Spoiler Alert: The following article contains spoilers about the HBO series Big Little Lies. Viewing the show from start to finish is highly recommended.
Sometimes good people do bad things. Infidelity, lying, threatening, bullying — even killing. Senseless crime has no place in the masterfully suspenseful Big Little Lies, and as evidenced by the recently aired season finale, “You Get What You Need” the HBO series features a myriad of intertwined reasons why a person would commit a crime.
From the word go, the show’s modus operandi has been to cite a particular incident – a murder — that occurred at the all-too-anticipated Audrey Hepburn/Elvis Presley themed school fundraiser. The nuanced and dramatic tensions of who might finally bubble over and knock off one of their fellow townsfolk are dangled in front of the viewer. However, it’s not the machismo chest puffing husbands who externalize their wives’ and ex-wives’ angst that end up maiming one another, nor is it is the passive aggressive and sometimes turned just plain aggressive arguments between power-house moms, or even the wife of the director who Ms. Madeline had an affair with during the erection of a production of Avenue Q.
Hell hath no fury, or so they say.
Those arguments and tensions seemed just too trivial to come to deathly blows.
I, for one, had put a certain degree of stock in the idea that newcomer Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) would eventually meet the man who brutally raped her and gave her the son Ziggy she so desperately loves, but then wonders if his DNA might be marred towards a propensity to violence. My interest was piqued when the coffee shop owner Tom stepped into defend Jane from Renata’s judicious husband before asking her out. When he picks up Jane for the fundraiser and asks to leave his bicycle helmet there’s a moment when he gives Ziggy a lingering look — he must have overheard the conversations between the women — or is it that he knows more? Jane cannot remember the exact face of the man who so brutally violated her.
The show does not veer into the “SURPRISE KILL!” style, but rather is culmination of a very complex, rich, and deeply sick relationship. Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) and Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) have what seems to be the picture perfect marriage, but as we’ve seen their union is littered with violence. The episode opens with Celeste unable to get up off the porcelain floor of the bathroom after her husband knocks the wind out of her.
Celeste has heeded the advice of her psychiatrist and rented a new home. She prepares her seaside apartment for her children to live, but must first go the party, pretend like everything is fine, and wait for her husband to leave on one of his many business trips. Celeste’s psychiatrist (Robin Weigert) pleads for her to leave now and not wait and that there “are children in the house.” Celeste balks at the accusation her husband is harming her boys, he’s never hit the children — but does that mean he isn’t hurting them?
Jane finally uncovers whose been choking and abusing Annabelle. It’s one of Celeste’s twins Max, who must have heard, if not seen, the tumultuous relationship between his parents. Perhaps this is how the young boy has learned to express love, affection? Jane tells her friend — without knowing of the abuse she suffers at the hands of her husband — with a compassionate and gentle hand. Kids bully one another right? They grow out of it.
“Maybe some don’t,” Celeste wonders aloud. She returns to her young boy, tells him he is not trouble, knowing perhaps she is somehow complicit in his actions, and embraces him.
The final scenes of the episode are filmed with a dizzying frantic energy. Perry has found out about the apartment and his wife’s plans to leave and refuses to accept the decision. He hunts for her through the sea of Elvises and Audreys. Madeline has too many drinks and succumbs to her guilty conscience about cheating on her “steady Eddy,” Jane consoles her at the top of the staircase currently under construction. Renata’s been told by Celeste that it’s been Max who’s been hurting her daughter all along and finds the two to apologize to Jane for making her and her son out to be social pariahs. The three stand in a triad of mutual apology and Celeste finds them in an effort to escape her husband.
Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz) notices Celeste fleeing from her husband and follows. What we know after a flourish of splashing moments is this: Perry angrily beats his wife in front of the women, ready to cash in on his promise to kill her. The moment before his outburst Jane looks into his face and sees the man she’s been chasing on the beach, the man she’s been pointed her pistol towards all the time. Is this a moment where we know that it was Perry who raped Jane? Or is he an embodiment of the violation, the abuse, that so many women suffer every day?
In the scuffle Bonnie runs as Perry kicks his wife and she pushes him down the stairs. Perry is impaled and is killed.
In a story that would in many ways have us believe that these women would always be pitted against one another the cathartic ending to the series has them banding together against a common enemy. The lead investigator knows these women are not telling the truth when they claim Perry tripped and fell.
Why would they lie?
Is there such a thing as a good lie? Is there such a thing as a good murder?
After consuming the intoxicating elixir that is the seven-part mini series Big Little Lies, some have been calling for a second season to quell their thirst for such a deft handed drama. I have to disagree, considering the series was intended to be a one-off miniseries based on the book of the same name by Liane Moriarity. Literary arguments aside, I feel no compulsion to revisit the characters of the intensely beautiful, although not so quaint, coastal community of Monterey.
I feel as though the closing shots of these women on the beach with their children, once at odds, once suspicious or angry or secretive — have a solidarity, a unity, that’s too powerful to deny. The closing frame is a view of these women through a set of binoculars from a distance, as if to position the women as far away, untouchable now, in the distance, staring out into the ocean, together.