Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/HBO
March 19, 2017 at 10:00 PM EDT

Big Little Lies

TV Show
Drama, Comedy, Miniseries
run date
Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgard, Laura Dern
Jean-Marc Vallée
David E. Kelley
Current Status
In Season
We gave it an A-

The screaming guitar that fills so many musical moments of this episode of Big Little Lies, titled “Once Bitten,” couldn’t be more apt. Our three main characters are in pain, either from tackling their demons or seeing their demons coming back to haunt them. Their small lives in Monterey are filled with big stakes: healing yourself so you can care properly for your child, in the case of Jane; trying to save your own life for the sake of your children, as it goes for Celeste; or fearing that a moment of weakness, a moment of staving off your self-induced monotony, could wreck the life you spent so long trying to build, as is the case for Madeline.

Let’s begin our week’s recap with Madeline:

She’s startled awake by a dream that has Renata and Avenue Q puppets pushing her over a cliff. In reality, Renata won’t be Madeline’s downfall, but the puppet master may be. It was really not a good idea for Madeline to make out with Joseph again. We learn quickly that last episode’s moment of weakness wasn’t a one-time thing but an actual rekindling of an old affair that Joseph now wants to make into a real thing.

After her morning drop-off, Madeline meets up with Jane at the local coffee shop, Blue Blues. Jane has just been at the shooting range, where she ran into Nathan. And while Jane espouses the virtues of owning a gun, Madeline condemns them. It’s an interesting moment with Jane, a victim of abuse, saying just the act of holding a gun in her hand helps diminish the effects of emotional trauma, while Madeline condemns it. Though she will admit, as yet another bitchy, gossipy mother enters the coffee shop, “I should get a gun. There is more than one person in this town I’d like to shoot.”

Madeline’s continued quest for perfection extends to her home life, where, after being prompted by Celeste’s provocative texts, she tries to improve her own bland sex life. The ill-timed moment is punctuated perfectly by Ed’s declaration: “Ooh honey do not use that downstairs bathroom. Jesus.” And there you have it. Years of marriage summed up in one comment. Ah, marital bliss!

But being married to someone for a while does give you insight into their moods. And Ed realizes quickly that something’s off with Madeline. She chalks up her strange behavior to being distracted by Jane’s new plan to go with Celeste and Madeline to meet Mr. Saxon Baker, an interior designer living in San Luis Obispo who just might be Jane’s assailant. Ed points out what a terrible idea this group ambush is and agrees to go with them.

That’s nothing compared to the problems Madeline is about to be faced with when Joseph shows up at the coffee shop to declare his love for her. She agrees to go talk to him in his car. He’s pissed that she won’t give the two of them more of a chance, that she won’t blow up her life to be with him when he’s willing to blow up his. The scene is contentious, and both are upset, when a teenager side swipes them while texting. The accident puts Joseph in a neck brace and on a gurney while Madeline is going to have to explain why the hell she was in Joseph’s car. Ed must know the truth at this point, but he really wants to believe her when she says she was just confronting the nervous director ahead of his show. Ed’s back to being a good guy, supporting his wife, running to her side, and what is she doing in return? She’s trying to end this drama with Joseph before the entire thing goes awry.

When Madeline returns to the hospital to explain herself to Joseph, the images of the accident and their previous sexual escapades all come flooding back. But this is a woman who fought back from single motherhood to create a new life for herself with Steady Eddie. Sure, he likes to dress up in weird costumes and he’s still sporting that silly beard, but he loves her and she doesn’t want her affair to destroy all that. She stands at the foot of Joseph’s bed trying to explain this to him, that she’s now afraid he’s going to ruin everything. She agrees to leave the play she’s worked so hard to get produced. And then his wife Tori shows up. And she’s definitely on to them. Madeline runs to her car to cry, and the screaming guitar of Janis Joplin’s “Ball and Chain” perfectly amplify Madeline’s conflict.

NEXT: Celeste falls apart

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