Big Little Lies recap: 'Serious Mothering'
Madeline draws battle lines over a child's birthday party
If only we had known when Madeline stared out into the mysterious vastness of the ocean at the beginning of episode 2, she was really getting ready to unleash a torrent of rage as she grappled with the injustices of living in a giant beachfront house with a doting husband, a precocious child, and a teenager who’s growing into an independent woman.
Okay, perhaps Madeline makes little things into really big deals, but man is it fun to watch. Reese Witherspoon in bitch mode is impossible to turn away from. There were many must-watch moments in this episode, only heightened by Jean-Marc Vallée’s great direction and exceptional music choices. I have Leon Bridges’ “River” on repeat now in my car. How about all of you? If only each episode could come with a playlist.
But let’s get back to the show. Ed’s transformation from mild-mannered spouse into a deliberate, stand-up guy not willing to be run over by his dominant wife was well worth the wait and brilliantly played by Adam Scott in all his hirsute glory. We learned a lot more about the complicated and, let’s be honest, totally f—ed up relationship between Celeste and Perry, and though we knew Alexander Skarsgard could be a good villain from his years on True Blood, watching the switch flip from caring husband to raging maniac is impossible to ignore. Meanwhile, the mystery of Jane continues. We get another glimpse at her incident in the blue dress and what that night possibly resulted in, but we still don’t have the full story. When she breaks down in the middle of the elementary school, we understand for a moment that her past and her struggles parenting Ziggy are intertwined. (Okay, we also read the book and know what’s coming.)
When we first see Witherspoon looking out into the ocean, contemplating what’s underneath the surface, she gives us a clue as to what’s happening in the pristine town of Monterey: Are there monsters, dreams, sunken treasure out there? Perhaps a little bit of each.
Poor Ziggy doesn’t want to go to school. It’s the first full day of 1st grade and the 6 year old is terrified that everyone is going to hate him because they think he choked Renata’s daughter Amabella. He doesn’t understand why he and his mom left their family in Santa Cruz to come to Monterey, and Jane doesn’t help him out; she just offers to repeat their little family’s mantra: “Every day we are going to be brave.”
Bravery seems to be a theme of this week’s show.
We see Madeline yelling into the phone at the director of her Avenue Q play. He wants to give up because of the controversy surrounding the production, and she’s angry he’s even considering it. Perhaps it’s not the bravest act, but she sure as hell isn’t going to let anybody say no to her. “I’m a lady, and I’ve never said this to anyone in my entire life, but I’m going to say it to you: You go f— yourself on the head,” she yells into the phone. Hilarious.
I hope each and every one of you use that slur soon. So good and so corny at the same time.
Madeline’s rage mode continues, and when she pulls into the drop-off line to talk to Jane, she gets honked at. It’s at that moment that she turns, looks into the rearview mirror, and yells, “Get laid, bitch.” Again, another line I suggest you add to your repertoire. Her resolve against Renata is only strengthened when she learns that Renata’s daughter passed out invitations to everyone in the class except for poor Ziggy. Hooray, Madeline has a new cause.
Madeline hits peak Madeline mode when she retreats to wine with Celeste after fighting with Ed. Renata comes running up to the two ladies, hoping to enlist Celeste in her cause to keep the VA hospital open. Only then does Madeline turn the subject to Amabella’s ill-fated birthday party, which she tells Renata her daughter Chloe won’t be attending since Ziggy wasn’t invited. Renata loses it and whispers in her ear, “Don’t f— with my daughter’s party,” only to have Madeline call her a c–t when she walks away. Seriously, the rage operating beneath this woman’s perky blonde exterior knows no bounds.
The response to the birthday party feels extreme, but then her reaction to the news that her ex-husband’s new wife Bonnie drove Madeline’s teenage daughter to Planned Parenthood feels totally merited. If only she had called her a “f—in pygmy” to her face. She really said that, right? Wow. Makes you wonder if Witherspoon improvised any of this or it was all in David E. Kelley’s script.
NEXT: Jane’s problems escalate
Let’s switch now to Jane. She’s trying to get more accounting work. She’s literally running away from her demons, on the beach at full speed. And yet she can’t seem to escape whatever happened in that blue dress. She’s still trying to deal with the accusations about Ziggy when a new one pops up: Apparently Ziggy tried kissing Amabella during class, and now there is talk of sexual assault. Madeline’s daughter Chloe orchestrated the whole thing, playing Leon Bridges’ “River,” and apparently Nathan and Bonnie’s daughter Skye also encouraged the reunion. Apparently it didn’t go so well and now a meeting has been called, Renata is threatening legal action, and Jane isn’t sure what kind of kid she has on her hands. She breaks down in the hallway of the school after the meeting, and it’s heartbreaking. She’s trying to do this on her own, she’s caught up in drama that’s much bigger than she is (the principal calls the parents “f—in kamikazes”), and it’s just not clear that the support Madeline is offering is helping much at all — especially when Madeline turns the birthday party into a war by inviting the class to Disney on Ice the same day as Amabella’s party. So much drama.
And yet, I’m saving the best for last. We need to talk about Celeste and Perry. We first see the gorgeous duo driving their darling twin boys to school. He’s apologizing for last night’s abuse. She’s suggesting they finding a new counselor. It’s just another day in the life of a harmful marriage. All seems peaceful for the moment, but that, of course, changes in an instant when they pull into the parking lot of the school and Celeste tells Perry they can’t go inside — they are supposed to just drop the boys off and move on. Switch flipped, and darkness clouds those beautiful features of Mr. Skarsgard.
We then go home, and you just know things are going to get bad. The scene in the closet is not easy to watch. Perry is so cruel with his words and obviously with his actions. What’s fascinating is that Celeste fights back. He slaps her across the face, and she hits him right back. But he’s stronger than she is, and when he throws her into the closet door, it’s brutal. But to then have the scene twist into a sexual moment is confusing. Is he raping her? No, she pulls down his pants. Does she do so to quell the abuse because she knows it’s the only way to end the physical violence? This isn’t a normal, loving relationship, and you’ve got to wonder how far it’s going to go. He’s deranged. She’s damaged. She’s given up her career to be his wife, and with no independence, how trapped does she feel? She admits later to Madeline, “Sometimes I think he likes to fight because it leads to sex. Sometimes I think I like it, too.” There is a lot to unpack here.
And it only becomes more extreme once Perry leaves for Vienna and sends her flowers, and then they have Skype sex. No matter how sexy the scenes are, and Kidman is really great here, the bruises down her shoulder are striking. No amount of flowers are enough to repay the damage, even with cards that say, “I love you more than you’ll ever know.” The real question is: What is her breaking point? Clearly one is coming and likely coming fast. What did you think of all of this? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did they take it too far?
Things we loved this episode:
All the music
Ed’s brilliant combination of spandex and righteousness
Celeste and Perry: Where does it end?
We learned very little about this crazy murder this episode. Just a whole lot more about the complicated psychoses of those swirling around it.
While waiting for next week’s episode, take a listen to Leon Bridges and try out some Madeline taunts. I for one am going big on, “Get laid, bitch.”
Big Little Lies