This episode of Big Little Lies is titled “End of the World,” and precisely no one feels fine (sorry). Our Misery Index—in which we rank the residents of Monterey from least to most tragic every week—was, if less intense than last week, still quite competitive. Everyone is sad about their affairs and impending bankruptcies and enormous model train sets. And also death and abuse, and looming Armageddon. Let’s dive in. Hold your breath.
Bonnie seems better! She sings Elizabeth Cotten’s “Shake Shugaree” with her mother and daughter. She laughs over coffee with Ed, annoying Madeline to no end. She keeps bonding with Jane. She’s also not in the episode very much, giving her very little time to mope about the guy she killed. Progress!
Bonnie only gets a few scenes this week, but they feel pivotal. In one, she bumps into Jane at the beach with her co-worker-slash-love interest Corey, who is teaching Ziggy to surf, and they have one of their standard season 2 expository chats. Jane can’t bring herself to be physically intimate with Corey, and Bonnie urges her to tell him the truth about her past. But then Bonnie stops to laugh, realizing that she’s a hypocrite, that her husband doesn’t know the truth of who she is. To be fair, Nathan is stupid and probably wouldn’t recognize the emotional core of an apple. But yes, Bonnie is hiding something, something more than just how Perry died. Her overly long, drawn-out backstory continues to get drawn out.
In a flashback, we see tiny Bonnie with her mother, Elizabeth, in a pool. Elizabeth is teaching her daughter how to swim—or rather how “not to drown.” Bonnie doesn’t want to go underwater. And so Elizabeth shoves her head down.
The drowning references are really getting out of hand. This season is not going to end well.
Jane does not have an easy week, but there is one bright spot: Corey, with whom she goes on a few dates. They go to dinner, where he rants about farmed vs. wild salmon, teaches Jane about microplastics and things that, considering the fact that she works at the nation’s premiere aquarium, she should already know. Read a brochure, Jane. But otherwise the date seems very nice. They walk and Jane tells Corey that she used to paint, and she divulges that she has a son. He’s enthusiastic, immediately declaring that he wants to meet Ziggy. Jane is happy, but the second Corey tries to kiss her, she pulls away. It’s still too much.
Corey respects her boundaries, for now. It’s touching when they gently sway together in a parking garage. If that curly-haired thalassophile ends up displaying any sinister qualities whatsoever, this recapper will throw herself down the Otter Bay Elementary staircase.
But Jane still has to deal with Mary Louise, who is truly getting on my last nerve. She stalks Jane at work, demanding that she submit Ziggy to a paternity test. Mary Louise is grieving, and can’t or won’t let go of the image of her son that she holds dear—one who wasn’t a rapist or someone who enjoyed kicking his wife in the ribs. She would rather blame a rape victim than interrogate Perry’s character, preferring to question Jane’s motives and allege that she was drugged or had multiple undisclosed partners rather than consider the possibility that Perry was a sociopathic monster who got off on causing pain. It’s a highly realistic reaction, actually, more so than if the character were made to put aside her grief and properly listen to Jane’s story. (But that doesn’t make it less maddening!)
Madeline Martha Mackenzie
Ed knows that Madeline was “fucking the theater director,” and their marriage is falling apart. And so they go to see Dr. Amanda Reisman, Celeste’s doctor, whom Madeline dubs “Madame Therapist.” It seemed very weird and unethical that Celeste’s therapist would see her best friend, a woman she already knows all about, and so I texted two therapists to confirm: one of my best friends, a LCSW who said it was indeed “weird and unethical,” and my own former therapist, who simply said “would not do.” So. Odd choice, Madame Therapist and team of Hollywood writers who have likely all been in therapy for years!
Ed claims that he’s always been devoted to Madeline. And we’ve really seen no evidence to the contrary, despite his occasional creepiness. Consider last season, his constant hurt that Madeline focused her attentions on being angry with Nathan rather than their life together. But Dr. Reisman cuts to the meat of the situation pretty quickly: Madeline feels worthless (partially because she didn’t go to college, a subplot that just won’t die) and since she doesn’t value herself, puts no stock in marriage.
Madeline tells Celeste that she walked in on her father having an affair when she was just a small child, and never really got over it. Madeline feels like her life is hollow; her marriages have been troubled, she has no real self-worth. And she can’t believe that she never knew Celeste was living through abuse. But Celeste simply wishes she’d told her friend what was happening. “You would have been out of that marriage, so fast,” she says. “I wish I had told you, I do. You would have jumped into that pool and pulled me out.”
There’s a classic Otter Bay assembly, featuring a mob screaming at the principal over his choice to teach the kids about climate change. Madeline elects to speak, and delivers an impassioned cry that surely most miserable parents could relate to, frustrated that we all lie to children about happy endings. She stands in front of everyone, crying about Marlo Thomas and the state of her marriage. Nathan looks delighted. Ed is unimpressed.
Mary Louise Wright
Mary Louise is the worst, but she isn’t entirely unsympathetic. She watches home videos of Perry with Max and Josh, laughing and stroking their hair. And she stalks Ziggy at Jane’s apartment complex, but it’s an affectionate sort of stalking. Jane softens, and she meets Mary Louise for coffee. Mary Louise’s sons looked exactly like Ziggy when they were little boys, and for a minute she and Jane can connect. Mary Louise wants to be in Ziggy’s life.
But she still waxes on rhapsodically to her son’s rape victim about how sweet he was, and once again questions Jane, implying that she somehow “tempted” Perry into raping her. Jane holds firm. But Mary Louise is devastated by the idea that her son was “evil,” and begs Jane to admit if she saw any good in him. All Jane can do is lightly shake her head.
Mary Louise goes to see Detective Quinlan, and implies that no one—especially not Celeste—cares about Perry’s death. “You don’t believe my son just slipped,” she asked. “Do you?” Great. Awesome. Good tidings.
But Meryl Streep’s best scene of the episode is a simple run-in with Madeline and Renata at the real estate agency. She merely lets out a simple, masterfully judgmental “mmhmm.” A “mmhmm” for the ages.
Celeste misses Perry. She says life feels “colorless” without him, that she was a better mother while he was alive (which, considering what Max and Josh were up to last season, seems like flawed analysis). She asks Madame Therapist if she can just hang on to the good memories of her husband.
The doctor reminds her that Perry almost killed her, many times. She compares Celeste to a veteran who misses combat, citing other victims of domestic violence who seek out wounds. Celeste doesn’t want to be a statistic. But Madame Therapist implies that she could be an addict, addicted to Perry. It’s very cheesy, but reasonably effective. And if Celeste is an addict, what happens now that the supply is gone?
Apparently nothing good. She comes home to find Mary Louise rifling through her pills, some of which she needed for the pain after one of Perry’s beatings. Mary Louise is silent in the face of this admission.
Celeste masturbates to a video message from Perry before she goes to sleep. The episode ends on her orgasm, her face contorted into something that looks like anguish.
At Otter Bay Elementary, cursed teacher lectures the kids about sustainability. But he pauses when he notices a pair of tiny feet sticking out from below a closet (one of the episode’s two Wizard of Oz references). It’s an unconscious Amabella. Of course it’s Amabella, because this kid just cannot catch a break.
At the hospital, when the doctor tells Renata that Amabella was brought in with an anxiety attack, she responds in her typical way: gasping, grabbing at her sides, pacing back and forth. In short, an anxiety attack. She fights with Gordon as they lean over Amabella’s hospital bed, and yells that she wants her transferred to Stanford. When the doctor implies that Renata’s stress could be having an adverse affect on her daughter, Laura Dern gets her big GIF of the week: Renata scrunches up her face and imitates him in baby talk, like the least creative bully on the playground.
In another instant meme, Amabella descends the staircase of the cold, glass Klein house, accompanied by a middle-aged woman dressed as Lil Bo Peep (the comedian Kerri Kenney), who speaks in an affected voice that lands somewhere between Jennifer Tilly and a late-in-life Michael Jackson. As soon as Amabella steps away, Dr. Peep—presumably an inordinately well-compensated child psychologist—tells Renata and Gordon that Amabella isn’t being bullied again, she’s just having a logical response to the impending apocalypse. “Her class is evidently talking about climate change,” says Little Miss Muffet. “And she’s gotten the message that we’re doomed.”
Amabella is also worried about her father’s upcoming trip to a white-collar country club prison and the fact that her mother seems to live in a perpetual nervous breakdown. But mostly the end of the world.
Honorable mention: Principal Warren Nippal
After Amabella’s episode, Renata storms into Principal Nippal’s office, where he tells her off, saying that the school is not solely designed to suit Amabella’s needs. Renata interprets this as a loss of power due to her newfound lack of liquidity. “I will be rich again,” she proclaims in a speech that someone is surely already editing into an Emmy reel. “I will rise up. I will buy a fucking polar bear for every kid in this school, and then I will squish you like the bug that you are. Pretends like he’s not a smoker, hasn’t been laid in 15 fucking years. Don’t you talk to me like that!”
The principal is, in fact, a smoker. American Spirits. Hip!
Honorable mention: Gordon Klein
The scene where Gordon vapes in a backwards hat while listening to reggae and staring forlornly at his model train set is among the most pathetic moments in recorded human history.