizes this. The Liars then head on over to the warehouse where the Radley files are stored to get their hands on Charles’ medical records and find out how Toby’s dumb mom factors into this thing. Charles’ file is a needle in a haystack, but these Liars know their way around a barn, so before long they’re holding Charles’ file, which: Only follows his psychotic progress into adulthood until the age of 16, but does include a visitor’s log noting that Carole Ward hung out with him sometimes.


Dang, Sirius Black isn’t even in the Ministry of Magic tonight!


Ugh, Kreacher! Foiled again by an elf!

Hanna: … the hell is Carole Ward?
Emily: Alison’s great-aunt who died when we were in the tenth grade.
Hanna: [pulls a face]
Emily: What? I love her the way a lesbian does. I remember everything; it’s our way.

Alison, meanwhile, is enjoying a delicious summer snack of PB&J and lemonade and quizzing Vernon some more about Charles. What happened to his ashes? Jessica scattered them down by that lake where Hanna drowned Lucas. Was there a funeral? No. Was Vernon sorry Charles died? No. Was he a little sorry? No. A tiny pang of remorse as gentle as the wind for the death of Charles? No.

It’s almost like Vernon wasn’t even Charles’ dad or something. It’s almost like that kid got so crazy so fast he’s another one of those Hastings/DiLaurentis hybrids.


Our relationship means the world to me.


Our relationship means the world to my future therapist.

Guess who’s waiting for the Liars when they get out of the Radley warehouse? Oh, it’s Caleb, and he is making DadFace at them, in addition to which: he has installed a tracker on Hanna’s car without her consent. Hanna goes HAM on him, yelling about how completely he has disrespected her autonomy and he’d better not fucking do it again. She does, however, continue to be his girlfriend because she loves him and is sympathetic to the fact that his love for her makes him frantic for her safety. And he does continue to be a series regular on this show. So, not the full Paige McCullers treatment then. (ZING!)

Guess who’s waiting at home for Emily? It is Pam and she is freaking out because Bethany is up on the roof flapping her wings right now and screeching about godzillas and Marion Cavanaugh like a common Radley hooligan. Pam wants to take Sara back to the shelter. Like no offense or anything, but sometimes street cats don’t make the best pets, especially in a home run by a woman who finds emotional comfort in the order that comes from vacuuming and counting the Tylenols twice a day. Emily doesn’t want to return Sara to the shelter just yet, which is a good thing for her to say, because Sara is creeping at the door, listening in and ready to do some bludgeoning if necessary.


I found weed in her backpack so I sent her to drug prison.




Just kidding, she’s on the roof.

Spencer goes to the Brew to buy some weed from Dede Drake, so she can calm down and stop remembering the time she was bathed in blood in the dollhouse, but Dede doesn’t have the drugs; she just has the hook-up for the drugs. But she’s going to bake Spencer some brownies from her very own stash because she’s a nice girl and also because she wants to smooch Spencer on them Ravenclaw lips.

DiLaurentis House of Imaginary Friends and Factual Horrors


Adoption papers? Ashley Marin, though? I thought you’d choose Pam Fields.


Unlike you and Melissa, I don’t want to make out with my siblings.

Jason: Can you imagine thinking one thing is true about your brother and then finding out a whole other horrible thing that changes your understanding of the entire world?
Ali: Like finding out he’s got a stash of videos of you and your naked 12-year-old friends?
Jason: You have no idea what it’s like to think you can trust and parent and then be betrayed by them.
Ali: True, I’ve never watched my mother shovel dirt on top of me from the bottom of a grave she dug with her own hands.
Jason: I have suffered so much. I fell down an elevator shaft one — WAIT A SECOND.
Ali: What is it?!
Jason: One time I jumped out of a fifth story hospital room window after falling down an elevator shaft, so I went to Aunt Carole’s because I wanted some of her meatloaf and also all of my bones were broken and I needed a place to rest, and Mom was there! But she wouldn’t let me inside! I’ll bet you it was because Charles was in that house, and he was alive!
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!

Ali and Jason invite the Liars to come to Aunt Carole’s house. They all agree to go, except for Aria, because she took some horrifying photos of ghoulish baby dolls with real human skin for faces and she wants to develop them alone in the dark at a school building that eats small children for dinner sometimes. The doll photos cause her some PTSD.


La la la totally normal Instagrams.



There’s a cute boy in the dark room and his name is Clark and he tells Aria she’s got a good eye for photography and there’s a guy outside named Ezra who wants Clark to ask Aria if she wants to journal about her time being kidnaped.

What Aria remembers in the dark room is that Charles cut off her hair and made her dye it pink like from endless Labor Day.

Is Charles obsessed with recreating Ali’s death day because he wants to bond with his sister over how Jessica killed him too? Or is he obsessed with recreating Ali’s death day because he wants to reenact it and make sure he kills her for good this time?

Oh, also Emily doesn’t go to Aunt Carole’s because she’s gotta make sure Sara stays off the roof, or else Pam’s calling Sarah McLachlan to come get her and take her to the pound first thing in the morning. Over coffee, Sara tells Emily she went to go see her mom, but her mom tried to burn her alive in the yard like a witch, the way she burned all her clothes and books and shit when Sara got kidnapped and/or checked into Radley under the name of Bethany Young.


Look away.

Emily: You remind me of someone I know. Want to go swimming?
Sara: I remind you of your love Paige McCullers and you want me to defile the memory of her?
Emily: No, you remind me of the fake cousin who kidnaped Paige McCullers and forced my hand in committing my first homicide, but it’s hot as balls and I want to go swimming.

They do. I don’t want to talk about it.

At Aunt Carole’s the Liars and Jason sneak around and don’t find any red coats or anything. No parrots. No maniacal wall scribblings. Spencer has another one of her bloody flashbacks, taking it far enough to remember screaming at the Eye of Sauron up in the ceiling about, “WHO DID I KILL? WHO DID YOU MAKE ME KILL?” Hanna comes to her and soothes her and pets her face and tells her she didn’t kill anyone. It was just the five of them down there, plus feral Sara, and they all made it out alive.


“Beloved brother.”


Well, at least Mom liked one of us.

In the yard, the Liars find Charles’ grave, and of course Hanna grabs a shovel and starts digging. Ali is like, “STOP! There is a dead DiLaurentis down there!” And Hanna is like, “Half of all DiLaurntis graves are empty. That’s science. Now get out of my way!” There’s a large scuffle between the DiLaurentises and the non-DiLaurentises and ultimately they stupidly decide not to dig up Charles’ imaginary body.

Hanna goes home and Caleb yells at her some more about how she can’t just keep disappearing. She goes, “You mean to like a whole other show? Yeah, that’d be really inconsiderate of me, wouldn’t it?” And she storms out, leaving him to stare broodily out the window at the fireflies.

Aria goes home and tells Byron about the dollhouse and he’s like, “Wow, that sounds like a harder core version of what my deranged mistress did to you and your friends. Remember that? In the basement in that storm? LOL, life is so weird.”

Spencer goes to the Brew and Ezra won’t let her have the pot brownies Dede Drake made for her because he is the worst. 


May Father’s Day be a glaring reminder you need to use condoms.

And finally, Vernon comes clean to Ali about why Charles had to go to Radley in the first place. When she was a baby, Charles set in motion an elaborate plan to murder Ali. First he rigged up some speakers out in the yard of Alison yelling for help, which sent Vernon and Jessica running outside. Once they were out there, a net fall down from the swing set and trapped them. And then an army of remote controlled bees began attacking their faces! And while they were trying to get free from the bees and the net, three-year-old Charles boiled pot after pot of scalding water, carrying each one carefully to the bathtub, where Alison was hanging from the shower rod, sitting inside a cauldron. He intended to boil her to death!

And that’s how come he landed at Radley.

The Risen Mitten tracks the Liars because Spencer installed GPS pellets in their heads, I bet, and eats some taffy because The Risen Mitten has a soul and gets hungry like you and like me.

Nicole (@PLLBigA), thank you for the wonderful screencaps and for talking me off the ledge of Emily’s house the other night after that pool scene. XOXO. 

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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor 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 864 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. – 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.

      • 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.)

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. “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!

  10. “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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