“Pretty Little Liars” Recap 101 & 102: Just the Lesbian Parts & Our Feelings

In which we talk about tragedy and then recap the lesbian parts of ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, which you can watch on Hulu or when it’s on the TV, which is Tuesdays at 8pm EST.

Watch Pretty Little Liars Pilot Episode 101:


Watch Pretty Little Liars Episode 102


Pretty Dirty Beautiful Rich Sad Mad Liars


The other day Taylor & I were talking about what it feels like to be young when something terrible and irreversably tragic and unexpected happens, like when you’re 12 or 14 or 16 and someone up and dies out of the blue, like someone “too young to die” and also close to you. A parent or a best friend or a girlfriend/boyfriend. Something like that. We were talking about how your whole life changes in that instant when the word “surprise” turns tragic on your tongue. How overnight you leave the world of children for the world of grown-ups. Overnight your heart starts stitching up walls for wartime or else it starts unraveling in fists or else it winds itself up tightly but temporarily.

You have now entered this unfair world where teenagers burn to death in car accidents and your father’s heart stops working just like that out of the blue and your best friend goes swimming in the dark and never comes up for air. That world.

“This happens. This is something that happens.”


Crystal, another member of our Special Teenage Sudden Death Club, asked if Pretty Little Liars‘ lesbian storyline seemed speedy to me — Emily, the possibly-lesbian protagonist and Maya, her new friend, jump into flirting quickly with little hesitation despite having boyfriends. Doesn’t that seem a bit heady and fast.

But isn’t that how it is, I asked her. Isn’t this what we do; you lose everything and then feel you’ve got nothing left to lose. You do adult shit ’cause you think you can handle it, you don’t hesitate. Yes, Crystal laughed, I guess you’re right about that. I guess that is what we do.

We’re giving the writers a lot of credit here with this theory, but it’s interesting to think about nonetheless.

Risks seem less risky when nothing can be worse than what’s already happened, and it’s easier to feel ready to make adult decisions when you’re prematurely adult.

In combination with the heady bitchy queen-bee confidence Hannah Marin (Ashley Benson), Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale), Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell) and Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario) all possessed even before their best friend Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse) disappeared, this new post-tragedy devil-may-care attitude and unconscious self-destruction manifests itself in a kind of radical overconfident maturity.

All four girls enter into complicated, “adult” sexual situations within the first two episodes despite really knowing better. There is little hesitation and a lot of gumption, and relatively a reasonably ability to deal with it maturely afterwards.

But nobody really understands the troubled adolescent mind — not parents, not friends, not the kid herself. So it’s a recipe for complicated drama and so far, so good: Pretty Little Liars has a bit more promise than its CW-esque veneer might suggest.

But let’s begin at the beginning:

Pretty Little Liars centers on a clique of five teenage friends who dominate a school called Rosewood.  Well, actually, it’s about four teenage friends ’cause the show opens on a stormy night when the girls fall asleep during a slumber party and wake up to find Allison gone.

The present-tense action of the story begins a year later, when Aria has returned from a year away from Europe and the four girls are being terrorized by text messages from someone called “A” revealing knowledge of secrets only Alison knew. The set-up has a smacking of Gossip Girl with the gothic undertones of Six Feet Under.

It’s made clear that while the girls don’t know who killed Alison, they’re all lying to conceal a secret that is somehow related to her death.

But everyone has a secret. Everyone from parents to teenagers are engaged in some kind of illicit affair or potentially life-destroying secret.

The particular secret we will be focussing on this season is homosexuality, namely the story of Emily.

What a lovely name for a homo! Like bisexual Emily from Real World: DC and Intern Emily and Emily from Skins!

And now we come to Emily Fields, played by Shay Mitchell, on Pretty Little Liars:


Pretty Little Liars: The Lesbian Parts Recap #1

Episodes 101 (Pilot) & 102 (The Jenna Thing)


We know straight up that Emily is a little queer because Alison, on the night she disappeared, called Emily out for liking “Single Ladies” a little too much. You know, first you start thinking about all the Single Ladies, and then you start fingerblasting all the Single Ladies, and before you know it, you’re in a nunnery.

Spencer: Ali, did you download the new Beyoncé?
Alison: Not yet.
Emily: I’m loving her new video.
Alison: Maybe a little too much, Em.


Pretending to be Hot for Teacher

Emily and Aria are in English class, excitedly but not convincingly telling Aria that a new male English teacher is starting and he’s a total stud. It turns out to be a dude that Aria actually banged the day before, which I think means we won’t have to talk about him again in our lesbian recap. He seems nice enough, and of course this goes along with the pattern of sad, confused girls entering into very mature, complicated relationships they may or may not be prepared to handle.

So far Emily seems like the more polite, easy-to-please member of the foursome — Spencer is the bookish one, Hannah is the new queen bee kleptomaniac eating disordered blonde (who looks a lot like Alison, which is confusing) and Aria um, has wide eyes and looks pissed off a lot of the time.



Emily’s mother wants to know whether Emily’s friends are still dying their hair pink and coveting the devil, telling Emily that there’s no room in this little sleepy town for the Gothic lifestyle. This is a bad omen for her potential reaction to the Lesbian Lifestyle, and I say that as a lesbian who wears a lot of black leather and a studded belt most days.


I Wonder if Harry & David Are Gay

Some strangers have moved into Emily’s recently-deceased friend’s house, so Emily takes them a welcome basket containing foie gras and other things that also recently died. The new neighbour’s name is Maya St Germain. She’s super cute and has curly hair and wears bright colors and smiles a lot.

In Maya’s Box… Office

Maya’s in the process of moving in, so she asks Emily to help her with her box. Instead of saying “that’s what she said!” Emily actually just helps her with the box, which is a giant missed opportunity. Emily spots a photo of a boy and starts up again with the hetero girl talk:

Emily: Is this your boyfriend?
Maya: His name is Justin.
Emily: He’s cute!
Maya: He’s also 3,000 miles away.
Emily: My boyfriend’s name is Ben.
Maya: What’s he like?
Emily: He’s a swimmer. Like me.

This is all code obvs.

“He’s a swimmer. Like me.” = It’s socially convenient for me to date him

“He’s 3,000 miles away.” = So we never have awkward moments where I don’t want to have sex with him and if you give me a hickey, he’ll have no idea.

Maya slowly and sleazily runs her eyes over Emily’s lovely swimmer body in approval. The sexual innuendo is running high and clearly their attraction is mutual and immediate and there’s zero mystery here. Crystal thinks this is ridiculous, but Riese thinks it makes total sense — you sense the lesbian vibe, you are sort of depressed on the inside and nervous, and so you just go for it! Like a tiger!

We Were So High We Thought She’d Definitely Died

Maya wants to smoke some weed, which we all know is a gateway drug to bi-curiosity. She sits on her bed and gives Emily her best come hither look and it’s really hot.

Maya: Is this your first time?
Emily: No. …  Yes.
Maya: So I’m corrupting you. Are you okay with that?
Emily: Yeah, I think I am.




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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3178 articles for us.


  1. I read about half the of the first book, which pretty much made up the first episode of this series. So far, I like the show far more than the book. While I do agree that the whole lesbian thing is pretty straightforward (har har), it does seem like Emily has been battling her emotions for a looong time and now has finally found someone willing to reciprocate those feelings :). I’m happy for them!

    And I do somewhat agree with the whole “my-close-person-up-and-died-on-me-unexpectantly”. Same thing happened with my father when I was 16. And you do change a lot, like being riskier with pot, drinking a little more, etc. It’s the whole “fuck everything” attitude, I suppose. But I don’t really get how that applies here in Emily’s situation. Especially since it’s been an entire year since Allison went missing. Why start now with Maya? Why not have the fuck’em persona a month after the disappearance?

    I am super intrigued by this show, though! The opening theme song even shows that it’s deeper than the shallow teenage Desperate Housewives that it may come off as. It’s kinda creepy.


    • it’s not that she’s being reckless, it’s that they’re all being awfully mature. like they take risks and are all involved in sort of “adult” complicated relationships with relative confidence that they can handle it. and if the shit hits the fan oh well. you don’t see the nervousness and “am i gay” shit happening with emily that you normally do in these storylines, she seems pretty ready to jump in. Similarly, Aria took the initiative to drop out of the teacher’s class, which surprised me — she’s the one making the adult decision, rather than senselessly mooning. they all just seem like they’re a little older than everyone else, which i suppose often happens in teen melodramas because bad things happen to teens on tv shows. there is no childlike sense of fear or apprehension or nervousness or risk management, they are operating like adults but in a world of children.

    • i think its pretty obvious emily and allison had a thing, or at least emily had one for allison. maybe thats why she is taking it so hard?

      interesting show regardless, i have a forming crush on aria O:

      btw, i wish someone had told me weed is the gateway drug to bicuriosity. i always assumed it was ecstacy.

  2. “everyone knows marijuana is the gateway drug to bicuriosity”

    if someone had just warned me about this, gawd

  3. I have been watching the show, I’m enjoying it so far. Loving it even more now that this recap exists.

  4. I LOVE this recap.

    Slash was Emily really reading Sarah Waters or is that you being witty because if she was a) good eye! and b) slick one ABC Fam. But I am going to give you the wittiness credit over them on this one.

    • I made up the part about Emily reading a Sarah Waters book, but I have no idea if Riese realised or not (she writes all the entertaining parts, I just help with screen caps)

  5. damn this makes me actually want to watch the show but also it sounds scary and i’m a baby.

    • I’m a baby about scary stuff too, but I could handle it. It’s not that scarier than gossip girl and the OC can be. :)
      Pretty little liars is a great show, kinda sexy actually .

    • I am a wiener. The show did scare me, so be warned. But I will definitely keep watching it. It draws you in.

      I’m glad that Autostraddle has validate my “hey, this isn’t so bad…” that I was feeling self-conscious about.

  6. I’m pretty sure the creepy dude spying on them was Jenna’s brother and that’s how she got caught in the crossfire (same last name?) I watched these first two episodes and they weren’t half bad. But from what I understand a lot of what has happened already sort of unfolds in the first four books, and they are sort of charging right through, so that might explain why things seem to be happening in fast forward?

  7. Awesome recap. But you just had to put in a screen cap from The L Word. Oh how I miss the days of the Shane/Carmen storyline.

    Sarah Shahi + red boy briefs = wonderful view

  8. I almost didn’t make it past the prologue because the whole ‘Special Teenage Sudden Death Club’ business caught me off-guard and got me all unstable/I almost overshared (more than this) all over the webz.

    Anyhoo, seeing Emily* helped pull me through and, as announced, you did get real funny. I’m not sure if I’m going to watch the show but I’ll keep reading the recaps just for funsies (and deepsies).

    *which one? you’ll never know! #creepysecrets

  9. I agree with the idea that someone close to you suddenly passing away changes you and pushes you do things. I recently lost my brother, very unexpected, and it’s changed me quite a bit. About a month after the funeral I finally got the guts up to contact my local LGBT youth club in an attempt to start getting out and into the community. Something that I was quite terrified of doing before his death.

    It just makes you see that you NEED to start living. I’m not really at the moment. Unfortunately, the group was/is on hiatus, so it didn’t work out but that nonetheless was a step for me.

  10. I moved even faster than this with a girl I met at 16, but it still took us almost two years to get together, because she didn’t realize I actually like girls and I was too scared to say it out loud (although I thought she knew). Now she’s mine and super cute and wonderful and with a whole new set of problems to sort out.
    We’re teenagers. We do what feels right/good, and with a girl, you can go really far before people start asking questions, and before you tell someone, it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist.

    Finally, Emily is really pretty. As in really, really, really pretty.

  11. I’m reading the books as I watch the series, so I get confused. They’re not very alike at all, but I guess that’s how it is when books are turned into tv.

    Although this has not much to do with these recaps,
    Spencer practicing field hockey: drool.

  12. luv this recap but surprised you didn’t mention this almost kiss shared by Emily and Maya after walking home. By the way I’m so hooked on the show. I like how they give you a lot in an episode. Beefy spaghetti not Chef Boyardee like Lost.”just my opinion Lost fans”

  13. Oh Emily, that reminds me. Emily Saliers is missing from the “Girl-on-Gallery: Actual Lesbian & Bisexuals.” She’s the half of the Indigo Girls that isn’t Amy Ray.

    I’m sorry, I got totally sidetracked on Emily pictures.

  14. I doubt I’ll watch this show but I will def enjoy these recaps anyway. I think the latest Sarah Waters (The Little Stranger) is better than Tipping O’ The Velveteen but sadly it’s not at all lesbionic. It did give me strange nightmares for a week or two though – which is a good thing as I love a good nightmare..

  15. I need to read back over this when I have an attention span (i.e. after coffee), but also I think STSDC sounds like a really solid club acronym.

  16. I had to play the “You know, I’ve never thought of you as someone who would be comfortable with PDA” about ten times. It totally sounded like PDA = KD Lang.


  17. Okay, I have a prediction. I’m usually pretty good at this , but who knows? Jenna IS the sister of the guy related to the house fire, and is the same girl that Hannah(?) and Aria were ‘running away’ from right begore they find Alison making out with Aria’s dad in Ep101. I predict that Jenna is blind due to the house fire, and that Alison somehow used her manipulation of the other girls to keep from being found out as the arsonist.

    Also, Emily and Maya’s lines are mixed up in a few places :(

    Love the recap more than what I’ve seen of the show (no TV here)! YAY :D

    • Actually, it was Alison and Aria who were running away from Mona (Hanna’s new best friend), and the girl in the car was a student of Aria’s dad. They talk about how she works with him now, so he still sees her every day.

      • Awww, jenin = fail. guess I should reconsider a potential career in fotune telling too, right? :)

  18. I went to junior prom with a girl named Emily…
    Also for the peeps reading the books, do the books have the lesbo time or is it only in the show? (your answer will effect my next trip to the library…)

    • There’s lesbo time, for sure. Way more than in the show, actually. They actually get to make out in a photo booth.
      There’s also a bunch of hetero time, but I think it evens out.

  19. i want to watch this, but my general life rule is that i watch/read nothing with a character sharing my name.

    especially if it’s not spelled right!!!!! (insert pretentious sigh here)

    • I thought reading Fun Home was a requirement for homosexualoids and friendly straights.

      I may be mistaken though; googling “Gay Lifestyle essentials” is a lot more unreliable than you’d think.

  20. We musn’t forget that Emily’s love interest is actually a vampire slayer. Or at least she was until Drusilla killed her.

  21. Crystal! Yes!

    OK, I’m working on a theory that Jenna is not blind and Maya is actually A. I’m also working on a theory that Jenna is a robot. (That’s the one I am hoping is actually true.)

  22. unfortunately, in the book series Emily turns straight after two novels or so in, and starts dating (and having sex with) guys. she’s gay for the first few books though. here’s to hoping they keep her gay through the duration of this series.

    • So. I just finished Unbelievable (book 4 – she’s still gay), then read your comment and have now decided to stop reading the series so I can have happy memories of gay Emily forever. I can’t thank you enough for saving me from reading through it all hoping she’d go back to girls.

    • I’ve read them up to the seventh book. Care to spoil me for the eight?
      Btw, I kind of got the impression that Emily identified as bisexual in the end, but who knows. These books weren’t really consistent with characterization (they fell in and out of love at the speed of light, and nice people suddenly turned nasty in a second), and the plots moved forward even faster than they do on the tv show.

  23. I’ve read them up to the seventh book. Care to spoil me for the eight?

    Btw, I kind of got the impression that Emily identified as bisexual in the end, but who knows. These books weren’t really consistent with characterization (they fell in and out of love at the speed of light, and nice people suddenly turned nasty in a second), and the plots moved forward even faster than they do on the tv show.

  24. I love this show. I don’t know why I love this show, but I do. Watched the 1st episode on Tuesday on Hulu, and then the next 2 episodes on Wednesday, and I am hooked! It is riveting and I find myself laughing and being taken aback all at once. The lesbian content got me to check it out, but the show has reeled me in all the way. Loving the recaps, too!

  25. I came here to express my irritation with the fact that after tonight’s episode Maya seems to have disappeared (A’s next victim? ;) …) and now Emily likes weird guy Toby. But then I saw some of the above comments… but yeah, still annoying… I hope they at least bring Maya back / make something interesting with that triangle…

    and yet, I am still watching this show… somehow, I just can’t help it… haha

  26. “Maya’s in the process of moving in, so she asks Emily to help her with her box. Instead of saying “that’s what she said!” Emily actually just helps her with the box, which is a giant missed opportunity…..Maya wants to smoke some weed, which we all know is a gateway drug to bi-curiosity. ”

    Hilarious. So glad I was told about these recaps. I just started watching PLL!

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