After seven years and 160 episodes, Freeform’s lovably batty murder-mystery Pretty Little Liars has finally been laid to rest. Those who stuck with the show for its entire run will quickly tell you: The joy of PLL comes not just from suspending your disbelief, but reveling in it. This Nancy Drew-meets-Gossip Girl dramedy accumulated a staggering number of loose ends, unsolved mysteries, unanswered questions, and entirely implausible plot lines over the course of its seven seasons, but at its core there were always four friends (okay, five, after Alison returns from the dead) trying to keep each other safe from harm while trading one-liners.
In honor of their journey, Vulture ranked every episode of Pretty Little Liars from worst to best. Episodes with outstanding reveals, especially strong character chemistry, or well-executed themes (no one does Halloween like PLL) floated to the top of the list, while the prevalence of supernatural occurrences or excessive focus on tangential stories sank other episodes closer to the bottom. From the good to the bad to the what-the-hell, here is your complete guide to PLL.
160. “Who’s in the Box?” (Season 4, episode 14)
You’re telling us that Caleb, who loves Hanna unconditionally, would choose to leave her so he can go back to Ravenswood and sleuth around with a random girl he barely knows? All because this chick “needs” him in this mysterious trash town? If that wasn’t bad enough, Sara Harvey’s name gets uttered for the first time. We need a cold shower.
159. “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Lie, Lie Again” (Season 1, episode 15)
A rare episode featuring the original actor who played Jason, who lasted only for a single appearance. But most important, it really shows us how annoying Paige is. Yes, she was closeted and angry and secretly in love with Emily when she was making threatening and homophobic comments, but at her core, Paige is the worst.
158. “She’s No Angel” (Season 6, episode 5)
This episode spends too much time with characters who exist only to set up future crises that don’t even involve them, like Clark the photographer, who flirts with Aria, Narcotics Anonymous Dean, who aggressively flirts with Spencer, and Lesli, who is a secret Radley friend of Mona’s.
157. “She’s Come Undone” (Season 4, episode 21)
The holier-than-thou Paige gives Emily this ultimatum: Tell Alison’s parents she’s alive or else she’s going to do it herself. Then, she has the audacity to write an anonymous letter to the police that confirms Alison isn’t actually dead, even though the entire ordeal has absolutely nothing to do with her. Thank god for Spencer and her pill problems, which gives this train wreck the jolt of energy it desperately needs.
156. “I’m a Good Girl, I Am” (Season 5, episode 23)
Ali and Hanna doing hard time together is fun, but this episode spends far too much time on whether or not Mike will testify in Alison’s murder trial. Meanwhile, annoying characters get to spend too much time being, well, annoying, but there is some high-quality banter between Emily and Spencer, a rare set of tête-á-tête companions.
155. “Hold Your Piece” (Season 7, episode 13)
The only thing breathing life into this episode is Liar’s Lament releasing poisonous gases into the air when Caleb tries to break into it. So begins season seven’s noticeable narrative slump, which is perhaps evidenced best by the clichéd way Yvonne’s death is treated — dying in a hospital bed after waking up from a coma and marrying Toby.
154. “These Boots Were Made for Stalking” (Season 7, episode 12)
The writers really overestimated how much people would care about a “new” version of a high-school Alison. The last thing we needed weeks before the finale was an unnecessary storyline, and a juvenile one at that.
153. “No One Here Can Love or Understand Me” (Season 5, episode 11)
Thank god, Caleb’s Ravenswood nonsense reaches its conclusion, but this episode also includes arguably the worst scene in PLL history — fireflies swarming around his cabin to convey that he is at peace.
152. “Exes and OMGs” (Season 7, episode 8)
Here we have the late series return of Grunwald, and any mystical Ravenswood connections inevitably weaken the show. Highlight moment: Hanna saying Noel Kahn has more “A-ness” than anyone else, resulting in a top notch “Oh, Hanna …” moment.
151. “Hot for Teacher” (Season 4, episode 18)
Ezra gaslights Aria into thinking her friends are terrible while the extent of his technological prowess and stalkerish ways are made clear for the first time. So begins the mighty fall of one of the most divisive characters in PLL’s history.
150. “Thrown From the Ride” (Season 5, episode 4)
We don’t know what’s worse: Shana’s funeral being livestreamed to the internet or “Mona’s Army” becoming a legit thing.
149. “The Devil You Know” (Season 2, episode 5)
The biggest drama here comes from Mike’s stint as a burglar and, twist, Hanna confronting Caleb’s foster mom — two characters that mean mostly nothing in the long run. With Ian in the ground but no clear A candidate emerging yet to replace him, it’s just a lot of in-between material.
148. “Bedlam” (Season 7, episode 2)
No amount of grade-A scares can make up for the fact that this is the episode where Alison gets impregnated against her will with Emily’s eggs. It’s the worst thing PLL has ever done, period.
147. “To Plea or Not to Plea” (Season 5, episode 21)
Liars fact-finding missions are true highlights of the show, but the chasing-down of Mona’s old lawyer in this one is a nonstarter.
146. “The Homecoming Hangover” (Season 1, episode 7)
Hanna realizes Sean is wrong for her by spending some quality time with Lucas. Aria can’t fathom that Ezra has skipped town on her. Emily still has no idea whether she wants this Maya thing to happen or not. This is a classic example of an episode that relies too much on tedious relationship drama that doesn’t move the central mystery forward in any way.
145. “Bloody Hell” (Season 5, episode 21)
This is mostly a rising action episode, but it does have A’s classic exploding vial-of-blood gambit that sabotages Spencer’s fancy Oxford interview, which leads to her having a panic attack and scream at the guy trying to talk her down, “Look, I didn’t eat a crayon. I’m just dealing with some oversized toiletries right now!”
144. “Kingdom of the Blind” (Season 3, episode 3)
The Liars finally confronting Jenna about regaining her eyesight is a plot point ripe with potential, but the result is … a boring conversation that takes place in an alleyway.
143. “Blond Leading the Blind” (Season 2, episode 17)
A half-baked episode that gets most of its juice from infighting between various couples. Besides that, it introduces some questions about whether the N.A.T. Club was involved with Alison’s disappearance, despite the N.A.T. Club being dumb and a moot point in the end.
142. “Salt Meets Wound” (Season 1, episode 12)
Spencer continues her flirtation with cute young tennis pro Alex, which immediately downgrades this episode. Emily tries to get her mom to accept her homosexuality, which goes poorly. Noel Kahn starts trying to blackmail Ezra for grades, and Lucas and Jenna make some big admissions. It’s largely a filler episode, but it does have Spencer making this very Spencer joke about why they bought such a lame sticker to put on Hanna’s cast: “It was either Humpty-Dumpty or ‘Jesus is coming. Look busy.’”
141. “Breaking the Code” (Season 2, episode 21)
PLL actually excelled at filler episodes, and this is one of them, with some crumbs dropped here and there about Melissa’s connections to Alison’s disappearance and Ezria becoming a little less taboo as a couple. But if you didn’t tune in, you would still be able to understand what happens next week, no problem.
140. “The Remains of the ‘A’” (Season 3, episode 6)
The charges against Garrett for Alison’s murder are dismissed because of … a gold anklet.
139. “Picture This” (Season 2, episode 9)
A blackmails Emily into betraying a love interest. Caleb reconnects with his birth mother, and we see more colluding between Jenna and Garrett. Overall, a comparatively low-key episode.
138. “Father Knows Best” (Season 2, episode 22)
A father-daughter dance with a surprising lack of dramatic flair; Peter Hastings admits to Spencer that he paid a private investigator $15,000 to look into what happened to Alison after she disappeared. The Hastings family is looking as suspicious as ever.
137. “The Bin of Sin” (Season 5, episode 17)
There was a brief time when Hanna thought Mona’s dead body was dissolving in a barrel and being kept in a storage unit rented in her name. This episode focuses on that misguided mission.
136. “Reality Bites Me” (Season 1, episode 5)
A Spencer-driven episode where the biggest drama revolves around her plagiarizing an AP Russian History essay from Melissa that ends up winning a prestigious student award. Plus, A creepily films the Liars from inside her bedroom closet.
135. “A Dark Ali” (Season 5, episode 10)
The Liars decide to cut ties with Alison when they come to the unanimous conclusion she can’t be trusted anymore. Hellish events ensue that make them question their decision.
134. “Dead to Me” (Season 3, episode 18)
Caleb finally meets his dad, which is cute, but it’s ultimately just another storyline where A sets someone up — and we’ve already got enough of those.
133. “The Mirror Has Three Faces” (Season 4, episode 10)
The go-nowhere plot about Ezra’s long-lost child is finally resolved, and new information about Toby’s mom is useful insofar as we learn about her fellow Radley patients.
132. “Let the Water Hold Me Down” (Season 2, episode 16)
The emotional weight of Lucas’s potential betrayal — and potential death by drowning — in the previous episode is diminished by the revelation that he was only acting out because … he lost $4,000 of Caleb’s money by betting on a basketball game. Yeah, we’re chuckling too. Besides the part where A swaps the Liars’ Chinese food for live earthworms, this is a pretty meh episode.
131. “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” (Season 3, episode 21)
Spencer finally breaks the news to the girls that she caught Toby doing work for the A team, and Emily staunchly defends him, raising the question of when the hell exactly Emily and Toby formed this ironclad bond they seem to have. The Wilden problem continues to pester Hanna and her mom, and Spencer thinks she finds Toby dead in the forest, kicking off a too-long narrative arc of her feeling emotionally desolate and lashing out at her friends.
130. “Burn This” (Season 6, episode 18)
The juxtaposition of serious, well-acted flashbacks to Spencer and Toby’s relationship deteriorating because of a pregnancy scare, and the silliness of A causing a fire at Hanna’s bridal shower, is clunky at best, and detracts from the emotional weight of finding out what happened to one of the series’ best couples.
129. “Scream for Me” (Season 5, episode 8)
Bethany Young and Jessica DiLaurentis’s potentially familial relationship is teased even further through flashbacks, as we continue to scratch our heads and make sense of all of this.
128. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (Season 3, episode 22)
After Spencer thinks she saw Toby’s dead body in the woods she has a psychotic break and hides out in Radley under the name Jane Doe. Yes, that would be traumatic, but Despondent Spencer is not nearly as fun as Scheming and Sleuthing Spencer, so it gets old pretty fast.
127. “There’s No Place Like Homecoming” (Season 1, episode 6)
The homecoming dance is bogged down by petty relationship drama, but it’s saved by an important revelation that lingers throughout the next few seasons. Toby drops the bombshell to Emily that his shady past isn’t the result of a life of crime or possible involvement in Alison’s disappearance, but the fact that he was sleeping with Jenna, his stepsister. That’s one messed-up family.
126. “Cover for Me” (Season 4, episode 22)
We’re pretty sure nothing important happens in this episode besides Emily turning in her homework to Ezra and imploring him to give it to a “real teacher.” [Chef’s kiss.] Oh, and Mona was also helping Ezra with research for his creepy betrayal novel, but that doesn’t really surprise anyone in the grand scheme of things, does it?
125. “Along Comes Mary” (Season 7, episode 5)
Mary Drake going soft and admitting that she turned against Elliott once he revealed his true, horrible intentions with Alison is believable. What’s not believable is Sara, Jenna, and Noel suddenly coming together to put on a united front against the Liars. They really have nothing better to do after all of these years?
124. “Can You Hear Me Now?” (Season 1, episode 4)
A proves texts aren’t the only messages you can use to torture the Liars. You can’t beat creepy lipstick notes on a bedroom mirror or a perfectly timed flyer in the wind with “DING DONG THE BITCH THE DEAD” written on it. But besides the aggressive communiqués, this installment is mostly just relationship filler, with Aria and Emily unsure of what to do with their potential significant others.
123. “Stolen Kisses” (Season 3, episode 8)
Maya had a secret website where she uploaded dozens of confessional videos of herself, but the emotional gut punch of getting closer to solving how she died is undercut by the petty (and totally pointless) mini-feud between Aria and Ezra’s mother and Paily smooching for the first time. To clarify: Paige is the worst.
122. “Cat’s Cradle” (Season 4, episode 3)
It’s an illuminating moment when Hanna goes to Rosewood P.D. to find out more about the case against her mom for Wilden’s murder, because she sees just how thoroughly the cops are investigating her and her friends.
121. “The Badass Seed” (Season 1, episode 18)
The girls all go to audition for a school play, which is a hilarious turn because they don’t participate in school ever. Aria continues to almost sabotage her relationship with Ezra, and expose him to threat of legal repercussions for sleeping with a teenager. The girls for once try to do the right thing and go to the police with evidence for Alison’s murder case, but of course it goes nowhere fast.
120. “Out, Damned Spot” (Season 5, episode 19)
Mr. Marin continues competing for “Worst Parent” when he refuses to help Hanna pay for college — because he’s already paying for stepdaughter Kate to go. (What?!) Emily’s bad judgment in women finds a new way to manifest itself, and Spencer engages in some crime that’s more lighthearted than her usual activities. The best part, though, is when the Liars all keep Emily from taking unearned treats at a church blood drive. These guys.
119. “Someone to Watch Over Me” (Season 1, episode 20)
There’s too much Paige-being-annoying in this episode, in addition to too much Mike Montgomery rage sadness. But a fight between Hanna and Caleb over his involvement with Jenna leads to Hanna slapping her across the face. Yes, Hanna slaps a blind girl!
118. “Where Somebody Waits for Me” (Season 6, episode 16)
Relationship-driven episodes never pack in as much satisfying drama as A shenanigans do — honestly, the Liars’ romances with these time-jump randos are such a nonfactor — so Lieutenant Tanner making her valiant return to announce her investigation into Charlotte’s murder provides a much needed oh, shit! moment.
117. “The Goodbye Look” (Season 2, episode 2)
Aria and Ezra flouting the law with their age-inappropriate relationship goes to a whole new level when she runs into his arms and they make out — in the school parking lot! The Liars also communicate how deep the deception will go when Spencer says, “We have to stick together now more than ever,” and Hanna replies, “Yeah, no matter how much lying it takes.”
116. “Over a Barrel” (Season 5, episode 16)
Caleb and Spencer go on a fact-finding journey to the storage unit where they discover Mona’s body, which is fun because it foreshadows their future fling, which actually made a lot of sense. However, there’s just too much talk of Holbrook, and watching poor Pastor Ted get shot down by Hanna’s mom is really sad.
115. “Driving Miss Crazy” (Season 7, episode 17)
Dark Aria gets in even deeper when she sneaks a recording device into the Hastings house that, when played back, finally delivers the long-awaited coup de grâce to Peter and Veronica’s marriage.
114. “Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Inferno” (Season 3, episode 17)
Byron admits he’s been a bad father, which is the most truthful thing he’s ever said. After the Liars find an old journal of Alison’s, we see an all-time-great flashback of Alison visiting Toby in juvie, and he’s wearing oversize prison clothes and a do-rag. Spencer is keeping a secret that alienates her from the group, and her self-loathing starts to hit tedious levels. Fortunately, Hanna goes to a gay bar on a fact-finding mission, which leads to a great exchange between her and her mom about Hanna “exploring feelings.”
113. “Songs of Experience” (Season 6, episode 3)
This is a solid episode where we get to see different layers of the girls, who are coping with PTSD after being freed from the Dollhouse. It does, however, also include Sara Harvey breaking into the narrative by stalking Emily and showing up at her house uninvited. Go away, Sara Harvey!
112. “A Person of Interest” (Season 1, episode 19)
Several of the Liars take things to the next level in their romantic relationships. For Spencer and Toby, that means teasing each other about who’s better at Scrabble. Meanwhile, the cops investigate new evidence in the case of who murdered Alison, and Paige takes Emily to a rural bar to do some heinous karaoke to Pink songs.
111. “Don’t Look Now” (Season 6, episode 4)
Spencer hits bottom in managing her post-Dollhouse trauma, but Aria finally lets herself access what happened after aggressively repressing it for while, which is a relief to her, us, and the plot.
110. “That Girl Is Poison” (Season 3, episode 5)
Jenna throws herself an “I’m not blind anymore and it’s my birthday!” celebration. Say what you want about Rosewood’s sightless wonder, but that’s a baller move.
109. “A Kiss Before Lying” (Season 2, episode 18)
The arrival of Hanna’s stepsister, Kate, to Rosewood High starts off rather sloppily. Spencer threatens her with not-so-incriminating images of when she looked unattractive at an equestrian summer camp years ago. It ends with Hanna apparently sending a naked picture of Kate to all of her phone contacts, causing shock and disgust at the school. It’s one of the few instances where A doesn’t have to do anything to land a surprise ending.
108. “Surface Tension” (Season 2, episode 7)
This episode has a lot of problematic Mike, which never really goes anywhere. Toby has also started doing grounds work at the Hastings house, where he uncovers, with Spencer, the murder weapon that killed Alison. The best part is undoubtedly when Ashley and Ella get together to trash-talk Spencer’s dad, Peter.
107. “Je Suis une Amie” (Season 1, episode 16)
Another formative episode for the show’s enduring romances. Paige finally gets vulnerable with Emily. Hanna and Caleb get closer, and Spencer starts batting her lashes at Toby. Aria also proclaims there’s nothing A could threaten her with that would make her hurt the girls, which will later be exposed as a complete lie.
106. “Fresh Meat” (Season 5, episode 15)
In this we get a big dose of “Toby the good cop is a terrible friend and boyfriend,” which is pretty tedious. Emily pines over Paige, which is also tedious, but we do get the savage A trap of Caleb almost being burned alive in a ceramics kiln, as well as Jason’s tryst with Mrs. Marin. Sexy time!
105. “Monsters in the End” (Season 1, episode 21)
This one is mostly relationship drama. Aria and Ezra, Hanna and Caleb, Emily and Paige. There is, however, an Alison flashback that lays some necessary emotional groundwork between her and Emily.
104. “Surfing the Aftershocks” (Season 5, episode 3)
It’s all about the fashion. Nothing beats the Liars’ inappropriate funeral attire, and Alison trying to wear the dress her mom wore to her funeral to her mom’s funeral is truly outstanding.
103. “Birds of a Feather” (Season 3, episode 4)
Pro: Melissa admitting to the Liars that she was blackmailed by A into being the Black Swan because she lied about her pregnancy. Con: the arrival of the psychotic Lyndon James. Pro: Ella joining the dating website MainLineMate.com. Con: Hanna and Caleb temporarily breaking up. Let’s call this one a wash.
102. “The Silence of E. Lamb” (Season 5, episode 7)
Aria’s stealth volunteer operation at Radley goes just about as well as you’d expect when her duplicitous actions immediately draw the attention of a nurse and a mentally unstable patient. There is some forward movement though: She does manage to obtain a disturbing notebook that used to belong to Bethany Young.
101. “The Guilty Girl’s Handbook” (Season 4, episode 8)
If you want some great Mona content, this is your episode. Hanna’s mom is in jail on suspicion of killing Detective Wilden, and Hanna’s plan to get her out is to lie and take the blame, so she enlists Mona as her coach in ultimate deception. The episode takes a twist when Rosewood’s foremost con artist ends up offering herself as a suspect. No one out-lies Mona Vanderwaal.
100. “The Melody Lingers On” (Season 5, episode 22)
Two great things happen in this episode. Hanna thinks Edith Piaf’s name is Edith Pilaf and asks, “like the rice dish?” Later, when Spencer talks to Caleb about Hanna possibly fleeing Rosewood, he tells her, “She wouldn’t leave you and Aria and Em. You guys are like a band of Vikings.” Liars for life.
99. “It’s Alive” (Season 2, episode 1)
The girls start going to therapy with Dr. Sullivan because their parents insist, but the doctor throws a curveball and makes the rude suggestion they be kept apart from one another for a brief time. Hanna and Mona have a falling-out. Toby is on the outs in the Hastings house. But things get more exciting when Melissa receives a text from Ian, who is supposed to be dead.
98. “Through a Glass, Darkly” (Season 5, episode 14)
In a cathartic turn, Alison gets smacked across the face by Mona’s mom — a moment all of Rosewood has probably waited a decade for. Spencer is arrested for murdering Bethany Young — the body buried on the DiLaurentis property that everyone thought was Alison — and since all the Liars think Alison is shady at this point, they plot to take her down so Spencer can go free. This will seem like a super-bad idea when they decide to trust Alison again a little later.
97. “The Kahn Game” (Season 3, episode 9)
A searing game of “Truth” played between Noel, Aria, Jenna, and Spencer at the Kahn’s cabin manages to simultaneously scare and advance both sides’ respective causes. There’s a lot of momentum in this episode: Spencer and Aria learn more information about the evening Emily blacked-out by Alison’s grave, and it’s confirmed to Jenna and Noel that the Liars weren’t actually at Spencer’s lake house on the night it all transpired. They all have some ammo in their arsenal now, ready to be used whenever it’s deemed advantageous.
96. “Oh, What Hard Luck Stories They All Hand Me” (Season 5, episode 18)
Lesli Stone shows up and Spencer suspects she’s trouble, because Spencer is truly the group’s bloodhound. Now-former detective Holbrook and Hanna have a run-in, which ends wonderfully with her saying he’s a total chump if he let a teenage girl like Alison manipulate him, and she responds by smacking him with a metal rod. (Since Holbrook only exists for you to hope someone will hit him with a metal rod, this is great.)
95. “Eye of the Beholder” (Season 2, episode 23)
If you don’t care about Jenna storylines, you won’t enjoy this episode, which finds Rosewood’s resident blind girl coming back from eye surgery and promptly getting lured into a blazing fire at Jason’s house by A. If anything, this confirmed to the Liars that she’s not the mastermind of their persecution.
94. “Into the Deep” (Season 4, episode 9)
Mrs. Marin gets out of jail after someone anonymously posted her massive bail, and he doesn’t take credit, but it’s clearly sweet Pastor Ted. (Aw!) Jenna and Shana become more of a public item, and an injury Emily sustained while saving her friends’ lives effectively ends her hopes of getting a swim scholarship.
93. “The Gloves Are On” (Season 6, episode 13)
The emoji-filled-text-message threats begin! The goal of this new and improved A seems to be figuring out who murdered Charlotte, which makes sense on paper. However, one of the biggest misfires in PLL’s history is birthed in this episode — Emily sells her eggs for money. No amount of Spencer and Caleb making out can salvage how that goes.
92. “She’s Better Now” (Season 3, episode 14)
Hanna’s grandma tells her a truly weird story about their crazy cousin to make the point that she should forgive Mona … for trying to kill her with a car. She’s back at Rosewood High, and everyone is still suspicious of her, but Mona knows how to game the populace. The girls also participate in a half-marathon that there’s no way Hanna or Aria are prepared for.
91. “Wanted: Dead or Alive” (Season 7, episode 6)
Perhaps the longest-running gag in all of PLL is people trying to take advantage of Jenna because she’s blind, and Emily goes so far in this episode as to snoop around Jenna’s laptop with her sitting just five feet away in the same room. (Jenna can still hear so this never works out, but they still try.) Mary Drake learns more about her daughter, Charlotte, while Hanna and Spencer reaffirm their friendship after some matters of the heart threatened to push them apart. It’s all very touching, but most importantly, Sara Harvey finally gets what’s coming to her — someone kills her in a bathtub.
90. “To Kill a Mocking Girl” (Season 1, episode 3)
Maya and Emily’s first kiss! A suspicious flashback about why Toby took the fall for the “Jenna Thing”! Hanna crashing Sean’s sportscar out of rage! Toby punching Emily’s boyfriend in the locker room to save her from an assault! Those are the highlights here, but they lose a bit of zing when the snoozefest story of Byron’s former mistress, Meredith, reemerges.
89. “We’ve All Got Baggage” (Season 6, episode 17)
Melissa emerges as a serious suspect for both Charlotte’s death and being A. A flashback between a martini-guzzling Melissa and Hanna in London reveals that she thought Charlotte was responsible for torturing her and ruining her life — a popular theory that persisted until the show’s conclusion. Oh yeah, and Alison and Elliott get married.
88. “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted” (Season 3, episode 19)
Spencer is sabotaged off the academic decathlon team, which results in her challenging one of the teammates, Andrew, into a game of strip trivia to try and get back in. But more important, it results in Spencer crashing a decathlon competition and full-on tackling Mona in vengeance, as well as A sabotaging an elevator so Jason falls to the bottom floor inside it.
87. “Moments Later” (Season 1, episode 11)
Ian and Melissa take their relationship to the next level, and Aria does the same with her and Ezra, when she finally tells her friends she’s dating their English teacher. (No one is sufficiently bothered by this news.) Most notable, Hanna has a fever dream about Alison in which she lays out the ethos of the whole show: “Take it from me. You’re always better off with a really good lie.”
86. “Love ShAck, Baby” (Season 4, episode 15)
The Liars lose an important piece of evidence — Alison’s journal — to A after a fact-finding mission to her potential hideout goes awry. (The fact that A can hack into their car’s GPS is particularly impressive.) At the same time, Ezra is becoming more and more menacing with each scene.
85. “Close Encounters” (Season 4, episode 16)
Queen Ashley Marin takes Hanna to a facility that specializes in smashing plates against walls to help her get over her breakup with Caleb, but that’s the only redeeming factor here. The writers really overestimated how much viewers care about the suspicious death of Toby’s mother.
84. “What Lies Beneath” (Season 3, episode 10)
The Liars’ investigation into Maya’s death reaches new heights when Emily and Hanna get locked in the Kahn’s cabin at night, and security footage surfaces showing Maya being abducted by an unknown hooded figure. A’s creepy spray-painted message of “I’m saving you for later” kicks things into overdrive.
83. “Please, Do Talk About Me When I’m Gone” (Season 1, episode 8)
The bread and butter of PLL’s earlier episodes was its reliance on frequent flashbacks that revealed the Liars’ group dynamic. Here, we see the first flirtation between Emison, as well as a very apt monologue from Alison that romanticizes wanting to die young. They more than make up for the banalities of the Marin family’s money problems and Wilden’s inappropriate interrogations — although the ending scene of someone smashing Alison’s glass memorial is a great visual.
82. “Blind Dates” (Season 2, episode 4)
Mrs. Fields makes an effort to support Emily’s love life and it’s about damn time. Mike Montgomery continues giving the least interesting or nuanced portrayal of depression on television.
81. “Careful What U Wish 4” (Season 1, episode 14)
Caleb is introduced as the semi-shady, long-haired outsider the girls should avoid. The Liars are increasingly suspicious that Ian is A, so they try to distract him and rifle through his office at the school dance. Emily gets drunk and lets some hard truths come out with Hanna.
80. “I’m Your Puppet” (Season 3, episode 23)
Spencer is still obsessed with the idea that A killed Toby, which is such an amateur move. The girls go to Radley to help snap her out of her depression haze, and Hanna remarks, “I saw a roach big enough to wear an apron!” in the hospital kitchen, truly a classic Hanna line.
79. “New Guys, New Lies” (Season 6, episode 14)
One of the Liars is actually smart enough to hire a lawyer for a police interview! We’re so happy about this that we honestly don’t care that Hanna tampered with video-surveillance evidence, or that those creepy, hyperrealistic masks make their first appearance.
78. “Songs of Innocence” (Season 6, episode 2)
Freed from the Dollhouse, the girls all cope in their own ways. When Hanna throws out all her possessions to start anew, her mom tells her she can redecorate in “Danish modern” or “Day-Glo wicker” as long as it makes her happy. Mr. DiLaurentis does a lot of lying about Charles, and Aria does a very bad thing when she lies about Andrew’s involvement in their imprisonment.
77. “Original G’Angsters” (Season 7, episode 7)
We learn how long Noel Kahn has colluded with nefarious parties to torture the Liars, while Mary Drake reveals to Alison and Jason how manipulative and cunning their mom was. Mrs. Fields gets loose with some bachelorettes having a party, and Spencer gets hit with an emotional train when Toby tells her he was building a house in Rosewood for her, even though he’s engaged to someone else. Also, the girls almost get blown up!
76. “Charlotte’s Web” (Season 6, episode 12)
The mystery of Charlotte’s murder gains momentum, and suspicion builds around the involvement of the Liars in her death. Also, it turns out not every Liar had a good experience in the time-jump: Emily’s father died while serving overseas, and she dropped out of school and turned to the bottle.
75. “Run, Ali, Run” (Season 5, episode 6)
I. Marlene King famously said “all roads lead back to Radley,” and this first important tease infiltrates the narrative through Bethany Young and Jessica DiLaurentis. Detective Tanner, ever an astute woman of the force, also sees through the Liars’ alibi about not being in New York the evening of Shana’s death. The love-her-hate-her feelings for Tanner begin!
74. “FrAmed” (Season 6, episode 8)
Perhaps the only time in which Detective Tanner is genuinely supportive of the Liars, as seen with her surprise keenness about Aria’s art show. The Liars are tormented by A with disturbing photos from the Dollhouse, and they learn they’re not allowed to go to prom because everyone thinks they’re a “safety risk.” It’s a real rough patch.
73. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (Season 6, episode 7)
Charles is finally home and he’s throwing a party, which is more of a threat than an invitation. Mike confronts Mona with awful chinstrap facial hair and yells at her for ignoring him since she came back from the dead. Toby accidentally gets too high to function when he eats weed candy that Spencer has secretly kept for her PTSD anxiety, which leads to him totally screwing up a plan to trap Charles. Hanna confuses the terms cyborg and cyclops, which, of course, Hanna does.
72. “Crazy” (Season 3, episode 7)
A trio of deplorable characters is introduced, ranked here in order of importance: CeCe Drake, Kenneth DiLaurentis, and Zach the Dickhead Barista Who Never Deserved Ella. Important intros aside, Ouija boards get some solid product placement, with a spooky flashback of Mona and Hanna being told by the game that Alison was alive days before “her” body was found.
71. “The Naked Truth” (Season 2, episode 19)
The silly idea of Rosewood High throwing an overnight sleepover is immediately quashed with two revelations: Jason is actually Spencer’s half-brother, thanks to noted manwhore Peter Hastings; and Kate was the one who sent out the nude photo on Hanna’s phone so she would get in trouble. Keep an eye on your stepsiblings, people.
70. “The Perfect Storm” (Season 1, episode 9)
While this episode should be remembered for Veronica Hastings cursing out Wilden for interrogating a bunch of minors without a lawyer present — while they’re all stuck at school without electricity because of a storm during the SATs, no less! — the flashback to Alison cruelly manipulating Emily is a pivotal moment in seeing the extent of her mind games.
69. “CTRL:A” (Season 2, episode 20)
Decent advances are made regarding Alison’s entanglements with A: the Vivian Darkbloom persona comes to light, and the fact that Alison hired someone to trace the threatening messages she was getting. But all of that is immediately sidelined with the fabulous revelation that Aria’s friend Holden is secretly fighting in underground martial-arts tournaments.
68. “Under the Gun” (Season 4, episode 6)
With the planted evidence mounting against her, Mrs. Marin is finally arrested for the murder of Detective Wilden. Things take a sharp left turn when Spencer and Toby go on a mission to find Grunwald in Ravenswood and everything is inexplicably monochromatic. Also, Spencer tries to get coffee and Toby tells her she really needs to eat first, furthering one of the great PLL in-jokes of the Liars constantly choosing food over coffee.
67. “Choose or Lose” (Season 7, episode 18)
Dark Aria tries to atone for her sins by going to the police, but gets sidetracked when Archer Dunhill’s body shows up in her trunk. Rosewood’s Hardy Boys, Caleb and Ezra, track down the cell tower feeding the all-seeing Liar’s Lament and — twist — it’s at Mona’s apartment! One minor thing: Caleb and Hanna spontaneously decide to get hitched.
66. “Did You Miss Me?” (Season 6, episode 19)
Two pivotal plans go into motion: Hanna decides to fake-confess to A that she killed Charlotte, and Elliott and Mary’s evil scheme gets its first breath when Alison ends up in the hospital: Mary dressing up as her twin sister Jessica and appearing to Alison “in a dream” makes her think that nothing is amiss. We’re dealing with some bona fide geniuses here.
65. “Gamma Zeta Die!” (Season 4, episode 5)
Aria lets her mom run off to Europe with her boyfriend, which A responds to by filling Ella Montgomery’s car with bees. Spencer and Emily decide to go on a fact-finding mission at a local college where Spencer charms a resident nerd boy into giving her information about phone records, which he only agrees to after she flashes her Game of Thrones knowledge.
64. “In the Eye Abides the Heart” (Season 7, episode 15)
It’s nice to see Aria do something other than fret about her romantic problems, even if that means witnessing her talk to A.D. with creepy FaceTime technology and fail at most of her tasks. Plus, any episode that lets Mona fight back against a villain gets high marks. The way she gazes longingly at Liar’s Lament is a real treat.
63. “Do Not Disturb” (Season 6, episode 15)
There’s a lot of solid sleuthing here that’ll make you reminisce about the Liars’ high-school years. You know that this new A isn’t too bright when Caleb is able to hack into its computer and give it a virus, and Sparia is effortlessly able to sneak into Sara’s hotel room at the Radley and discover a secret passageway in the closet.
62. “Touched by an ‘A’-ngel” (Season 2, episode 10)
The girls learn about the nefarious connection between Jason, Garrett, and Ian, and they start wondering whether Alison was killed by her brother. (Hello, N.A.T. Club!) A invades Emily’s spa day and gives her a very creepy massage. Spencer cements Team Sparia when she tells Aria, “You’re really tiny and I love you!”
61. “The Wrath of Kahn” (Season 7, episode 9)
As vengeance for her second round of kidnapping and torture, Hanna decides to drug Noel Kahn and do the same to him. Her resolve is further cemented when the girls discover that Noel was involved in their Dollhouse imprisonment. We also see flashbacks of Jason and Aria when they were sex friends. Look at season seven dishing all the dirt!
60. “Miss Me x 100” (Season 5, episode 5)
Mona plays Alison like a fiddle by doctoring their conversation to look like she’s the real victim. This segues into the major reveal that Radley Sanitarium patient Bethany Young was buried in Alison’s grave. Also, Toby’s house gets blown to smithereens! Not even the brief tangent about Caleb’s boring exploits in Ravenswood can drag this episode down.
59. “Bite Your Tongue” (Season 4, episode 17)
A drugs Hanna at the dentist and leaves a microscopic note in her mouth! And Ezra is Board Shorts! Why does everyone with a dick in Rosewood prowl on high-school girls?
58. “Whirly Girly” (Season 5, episode 2)
Alison’s official return to Rosewood goes less than swimmingly, with a brand spankin’ new set of lies to account for her disappearance. (She goes with kidnapping.) As if one shock wasn’t enough for the DiLaurentis family, Jessica’s body gets discovered in the Hastings’s backyard by the low-key best supporting actor of the series, Pepe the Dog.
57. “My Name Is Trouble” (Season 2, episode 3)
Just because Ezra doesn’t work at Rosewood High anymore, he and Aria think they can make out like she isn’t 16 years old. Emily lies to her parents to keep them from moving her to Texas, and her mom apologizes for not being receptive when she came out. Best of all, Hanna makes this very true statement about Spencer’s sister: “Wow, only Melissa would ask the guy she dumped to help the murderer she married.”
56. “Crash and Burn, Girl!” (Season 4, episode 7)
Toby and Caleb band together to help the Liars, and they find one of Jenna’s lackeys, which leads to the question: What kind of sexual dynamo is Jenna Marshall that she can seduce anyone into doing her bidding? Hanna breaks down to Spencer while they talk about Mrs. Marin’s chances for beating the Wilden rap, and then share a hug that Spanna fans will forever cite as evidence of their One True Pairing. Also, someone drives a car into the Fields family living room — a hall-of-fame PLL moment.
55. “Single Fright Female” (Season 3, episode 11)
The Ambien-like plot line of Ezra’s having a secret child with a former high-school flame is evened out with the staggering revelation that more than two As are working together to torture the Liars. Now that’s what you call a solid twist!
54. “Unbridled” (Season 4, episode 23)
Clad in wedding dresses, the Liars volunteer at a charity bridal show organized by Jessica DiLaurentis so they can get answers about Spencer’s role in Alison’s disappearance. This doesn’t go according to plan, but flashbacks reveal Mrs. D thought Spencer was Alison’s A, giving her plenty of motive to assume the position. Spencer getting caught in a bear trap and A’s creative usage of finger-bone messages add to this very enjoyable episode.
53. “A Is for A-l-i-v-e” (Season 4, episode 1)
The return of Wilden’s patrol car and the arrival of Wilden’s dead body lead to serious trouble for the Liars. (It also leads to them rifling through his coffin at the funeral, naturally.) With Mona out of Radley, she comes clean to the girls about (almost) everything she knows about the A game. She even shows them her mobile RV lair!
52. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (Season 1, episode 22)
Aria tells Ezra, “Until today you were the only guy who had never lied to me,” which will be a lot funnier when she finds out he’s been stalking her and her friends since the day they met. Spencer has a hostile encounter with Ian at the bell tower in the Rosewood church that results in the show’s first big onscreen death. The Liars think their persecution is over, but an A mass-text lets them know it’s just beginning.
51. “March of Crimes” (Season 5, episode 9)
Even though Alison wasn’t kidnapped, she somehow manages to make someone pretend to be her abductor and turn himself into the police. But the impressive extent of her power gets overshadowed by the episode’s social dynamics, which revolve around the aftermath of Hanna confessing to Aria that Ella’s fiancé, Zach, inappropriately hit on her.
50. “Never Letting Go” (Season 2, episode 6)
This episode features one of A’s best game plans: Mrs. DiLaurentis tries to turn Rosewood High’s fashion show into a night of remembrance for Alison, but the tribute transforms into a heavy-metal-fueled takedown and she’s renounced as a bitch and a monster. All this happens while the girls are dolled up on a catwalk, because all the best things in this show happen with extreme costuming. Other highlights: Spencer nearly strangling a micromanaging Mona, plus an early look at the moms bonding over wine.
49. “I Must Confess” (Season 2, episode 11)
The girls make strides in therapy with Dr. Sullivan, which is always dangerous. Hanna’s brassy grandma shows up in time for Mr. Marin’s wedding to his new wife, and Hanna will need all the protection she can get from her evil new stepsister. Spencer asks her dad the hilariously big question, “What does the DiLaurentis family have on us?!”
48. “Save the Date” (Season 2, episode 8)
Spencer, like a normal teen, casually asks a doctor friend about whether forensic science can determine which object killed a person based on a head wound, and she also explains cranial anatomy to Aria in a great Sparia scene set in a hospital morgue. Hanna also delivers the iconic line: “Jenna can’t hear us. She’s blind.”
47. “Power Play” (Season 7, episode 14)
The Hastings-DiLaurentis family tree confuses everyone with the news that Pastor Ted is Charlotte’s biological father, and that Mary killed Jessica as revenge for keeping Charlotte away from her. Those are good revelations, but we’re a little too distracted by Alison discovering the sickening truth about her pregnancy and Aria joining the “A-Team” to give them their full due.
46. “No Stone Unturned” (Season 6, episode 6)
Spencer makes the spot-on observation that Mona maintained a 4.0 GPA and perfect hair while ruining their lives, so it’s best not to underestimate her. She also joins up with Hanna to rifle through Lesli Stone’s car for incriminating materials, setting up one of the girls’s best fact-finding missions: After breaking into Lesli’s office at a biolab, Aria, Hanna, and Spencer realize A implanted tracking devices in their necks, prompting Aria to shout, “Bitch chipped us!”
45. “Til DeAth Do Us PArt” (Season 7, episode 20)
The final two hours of PLL were a divisive send-off, but if you suspended all your disbelief and just let yourself enjoy the fan service, it was a rollicking end to a show that held nothing back in the crazy department. We meet Spencer’s evil British twin Alex Drake and get another phenomenally complex A lair. A gay wedding proposal happens. Mona finally gets her living dollhouse … in France! And the wine moms got to ride one last time. If you expected anything more sensible than that, you showed up to the wrong series finale.
44. “Face Time” (Season 4, episode 4)
Tanner arrives and immediately starts ruining everyone’s vibe. (Doesn’t she know the police don’t actually do any work in Rosewood?) Toby and Spencer find out his mom’s death may not have been suicide. Aria and Spencer discover the source of the creepy Alison mask that keeps showing up, which leads to a sister-on-sister confrontation when Spencer finds Melissa destroying evidence that connects her to the mask maker.
43. “Bring Down the Hoe” (Season 4, episode 11)
On a fact-finding trip into the crawl space of the DiLaurentis house, someone tries impaling the girls — just a typical night on the town for Liars! Toby divulges some super-secret info about his mom; a handsome classmate helps Hanna get her mom out of jail; and Spencer and Emily steal a car together. Also, there’s a barn dance, which means the Liars spend a lot of time in Western-themed costumes while they do illegal things.
42. “Playtime” (Season 7, episode 11)
Liar’s Lament arrives to strong-arm the girls into yet another codependent relationship. It’s such a technological marvel of a board game (motion sensors! presents!) that we’ll choose to forget the tedious love triangle between Emily, Alison, and Paige at Rosewood High.
41. “Know Your Frenemies” (Season 1, episode 13)
Being a devoted PLL viewer means tracking the continuity errors, and this episode has the best of the best: Just two days after being hit by a car and laid out in a hospital with a broken leg, Hanna is walking through downtown Rosewood. She’s then subject to her greatest single humiliation at the hands of A: being forced to eat a dozen cupcakes with piglets on them.
40. “A Hot Piece of ‘A’” (Season 2, episode 15)
A secluded lake house is the perfect setting to watch tensions unfold between Caleb’s surprise party and the potentially life-threatening revelation that Lucas is evil, which culminates with Hanna whacking him over the head with an oar. Aria’s relationship problems with Ezra pale in comparison.
39. “Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares” (Season 2, episode 14)
The fisticuffs action is through the roof, with Spencer and Emily getting rowdy during the Liars’ court-mandated community service and Mike punching Ezra in the face when he and Aria reveal their illicit relationship. Naturally, both were for ulterior motives: The Liars’ public fighting was a ruse to trick A, while Mike punched Ezra before Byron could do so even harder. Overall, a pretty productive day in Rosewood!
38. “Pretty Isn’t the Point” (Season 5, episode 20)
An episode that could have been dragged down by Mike Montgomery is rescued by one of the most inexplicable and wonderful scenes in all of Pretty Little Liars: Hanna getting lost in dance during a beauty-pageant tryout. Mona stockpiling her own blood to frame Alison should be a headline reveal, but it’s hard to think of anything else when Hanna is krumping her rage away.
37. “Mona Mania” (Season 3, episode 15)
Spencer is poised to become captain of the academic decathlon team, but Mona whips enough votes to lock them in a tie. That means they need an epic quiz off to decide who will lead the decathletes! Meanwhile, Aria tries to get more information about the night of Alison’s death, Byron becomes a strong person of interest, and Lucas almost blows up a teacher. Oops!
36. “Farewell, My Lovely” (Season 7, episode 19)
The Liars play another round of Jump to Conclusions! They find out Mona has Liar’s Lament and immediately assume she’s A.D., but when they confront her, she tells them all about the night Charlotte died in the church bell tower. With that murder solved, the girls finally win the game, but A.D. has them set up for one more big run-in with the law.
35. “If These Dolls Could Talk” (Season 2, episode 24)
A lot of pieces move in anticipation of the big A revelation. Garrett gets arrested for the murder of Alison, Melissa looks as shady as ever, and Jenna seems to be lying about her eyesight. It’s a fly-swat for the ages!
34. “Game On, Charles” (Season 6, episode 1)
The second Dollhouse episode has the girls enduring their worst torture of the series. Shock treatments, starvation, isolation — the Dollhouse was where PLL proved it was one of the scariest shows on TV, subjecting a group of teen girls to imprisonment and abuse. As always, the police are no help whatsoever.
33. “Game Over, Charles” (Season 6, episode 10)
The full backstory of Charles/Charlotte/CeCe is revealed! This is one of the wildest episodes in all of PLL: The girls find Charlotte’s lair and learn she’s the evil-genius trans cousin of Alison, and that she was locked away in Radley Sanitarium at a young age. It’s an hour of full-on soap drama that culminates with Sara Harvey finally getting punched in the face.
32. “Tick-Tock, Bitches” (Season 7, episode 1)
Following the events of the season-six finale, Hanna remains a hostage of the new A, known as A.D. or Uber A. With the Liars working to save Hanna, Alison remains under lockdown at the hospital, and a piece of clothing found at her house implies she might’ve killed Charlotte. By the time Elliott reveals his true identity to Alison while filling her up with drugs, a noticeably darker season begins to take shape.
31. “Over My Dead Body” (Season 2, episode 12)
Any episode that opens with the Liars covered in dirt inside a police interrogation room will be a good one. Spencer hurts Toby under threat of blackmail, Aria goes after Ezra’s former fiancée, Hanna sabotages her dad’s wedding by exposing his infidelity, and Doctor Sullivan is revealed as an A operative. Also, Emily gets trapped in a barn and hallucinates a vision of Alison. On the bright side, Caleb pulls an all-star boyfriend move and tells Hanna’s stepsister that her dress gives her back-fat.
30. “Misery Loves Company” (Season 3, episode 16)
For a non-finale episode, this one has a lot of excitement. Byron’s mistress turned girlfriend acts like she is caring for a flu-stricken Aria, but she’s actually keeping her incapacitated with a steady diet of sedatives. We get Bad Parent Byron talking to Alison on the night of her death, as well a heart-wrenching scene with Spencer after she discovers Toby playing for Team A.
29. “The DArkest Knight” (Season 7, episode 10)
Wild even by PLL standards, this mid-season finale has Noel Kahn falling on an ax and decapitating himself, Jenna trying to shoot Spencer, and the big reveal that Mary Drake is actually Spencer’s biological mother. Toby also gets in a car wreck with his fiancée, and Ezra finds out his former fiancée, Nicole, is being held as a hostage in Colombia.
28. “Hush, Hush, Sweet Liars” (Season 6, episode 20)
The “evil twin” plot device! It turns out Jessica DiLaurentis has a mentally unstable twin named Mary Drake, who is the biological mother of Charlotte. Mary is working with Alison’s secretly evil husband to steal her family fortune from the Carissimi Group, which they’re able to do by driving Alison to check into a mental hospital. It’s a good scheme — nice mask of Detective Wilden! — but it raises the question: We’ve known these characters for less than ten episodes, but suddenly we have to reckon with them as the main antagonists?
27. “Hot Water” (Season 3, episode 20)
Spencer hasn’t recovered from possibly seeing Toby dead in the woods, and Aria finally tells her that it’s time to bounce back. Paige tries to go on solo missions to get intel, but the girls shut that down fast. Mrs. Marin finally takes hostile action against Wilden after he threatens Hanna. Also, A almost kills Spencer in her home sauna. How posh!
26. “Hit and Run, Run, Run” (Season 7, episode 4)
For all the shock-and-awe that PLL throws at viewers, the emotional lives of the Liars were pretty predictable. That’s what made this episode so strong: Once Spencer and Caleb return to Rosewood, old demons and old lovers threaten to split them apart. With Hanna silently standing behind her, Caleb pleads with Spencer on the other side of a closed door, begging her to be with him. It’s the most emotionally raw moment of the entire series.
25. “Turn of the Shoe” (Season 4, episode 2)
An episode with phenomenal rewatch value. After the lodge fire nearly kills them, Spencer takes everyone’s food to make a map: “I’m re-creating the geography around the lodge to see if it’s even possible that the person who jumped out of the plane could rescue you three from the burning building.” This is peak Spencer, and it leads to a confrontation over a mozzarella stick. We’re also introduced to Tippy the Parrot.
24. “Free Fall” (Season 4, episode 20)
Ezra isn’t A, but this is way worse! It turns out he dated Alison for a hot second in college and developed an infatuation with her, which continued when he decided to investigate what happened … for the sake of writing the greatest mystery novel of the century. Adding insult to injury, Aria gets hit with this truth-bomb while stuck with Ezra on a ski lift, where she gives one of the best ugly-cry faces in recent memory.
23. “It Happened ‘That Night’” (Season 3, episode 1)
This premiere effortlessly moves Mona’s A reveal forward while also establishing a new mystery. The Liars are thrown into the silly problem of Emily having no memory of visiting Alison’s grave during a sleepover and potentially digging up her corpse, which plunges everyone into a downward spiral of lies and deception. For the cherry on top of this cray-cray sundae, a new A is revealed, declaring herself as one who will “play with body parts.” Buckle up!
22. “Shadow Play” (Season 4, episode 19)
When Spencer passes out after too many pills, the episode adopts some breathtaking black-and-white film noir visuals. There isn’t much plot advancement, but does that really matter? Those mid-Atlantic accents and stunning costumes would even please Lauren Bacall. It’s a hoot!
21. “Taking This One to the Grave” (Season 5, episode 12)
It’s Mona’s world and we’re all just living in it, yet the girls keep relegating her to a shady zone of uncertainty. (When she asks why they need her help to see if Alison is up to her old tricks, Aria simply responds, “Because you’re Mona.”) Sadly, it takes Mona’s apparent murder to make the Liars realize how much of a true asset she really was, but it’s too late to make amends now. Or is it?
20. “How the ‘A’ Stole Christmas” (Season 5, episode 13)
Alison is back at Rosewood High and lording over her dominion, which includes amassing a new entourage to attend the Ice Ball and harass the other Liars. The girls storm the dance in the hopes of catching Alison and CeCe in cahoots, but come up empty. At one point, Hanna, dressed as one of Santa’s elves, tells a tween mean girl: “In Rosewood, bitches get buried.” This episode also has one of the nicest scenes in the whole series, when the girls and their significant others throw themselves a snowed-in Christmas dinner.
19. “Of Late I Think of Rosewood” (Season 6, episode 11)
The choice to jump ahead five years makes perfect sense. The Liars are older, a little bit wiser, and can now get drunk on martinis. (Also, Radley was turned into a chic hotel and bar!) Although it seems a little far-fetched that everyone but Aria would willingly testify in favor of Charlotte coming home from a psychiatric facility, their decision is soon rendered obsolete when Charlotte turns up dead. Who killed her? Are the Liars involved? And how did they spend the past five years?
18. “The Glove That Rocks the Cradle” (Season 7, episode 16)
For all the insane shenanigans the various As have pulled off, PLL outdid itself with the season-seven reveal that Emily’s stolen eggs were nonconsensually inseminated into Alison’s womb, making Emily the co-parent of her best friend and potential lover. Other highlights include Dark Aria and Spencer’s emotional spiral that leads her to steal from a police officer.
17. “The Jenna Thing” (Season 1, episode 2)
The few lows in the episode — most notably, the first occurrence of the Liars being interrogated by a policeman without a damn lawyer present — are immediately overshadowed by its most memorable flashback sequence. The five Liars accidentally blind Jenna in her garage with a stinkbomb, and Alison erroneously fingers Toby as a Peeping Tom. Although the “Jenna Thing” annoyingly was played for laughs in subsequent seasons, the origin story still stands out and shows how screwed-up Alison truly was.
16. “Blood Is the New Black” (Season 3, episode 2)
The Liars receive a message from A made out of human teeth — which may or may not be evidence — and promptly flush it down the toilet by accident. This episode gets an astronomical boost from the most iconic line in the show’s history: Aria, upon the discovery that Jenna regained her sight, stating “Bitch can see!” Atta girl.
15. “The Talented Mr. Rollins” (Season 7, episode 3)
Congrats to Hanna, who becomes the third Liar to accidentally kill someone, when she hits Elliott with her car. It’s a great death scene that lingers on Elliott’s pale head in the windshield and Hanna’s blood-splattered body in a Tarantino-esque way, which is made even more satisfying by the information that Elliott (real name: Archer Dunhill) was actually in love with Charlotte before she died. Those two lovers will meet up in hell, probably.
14. “Keep Your Friends Close” (Season 1, episode 10)
Vive la Camp Mona! This is a nonstop “glamping” extravaganza from start to finish. It begins with Toby dropping some hot gossip to Emily about being with Alison the night she died, warms up with Aria and Emily getting the most gloriously horrendous ‘80s blowouts, and climaxes with Hanna being run over by a car. Oh, what a night!
13. “The New Normal” (Season 1, episode 17)
A foundational episode for the romantic lives of the Liars. We see the first sparks between Hanna and Caleb as well as Toby and Spencer, but the real MVP is Pam Fields. When Mr. McCullers shows up at Rosewood High claiming his daughter is getting shortchanged on the swim team because Emily is getting preferential treatment, Mrs. Fields swoops in to defend her honor. Mrs. Fields had been pretty cruel to Emily about her coming out, but this heartening moment establishes the supportive relationship they’ll have for the remainder of the series.
12. “A DAngerous GAme” (Season 3, episode 24)
Spencer is home from Radley after her combination psychotic break and long-con strategy to fact-find in the sanitarium. Mona’s new lair is revealed. Spencer is outed by the girls as an A double agent, and her “welcome home” dinner turns out to be a setup where the girls nearly burn to death in a lodge. Mona delivers the central line on A: “Don’t you get it? She can do anything. She’s everywhere, and she’s nowhere!”
11. “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (Season 5, episode 25)
In this crucial episode, the Liars are on their way to jail as accessories to Mona’s murder but instead A delivers them to the Dollhouse. They find Mona, who is supposed to be dead, pretending to be Alison, and get locked into cells designed as exact replicas of their bedrooms. Five seasons of torment built up to this most insidious torture chamber, demonstrating how truly awful the A game could be. There’s also a fake prom, because even villains know that the Liars are at their best in formalwear.
10. “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t” (Season 4, episode 12)
Yet another episode that triumphs despite the presence of Ravenswood. This mid-season finale finds the Liars in pursuit of Red Coat, but in the heat of pursuit they find there are two Red Coats to contend with. Aria hits one of them in the face and unmasks her as CeCe Drake, while the other remains a mystery. Emily lands on the receiving end of one of A’s cruelest individual torments when she’s trapped in a coffin and nearly sawed in half. In one of the show’s biggest reveals, Ezra is revealed as a sinister figure who has stalked the girls for years.
9. “EscApe From New York” (Season 5, episode 1)
The Liars’ misadventures in New York pick up right where they left off: Ezra’s life hangs in the balance and Aria becomes the latest Liar to kill someone when Shana reveals herself to be a double-crosser who wants to murder Alison. The death scene is a good one, so long as you don’t think about the physics behind it, but it has nothing on the delightfully ludicrous scene where dozens of hooded figures ambush the Liars in some random park. Welcome to New York!
8. “The First Secret” (Season 2, episode 13)
Two words: Lady G. The first Halloween episode is a suspense-filled flashback to the Liars’ early high-school years, as they descend upon Noel Kahn’s Halloween party in amazing outfits — Mary, Queen of Scots for Spencer! It’s revealed that Alison had been receiving torturous messages from an unknown A, and someone tries to kill her in an abandoned house. Not even the dumb side-plot of Byron’s affair with Meredith deters from the complexities and joys of the action. For bonus points: Ashley calls Wilden a “horny cop.” Amen, sister.
7. “Pilot” (Season 1, episode 1)
Pilots should appeal to a broad audience and set the tone for a series, and PLL’s first episode effortlessly delivered on both fronts. Beside the requisite character introductions — Ezria making out in that bar bathroom and Ashley bonin’ Detective Wilden to get Hanna’s shoplifting charges dropped are standouts — the slow buildup to the reveal of Alison’s body is complemented by flashbacks that show her inherently evil nature. Is she actually texting them from beyond the grave with that “I’m still here bitches, and I know everything” message? Either way, this was great television in the making.
6. “The Lady Killer” (Season 3, episode 12)
The audience’s patience is finally rewarded with not one but two betrayals. “Nate St. Germain” (a.k.a. Lyndon James) ends up being Maya’s crazy stalker from religion camp, and Toby is revealed as a member of the A team. But both of those moments take a backseat to the lighthouse fight-sequence in which Em takes the honor of being the first Liar to kill someone by stabbing Nate in the stomach. And don’t even get us started about Mona gliding in and out of Radley undetected. Once a queen, always a queen.
5. “Last Dance” (Season 6, episode 9)
Two words: Wine moms! The girls get banned from prom, so their moms whip up an impromptu prom in the Hastings family barn to cheer them up. Of course the Liars sneak out and go to the dance anyway (they’ve gotta save Ali!), but the real drama came from the moms getting sauced and listening to Mrs. Hastings spill big family secrets. One thing leads to another and suddenly they’re trapped in the DiLaurentis basement, which we never actually see them escape from. The only thing wrong with this episode is that it teased us with all the wine-soaked mom high jinks that could have been, but weren’t.
4. “Grave New World” (Season 4, episode 13)
Any episode that serves as a backdoor pilot for Ravenswood disqualifies itself from the highest possible ranking, but this Halloween outing is jam-packed with so many fundamental PLL tenets that we’d foolish not to include it in the top five. The Liars finally get their peace of mind by discovering Alison is indeed alive — her windswept delivery of “Did you miss me?” easily goes down as her most enduring line. Meanwhile, the audience gets the rare treat of knowing someone is evil before the Liars do (we see you in that WWI soldier’s uniform, Ezra) and the creepy mansion setting with fabulous costuming ties everything up in a neat little bow. Brava.
3. “A Is for Answers” (Season 4, episode 24)
Alison recounts what happened on the evening of her supposed death. This chick had spun a tangled web of messy blackmail in pursuit of finding A, and although she got the text messages to stop by the evening’s end, she was still hit over the head with a rock by an unknown assailant and buried alive by her mom … who herself turns up dead and half-buried (!) in the episode’s final scene. Alison also reveals she’d been helping the Liars as much as she could without blowing her cover, e.g. pushing Ian down the bell tower and dragging the Liars out of the lodge when it was set on fire. The final revelation that the girls were in New York and being pursued by a gun-toting villain are just two more checks in the “satisfying” column that established this new group dynamic for the rest of the series.
2. “This Is A Dark Ride” (Season 3, episode 13)
The most recognizable PLL episode of all, this is an example of the show at its best. The Liars are aboard a train that Rosewood High rented out for a Halloween extravaganza, but their fun gets derailed when A starts to wreak havoc. Confrontations abound as Spencer gets roughed up by a masked figure, and Aria is nailed into a crate that’s occupied by the dead body of Garrett. She’s nearly pitched out the side of a train car when the girls rescue her. It’s a costume party, a themed episode, and an homage to slashers like Terror Train. There’s also a totally nonsensical performance by Adam Lambert. A true standard-bearer for the series.
1. “UnmAsked” (Season 2, episode 25)
The reveal of Mona as the original A is the most logical and fulfilling twist in PLL’s history. The motive — she suffered from jealousy and internal torment that Hanna prioritized a friendship with the Liars over her — is reasonable for a high-school student. Mona’s background as a tech savant lined up with her torture methods. The slow-burn reveal is a great hour of television, with the revelry of a fabulous masquerade ball (those costumes!) leading down the dark rabbit hole of A’s lair at the Lost Woods Resort. As if the A news wasn’t shocking enough to cap off the second season, the Liars return home from their traumatizing ordeal to find a herd of emergency vehicles implying Maya has died. Mona is then institutionalized at Radley Sanitarium, birthing a brand-new mystery that would carry the show forward for three-and-a-half seasons. If this episode doesn’t epitomize the core of Pretty Little Liars, then we don’t know what does.