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Despite their parents, the Big Little Lies kids know what’s up

Illustration for article titled Despite their parents, thei Big Little Lies/i kids know what’s up
Photo: Jennifer Clasen (HBO)
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For many people, the minute they become a parent, that status supersedes all of their other ones: spouse, offspring, employee, sibling. Our main Big Little Lies characters were all introduced to us as moms of kids in the same class at Otter Bay Elementary School, but this season, we haven’t seen too much of the wee ones, give or take a fraternal introduction between Ziggy, Max, and Josh. Much of that gets remedied this episode, as all six kids make some sort of appearance, and when they do, it’s clear that they know exactly what’s going on.

That’s the thing about kids—they’re like little sponges. For all the fights we have behind closed doors or whispered conversations on the phone, it doesn’t matter: They see and hear everything. They also absorb all of our own behaviors, for better or worse—which is why, on top of everything else, Celeste is still grappling with the psychological marks Perry left on the twins. No 8-year-old is going to call his mother a bitch unless he’s mimicking the extremely damaging behavior he grew up watching. One of the most fascinating parts of this season involves showing the long-term effects of abuse on this family. As Bonnie’s plot shows (picking up on a character trait of hers from the original book), those effects can also spread into adulthood. I believe Celeste said in a previous episode that the boys were receiving help, but my god, hopefully the three of them will also sign up for some sort of family therapy; with all that Celeste has going on right now, it’s a lot to deal with.


Not so much that Celeste needs to lose custody of her kids, though, despite the efforts of Mary Louise, who just gets more maniacally menacing as these weeks scroll by. Even Renata—a force of nature herself—is powerless when faced with Mary Louise’s diabolical method of twisting words around, using people’s deepest insecurities and fears against them. Nothing pierces the heart of a working mom like the guilt over not being there for after-school snacks and playdates, and even Renata—in her huge house nearly empty of furniture—for once is speechless as she gets called out for her screening room and her boat (although the physical comedy of her pulling her chair across the immense living room was howl-worthy).

Maybe that’s what leads Renata to spend a special day with Amabella in the pool—even as her daughter wonders if it’s all because her family is broke and her dad is going to jail. Skye and Chloe both realize that their parents need a hug (have we ever seen Ed and Chloe share a close moment like that before?) Even with all their acting out, Max and Josh support their mom, and are willing to say whatever she likes in court to get to stay with her. And Ziggy, thanks to a nasty bully, worries about what effect his father will have on his future life, even though his mom does an admirable job of reassuring him about it.

There’s a little realigning required: Once Renata realizes how much her daughter knows, she’s even more determined to have a fun day with her. Madeline is trying desperately to save her marriage to Chloe’s father, even including a terrible couples retreat. Bonnie finds it difficult to focus on her family because she’s almost entirely devoted to taking care of her mother, even with all the feelings and traumas that that care brings up (especially when her mother manages to voice the demand of the episode title). Jane and Celeste are at a bit of a loss to deal with their boys after they attack a bully who calls their father a rapist (although how in the world would that child know that anyway?)

It’s the crisis of all parents: Your kids should be top of mind, but sometimes, other things in life get in the way and they’re just not as much of a priority as they should be 100% of the time. Until something terrible happens, like Mary Louise’s custody grab, and then they’re all you can think about. But as we saw in Renata’s speech to Gordon last week, everything these mothers are doing is ultimately for the kids, otherwise what’s the point? Even Ed points out that on their first date, Madeline was interviewing him for the role of father above everything else. Why would these moms have lied about Perry’s death in the first pace, if they weren’t all terrified of losing their kids?


But now the lie has the capability of blowing everything up, including Celeste’s testimony in court. Granted, one lie is a lot to hang a season on, but so far the creators are doing an admirable job stretching this premise into season two like an all-day sucker (although not quite as far, apparently, into full hour-long episodes). Once the kids all have the chance to stake their claims and state their grievances, the episode kicks into high gear at the end: Ed flirting at the bar (and who is that guy in the corner? The one Madeline had an affair with?) Mary Louise stalking Celeste’s apartment. Bonnie toying with confessing everything at the police station again, but worst of all, seeing Corey there (he kind of was too good/strange to be true).

So it’s easy to see how adulthood easily gets all fucked up, but at least we try to protect the kids in our lives as long as possible. Until we can’t, like with the Big Little Lies kids, or we don’t, in the case of Bonnie’s parents. As this episode shows, it’s a futile effort anyway. The kids are only too aware of what’s going on; our real job—via kayak trips, pool days, or even a hug in the kitchenis to somehow help guide them through it.


Stray observations

  • Renata snapping “I said it’s not your fault!” to her assistant was the spiritual sequel to “I said than yooouuuuu!!!” from season one.
  • This week’s Big Little Lies power rankings: 1) Mary Louise, unfortunately. 2) Bonnie, for trying to come to terms with her past. 3) Jane, for another great mother-son scene. 4) Madeline. 5) Renata. 6) Celeste.
  • Nicole Kidman’s accent really gets wonky when she gets all fired up.
  • Another pointless Ed-Nathan scene in a 40-odd minute episode. Ed’s right, they don’t get along, just leave it at that.
  • Best mom outfit: This weekly shout-out really should be renamed Best Renata Outfit, but that suit was absolutely stunning. Especially since it’s a kind of bittersweet reminder of the power she once held, so that she can try to gain it back again.
  • Wasn’t Madeline supposed to throw the ice cream at Mary Louise at some point?
  • I could make you some African Zimbabwe tea.”
  • Love how Renata is still the only person who calls Madeline MadeLYNE.
  • Have been so impressed by Meryl Streep in this role that I did a deep dive into some of her other movies on my faves list (not included because she got an Oscar nomination for it: Postcards From The Edge).

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

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