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Ain’t no party like a Big Little Lies disco party

Photo: Jennifer Clasen (HBO)
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The midpoint of this midseason episode of Big Little Lies hits its apex right where it should: Amabella’s ’70s disco party. You gotta hand it to the solid citizens of Monterey. Even though a previous dress-up party ended in disaster, that’s not going to stop them from going all out a year or so later. So everyone, even relatives visiting from out of town, dolls up in glamorous wigs and bell bottoms—even Ed, with only 24 hours’ notice. The costumers and hairstylists obviously had a lot of fun, so Amabella’s—and Renata’s—last hurrah looks spectacular.

The party was also an inspired plot move: It heightens the tension by putting all of our getting-more-anxious-by-the-minute characters in the same room (except for Mary Louise, although I couldn’t help but wonder what she would have dressed up as). That one lie, as it’s been threatening to all season, is about to break everyone wide open. The episode title says as much, but which “she” are we talking about here?

Almost all of our main characters are in crisis, some big-lie-related, some not. The breakdown of Madeline’s marriage can be traced to the things she’s been keeping from her husband (including sleeping with the theater director), Celeste’s hidden guilt is making her mother-in-law suspicious and now she’s in danger of losing her kids. Renata’s husband’s bankruptcy and Bonnie’s mother’s stroke are unrelated, but still, they’re all is in such dire straits that even Renata remarks on it. And that police detective seems ready to swoop down on all of them at any time.

With everyone at their lowest points, what do you do when everything falls apart? Sometimes it causes you to cut to the chase, like with Madeline telling Ed to just leave already, if he’s actually going to. Celeste is taking refuge in Ambien (do we really think that’s all it is?) with frequently disastrous results. A humbled Renata appears to have gone through a personality shift, as she’s now a sympathetic sounding board, eager to help Madeline and Celeste even after she’s beaten down in her bankruptcy hearing. And Bonnie is at the bedside of her stroke-stricken mother, who’s having visions of her own daughter’s death.

The show is losing me a bit here: Elizabeth’s vision of Bonnie floating in water is definitely the trippiest the show has gotten, a supernatural element where none existed before. What are Elizabeth—and Bonnie’s—premonitions supposed to signify? What will it mean if one of Bonnie’s frequent dips in the ocean does turn fatal—that Elizabeth is actually psychic?

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Just as spooky, but better because it seems like a vision that someone would actually have, was Celeste’s glimpse of Perry withdrawing while she has sex with the cute bartender. A bit on the nose, but we’ll allow it; after last week’s realization that she was way too attached to her dead husband, Celeste is trying to break away, although she’s doing so in a bit of a self-destructive manner. The advantage of this season of Big Little Lies is that it’s showing what a long tail some of these events can have. In a limited series (like this show once was), we wouldn’t see Jane trying to date again while still dealing with her rape. Celeste’s grief for Perry is beyond complicated, and none of these situations are going to have easy, wrap-up-by-the-end-of-hour solutions.

But with only three episodes left, where are we headed? The somewhat obvious expectation is that the truth will have to come out eventually. Will it set these women free? Renata will still be broke, Celeste still a widow. Maybe—the guilt factored in with everything else that they’re dealing with is making the situation unconscionable. Now we know that Renata knows some good lawyers, surely some brilliant legal mind could spin this in their favor? Who knows what the consequences would be for all of them (now that the other four are accomplices in covering up the fact that Bonnie pushed Perry to his death), but at some point anything would have to be better than having this horrible secret hanging over their heads. There are a lot of questions about why they went that route—maybe it would be have been an easy self-defense call—but as Celeste says this episode, they weren’t thinking clearly. Madeline, the leader, came up with a plan and she might have been thinking about everyone’s status as mothers: What happens to their kids if they go to jail, especially Celeste and Jane’s? At the time, it must have seemed like the easiest route, only to be foiled by a detective who doesn’t seem to have much else to do than to track these women almost constantly.

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And now, the lie has taken over their whole lives. Maybe Mary Louise is so tuned into it because she’s a liar herself. Tonight we learned the vagaries about Perry’s brother’s accident and that she herself was blamed for it. But what seems likely is that Perry killed him and she took the blame. Mary Louise has probably always known Perry was a psychopath, but with no other family left, she had no choice but devote her life to him. Celeste’s two boys offer her the chance to start all over again, leaving Celeste in the worst position imaginable, and as her insightful therapist predicts, headed for a world of even more hurt. A custody battle would probably make Celeste even more likely to keep the lie bottled up for good. But as all our characters are showing cracks around the edges. we know that can’t last forever.

Stray observations

  • This week’s Big Little Lies power rankings: 1) Jane. 2) Madeline, for telling Ed to put up or shut up. 3) Renata, putting on a brave face after bankruptcy court. 4) Celeste. 5) Bonnie.
  • “Tell me to stop talking, please. Like all the time.”
  • That “foreplay” line though… wow. Meryl Streep once again killing it.
  • Best mom outfit: Once again, this award goes to Renata for the orange Halloween sweater and cat ears.
  • Best disco outfit: Soft spot for Madeline’s baseball-style jacket, since I used to have one myself. In satin!
  • Even the twins’ pumpkins are violent.
  • Actively pushing for a Bonnie-Ed hookup at this point, they’re so cute together.
  • Mary Louise doesn’t even get a thank you from Bonnie for the “I would have remembered someone so beautiful” line.
  • Why does this show keep wasting time (precious moments in another shorter episode) on Ed and Nathan’s stupid rivalry? They’re obviously never going to resolve this, so why bother?
  • I was rewatching this season with some friends and I can’t believe I missed Madeline’s line in episode one when she’s on the phone and says she regrets complimenting Jane on her bangs. Tonight her hair looked worse than ever, like some kind of helmet wig.
  • Next week: Going out on a limb to predict that we see Madeline and Ed on that retreat in Big Sur, just because that would be fun to see.
  • I wrote a longer discussion on the many moods of Renata here if you want to chime in on this season’s breakout character that’s not a manipulative cardigan-wearing grandmother.
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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.