'Big Little Lies' Delivers a Harrowing but Satisfying Finale and a Set of Performances That Won't Soon Be Forgotten
HBO’s miniseries Big Little Lies wrapped its season last night with an immensely painful, heartening, and satisfying finale that was both predictable and not, and where it was predictable, it was beside the point. The murder mystery that framed the show may have pulled us into the show initially, but ultimately, it was tertiary. This was a character-driven series about five women often at odds with each other who who bonded and pull together over their shared experiences as women, as mothers, and as wives.
It’s Perry who dies, pushed down a flight of stairs by Bonnie, of all people. But Bonnie’s shove was not the scene that resonated the most in the episode; it will not be the moment that will be remembered from this series months from now. It was the moment leading up to that point when Jane recognized Perry as her rapist, as the father of her son, and then the moment of recognition that Celeste and Madeline shared with Jane. The moment they knew in a flash exactly who Perry was. The intensity of that moment overshadowed everything that came after it, including Perry’s death. The killer was an afterthought (although I understand that Bonnie had her own abuse storyline in the book). Bonnie might have pushed Perry, but Perry’s demise came about from the collective effort of five women who willed that man to death.
It was the shame they felt about being abused, about being raped, about their shortcomings and insecurities as mothers that manifested itself as passive-aggressive hostility, as petty bickering and one-upmanship all season long. But the moment that an angry Perry showed up in his Elvis costume, all of that melted away. They were connected by their shared experiences, as Audrey Hepburns. Vulnerable but strong. Hurt. Defiant. It was a spectacularly powerful moment that brought them together in an unspoken bond, literally in this case, as not another word was spoken after Perry’s death. Recognizing their shared enemy — not just Perry, but what he represents — trivialized all the in-fighting that came before it, made big issues seem small.
It was a fantastic finale. It was important to see Madeline confront her issues with perfectionism and admit her own shortcomings, something that finally brought her closer together her own troubled daughter, Abigail. I loved — even before she knew that it was Celeste’s child who had bullied her daughter — that Renata recognized how much in common she had with Jane, that their concerns as mothers came from the same place (and Renata’s husband, like every other husband on this show save for Ed, revealed himself again as a total dick). Nicole Kidman perfectly handled that scene when Jane revealed to her that Max had been the bully all along (although, Shailene Woodley’s performance there left something to be desired). Celeste reacted perfectly in the moment: Recognizing that her son was at fault, but vowing to forgive, to love, and to help him repair.
And then those harrowing, hard-to-stomach scenes between Celeste and Perry. Kidman was flat-out fantastic — exposed, vulnerable — but Alexander Skarsgård, too, was excellent, especially when he mentioned with such casual menace that Celeste had gotten a phone call from her property manager. My entire soul bottomed out in that second: That was a true horror-movie moment. And then Celeste’s reaction, a stunned look that said, “Oh shit, he’s going to kill me tonight. I have to get him away from the kids. I have to find my friends. I have to find safety in numbers.” What a terrifying position to be put in, all the moreso knowing that so many women face this predicament every day in this country. On this planet. God.
The finale tied up all the loose ends it needed to, but for one: Will there be a second season? Nicole Kidman and others have left open that possibility if the book’s author, Liane Moriarty, and the show’s writer, David E. Kelley, can collaborate and come up with a compelling story. There’s nothing in the works, and I doubt that anything will ever come of it, but I wouldn’t be against the idea. It wasn’t a plot-driven series. It doesn’t need another murder mystery, or a season where they confront the cover-up (as Bloodline did in its second season). It’s about the characters here, and I wouldn’t mind at all spending another seven or eight episodes with these women (and Ed) because high stakes aren’t necessary when Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon can manufacture compelling drama from a kid’s birthday party.
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