Big Little Lies finale recap: 'You Get What You Need'
We made it! It’s the seventh and final episode of Big Little Lies, a series that investigated and celebrated complex women. Settled in the tony beachfront community of Monterey, Big Little Lies had the audacity to examine mothering, divorce, infidelity, domestic violence, and the fractious divide between working and stay-at-home moms. And it did it with a generosity and kindness not usually afforded characters like this. Even the villain, and there is a great villain, earned a bit of sympathy from us. With out further ado, let’s get going. For this episode we will take it chronologically, since the big climax involves all our leading ladies.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée opens the episode on air vents, a seemingly innocuous image that emits some unclear noises into the basement room where the Wright twins play video games. Meanwhile, upstairs, their mother Celeste screams as she lands on the floor. She starts shaking and crying — for what may be the first time — from the blows Perry has thrown. She balls up into the fetal position, clearly terrified of her husband, afraid of his touch.
We then switch to Madeline, who’s rushing Chloe off to school, looking agitated and irritated while Ed tells her that Abigail has yet to launch her secret prostitute project on Facebook. The news should come as a welcome relief, but Madeline is distracted. And that feeling only intensifies when she walks to her car and sees a grey Nissan slowly slinking past her driveway. It’s Tori, Joseph’s wife, and Madeline is creeped out by the feeling she’s being watched. Ed sees the car too, but it looks like he’s still in the dark.
Madeline goes straight to see Joseph, but any flame he carried for her has now turned into fury. While Madeline calls Tori “Glenn Close” in a reference to Fatal Attraction, Joseph throws any insult he can find at Madeline, with choice lines like, “F—ing me for three months like a mad hyena,” before uttering, “You think you own this town because you have money.” He calls her a “rich bitch” and orders her out of his office, but not before telling her he will see her tonight at the gala. It’s unsettling, to say the least, and Madeline leaves a bit shaken. Will Joseph enact his revenge for dissing him tonight?
Celeste then bursts into her therapist’s office. (It’s interesting how this woman only seems to have Celeste as a client.) Nonetheless, Celeste is distraught, she’s crying she’s hurt, and though she can barely make out her doctor in that dark space, she tells her the plan. She and Perry will go to the school gala that evening, and when Perry leaves in the morning, she will move to the apartment with her boys.
The therapist is clearly miffed that Celeste still has to keep up appearances and go to trivia night. “Your husband is ill, Celeste, but so are you,” she says. But Celeste is adamant and still holds on to the charade that Perry would never hurt her children.
Now we switch to Ziggy, who is trying to get out of going to school. He won’t say why, but Jane finally gets Ziggy to admit who is bullying Amabella. He’s scared to do so. Amabella made him promise for fear that if the perpetrator is identified, Amabella “might get killed dead.” But Jane persists, and Ziggy points to the bully in the class picture.
It’s Max, Celeste’s son.
Things just got real. This might feel like too neat of a resolution. But I would argue that by making the abuser’s son the school bully, the ramifications of spousal abuse become very clear.
Madeline and Jane are then seen drinking coffee at Blue Blues when Gordon Klein, the whiniest cast member of all, shows up in a completely unnecessary scene to threaten Jane. Since Jane and Renata have already made up, him threatening her seems wholly useless. But perhaps the writers felt it was a needed moment so they could introduce Tom’s interest in Jane, for Tom kicks Gordon out of the shop before telling Jane he was looking for a way to impress her. To which Jane responds, “You’re straight.” Ha! Thanks for the moment of levity.
Nathan and Madeline are then given a moment together at school. Nathan tells her he and Bonnie went to see a counselor, looking for advice on how to deal with a teenage daughter. Madeline responds with a good deal of attitude before taking a breath and actually complimenting him. Nathan responds with, “Despite all of our s—, I root for you.” It’s the first moment of respect the two give each other the whole series. But good things aren’t meant to last. Nathan has to tell Madeline that Bonnie is singing at trivia night, just to give Madeline a little dig.
Celeste returns to her new apartment, putting together her new home while images of Perry’s latest attack flood her. The images are quick cuts, put together with no music, and the result is quite affecting. Perry throws her over the chair, he chokes her, he punches her in the stomach so she collapses on the ground. It’s the most severe he’s been yet, and Celeste has hit the breaking point. She’s crying in the apartment when her phone rings, a call that will give her the final piece of information she needs to finally leave her marriage.
The call is, of course, from Jane, and she tells Celeste that Max has been bullying Amabella all year. What’s worse is she’s not his only victim. He’s also thrown Skye down the stairs and has been hurting her too. While Jane is trying to make her feel better with lines like, “Kids bully. It’s human nature. They grow out of it,” Celeste knows too much, only to say, “Sometimes they don’t.”
And we get a quick flash of the air vent again, but this time we hear the noises, and it’s Celeste screaming and gasping for air as she tries to escape her abuser, her husband, her children’s father.
Then Celeste has her moment of ultimate strength. It’s when she goes to talk to Max. She doesn’t yell at him; she doesn’t punish him. She talks to him and tells him she loves him. She has to break the cycle of abuse, and she’s chosen this moment to do so.
Madeline, who has now chosen Abigail as her No. 1 confidante, regales her teenage daughter with the details of her contentious meeting with Joseph. It’s an odd moment. It’s one thing to share your flaws with your daughter, but disclosing the latest episode of your drama with her feels like a step too far. But what do I know. It seems the confiding has worked. Abigail drops her plan and, all feels resolved between mother and daughter.
It’s almost time for Otter Bay’s big trivia night, and Celeste is just a few hours away from escaping from Perry. That is, until he picks up her phone call from Tracy, the property manager, advising her that the smoke alarms will be put in Monday. And… her jig is up. The terror that crosses her face is palpable. She’s reluctant to leave the house. I don’t know about you all, but my heart started beating faster. I was sure afraid for her.
Meanwhile, the guests are arriving at the gala. Madeline, dressed in Audrey Hepburn’s tuxedo nightgown look, complete with satin sleep mask, shows up with clean-shaven Ed. They practically run into Joseph and Tori, setting a weird tone for the night and giving Ed way too many reasons to start to suspect Madeline’s infidelity.
So Madeline starts drinking. And so does Ed, for that matter.
Perry pulls right through the valet line and parks his car overlooking a bluff. He’s begging Celeste to keep him. He’s desperate, but she’s resolute. There’s nothing that’s going to change her mind now.
Bonnie starts singing Elvis’ “Don’t,” and its beautiful. Ed loves the performance and tells Madeline so. She only answers with, “I’m sure the room is full of erections.” He agrees with her. Another brief moment of levity.
Jane shows up with Tom, much to Madeline’s surprise.
We switch back to Perry and Celeste, and she finally escapes the car, once Renata innocently knocks on the window.
Back in the party, Ed is about to sing. He pauses, sees Tori looking at Madeline; everyone is staring at him. He swigs his triple vodka and gathers some courage. He has to know at this point, right? He knows. But then he begins singing, and it only makes Madeline feel worse. She’s drunk, her husband is singing her a love song — “The Wonder of You” — and Madeline starts crying. She runs out of the room with Jane following her. And poor Ed is left on stage without his wife rooting him on.
Celeste runs into the party looking for her friends, looking for an escape from Perry. She finds Renata. Tells her the truth about her son.
Nathan and Ed get into it after Ed’s performance. The two start pushing each other, only for Ed to spill a drink on Bonnie. Then Bonnie sees Perry grab Celeste, and we watch her follow Celeste out of the party. It’s unclear why she’s so invested.
Renata, Madeline, Celeste, and Jane all meet on the top of the stairs, and Madeline apologizes to Renata, drunk and embarrassed about her behavior. Then it all goes to s—. Perry comes down the stairs. Celeste won’t leave with him. And then Jane gasps and grabs Madeline’s arm, and the three of them realize that Perry is in fact Saxon Banks, Ziggy’s father, Jane’s rapist. It’s all too much. He starts running toward them. And we cut to flashing lights and the same crime scene that opened the series seven long episodes ago.
The victim is out on the back terrace and we still don’t really know who it is. But we do, right? It’s at this moment when I wish I didn’t read the book. Would I like this conclusion more or less had I not known whose body was lying on the step? And who’s the one who caused him/her to be there?
But it’s Perry. Dead on his back. In his awful Elvis costume and what looks like a knife in his throat, but perhaps its just a piece of rebar from the under-construction stairwell. All of the women are giving their testimony. And all are done without audio. Except for Celeste. She is badly beaten. There are bruises all over her, and as the story goes, He kicked me again and that’s when he took a step back and fell.
The cops don’t believe them. They know they are lying. But they don’t understand why.
We cut to the funeral. Bonnie appears especially bereft. Celeste walks the boys away from the grave site. She hugs Jane, whom she’s now tied to forever. Ziggy is her twins’ half-brother, and both women have been hurt by Perry.
It’s all very neat, but does that make it any less satisfying?
The women are all on the beach with their children.
And then we get the details.
We flash again to Perry running at the five women. It’s a melee. He’s out of control, beating on Celeste and any other woman who tries to defend her. Bonnie sees it all from up above, and something clicks. She runs to these women and unexpectedly pushes him down the stairs. If you read the book, you’d know that Bonnie had an abusive father. It’s not addressed here at all, which makes her involvement in the fracas a bit confusing, though it does provide good reason why all the women are going to such lengths to hide the real murderer. A self-defense plea won’t really work for Bonnie in this scenario.
Madeline and Bonnie hug. Madeline hugs Ed. He must know, but after this tragedy it feels like the two of the might just slide all concerns about infidelity under the rug. Jane cries on Tom’s shoulders, and Nathan and Madeline seem to come to an understanding.
Is this really where we are leaving these characters? Yes, the mystery is solved. No one is going to jail. The bad guy got his due, but do we really end here? I don’t know about you guys, but I could spend more time with these characters. A second season might not feel as organic, but there is certainly more to tell. What happened to Bonnie? Where does Celeste go from here? How will Madeline fill the void in her life? And what will Jane do now that revenge is not clouding her judgment?
The five women look out at their children and the ocean for a moment of redemption. It’s unlikely they will all receive that, but as the lyrics of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” plays, there is certainly a sense of satisfaction.
What did you all think? Too neat and tidy? Were you satisfied? Let me know. It was fun recounting these women with you. Hope you enjoyed the ride.