‘Big Little Lies’ Recap: A Fight to the Death – Rolling Stone
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‘Big Little Lies’ Recap: A Fight to the Death

A storm’s brewing as Season Two heads into the home stretch, with Celeste and Mary Louise heading to court, Bonnie confronting a dark past, Ed drifting toward temptation, and all the kids unraveling

Ziggy (Lain Armitage) and Jane (Shailene Woodley) in this week's episode of 'Big Little Lies.'

Jennifer Clasen/HBO

A review of “Kill Me,” this week’s Big Little Lies, coming up just as soon as I give someone a hug for the length of a nice inhale/exhale…

A few episodes back, Madeline broke down at a school assembly as she considered the many ways that parents lie to their children. At the time, she was really wallowing over the lies she had told Ed, and the way her life seemed to be imploding as a result. But throughout “Kill Me” — easily this season’s sharpest and most eventful episode so far — we begin to see the weight of all of the parents’ sins starting to emotionally crush their children.

Ziggy, Max, and Josh get into trouble at school for putting a bully in the hospital after he calls Ziggy “a mistake” and refers to Perry as a rapist. An understandably fearful Ziggy asks Jane if he’ll grow up to be like his biological father, while we’ve continually seen that the twins have picked up many of their father’s flaws. Here, one of them calls Celeste a “bitch,” sparking another explosion of her own frayed temper. But when Celeste tells them about Mary Louise‘s push for custody, they’re crushed and also sweet, offering to lie to protect their mother (and to keep from having to leave their only living parent). Chloe isn’t normally very affectionate, but aware of how bad things are between her mom and dad, she offers Ed an unsolicited hug, reducing him to tears. Amabella seems to be doing better since her panic attack, but she still gets a day to hang with her mom after Renata is hit by Mary Louise’s ruthless guilt trip about her being a working mother who’s now bankrupt.

Even the Bonnie portions of the episode felt more vital than usual, in part due to their focus on her own role as someone’s child. It was implied in Season One that she’d come from an abusive home, which is how she could recognize Perry’s behavior at Trivia Night as something Celeste needed saving from. We’ve been getting flashes of her childhood memory since her mother Elizabeth came to visit. Here, they expand enough to reveal that Elizabeth was the one who was emotionally (and at times physically) abusive of her, and that Martin didn’t do nearly enough to protect young Bonnie from her mother’s rage.

Bonnie’s flashbacks are just one of several aspects of the episode that are edited in the more elliptical and emotionally unnerving fashion of Season One. That style’s been missed through large swaths of this season, which has already had to contend with the impression that the story is only continuing because the cast (now with Meryl Streep!) is too great to disband. “Kill Me” (the phrase a desperate and pained Elizabeth says to Bonnie after she regains some of her ability to speak) feels more emotionally tangled because of the way Andrea Arnold and the editors present information, while also significantly advancing several key plotlines.

Madeline seems to get through to Ed a bit with her pledge that she’ll never cheat on him again, even if she screws up in many other ways. But when Ed goes out to a local bar, he runs into a very flirtatious Tori — and spots Joseph openly watching them both, as we realize that the other parties in Madeline’s affair have chosen a more direct way to resolve their marital tension. Celeste and Mary Louise begin their custody battle (in front of a judge played by the ever-reliable Becky Ann Baker), and Celeste’s new lawyer Katie (Poorna Jagannathan) suggests that if they don’t settle, all of the Monterey Five could be questioned under oath about Perry’s death. (A perjury trap, as Renata notes, expertly set up by Detective Quinlan.) And when a guilt-ridden Bonnie again approaches the police station to think about confessing, she spots Corey walking to his car, suggesting that he’s not just an exceedingly kind and patient new friend for Jane, but perhaps some kind of undercover operative for Quinlan.

That whole final sequence, masterfully edited and beautifully scored to “Victory Dance” by My Morning Jacket, puts all the characters and their problems into a blender. Different vignettes are clearly happening at different times (Renata and Amabella playing during the day, Madeline thinking about sex with Joseph at night), but the swirl of images is a reminder that all these problems are connected and getting worse for those connections. No one can breathe. No one can escape. Not the poor kids who only know what other people tell them, and not even the adults who think they have more control over their own fate.

As we head into the home stretch, Season Two really needed an episode this strong.

 

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