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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iLittle Fires Everywhere /icomes to life in its superb third episode
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If you, like me, were waiting for something real and impactful to happen after two slow burn episodes of Little Fires Everywhere, there’s some good news about “Seventy Cents,” the third episode in the limited series. It immediately gives us some answers as we learn what happened to May Ling, Bebe’s daughter. It opens in December 1996, a few months before Mia and Pearl arrived in Shaker, with a shot of Bebe struggling to care for her newborn baby in poor living conditions and with barely any money. A shopkeeper turns her away when she is 70 cents short of what she needs to buy formula. With a heavy heart, Bebe leaves her kid outside a fire station. We now know from her conversations with Mia that she regrets this decision, misses her child and is now in a better condition to take care of her, too. In fact, she tells Mia in this episode that she tried looking for her but because she’s an undocumented immigrant, she cannot go to the cops out of fear of deportation.

Mia is a spitfire (sorry, it’s really tough to stop with the puns) when it comes to mothering, so she urges Bebe to find and fight for her daughter. She wants to help her so much that she goes to some fire stations herself to ask around and find out if anyone knows about a baby being abandoned. No one really helps her out but later, Mia unexpectedly figures out where May Ling ended up during a conversation with Elena.

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While throwing a birthday party for Linda McCullough’s kid Mirabelle, Elena tells Mia how Linda and her husband Mark (Geoff Stults) were trying to conceive for years with no results until one day, they got a call about an abandoned Asian baby found near the fire station. It doesn’t take Mia long to put two and two together. This is a major curveball that is sure to disrupt not just Elena and Mia’s relationship, considering the sides they will take, but it’s sure to shake up all of Shaker Heights with a scandal.

This plotline ties in several character arcs together, finally giving Little Fires Everywhere the solid backbone it was missing. Up until now, it looked like yet another glossy show set in a fancy location—the fact that it stars Reese Witherspoon also warrants a Big Little Lies comparison. With the Bebe story slowly coming to the forefront, the show can now talk about the complexities of immigration and adoption with nuance.

Mia knows she needs proof that Mirabelle is, in fact, May Ling, so she offers to be the photographer at Mirabelle’s party and sneaks up to her room to confirm whether the baby has a red mark on her back—Bebe told her May Ling had one. Once she confirms this is Bebe’s daughter, she excitedly picks her up and sways her just as Elena walks in on them. She explains away the situation and immediately rushes to Bebe to tell her the good news. Despite Mia’s advice to approach the McCullough’s properly and maybe with a lawyer—she had spoken to Bill earlier about finding a pro bono immigration lawyer but he laughed at that suggestion—Bebe cannot help herself. She hasn’t seen May Ling in forever. “What if it was Pearl?” she asks Mia, who has no response.

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Bebe goes to the party for Mirabelle just as they’re about to cut the cake. Cut to a dramatic scream and Bebe yelling “it’s my baby.” It’s a horrifying scene for everyone present. As the police question Mark and Bill, Linda expresses concern to Elena about Bebe coming back. Elena assures her that Mirabelle is her child and cannot be taken from her. It almost echoes what Mia was telling Bebe earlier. We are diving into the depths of motherhood, and it’s no longer just from the perspectives of Elena or Mia—Bebe and Linda are mixed into the fold now, and neither of them is really at fault.

The kids in “Seventy Cents” also face one of the biggest dilemmas of their age: the homecoming dance. Izzy decides to attend to try and quell the rumors in school about her sexuality after she was being bullied with posters of Ellen DeGeneres stuck to her locker. Moody obviously wanted to go with Pearl, but she decided to go as a group to have an opportunity to hang out with Trip. Lexie and her boyfriend Brian are the obvious choices for king and queen but their relationship falters here when he realizes she used Pearl’s argument with her counselor about math class as the basis for an essay about her non-existent hardships for her Yale application.

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In a very telling scene early on, Brian visits the Richardsons for dinner and Elena, who is happy to see him after so long, wonders out loud why he doesn’t come to meet them more often. She goes on to introduce him to Pearl and casually remarks that they must have a lot in common. She says it in passing like it doesn’t mean anything. It’s such a subtle, almost nonchalant way to stereotype two people because they are of the same race. Little Fires Everywhere rarely hesitates to show this underlying warped view.

At the dance, Brian is pissed at Lexie for using Pearl’s actual problem for an essay and not even realizing what her mistake is, but they make up and sleep together in the back of a limo. Moody and Pearl have a tense Before Sunrise viewing session because she would much rather be at an after-party that Trip invited them to. As for Izzy, she has a hard time at the dance because she’s with her friend Carl and tries to show the rest of her classmates that she’s into him while sneaking meaningful glances at her ex-best friend April. If this is the show hinting towards a coming-out journey for her, let’s hope they execute it with justice.

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Since her siblings have essentially abandoned her at the dance, Izzy takes a bus to Mia’s (!) place instead of her home to seek comfort. But when she gets on it, she realizes she’s exactly 70 cents short, but the driver allows her to board without any trouble. What did I say about underlying racism on this show?

Stray observations

  • Are you loving the very ‘90s pop culture references on this show? First Buffy and now Beverly Hills, 90210 and Before Sunrise?
  • Lexie and Pearl’s friendship is obviously artificial but I loved how their shopping scene led to Pearl questioning Mia about her origins and the identity of her father. It’s the first big blowout between them and Lexi Underwood and Kerry Washington are phenomenal here.
  • A lot happened in this episode but the shot of Joshua Jackson as Bill Richardson mowing the lawn of his wife’s rental home as Mia looks on? Priceless
  • The show hasn’t revisited the big fire or Mia’s nightmare starring a hunky Jesse Williams from the premiere at all. I hope they at least follow up on the latter sooner rather than later.
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