Review: Big Little Lies, Episode Four – “Push Comes to Shove”

After being pushed to the background in a way in last week’s episode, “Push Comes to Shove,” thankfully, brings Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline back to the forefront, and the entire show is better as a result of it. I could write an entire blog dedicated to my love for Reese Witherspoon and, specifically, my love for this character of Madeline, but this is not the time or place so I’ll keep my adoration brief: Witherspoon is phenomenal in this role. Every week she adds something new, creating a multi-faceted character who, very easily, could be one-note. If she isn’t at least nominated for an Emmy come September, there’ll be another blog post debating why that is–simply, she’s wonderful week-in and week-out.

Other than Madeline’s renewed prominence, the fourth episode of the seven-part series also managed to bring sex/sexuality into the narrative, and I was surprised at how long it took for HBO to do so. Although underlying themes of sex were essential to the series before–Celeste and Perry’s uncomfortable and abusive sessions, for example–“Push Comes to Shove” managed to make sexuality an important plot device for just about every character. Logically this makes a ton of sense as we inch towards our bloody conclusion: sex is power, and murder and pain is also power. The two are tied together in interesting ways during “Push Comes to Shove.”

Jane, after revealing to Madeline in the previous episode that she had been raped, expresses lukewarm interest in dating again, much to Madeline’s surprise and approval. Still though, I don’t believe the audience is supposed to buy this. After three episodes of foreshadowing that something very bad and sex-related happened to Jane, it’s obvious that Jane just wants to move on, which she cannot do, not yet. As Madeline and Celeste attempt to track down the man who raped Jane, Jane deflects, saying that she’d rather just start dating anew and forget about the entire situation. For Jane it isn’t easy either. Because of Ziggy’s continued prodding over his father’s identity–Jane takes him to see a child psychologist in this episode to qualm some of her worries about her son’s mental state–she cannot let go just yet, and indeed we see her looking up the man’s identity as well as the episode draws to a close.

On the other side of the situation, the previously asexual Ed and Madeline explore their sexuality in this episode, just not with each other. The episode opens with Madeline and her ex-husband Nathan meeting for lunch where Nathan proposes a couples dinner between he and Bonnie and Madeline and Ed. Hyper masculinity illustrates itself again in Madeline’s ex husband. Attempting to make sacrifices for his wife but only to make himself look good, he stresses intently that he’s doing everything to be a good husband. Ed, meanwhile, seems to actually enjoy being a husband, putting on an impromptu Elvis impersonation when she comes home: “I’m your nut job.” This meeting of Madeline and Nathan prompts Ed to meet Bonnie at her studio where awkward sexual tension ensues, casting a bit of a shadow on the previous “all-American husband” persona that Ed exuded. Checking out other girls and saying point blank to Bonnie that he only came to gyms because sweat turned him on, the seed of doubt is placed in Madeline and Ed’s marriage, a seed which grows and grows with each passing minute of the episode, culminating in the reveal that Madeline has had an extramarital affair with the director of her play.

This shouldn’t really be surprising. Although Madeline and Ed seem very much in love, there isn’t much sexual tension between the two of them and very little actual physical affection. After Ed’s odd tension with Bonnie, Madeline’s make out session with her director, which is prompted by their successful defense of the play against Renata, makes sense. Madeline’s affair is revealed later which, again, almost makes sense in contrast to the characterization and Witherspoon’s performance. Is Madeline hiding something else? Is Ed? There isn’t much time to find out–three weeks left.

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