Little Fires Everywhere boss breaks down the finale and who started the fire
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday's season finale of Little Fires Everywhere.
When Little Fires Everywhere began, the Richardson house was on fire. And for eight episodes, the question has been: Was it Izzy who set the fire? And now we know that the answer is ... not exactly.
In a change from Celeste Ng's book, the show had Izzy start things, but it was her siblings who finished the job after Elena told Izzy that she never wanted her in the first place, prompting her youngest daughter to leave. In that moment, as their family crumbled, Lexie, Trip, and Moody weren't just burning down their house. They were also burning down their lives as the "perfect" Richardson family.
EW spoke with showrunner Liz Tigelaar about crafting the season's powerful ending.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's start with the scream heard around Shaker Heights when Elena yells at Lexie. Why did you all decide to go so big with that moment?
LIZ TIGELAAR: We went through a lot of debate on what take to use on that actually. And when Reese [Witherspoon] saw it, she was like, "Definitely, okay, it's big." But she said, "That's how mothers and daughters scream at each other." And of course, that was the last moment before the kids start the fire. So it just felt like this desperate, animalistic scream, almost on par with Bebe's wailing. I felt like by the end, every noise that was coming out of every woman was so animalistic and raw and guttural and from the depths of their body. We loved it.
Obviously, the biggest change from the book in terms of the ending was having all the siblings burn the house down together. Why did that feel like the right ending?
When I pitched it initially, we talked about the ending and this idea that for the TV adaptation we wanted there to be more of a mystery than there was in the book. Because in the book, on the first page, it was Izzy, and we thought why give that away for the series? We wanted it to surprise the audience and also have it be an ending that builds off the premise of Izzy burning the house down but make it even more complex and layered, hopefully.
Was anyone else considered?
We talked about this idea of Elena and what it would mean for Elena to burn her own house down. And we didn't exactly buy it, but we thought what a cool concept and what a far place to take a character. And then as I started thinking about it, I was like, okay, well then who would it be? Would it be Lexie? Would it be Moody? Would it be Trip? Why one of them more than the other? How do we build that story? And then it just clicked, this idea of: Why can't it be all of them? And we'll give them even bigger arcs in the series that will really earn what they've discovered about themselves by the end and what it means to live in this house and be a Richardson and who they are. And that in this moment, they're getting to choose who they want to continue to be. They have this great moment where Elena and Izzy build to a fever pitch and they're for the first time able to really see how it feels to be Izzy and not align with their mom and really see what it must feel like for her to be in this family. And that starts to shift. And then obviously where it goes between Lexie and Elena and this idea that they can't be imperfect and they can't be who they are and that they don't fully like who they are. So they take this collective action. Also, just in terms of arson and the believability of people doing this, it felt like it had to be slightly misguided but something that teenage brains would do and something that needed to happen really fast without thinking about it.
One of the saddest parts is that Izzy isn't there to see her siblings back her.
In the initial pitch, I talked about this idea of them sending the smoke signal to Izzy saying, "We did it. We did the thing you started. We did it for you and we did it for us, but if you come home now it's not going to be the same home. We might not have this home but you're going to have us." And I think that was a nice build from them sitting on the couch at the end of episode 7, so distant and so wanting solace and comfort in each other but not getting it, to feel like if Izzy were to reappear, you feel like they would all just run to her. And that's nothing that they've ever done.
And then having Elena take the fall for it felt like a huge moment for her character.
Motherhood is raising your kids to be better than you were. And it's taking everything you know and imparting it to them. And of course, what you're imparting can be positive and can be negative. But she has raised these children to do this, even if they're doing it in reaction to her. And then, of course, it's also this idea of your children being able to do maybe what you weren't brave enough to do. We see it with Elena not wanting to have a fourth child, and we see Lexie's choice in episode 5 of she's not going to have a baby that she doesn't want to have. Elena can take ownership of starting the fire because she knows that Izzy grabbed the gasoline and the kids lit the match, but she started this. So in a weird way, it's a way that Elena can see her own culpability and responsibility.
Another change from the book was Mia's final art piece. How did you all decide on what that would be?
That art piece was tough. Amy Talkington was our resident artist in the room who conceived of all the art and then Connie Martin Trevino was our artist, our brilliant Mia. And then Jess Kender was our amazing production designer. The three of them really did this all in tandem, but we always liked this idea for this final piece that it has to do with the whiteness of this town and all these houses embedded in this thick flour where they're immovable. And then of course, in place of the Richardson house is this gold cage and inside the cage is this feather. And we created this backstory of how Izzy got the feather, and then we layered in Mia taking that feather. I love the ending. The final art piece took my breath away. To watch Reese as Elena processing it and seeing this cage. She's felt caged, she has been the cage, and then there's this idea that she could be free of the cage and that essentially her children have freed her. And then that last moment at the end was Amy's pitch, that the last word of the show should be Elena finally saying, "Izzy," which we've never heard her say. So then we went back and we took out all the "Izzys." We made sure Elena never once said "Izzy," so that when it landed at the end it would feel like: I'm finally seeing my daughter for who she is.
I also want to talk about that final moment with Mia. She sends Pearl into the house, but she's not able to go with her. Why was that significant for the character?
That was something we really worked on with Kerry [Washington], this idea that she would bring her up to the house but she couldn't go in herself. And then at the last minute, we decided: But what if she got out of the car and we didn't see her go in? We see that for the first time she's considering: Could she?
This isn't finale specific, but another big change from the books was Mia and Pauline's relationship, which was purely platonic in the books. Why did you all want to tell a different story with Mia's sexuality?
I really loved this idea of telling the story, which I think is truthful of how lines can blur for women and how you can have these loves and that there are all of these lines that they kind of cross, where it's like, are you a mother? Are you my mentor? Are you my idol? Do I want to be with you? Do I want to be you? And certainly, Mia's relationship to Pauline wasn't the same as Izzy's relationship to Mia. And certainly, you can look now at Mia's relationship with Pauline through a 2020 lens and question that power dynamic and all sorts of things. But in the '80s in New York, in this art scene, it felt very truthful. We just wanted to show that parallel and show Izzy that there is another way and that you can live a truthful life, and that you also don't have to always declare exactly what you are, you know? I really wanted Izzy to see herself reflected in Mia and to see a person standing in front of her who was leading a really authentic life. In the book, Mia was a virgin. So we talked a lot about that as well, and we wanted to portray that she was a black woman who felt very free and very authentic and not that there was a repressed side of her that she wasn't exploring.
Little Fires Everywhere (TV Show)