“Your husband’s death. It will come up,” says Celeste’s family court lawyer Katie Richmond (Poorna Jagannathan) after Celeste rejects Mary Louise’s offer of shared custody. There is a lot of rejection running through this episode: Bonnie rejecting her father’s insistence that he tried his hardest to protect her from her mother Elizabeth; Ed rejecting Madeline’s repeated claims that she married him because she loved him, not just because he seemed like the best candidate; Renata rejecting the idea that she’s no longer a “woman in power.” As circumstances change around our characters in “Kill Me”—some of them swiftly, and drastically—people are refusing to believe that who they actually are may be different from who they thought.
We see this first with Celeste, who is frustrated that Katie doesn’t speak during the pre-trial meetings with Mary Louise and her lawyer. Celeste is a lawyer herself, and she knows how the game is played, and she doesn’t want to back down. The way she delivers that hissed “Fuck you” to Mary Louise during that second meeting is proof of that! But Celeste has been making unsafe choices this season; that is undeniable. If she ends up on the stand next week, how much will Mary Louise’s lawyer Ira throw them in her face? And once again, the specter of Detective Quinlan reappears with the possibility that Ira could ask about Perry while Celeste is testifying. I’m not sure how this would actually work because I would think a hearing in family court would not overlap with what is still an open investigation into a man’s death, but I didn’t go to law school, I just have a master’s degree in literature, does anyone want a book recommendation?!
Next up in the “rejecting reality” game are Ed and Madeline, who attend a marriage therapy retreat that seems straight out of Don Draper’s and Philip Jennings’ fantasies of self-betterment, and that Ed and Madeline both seem to thoroughly resent. I’m not surprised that their big confrontation moment takes place in their car, both trapped inside with each other, and Andrea Arnold shoots the scene with all the claustrophobia it requires. We only see Madeline and Ed in profile, looking over their shoulders at their argument, as Ed tells Madeline he knows she didn’t choose him as a husband or a lover but as a father and provider, and as Madeline promises him that “All my future mistakes will be brand-new ones.” But Madeline is still remembering her affair with Theater Director Guy, and it’s Theater Director Guy’s Wife Tori who comes on to Ed at a bar later in the episode, who rubs his arm, who is proudly flaunting the new cleavage that Ed noticed at the grocery store a few episodes ago. Is Tori performing for her husband, getting back at him by going after Ed for revenge sex? And do her motivations even matter?
The concept of “motivations” also lead us to Bonnie, whose childhood is sketched out further for us with additional memories of her mother’s abuse. Her father Martin insists he did the best he could, but that withering stare Zoë Kravitz levels at actor Martin Donovan? Whew! This is the best we’ve seen Kravitz, from her snide “Look at you getting involved” to her rightfully angry “Did you diffuse things? Sure. … But did you protect me?” What I find captivating about this storyline is that in Liane Moriarty’s novel, Bonnie was abused by a male authority figure, which is what informed her reaction to Perry attacking Celeste. Making the cause of Bonnie’s pain her mother adds a layer to this season of Big Little Lies that doesn’t focus only on the evil men can do, but on parents overall, on the people who are supposed to protect us the most.
And who else is there to discuss when it comes to bad moms? Oh yes, Mary Louise Wright! I do not believe there was a real narrative reason to bring Mary Louise and Renata together, but it was reassuring to see that Mary Louise is just as awful as she is with Celeste and Madeline with everyone, even a relative stranger like Renata. Her “I was hoping this would just be about tea, but people don’t do that anymore, just enjoy each other’s company, no agenda … Maybe somebody will invent an app for that” was deliciously, horrendously condescending in that way we’ve come to expect from this character, and in hindsight, that line just makes me laugh and laugh. Can you imagine being a woman who upends her life to invade her daughter-in-law’s, who refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing on behalf of her son, who denies a rape victim, who tries to take one woman’s children, and who may intend to do the same with another woman and her son, and is still smug enough to complain that no one wants to spend time with her? If there were ever a perfect time for that Wee-Bey gif, it is right now.
The question “Kill Me” leaves viewers with is one we’ve considered this entire season so far: How do you escape generational trauma? We see Ziggy, Max, and Josh, who team up as brothers to attack that bully who picks on Ziggy. Later on, the boys react differently to their mothers: Ziggy worries to Jane that he’ll end up just like his father, the rapist, while Max and Josh call Celeste a “bitch,” but don’t want to live with their grandmother, either. Perry’s death has left a void, and we are seeing now how his sons react to both that absence and to the increasingly public knowledge of what Perry did to Jane. And on the other side of fathers and sons we have mothers and daughters, captured in Bonnie and Elizabeth. Did Elizabeth actually whisper “Kill me” to Bonnie, or did Bonnie imagine it, a desire she’s nurtured inside her heart for years, to finally be free of her mother? Are we ever really free of those who shaped us? Maybe that’s the biggest lie of all.
ODDS AND ENDS
+ Actually, I was wrong. The biggest lie of all is that the scene where Madeline throws her ice cream cone at Mary Louise was cut! WE WERE ALL LED ASTRAY!
+ That montage at the end of the episode, during which we rotated between Celeste and Jane kayaking with their sons, Madeline drinking alone, Mary Louise simmering over a picture of Perry, Amabella and Renata playing hooky from school as Gordon looked on, and Ed considering cheating with Tori, is what Big Little Lies does so well, giving us glimpses of these lives and how everyone is trying to move on. That was very well-edited, and was set to “Victory Dance” by My Morning Jacket.
+ Did you recognize Poorna Jagannathan from The Night Of? You should watch The Night Of.
+ What the hell is Corey up to? I assume that Detective Quinlan called him in for questioning, but as has come up in the comments section over this past season, how is she still working this case? Monterey has no other crimes? I mean, I get that it’s a rich-person enclave and that there probably actually aren’t that many other deaths to investigate. But the amount of time this season has stretched out this mystery is still a little frustrating. Also, I don’t disagree:
+ I apologize to the commenter who thought this season was setting up Bonnie “feeling” things too, because I thought the show wouldn’t swerve that way. But Bonnie, when she touches Elizabeth, does see that vision of herself drowning, right? Her father says “Sometimes the things she feels and sees turn out to be right,” and I think that fear is what leads Bonnie to the police station, but it’s still unclear to me what Elizabeth experiences or doesn’t, and what Bonnie experiences or doesn’t.
+ There are no gifs yet of Madeline’s exasperated “Huh? Huh!” at Mary Louise during that ice cream scene, and I feel personally let down by the entire Internet.
+ Ed and Chloe hugging to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” was deeply sad.
+ Was Nathan buying Bonnie a treadmill a thoughtful move or a passive-aggressive one? Discuss!
Header Image Source: HBO Media Relations