Big Little Lies recap: 'Push Comes to Shove'
Madeline's marriage hits a turning point as Jane confronts her fears about Ziggy
This week’s episode is titled “Push Comes to Shove,” or, the alternate version: “When the S— Hits the Fan.”
Okay, what is happening in Monterey? Ed just turned into an Elvis-crooning creeper; Madeline is making out with her theater director, whom she’s apparently canoodled with before. (I do believe that’s the first time I’ve ever written the word canoodle, but hey, BLL inspires strange things in all of us). Celeste is getting all lawyer-y in the most gorgeous $4,000 suit you’ve ever seen, and Jane is literally about to jump off a cliff.
S— is cray in Monterey.
We’ll begin this episode with Madeline, the complicated stay-at-home mother who is struggling with the lack of control she now has over her teenage daughter, who’s just moved in with her ex-husband. The episode begins with Madeline driving to have lunch with Nathan — flashing back to Abigail leaving home while Alabama Shakes’ “The Feeling” plays in the background. She’s there to lambaste him for canceling Abigail’s SAT tutoring sessions. And even though he doesn’t know how to say the word “chasms,” which I found hilarious, she agrees to a dinner with Bonnie and Nathan to discuss their “transitional parenting paradigm.”
This was the moment we got to watch yet another BLL man turn on his rage — Nathan freaking out about being criticized for his shortcomings, clearly the reason he ran out on Madeline all those years ago. And the pain he feels having to carry Bonnie’s water. I think his idea of shoving an electric eel up his ass isn’t half bad. As much as this miniseries examines the challenges of these women, often in a very sympathetic and generous manner, the men here are not treated in similar fashion. That in itself makes this show feel unique.
Now when we talk about Madeline, we have to talk about Ed. Just when I said he wins the prize for best husband on BLL, he loses it. Sure, his duet with Chloe to Elvis’ “Pocket Full of Dreams” was super cute, but it’s not enough to redeem him for his love of costume dress up. Hey may be Madeline’s “nut job,” but the whole matter is giving his beard a bad name. Add in his scene at Bonnie’s Piloxing class, peering through the window and then muttering, “I love sweat on women,” and he’s falling fast in my eyes. Then he calls Bonnie “a seemingly perfect step-mom,” and takes a creepy side-glance at the women walking into the studio, and he becomes yet another typical man. So disappointing.
But maybe that’s because Madeline is making out with her theater director. Sure, the guy is hot. The hair alone tops Ed’s immediately, but I wasn’t expecting Madeline to be the one to walk out on that marriage, considering she was previously left.
Did you all feel the same? And though I loved her confession to Celeste, including the “I might have grabbed his ass,” moment, things turned quickly when he showed up unexpectedly to confront Madeline. You could feel stalker all over it, and the exciting, spontaneous moment suddenly turned into something with much graver consequences. Will Joseph Bachman (Santiago Cabrera) blow up the MacKenzie family? We’ve got three more episodes to find out.
Turns out the stunning beauty also happens to be a terrific lawyer. And her performance during the meeting with the town’s ribald mayor is excellent. It also comes after a challenging chat with her husband, where she taunts him and asks if he’s going to hit her after he conveys his displeasure with her helping out her friend by using her law degree.
The meeting is a huge victory for both Celeste and Madeline. Celeste feels renewed — also awakened, but in a new way. For the first time in six years, she’s used her brain, she’s exercised her professional self again, a self that’s been unfairly shut away by an abusive, controlling husband and the selfless requirement of motherhood. In fact, the mere idea of her having another kid is such a power play, it’s infuriating. You know the thrill she experiences isn’t something she’s going to be willing to give up, considering how it’s made her feel. And the conversation she has with Madeline is such an honest depiction of the challenges women often grapple with. Those lucky enough to have a choice in whether they work or not are no less conflicted about giving up those careers to raise children. Celeste feels enormous guilt when she says, “Being a mother isn’t enough.” She actually feels evil for admitting it. It may be an old debate, but it’s still felt. Madeline agrees. “Their lives were everything,” says Madeline about her two girls. “I forgot I had my own.”
That victory is quickly contrasted with yet another brutal choking scene between Perry and Celeste. He’s clearly trying to reform, but his need to control her is being threatened by her renewed sense of her career self. And he grabs her again by the throat, this time in the morning when the kids are getting ready for school. Luckily their son interrupts the abuse, a moment framed brilliantly, where we don’t get to see Kidman’s face — it’s only shot at kid-eye level, where we know the abuse is happening but can’t register the emotional toll it’s taking. What are the boys seeing? How are they absorbing this? That’s something that’s sure to come to light in the upcoming episodes.
Since she’s revealed her well-hidden secret to Madeline, she feels her body waking up. “Keeping it a secret helped the abuse retain its power.” Her response surprised me, simply for its honesty. It’s rare for television shows depict how rape victims process their trauma. It all read very real to me. Did you guys agree?
Yet, despite her newfound awareness, Jane is still thinking about moving back to Santa Cruz.
Ziggy is sleepwalking, and while Jane continues to fret about his behavior, he reassures her that she doesn’t need to find his dad to make him happy. “You don’t have to look for him if that’s what you’re doing. We’ll be fine.”
Jane then has to meet with Ziggy’s teacher, who schedules the meet-up off campus as a way of shielding Jane and Ziggy from the prying eyes of the busybodies at Otter Bay Elementary. That doesn’t do much to lessen the blow when she tells Jane that she believes Ziggy is still bullying Amabella. And you see Jane’s eyes blaze when the teacher asks if perhaps something in Ziggy’s past has made him this way. Clearly, underlying everything Jane does in relation to her son is the idea that any violence Ziggy exhibits is something he’s inherited from his abusive father. That fear is all over Shailene Woodley’s face when she yells at the teacher after she asks the question. For if that were true, it would suggest that she made the wrong choice by having the child, conceived from rape.
I have to once again commend Jean-Marc Vallée for his surprising, and always inventive, musical choices for his episodes: playing the trippy “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane during Jane and Ziggy’s eventful Aquarium/baseball on the beach/pizza playdate — a playdate that precedes Jane breaking the news that he’s going to see a child psychologist. It’s pitch perfect in a moment that feels out of tune for Jane.
Jane and Ziggy then meet with a child psychologist. Both women playing these doctors are cast perfectly, and both are so needed for these main characters. Celeste’s makes her question why she is afraid of her husband, why she is afraid to talk to him, while Jane’s reassures her that Ziggy is not a bully and, more importantly, is not some kind of sociopath. That’s key for Jane, who is so petrified that he some sort of evil genius who can be one way in front of her only turn into a monster with Amabella.
All three women are at crucial turning points in their stories, and while the murder on campus is supposed to be the critical element of the story, getting there, learning about these women, is the real reward.
Big Little Lies