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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iLittle Fires Everywhere /icapitalizes on its star duo in episode two
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In the world of Little Fires Everywhere, it’s already been a month since Mia and Pearl to Shaker Heights, Ohio and moved into Elena’s rental apartment. “Seeds and All” packs in several intriguing moments and welcomes a major recurring character into the fold in Bebe Chow (Huang Lu), but they still feel like more of a setup for storylines that will hopefully pay off in the near future. At least the two families have certainly gotten more used to each other, as Pearl ingrains herself more and more with the Richardson family through her friendship with Moody. She even gets to be part of their group photo before the first day of school. Elena, the ever dutiful mother, insists Izzy smile in the picture, brushing off concerns her daughter just shared over not being able to fit in or thrive in school like her siblings.

Meanwhile, Pearl’s sendoff for her first day of yet another school includes Mia painting her nails and informing her that she’ll now be a more frequent presence at the Richardson mansion because of her part-time gig there. In the book, Pearl is infuriated at the thought of Mia invading a space she thought of as her own. Here, that aggressive reaction is missing, even though she has finally started to feel like she belongs in the mansion—chilling with Moody, Trip, and Lexie every afternoon after school, enjoying breakfasts and dinners with the Richardsons.

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The best part about this episode, however, is how it navigates the uneasiness between Elena and Mia. Their faux niceties are laced with apprehensions about each other. The tension you feel between the characters in the book is extremely well-adapted here, in part due to Witherspoon and Washington’s powerful chemistry. Every scene between the two is a thrill even if it’s just them discussing what responsibilities Mia should have as a house manager —she draws the line at doing the dishes.

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Most of the trepidations Elena has about Mia stem from the fact that she still knows little to nothing about her. The history of Mia’s life before Shaker remains unknown, and while that’s important to the Little Fires Everywhere story and ratchets up the suspense, it also means Washington gets a limited emotional directive on her performance.

When Elena drops by Mia’s place under the ruse of dropping the house key and money for groceries for dinner, she confronts her about the call from her supposedly former landlord. Mia claims the numbers were probably mixed up and promises to pass along the right one. That’s why it’s surprising to Elena when she’s the one who gets a call at work from a man who says he is Mia’s reference and boy, does he sing her praises, calling her an ideal tenant and delightful. It’s the use of this adjective that throws her off.

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Washington does justice to Mia’s reserved personality in the show but the character often comes off a bit too harsh as opposed to the book. Perhaps that’s because her struggles also appear to be more grueling because Mia isn’t Black in the novel but here, she faces stigma due to being a minority along with the usual and expected dose of classism in a planned town like Shaker with residents who are mainly white and affluent. It’s no wonder Elena doesn’t see her as “delightful.” Like the viewers, she is unaware of and slightly unnerved by Mia’s mysterious history. It’s why she asks the police detective to do a background check on her and fax her the information (this is 1997). Unfortunately, the faxes are sent to her home, not her workplace, so she has to rush home in the middle of the day. She’s already too late because Mia has seen the pages, which have a number of different Mia Warren’s and their arrest record information. She doesn’t immediately talk to Elena about it, who seems relieved when she arrives home and it looks like the pages haven’t been touched.

At the book club meeting that evening, Elena and her BFF Linda (Rosemary DeWitt) are supremely uncomfortable with the book their friend has chosen, Vagina Monologues, so the discussion obviously veers towards awkwardness. Elizabeth (Jaime Rey Newmoon), who suggested it, challenges the women to put their apparent shame aside then asks Elena for her thoughts. When Elena points out that the book doesn’t really discuss motherhood much, it causes a little bit of drama but that’s when Mia steps in and saves face. Her bold words about how we, as a society, have a deep discomfort calling them by name let alone regarding them with respect or actually seeing them eventually hush everybody in the room but Elena sure seems pleased.

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Once everyone leaves, Mia comes clean about finding those pages and confesses that she made a coworker from the Chinese restaurant she works at call her and pretend to be her landlord. In the past, since she’s traveled around so much, people are usually wary of renting to her as she’s a single Black mom. “But you did,” she continues, “because you’re different.” I want to hope there is some honesty to what Mia said but I can’t help but wonder if this as an easier, more convenient half-truth.

The two women end up chatting about motherhood over a glass of wine (Elena even surpasses her four-ounce limit), and it’s the first time they’re bonding—real bonding, without inhibitions. Elena indirectly sharing her emotions about not being connected to Izzy the way Mia is with Pearl is heartbreaking and also the first time she has expressed some real concerns about this. Mia even briefly softens up her stance but Elena breaks the spell by telling her how she helped Pearl switch from her geometry class to advanced algebra by talking to her counselor. This doesn’t sit well with Mia. It was good while it lasted, huh?

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Elsewhere, we meet Bebe, another one of Mia’s coworkers at the restaurant, who appears distressed and also overly emotional when she is playing with a customer’s young child. Mia observes this behavior while having dinner with Pearl; she later finds Bebe crying in the supply closet so she takes over her shift. Bebe later goes over to Pearl’s to thank her and explain that she had an infant daughter, May Ling, and she misses her. We don’t learn more about her circumstances yet but just wait for it, this story is about to get really significant.

As for the kids in this episode, Pearl’s solo effort to transfer to advance algebra fails thanks to her racist counselor. She ignores her mother’s advice to advocate for herself and relies on Elena’s friendly attitude to help her out of it. I think that’s why Mia was so upset. Not only because her kid had to resort to Elena’s help but also because she hid it from her afterward. This, along with the scene of Mia and Izzy bonding at the Richardson home earlier when she was making dinner, is a seed and all of the narratives about motherhood and changing familial relationship that is slowly taking shape.

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Pearl and Moody also continue to bond even though she is clearly avoiding dealing with his growing feelings for her. When he praises Mia’s chilled out nature as opposed to Elena’s uptight one, Pearl flatly tells him that her mother hides things from her, including who she has sex with. It’s a good callback to the opening scene of “Seeds And All,” set in September 1983. In it, a younger Mia (Tiffany Boone), is having sex with a man in her car but they’re disrupted by baby Pearl waking up from her slumber in the backseat.

At the end of the episode, a pretty sad Moody bids Pearl goodbye as she goes to her new class. She walks in and goes straight for the desk right next to Trip. Uh-oh. No show can escape high-school drama, including this one. The Pearl-Moody-Trip love triangle isn’t likely to end well for anyone.

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Stray observations

  • Mia and Elena both got fleeting moments of comedy in this episode that were so fun to witness. Mia laughs to herself when she realizes Elena begrudgingly did the dishes herself. Then, towards the end of the episode, Elena follows through on Mia’s comments during the book club about not looking at vaginas. She’s in the bathroom holding a tiny mirror in front of her legs and giggling like a teenager.
  • Who else picked up on the fact that Lexie was talking passionately about Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the phone with her friend? Can’t blame her.
  • The casting of this show is so on-point. It’s never made clearer than during the Richardson sibling group photo because those kids look like an eerie mash-up of Witherspoon and Joshua Jackson, especially Jade Pettyjohn as Lexie.
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