As we’re constantly reminded throughout this show, the reason any of the women in Big Little Lies seem to live in Monterey is for the benefit of their children. It has great public schools (that is to say, private-school quality), a sense of security, and enough of a small-town feel that parents suspect their kids can’t even ride seatbelt-less in a car without them finding out about it.
But there’s irony in thinking that simply buying good real estate is the same as buying a ticket to good parenting. The first, of course, is that if you do raise that kid in a place that nice there’s a good chance that they’ll want to get out of there as quickly as possible.
Little Chloe Mackenzie (as played by Darby Camp), certainly the wisest and most world-weary of the show’s first-graders (if not the show’s entire cast of characters), seems to have this figured out as soon as we first meet her. Even though she’s not old enough to sit in the front seat of a car, she already has ambitions that will drive her right out of her hometown. (She wants to run her own record label.) Yes, her assuredness that her dream is a foregone conclusion reflects the naivety and privilege of a child of her age and station, but she’s already aware there’s a wider world out there. She knows innately Monterey is little more than a place of incubating purgatory she’ll endure until she’s old enough to seize what lies beyond. She may as well be the queen bee while she’s there, but for her it's no endgame.
In fact, while so many of the adult characters seem to have an underlying unease about their place in life and in this fishbowl town specifically, Chloe has a clear-eyed understanding of hers. She knows her parents live here for her benefit. She undoubtedly is aware, at least on an intuitive level, that for her mother in particular Chloe represents a second chance to get it right. She wields that word “woman” as if it’s a way to remind Madeline who’s really in charge. She’s not shy about manipulating her parents in other ways, often for her benefit—an extended bedtime, say—but sometimes for their benefit as well. Her mixes and musical choices, like Leon Bridges’s “River”—a redemptive song that reminds us all sins can be forgiven—is her favorite means to cut the tension in her famiy and draw them closer. (Though, when her attempt to pull the same trick with Amabella and Ziggy backfires, we are reminded that she is still six.) In fact, it’s just another unwitting dynamic of the Monterey ecosystem: Kids bending that parental insecurity to their will.
There’s also another darker irony in buying into the Monterey fantasy of child rearing. As much as you think you’re sheltering your children and protecting them from the unknown, you’ll soon find out that the flaws and complications of humanity, ugly and evil that they are sometimes, know all social classes and zip codes. Chloe’s mom cheated on her dad (after one already failed marriage). Her older sister’s trying to sell her virginity on the internet. She has playdates with one friend who is the product of a rape, and two more who reside under the same roof as an abusive marriage. Soon enough, her parents will find themselves ensnared in an actual murder, one way or another.
Young Chloe may be shielded from exposure to much of that for now, but the calamity of what we’re promised in the final episode seems impossible to hide from her. It threatens to spill the underlying drama out into the open and into the innocent eyes of the children. Chloe and her friends will learn of some it immediately, while other pieces may either be revealed or realized while they grow up, but nevertheless it will continue to shape them long after that innocence is lost.
Chloe, however, seems equipped to deal with it. Some viewers seem to have trouble accepting the way she is portrayed as way too wise beyond her years. Yes, undoubtedly, she's a creation of television, and one written by David E. Kelley at that (remember Ally McBeal's precocious surprise daughter?), but there are real-life little girls gifted with emotional intelligence and intuition, if they don't express it as clearly as Chloe seems able to. We already know Chloe is more aware of her parent’s marital problems than they realized, and who knows what else she’s started to half-figure out. She’ll process it, she’ll deal with it better than most, she'll end up more determined to get out of town. And she’ll know just the right song for any situation, for anybody.
Oh, and as for that beyond-her-years musical taste that’s been much written about, it seems pretty clear that music is her way of bonding with her father. She certainly seems to take cues from his collection. And there is something called Spotify, which Chloe clearly has access to. While I haven’t hung out with any six-year-olds lately to confirm, her music IQ doesn't seem too far beyond the realm of possibility these days, even if it's heightened for dramatic effect. Besides, what else is there for a sheltered youth in Monterey to do but go online. At least we know she won't be selling her virginity on the internet once she gets older. That's just not very Chloe, and she knows it.