Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Big Little Lies starts tearing down the walls of artifice

Madeline and Ed at a crossroads. Photo: HBO
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

The beautiful homes on display in Big Little Lies aren’t there by accident: Their perfect facades bely the varying levels of tempestuousness that reside in each. This week, as BLL deftly maneuvers all of its pieces in place for next week’s finale, the facades finally begin to crack, as Madeline, Celeste, and Renata all decide to let go of the destructive elements they’ve been holding onto for far too long.


Nicole Kidman’s Celeste has become the character we most root for, and most worry about, so much so that she elicits a silent cheer when she whacks her abusive husband with a tennis racket, even as we’re terrified as to what that will mean for her. She finds out when Perry tells her, “You’re lucky I didn’t kill you.” Many abusive relationships spend a lot of time in a maddening cycle; the exemplary behavior that Perry exhibits after an attack, as Celeste describes to the therapist, is intended to win the abused over again, to lull her into a place of false security until the next attack happens, and they escalate each time. Then, for many women (using “women” here because we know that the majority of these types of relationship are male-female dyads), they finally have a moment of reckoning: This person who says that they love them might actually kill them. And in far too many instances, that’s exactly what happens.

As has been emblematic of Nicole Kidman’s quiet, commanding performance here, we see the change on her face the moment it happens. That shock of realization: She has to get out to save her life. To save her kids from being raised by only a monster (and it’s interesting that the “play” persona Perry now takes on most often is just that, an intrusive monster). Her therapist may be unconventional (“Call the Better Business Bureau” elicited one of the few chuckles this episode) but her methods are sound: She’s doing what she needs to do to get Celeste out of danger. Just having a safe place, away from Perry, now means the world to Celeste.

(An aside: That conversation, though, did highlight how relatively easy an escape was for Celeste to set up, because she has means, and how near-impossible it would be for so many who lack her financial situation. To come up with rent, a security deposit, money for utilities, as well as a whole new fleet of furniture and groceries, adds up to thousands of dollars. And many of these women may have partners who are in complete control of their finances, if they even have that kind of disposable income available.)

So Celeste finally fights back, and after weeks of seeing her brutalized, we cheer her for it. But it’s also interesting that she only took one-half of her therapist’s advice. It was easier for Celeste to set up an entire new apartment than to actually open up to Madeline about her abuse. She points that self-awareness out to the therapist, that so much of her own self-worth comes from how other people see her. Even her closest friend thinks her life is “north of perfect,” when the actual reality is far from that. Could Celeste be afraid of losing Madeline’s love and admiration by revealing that her “perfect life” is a fraud? Or is she just terrified overall by what might happen when the whole facade comes tumbling down?


Madeline may be projecting a perfect life onto Celeste because she feels so adrift in her own. She knows that nothing will never be right between her and Ed until she tells him the truth about Joseph, but she fails to so so, even with a variety of opportunities this episode. Interestingly, like Celeste opening up to her therapist, Madeline reveals her secret to a different person: Abby, instead of Ed. Like Celeste, Madeline is sick of her daughter thinking she’s perfect, just like Celeste is fed-up with Madeline’s too-rosy view of her life.

It’s a staunch reminder that everyone is dealing with something, It brings to mind this line from Alan Alda’s movie The Four Seasons, which was apparently improvised by Carol Burnett, after her movie husband (Alda) calls her perfect: “How dare you call me perfect? When I’m perfect, I cease to exist!” Which is true: No one is perfect. We all know those couples in our circles who host the ideal veneer, then suddenly break up , and all the imperfections they’ve been hiding tumble out.


Madeline and Ed ‘s conversation about marriage is revealing as well: He says a lot of what makes a successful marriage is pretending. Madeline and Ed go along like the marriage is fine, when the lack of passion obviously bothers them both. But that’s a problem they can easily work on together, once Madeline reveals her infidelity and they both move on from there, morphing their marriage into something that’s a little less perfect, and a little more real. Celeste’s reality, though, can’t include Perry in it for her to be able to survive.

For Renata, the main thing she’s struggled with is control, so it’s a relief to see her let some of that drop away as well. I know I rave about Laura Dern a lot, but she adds so many layers to this role that could have been just straight-up villainous. Jane, for once, does the absolute right thing by coming to Renata’s house and opening up about her fears and feelings of helplessness about Ziggy. As with Kidman, Dern silently lets us know Renata’s change in attitude, even behind a huge eye patch. All the tension releases from her neck and her shoulders, and she can finally relate to Jane, mom to mom. Their conversation has an honesty that’s not present in any of the spouses’ talks: Jane took a chance and actually revealed herself, to say that she’s not perfect, and doesn’t know what she’s doing, Renata latches onto that because it’s a feeling she’s been hiding away in herself for too long.


The most telling scene this episode is Ziggy and Chloe’s playdate. Yes, it’s idyllic, but I think it’s carefully positioned into the center of this episode for a reason. Ziggy and Chloe have no preconceived notions about each other, because they’re 6. They are merely communicating with each other on a friendship, affection-based level: to laugh, play music, run around. Imagine if we all just communicated with each other that honestly, without all the posing and posturing that gets in the way.

Stray observations

  • Best mom outfit: Madeline had some nice outfits this week: I really liked the sweetheart neckline of her pink dress she wore to the premiere, and the black background of that floral dress as the disaster dinner saved it from being too frilly.
  • Does Bonnie ever do anything but (rightfully) eyeroll at Nathan? Do you think she regrets her decision to tie her life to a man who is so petty and vindictive, which seems very far away from what she is? She seems like the type who should marry another yoga teacher or a musician or something.
  • That’s Robin Weigert, Deadwood’s Calamity Jane, doing such a riveting job as Celeste’s therapist.
  • I remember being equally horrified by Abby’s horrible personal project while reading the book. Poor Madeline.
  • Next week: The Big Little Lies finale. I will be so sad to see this series go; I am enjoying it so much, and am really enjoying your comments. I was very moved last week by so many of you who opened up about your own relationships and therapy sessions. That’s the best part of our comments section for me: The reminder that we’re a community. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, and even after next week, I will still be on the lookout for all of your names on other comment boards after BLL is gone.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter