Could Ed Be Big Little Lies' Mystery Murderer?
Or is he just 'The One'? And other not-quite-burning questions about E02.
In addition to its still-a-mystery murder victim, Big Little Lies killed two more things this week: any lingering fears that this show would be either a soapy romp a la Desperate Housewives, or an unremittingly dark yet bonkers drama in the Scandal or How To Get Away With Murder template. With painful-to-watch moments like Celeste's and Perry's violent altercation in the closet and Jane's breakdown at the school, BLL sent a clear statement that they (and their cast) were ready to open a vein for us, while Maddy's "fuck you in the head" and the sheer (yet, ask any parent, not unrealistic) ridiculousness of the children's birthday party drama made it clear that there's no plan to make the show into a downer.
It's a bold move to not even bother to pick a lane (especially given how much of this show takes place on California's infamously treacherous Highway 1!), and it's keeping me delightfully off balance. I expected BLL to be brainless comfort food (at best), but it's not -- it's a delicious, multi-course feast that takes a while to digest. Here are some of the morsels about which I have questions.
Do you think Perry has the capacity to be violent with his kids?
I had hoped, given the possessive and sexual element to his and Celeste's abusive relationship, that Perry's violent attentions were focused on his wife. Though Perry's tendencies were suggested in the first episode, this week they become explicit, when we see him slap Celeste, then slam her into the closet wall before they have what appears to be consensual sex.
It's a tough call (one the book this show is based on made, too, but TV adaptations change things all the time, see: Rick still has two hands) to depict domestic violence thusly, as we've all been raised on the Lifetime, Burning Bed idea of a beauty and a beast. And it's tricky to suggest that these relationships are less black-and-white than that without running the risk of blaming the victim or somehow implying that domestic violence is okay, which, TO BE CLEAR, it is not. Even attempting to tackle the messy, tangled nest of factors in an abusive relationship is scary, but moments like the look on Celeste's face when she cuts short a Skype peep show with Perry when she spies one of her bruises at his hands leads me to believe we're in for a very interesting ride.
But what about the boys? Perry takes off work to bring them to school, but when he realizes that he missed their orientation day, he takes it out not just on Celeste but the kids, pissily snatching their iPad away. Is this a warning shot?
Is one or both of the twins the strangler?
If we assume that Ziggy is innocent -- which, given the guilelessness of the scene between him and his mom the next morning, as well as that heart-shattering smile he gave Jane when she agreed to buy him a treat at the coffee shop, I do -- who is the most likely suspect in The Case Of The Strangled First-Grader?
There's a big part of me that wants to assume that Amabella did it to herself, for, like, attention or something, but I really don't think that's the case. But, you guys, is there maybe something a liiiittle off about those twins?
First, don't they both look like Village of the Damned kids, right, with their perfect hair and skin and little outfits?
Next, everyone who's even been a child knows that kids are way more observant than adults give them credit for. They've surely seen the violence between Perry and Celeste, which means it's likely that that is shaping their idea of how humans interact.
Finally, there's the case of Harry the Hippo, whose leg was mysteriously severed while in their care. Everybody knows sadists start with animal torture before the human killing begins, but it's clear that there's no room in Perry and Celeste's mansion for pets. Is small-time strangulation and stuffed-animal mutilation the only possible first step in a life of crime those kids can muster? I'm willing to entertain this as a possibility.
Does Amabella's birthday party invite seriously feature her professional-level headshot?
Obviously, Amabella's birthday party is a thing, as Ed notes that last year, the event featured "a jumping castle and a magician," with this year's likely to be even better. Renata's focus on the event (even as she apparently negotiates mergers and does on-camera interviews) is actually kind of admirable -- who else can gin up the energy to go out with friends to "get our drink on" after a day of party-planning, screaming at secondary characters, and big-time business, let alone to grit out "Do not fuck with my daughter’s birthday" to an equally formidable Maddy?
But, Renata, GIRL. That invitation.
Of all people, Renata should know that to sell an event, you have to create a buzz around it. Is she truly that enamored of her doubtlessly hard-fought daughter (if Renata, like Laura Dern, is 50, then she likely conceived the child at great struggle and expense) that she doesn't realize that there's a better way to entice attendees than a photo of the honoree? What about a shot of that bouncy house? Hell, what ever happened to those old chestnuts, a drawing of a party hat and cake? You might as well write "hey, kids, go to Frozen On Ice instead" on that thing.
How great is Maddy?
You can't throw a stone these days without hitting an article about how amazing Reese Witherspoon is as Maddy. All these articles are correct; she does a fantastic job with the role! It does not hurt, however, that the character is written so well. While many of us (I include myself here) were put off by Maddy's loud brittleness in the pilot, this is the episode where we start to see her as she really is -- a person with hopes, dreams, frustrations, and aspirations, as well as someone who fully realizes how she comes across. "I love my grudges, I tend to them like little pets," she tells Jane and Celeste, demonstrating more self-awareness than you might have expected from someone who seemed to befriend Jane for the sole reason that she might be useful in the war against Renata.
This week we see that relationship begin to transition into a genuine one. Yes, Maddy is a (mostly) benevolent dictator who relishes her small-town power, and she leaps into the fray on behalf of Ziggy and Avenue Q because she's (as Ed astutely says) seeking "a cause to rally around." And yet, she's not lying when she tells him when she's not willing to tolerate injustice.
(Speaking of, what's with the caution tape outside the theatre?
Are we supposed to believe that because the show might not move forward, the city has taped off the venue? If so, then wouldn't the cast raise some questions at rehearsal? Is Maddy the only one who uses that entrance or something?)
Where was I? Oh, yes. By the time Jane starts crying at the school, after yet another harrowing meeting with the administration when Ziggy and Chloe's attempt to make peace with Amabella goes awry, Maddy has started to see Jane as not just a pawn in her chess game, but as a person about whom she cares. Given how fierce Maddy is, I'm happy that the struggling single mom has her on her side, and I'm excited to see how their relationship develops.
Is Ed tougher than we thought?
You might expect someone like Maddy to be married to a doormat, especially following her disappointment with arguable "manly-man" Nathan. But while Ed lacks the alpha-maleness of Maddy's first husband or (thank god) Perry, he proves he's no wet noodle, calling Maddy on her shit when she ranted against Nathan (though, for the record, I've been with my husband for 15 years and still shrilly rail against the ex who in 2001 had my mom come to town then moved out while she and I were at brunch, yes, that fucking happened, but there's no one I'd rather be with than the man I am with now).
But when Ed (and Adam Scott, about whom I've always been neutral) really kicked my ass was when Nathan and he met because the former, I guess, wanted to construct some guy cabal against Maddy. As opposed to falling into Nathan's "Maddy's such a bitch, you're right!" trap, Ed had her back 100 percent without seeming like a blind acolyte; then, when he sensed Nathan was posturing, he subtly threatened to beat the shit out of the larger man in a slightly scary yet cheer-worthy scene. It was a perfect moment of love and loyalty, as Ed basically admitted that like Maddy, he's spoiling for a fight -- but in his case, a physical one. Was this scene a clue to our murder? It's certainly written like it's supposed to be.