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The end of a relationship feels like the end of the world on Big Little Lies

Illustration for article titled The end of a relationship feels like the end of the world on iBig Little Lies/i
Photo: Jennifer Clasen (HBO)
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Last week, Big Little Lies went a bit insular by focusing on the family unit; this week, our little Monterey group is looking outward, drawing parallels between the death of the planet and the death of a relationship, or even the death of a belief in a relationship. As each of us essentially creates our own environment, BLL kicks off this parallelism near the start of the episode, with the rough waves of Monterey reflecting the marital turmoil of Madeline and Ed, driving silently in the car.

There’s almost some relief this week when Mary Louise is told straight out by Jane and Celeste that her beloved son was not, in fact, a good person. Her tightly wound desperation to fight the fact that Perry was evil is straight-up maddening. She chooses to see Perry through this extremely narrow view, and seems determined to take down Celeste and whoever else is in her way to righting the reputation of her dead son.


Not that anyone else is doing so great on the reality spectrum. Celeste is in long sleeves to cover bruises again, and her therapist rightly notes that she’s hung up on her dead abusive husband. The facade Celeste is still choosing to show to the world, in her long sleeves and drab cardigans, is that of the abused wife. Her borders are so thick, ensconced in the memory of Perry, that there isn’t even anyone on the horizon who could penetrate them. She’s also so encased in her own delusion that she tells Madeline she was a better mother to her kids with Perry—despite the fact that with that relationship, her kids were learning that it was okay to beat women, as evidenced by Max hurting Amabella.

Madeline’s own facade is in shambles, as Celeste’s therapist Dr. Reisman pointedly tries to poke holes in her psyche: “Why were you unfaithful?” “Why did your first husband leave you?” “Because he’s an asshole.” She can’t open up to the doctor, or Ed, but at least her present state causes Madeline to reveal to Celeste about her father’s infidelity and her true fears about marriage. Ed, the solid constant that she took for granted, has shifted, so that there’s a crack in the general foundation of her life. She’s so unravelled that she falls apart in front of the entire parent community at an assembly (what is with this school and its bizarro assemblies anyway? If you’re going to hire all of these experts, why not start with them instead of having a parent up on the stage?), glomming on to the lyrics of “Rainbow Connection” as proof that all the happily ever after stories we were told as kids were crap.

Madeline is missing a big part of “Rainbow Connection” (well, she’s upset). The whole point of the song is that despite all evidence to the contrary—rainbows only being illusions, wishes on morning stars not coming true—we keep searching: “Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.” But Madeline, the character who’s always been the “beacon,” as the principal puts it, has completely lost her way, has lost Ed, and even feels like she’s not a good friend (although Celeste’s pep talk was very sweet). How will you ever find the rainbow connection if you no longer even have the heart to look for it?

With the end of the world looming, it’s difficult to do so, so much so that little Amabella has an anxiety attack. As much as I adore Laura Dern getting the majority of the good lines on this show, Renata is in danger of turning into a caricature of a character, lashing out at everyone from the ER doctor to her daughter’s befuddled teacher. According to her husband Gordon, Renata’s defenses are also back up, as she also is not immune to the fatal events of Trivia Night. Her best moment this episode is not when she promises to buy a polar bear for every kid in the school or coins the phrase “puss fuck,” but when Gordon calls her out on being distant and says that even Amabella senses it. Her faltering “Did she say that?” is everything; Renata’s impressive bluster covers up a striking vulnerability. And, as revealed last week, she came from a humble background, and is terrified to wind up there again.


In fact, the more we find out about the pasts of these perfect-on-the-surface women—Madeline’s parent’s marriage, Celeste having no family to speak of—it helps explain so much about their current efforts to keep the facades as perfect as they are. The one-wrong-move syndrome could send them right back where they came from. It’s why, undoubtedly, as we see briefly in a Bonnie flashback at the beginning of the episode, the group’s immediate response to Perry’s fall was to cover it up and not say anything. It was a methodology that they were already experts at.

Weirdly, Bonnie, is the character faring much better this week, when last week she was shuffling along like the last-place zombie in a zombie marathon. A cathartic dip in the ocean and a flashback to her own traumatic childhood experience appears to have purged her of some anxiety, so much so that she can have a delightful coffee with Ed and a nice chat with Jane. Is it because she is embracing that past, helped along by her mothers’ presence, that enables her to have a few long-overdue moments of peace?


Bonnie’s improved condition indicates that when we face what’s been troubling us for so long, we’re going to get better. They’re primarily at odds, but Mary Louise and Celeste have denial in common: Mary Louise can’t accept who Perry really was, and Celeste can’t accept that she’s still hung up on him. Is it the end of their core relationship, or is it the end of the world? For Mary Louise, for Celeste, for Madeline, it doesn’t matter: It’s the same thing.

Stray observations

  • This week’s BLL power rankings: 1) Renata (probably always) 2) Bonnie 3) Jane 4) Mary Louise 5) Celeste and Madeline (tied for last)
  • Adultery is one form of betrayal; indifference is another.”
  • Adam Scott was pretty much wasted last season, so as painful as Ed’s dissolving marriage is with Madeline, at least he’s getting some good digs in in that scene with Reese Witherspoon: “Whatever I am or have been hasn’t netted the desired results, so why not mix it up?”
  • Best mom outfit: The mom outfits are not really doing it for me this season, as Madeline has moved into floral-blouse realtor mode., and, as stated, Celeste is back in cardigan land. Renata is killing it as usual, though, so have to go with the leopard print/black leather jacket combo she wore to the assembly.
  • Jane, isn’t it a little early to have your kid meet aquarium guy? Also, everyone keeps talking about what a pretty girl Jane is, but she would be 100% prettier with a different haircut.
  • I will never understand HBO’s penchant for showing women at home just hanging around in high heels. Why in the world would anyone do this?

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

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