Review: Big Little Lies, Episode Seven – “You Get What You Need”

(As I wind down my reviews of Big Little Lies, I realized I have never given a proper spoiler warning at the front end of any of these posts. Here we go, for the first time and the last, SPOILER ALERT.)

The last shot of the last episode of Big Little Lies implies room for a sequel, one which probably will not and should not exist. While Reese Witherspoon is seemingly all for it, director Jean-Marc Vallée is not, likely because he realizes that it would be quite difficult to top the seven essentially perfect episodes that he and the show’s wonderful cast and crew have created. I’ve mentioned before that this show feels like the pinnacle of event television, and I stand by my claim after watching last night’s finale.

“You Get What You Need,” named after the Rolling Stones song and this beautiful cover of it, which played over last night’s credits, manages to push the drama to 11 and appropriately conclude the show’s core mystery: who killed whom and why? The majority of the finale’s third act is set at the fundraising gala that this show has so concerned itself with, and the tension that builds is palpable, at the same time as it is startlingly brutal, particularly when it comes to Celeste and Perry.

Celeste continues her move out during this episode, and things seem to be going to plan. Perry has yet to find out and the apartment is slowly becoming furnished and ready for her and her children to move in to. This changes the night of the gala when, in a fleeting moment, Perry picks up Celeste’s phone to find a message from Celeste’s realtor. Skarsgard’s cold delivery of his lines in this scene is subtle and easily the most bothersome aspect of his character. Later, on the way to the gal, he erupts, telling Celeste he has these demons inside of him and acknowledges that he’s a flawed husband. The audience knows he’s not going to change, yet this scene still serves as a ribbon on top of what has been an incredible seven episodes worth of performances from the Emmy-worthy Alexander Skarsgard. I didn’t go into this show thinking that it needed a villain, yet I’m happy it did because Skarsgard is wonderful.

This outburst from Skarsgard leads to the scenes at the gala, where Madeline continues to struggle with her adulterous nature–again playing on the aspect of voyuerism, Madeline watches Joseph and his wife from afar (and vice versa) during Ed’s performance of Elvis’ “The Wonder of You.” Madeline, in her own words, tries to hold on to a false sense of perfection, which makes sense when looking at her character. Witherspoon plays Madeline as someone who has far more to her than meets the eye: underneath the blonde bouncy facade is a tortured woman, one who struggles to not only be the mother she feels she should be, but also a wife who loves her husband deeply, yet can’t show it in a way that feels natural to her. She’s bare in the most realistic way, especially after Jane meets up with her at the often-showed stairs under construction outside the town’s civic center. Madeline reveals to Jane that she was unfaithful to Ed, and she is then joined by Renata, and then Celeste, who has once again escaped from Perry. At the same time, Bonnie picks up on clues that Celeste is in a dangerous situation and follows Perry as he follows Celeste. I truly cannot describe this in a just way: this scene is wonderfully edited and shot, and manages to be remarkably clear, despite the fact that it’s following these five women all at once.

I believe this is the first time, since the premiere episode at least, that the entire cast of women is together at once, but it feels vital that they only appear with one another so often. As Perry walks up and joins them, everything falls into place: like many people had presumed, Perry is Jane’s rapist. The moment of realization on behalf of Jane, Celeste, Madeline, and Perry is so wonderfully done and brilliantly executed that I was beside myself while watching it. The entire series led up to one singular moment, and Valleé, as well as the entire cast, pull it off with flying colors. As Perry struggles with the four women, Bonnie emerges the spoiler and shoves Perry over the edge, killing him. This is the show’s biggest little lie: all five women cover up the fact that Bonnie killed Perry, and, through an ending montage, we see the lives of the women returning to a sort of equilibrium. Still, perhaps not all is well. The aforementioned last shot is through a pair of binoculars, looking down at all five women and their children with the sound of a lighter flicking, Detective Quinlan’s signature move.

Although the finale leaves a possible follow up open I don’t think it’s needed. The open-ended conclusion seems fitting for a show that has so reveled in the lives of these women–nothing will ever be perfect, yet that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to achieve happiness. Even if I don’t think there should be a second season, I understand why Witherspoon and the rest of the cast would: with all the wonderful personalities on set, it had to have been the time of their lives filming. Instead, Big Little Lies can end with a strong sense of satisfaction for the women involved, knowing that they’ve gotten over this bump in their lives, and with gleeful blindness at what may happen next.


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.