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Big Little Lies wages the mommy wars

Badasses. (Photo: HBO)
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When I had my twins, I really struggled with the decision whether to stay home with them or not, knowing full well how fortunate I was to even be able to make that decision. I knew they were the only kids I would ever have, and their infancy was flying by at an alarming rate. On the other hand, could I really give up a job I loved? What would that mean for our family finances? And would I be able to eventually reenter the workforce at my then even more advanced age?

Perplexed, I went to an online bulletin board I frequented (keep in mind, this was 10 years ago), and raised what I thought was a fairly innocuous question: Working mom or stay-at-home? A few cautionary messages trickled in of the, “Uh oh, now you’ve done it” variety. Then a flood of angry messages, from both sides. There were the mommy wars, scrolling right down my computer screen. A stay-at-home would post, “It doesn’t matter if your kids have the nicest clothes or designer shoes, it matters if you’re with them.” Then a working mom would counter: “I’m not working to get them fancy shoes, I’m working to keep the lights on, you moron.” “I would never have a stranger raise my children.” “It’s important to have my kids to see me as a strong professional woman.” The opinions were never less than heated, as nothing was likely more important to these women than their children, and everyone appeared defensive about the choices they had made, because arguments exist on either side for both.

For me, I decided working part-time was the best of both worlds until the kids were in grade school, when I came to work here and went from being one of the moms who would read books to the kids in kindergarten to one who only sees the school at dropoff. So my favorite scene this episode was Celeste and Madeline’s jubilation in the car as they express the validation they find in things other than their children. I have friends that are 100 percent stay-at-home, who love it. But many other women find they still need further outlets for their creativity, for their intellect, for their own sense of personal power.

Celeste’s exhilaration, then, makes perfect sense, especially as she’s in a situation where she has likely felt trapped. There are few better feelings than to believe you’re doing a good job as a mother, but victories in professional life, with people we aren’t actually related to, resonate strongly as well. That whole meeting scene was nicely done, with Renata facing off against Celeste and Madeline on the other side of the table, Madeline’s feeble attempts to go off, the attempted down-home regular-guy efforts of the mayor, and Celeste’s ultimate complete command of the entire situation.

It’s that power aspect that Celeste’s husband Perry most objects to. Such is the acting chops of Alexander Skarsgård that we start to tense up now pretty much every time he enters a room, he’s steeped in so much menace. This episode deftly played that up slowly, until the final grab at the end. Celeste is saved by one of her sons, who must be taking in much more than they realize.


But after the meeting, Celeste has tasted that power again; it’s the wash of emotions she feels later as she’s on the deck, considering her life and what she wants out of it. There’s a specific pinpoint when we can actually see her realize that it’s possible for her to have more. Kudos to all who pointed out Nicole Kidman’s acting in this series last week in the comments; even without dialogue, her quiet confidence, masking what must be an uneasy swirl of emotions underneath, is phenomenal. It’s what brings her back to the therapist, to try to realize a way out for herself, but it’s frustrating when she still protects Perry in that conversation. She’s obviously afraid: Why say otherwise?

Like Celeste, Jane is also trying to get her own sense of power and control back from the man who has taken it from her. Through a combination of running and shooting ranges, apparently. Madeline tracking down Jane’s attacker is a typical example of her overstepping, possibly to her own ends; if Jane resolves her feelings about her rape, will she be more likely to stay in Monterey? Still, it’s an upheaval that Jane’s not likely to get over soon. Especially when Ziggy’s teacher is still concerned that he might be bullying Amabella, and Jane knows that there’s a very good reason why Ziggy might be violent, because his father was. The trip to child psychologist fortunately puts all that to rest, while opening up a variety of other questions: If Ziggy is’t hurting Amabella, then who is?


Madeline also struggles for control, as she opens the episode by helplessly watching her daughter Abigail go off to live at her dad’s house. She then kisses Joseph the theater director, and alludes to a prior relationship between them. She’s already complained to Celeste about the lack of sex in her marriage, yet still steadfastly rejects Joseph in favor of staying with Ed. Well, only a robot could resist Adam Scott in a vampire Elvis costume. Maybe Madeline’s romantic struggles are tied to her professional ones, as she doesn’t feel satisfied ultimately in either arena, leading to her overall sense of vague dissatisfaction overall. On the opposite end, as we saw last week, Renata is a dynamo powerhouse professionally, yet constantly despairs over her own parenting skills.

It’s those kind of internal struggles that Big Little Lies plays out so beautifully. It would be just as compelling even without this inevitable murder lurking over our heads. At times, the talking heads commenters seem like intrusive, clumsy framing devices, as they jar us out of these quiet wars these three women battle every day. Because they’re learning that, much as you love your offspring—or probably because of that love—the battles of motherhood may evolve with each stage of your child’s life, but never really end.


Stray observations

  • Bonnie was being generous by not mentioning Ed’s creepy sweat comment to Nathan. And of course she has wind chimes. And makes her own jewelry. Nathan really seems like a tool, though.
  • Anybody know what kind of class Bonnie was teaching? It looked like something I could possibly get into, if I only knew what it was.
  • Renata’s fake laugh kills me.
  • Best mom outfit: Did not love the outfits as usual! Maybe Madeline’s steady wardrobe of fruit and flowers is getting to me. Going to go with Celeste’s lovely sand-colored sweater she wore on the deck for her wine chat with Madeline.

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