Review: Big Little Lies, Episode Three – “Living the Dream”

Without the risk of sounding like a certain green animated character, Big Little Lies is like an onion. Like many other “peak television” series, Big Little Lies is not afraid of showing you the end result of its tedious reveal and revels in the twist and turns that lead to its ultimate end: who is dead and who killed them? This week, even more is revealed and hinted at–at the end of the episode I had a clear theory about the shows mystery–yet even more is left in the dark to keep the audience coming back for more. Although “Living the Dream” doesn’t contain as much sheer drama as the previous two episodes, Big Little Lies continues to impress and remain surefooted in its execution.

Shailene Woodley’s Jane, the couple of Celeste and Perry (Kidman and Skarsgard, respectively), and Renata (Dern) take center stage this week after sitting in Witherspoon’s Madeline’s backseat in the last episode, and all four actors are wonderful–this will come up again and again, these actors are great and I’m continually amazed at what they do with this script week in and week out. Last week I was remiss to have not mentioned Celeste and Perry very much, yet it would be impossible to do so this week. As Perry continues his physical and emotional abuse of Celeste, the two decide to go to a marriage counselor. A lengthy scene ensues–one that it shot almost completely from two different angles, a clever attempt to keep the audience’s focus on the words being said–and, despite Celeste’s desire to keep it hidden, Perry eventually reveals to the counselor that he is physically abusing his wife. Skarsgard is terrifying creepy in this role and the tension in his scenes with Celeste is almost unbearable. Entitled and overbearing, he shares characteristics with the other characters in the show, yet goes one step further due to his use of violence, which few of the other characters have done so far. He’s insecure and overaggressive, yet not quite to the point of melodrama. Celeste too though feels easily swayed and easily impressed. In this episode she is manipulated with Perry’s gift of a bracelet and his insistence on performing a sex act on her in the shower, while in the previous episode she performs a striptease via the computer. Sex is powerful, yet those dull purple bruises are powerful, too, and I wonder when the pain will be too much.

We learn more about Jane as well in this episode, which occurs organically and realistically thanks to David E. Kelley’s teleplay. The first grade class is assigned to create a family tree which naturally leads to more father talk from Ziggy. It’s finally revealed that he is the product of a particularly violent rape, and one that we are shown in fairly graphic detail. Jane again withholds this information from Ziggy, remaining strong in the face of continued prodding, and not letting this traumatic experience shape her in an outward way. Although we see flashes of sadness and despair in flashbacks, Jane remains sturdy in the present, especially in front of her son. This performance is refreshing and exceptional on Woodley’s part, who commands most scenes she’s in–especially one that she shares with Madeline on the porch late in this episode–and I can only hope that her appearance in Big Little Lies will feed Woodley a wealth of more dramatically meaty roles.

The series-wide theme of popularity and the incessant need to be liked is again developed in this episode in quick scenes of Renata at her daughter Amabella’s birthday party, which was first mentioned last week. The night before the party Renata calls Madeline, who has bought many of the kids tickets to see Disney on Iceand essentially begs her to not go but to no avail. Renata needs to not only be liked herself, but for everyone to like her daughter, further emphasizing the class drama at the heart of this show.

(Oh, I haven’t forgotten about Madeline. Witherspoon continues to be excellent and her head-butting with Renata is a highlight of any scene the two of them share. Her eldest daughter, Abby, moves out this episode to live with her father, Nathan, and Bonnie. Will this drive Madeline and Nathan/Bonnie/Abby further apart or bridge the ever-developing gap?)

The show continues to steamroll towards its inevitable finale with a clear trajectory and precision, a technique not shared with other similar whodunnits in recent years–looking at you How To Get Away With Murder–and I can only hope that it will continue to do so with four episodes left. Still, I selfishly wish it would slow down a little, Big Little Lies is easily the best part of my Sundays.

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