Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/HBO
Nicole Sperling
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-

Yet Joplin’s screams are nothing compared to Jane’s. The woman’s on a mission from the word go in this episode. She’s clearly tired of feeling like a victim. She’s shooting that gun at the range. She’s making plans to meet her rapist. She’s out to make herself whole again. And then Renata stymies those plans when she finds a bite mark on Amabella’s shoulder, assuming naturally that Ziggy is still bullying her daughter. Of course, this prompts a call to the school, a rashly put together meeting, and Renata begging Jane to “stop abusing my girl.”

All Jane can do is hand Renata a tissue.

Jane later admits that she hoped Ziggy coming into her life would dispel the painful memories of his conception. But it hasn’t, and she realizes that she’s never going to feel like herself again until she confronts the man who abused her. The Janis Joplin guitar screams again, she grabs her keys and her gun, and she jets out of the house.

From Coinage: The True Cost of Famous TV Apartments

After Madeline agrees to pick up Ziggy, Jane pulls out a joint, blasts The Misfits’ “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?” and speeds down to San Luis Obispo. Is payback in her future? What will go wrong?

Of course, he is Saxon Baker, but is he “Saxon Banks”? Upon close examination, including actually getting close enough to sniff him, Jane runs out of the interior designer’s office. The guitar screams again, and we’re left not knowing whether or not he’s the right guy.

And her pain, while severe, is nothing compared to what Celeste experiences this episode.

Her arc starts with some high-intensity sex on the kitchen counter. Perry rips at her clothing, throws her on the counter top, but nothing about it is sexy, especially since you can still see her bruises from their previous encounters. She’s even given a nice reprieve at the breakfast table, where she can count on Perry to keep her children in line, to roughhouse with them and to play the role of engaged father. I don’t know about you all, but I now find Skarsgard’s “monster” routine with the boys completely repulsive. I know that’s the point, but it’s still hard to watch.

And then, as we all know, the moment of bliss is upended when Perry comes home, finds toys all around the house, and starts raging again. Thankfully director Jean-Marc Vallée doesn’t show us the scene as it’s happening but flashes to it throughout the episode, most profoundly when Celeste goes to visit her therapist on her own.

After carefully concealing her newest injuries, she walks into the office, looking innocently for some strategies to deal with the violence.

But we all know that’s not really why she’s there, and that’s when things get real.

The probing questions the therapist asks juxtaposed with Celeste’s horrible memories of his latest attack is a profound distillation of abuse — the scene plays out in a way that shows both the crime and the rationalization. We watch as it’s all peeled away.

Has he left a mark? Are you physically afraid of him? Does he know you’re here? Are you ever afraid you might die? Are there weapons in the house? How does the abuse impact your sons? These are the questions Celeste is forced to answer.

Even in the retelling of these scenes, I find them all so overwhelmingly emotional. You watch Nicole Kidman as Celeste fall apart in front of you, where the rationalizations are no longer working. Where the therapist makes her see that her life and the life of her boys are in jeopardy.

And then just as you’re expecting this scene to prompt some real change, Celeste picks up her boys and drives straight to the airport to pick up Perry — hoping one more time that he will change his behavior. Perry cries into her shoulder, and we watch the cycle of abuse start another go around. So much for a resolution.

This show may be about a murder in an elitist neighborhood, but its examination of women, motherhood, abuse, and love is scintillating. The actresses portraying these compelling, complicated women are terrific, and they illustrate the value of examining women at this age more closely. And why not? We are fascinating. We are complicated. We are successful. We are filled with doubt. We are ambitious. We are shameful. We are bitter. We are insecure.

Life is a process and rarely does growth stop when marriage and children begin. It really just gets more interesting. I thank HBO, writer David E. Kelley, director Jean-Marc Vallée, and this cast for filling these characters with such humanity.

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