overnights

Big Little Lies Recap: The Best Monster

Big Little Lies

The End of the World
Season 2 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****

Big Little Lies

The End of the World
Season 2 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: HBO

If Oprah were watching this show (she probably is), I’m pretty certain this episode would have her shouting, “YOU get therapy! And YOU get therapy! You ALLLLLL GEEEET THERAPYYYYYY!” Which is great. I think. Therapy can be wondrous, an invitation to better know ourselves, to work through our nastiest impulses before they turn into harmful behaviors, etc., etc., etc. But “Get some talk therapy” is quickly turning into the solution for everybody and their mother (literally) on this show, and while I adored In Treatment, this is not the sequel I’d imagined.

Madeline and Ed have ended up on Dr. Reisman’s lush bottle-green couch, albeit with a tribal-print lumbar pillow between them to keep an obvious separation. And Dr. Reisman goes at them, or rather, at Madeline, hard. For a first session, which we assume this is, she’s really asking these patients to “do the work,” to dig down and figure out the exact single neuroses motivating all their anxieties. Which is hard! And really not something you accomplish in one session! But at the same time, Reisman has a pretty good handle on what’s obviously plaguing Madeline: She’s insecure about her lack of a college diploma — hell, she’s insecure about everything, probably including her height — and she’s acting out that insecurity by railing at her daughter and looking for extra doses of lovin’ from men who aren’t her husband.

Of course, there’s more to this story, and it turns out that as a child Madeline walked in on her father having sex with another woman in the marital bed. They never discussed it, and she hasn’t told anyone until now, in this front seat, where the women of Monterey confide in one another like boarding-school roommates whispering from bunk to bunk. Her pronouncement that “marriage is not to be trusted” is a revelation a little too fresh for just one therapy session, and slightly degrades the idea that therapy is a process, not a fix, but okay.

Celeste spends her fair share of time at Dr. Reisman’s in this episode, too, and pushes back just as firmly against the good doctor’s insinuations. Resiman presses Celeste, over and over again, to reject all the good memories of Perry, to only hold onto the bad, to the point where I’m slightly concerned about this woman’s ability to safely lead Celeste into a healthier place. Sure, it’s delusional to forget about the time your husband kicked you in the head or nearly choked you to death, but isn’t it another form of delusion to wrap up every good memory of your adult life and bury it deep beneath the earth? The complication of domestic abuse is that, for many women, the abuser is someone who has also swept them off their feet, written love letters, texted just the right combo of silly but loving emoji. The accompanying emotions don’t implode just because the abused party starts to gain some perspective.

Reisman is right that Celeste is like a veteran who “misses the war” — that expression is a near replica of what Celeste tells Madeline in the car about how colorless life feels without Perry: “As dead as he is, sometimes I think maybe I’m deader” — but how does denying the happier moments of the Wrights’ marriage help Celeste move on to accept and understand her new role as a partnerless mother? Doesn’t the grief of a woman who has lost her husband deserve some honor?

The question of what Celeste will tell Max and Josh about their father — and what she can convince Mary Louise to believe — adds even more complication to the mix. Ironically, while Celeste angrily snaps at Dr. Reisman that Perry’s warmth is worth remembering, she’s reminding Mary Louise of Perry’s vicious side. In that wonderful, warm scene of the twins flipping through their digital “memory book,” we first notice that Perry plays, as one of the kids says, “the best monster.” If that metaphor doesn’t bonk you over the head, I don’t know what will. But as Celeste and Mary Louise sandwich the boys, and they switch to a sweet, gentle clip of Perry reading the attachment-parenting classic Guess How Much I Love You to the then-toddler twins, Celeste is sunk even further into this mire: Mary Louise must be imagining Perry the way Celeste sees Max and Josh.

Us viewers have all (or least most of) the facts — we saw Perry tearing at Celeste’s hair and throwing her body across their perfectly appointed walk-in closet. But Mary Louise has no sense of the scale and monstrosity of Perry’s actions — Celeste, if you recall, told her that they both engaged in some rough play that often turned sexual. It’s no wonder, then, that she is on this quest to rehabilitate his character, showing up at the (quite peeved) detective’s office to inquire about what exactly is taking so long in this investigation.

But when it comes to Jane, well, this is the moment that Mary Louise turns into one of TV’s most believably complicated, ruthless villains. If you were left positively gobsmacked by Mary Louise and her goddamn sensible cardigan marching into Jane’s PLACE OF WORK and pretty much demanding a paternity test, you were not alone. This woman has balls the size of her veneers. After that, she has the audacity to imply that Jane’s an ignorant slut and “can’t remember” all the men she’s slept with. The fact that Jane walks away and doesn’t lob Mary Louise herself over a railing is commendable. If the end of this season isn’t just a silent montage of all the women of Monterey filling out a burn book entirely composed of Mary Louise’s smirking face, I don’t know if I can continue watching.

When Mary Louise shows up — again — this time creeping out from behind what looks to be a dumpster and making eye contact with Ziggy, I wouldn’t have blamed Jane if she’d called 911. But Mary Louise, who is, we must admit, deliciously cunning, first lures Jane in by showing her photos of Perry’s brother as a child and pointing out the (significant) facial similarities to Ziggy. Oh wonderful, you might think, Mary Louise is grieving and kind of a nutcase but she’s recognized her folly and has come to make amends. But nope! She wants to be in Ziggy’s life, to be his sweet, doting grandma. But she also wants to know if Jane “instigated” her own rape and is wondering if, perhaps, her son’s penis being repeatedly shoved inside Jane’s body was really all just a big miscommunication?

Because judgment is one emotion Mary Louise has in spades, she has no qualms about rifling through Celeste’s prescriptions at the end of the episode and pointing out that there is an “impressive array” of meds. Celeste finally breaks out of her Resting Doll Face to tell Mary Louise it might be time for her to finally put down the deposit on that apartment she’s been hunting for.

Meanwhile, Renata — who is still not rich again yet, but she’s working on it! — is continuing to truly have a week. Admittedly, Amabella’s teacher is making literary leaps with Charlotte’s Web that would’ve pissed me off, too. That wonder of a book is about a lot of things (the trembling fragility of life, for one), but sustainability isn’t one of them. Mr. Perkins, who clearly didn’t pay attention to the part of his Praxis that focused on age-appropriateness, then slides a little Walter Scott poetry in there while he neglects to notice that one of his second-graders is shaking in the closet.

Renata is the only person on Earth to not recognize that Amabella is having anxiety attacks largely in response to her mother’s emotional engineering. And it certainly doesn’t help that her parents whisper-fight over her (very awake) body, shoving the blame off onto each other. It’s no surprise that the doctor recommends … You guessed it: therapy.

Laura Dern is playing Renata big this season. Huge, in fact. That tactic could backfire with the wrong actress or intonation — all the wild shouting and furious gestures might overwhelm the scenes. But Dern, a child of Hollywood and certainly no stranger to the fantastical whims and hissy fits of the stupendously rich, has this nailed perfectly. Most women might leave the principal’s office shouting after discovering that their second-grader was being bombarded with images of the planet’s imminent demise. But only Renata could yelp, “You think because of this whole bankruptcy thing that this school thinks I don’t matter. Please! I will be rich again! 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,” and win a round of applause. Not to mention her valuable addition of the word “pussfuck” to Big Little Lie’s ever-blossoming dictionary of expletive portmanteaus. (See: snidefuck).

Jane has been through the wringer with Mary Louise this episode and deserves a little happiness, which she has seemingly found in Corey, an earnest Golden Lab of a human who orders like he’s in that Portlandia skit about chickens, respects her wishes to “idle in neutral,” and barks out “I’d love to meet him” when he learns about Ziggy. When she bumps into Bonnie, who has been on a run for the past four months straight, she looks more pleased than we’ve ever seen her.

As for Bonnie herself, there’s also a bit of a smile creeping back onto her face — and a massive bombshell about to drop if we ever learn what those things are that she’s keeping from Nathan. Will they be related to the feather/crystal/chicken-bone combo her mother left on her dresser last weekend? Who knows! But Free People will be delighted to have her cruising their racks again soon, once she’s unburdened herself and is back to her matcha-mixing ways.

Are all the women destined to become unglued before this season ends? Until now, Madeline held the prize for the mother who best kept her suffocating neuroses under wraps, but after that blubbery and insightful but slightly meandering speech to all of Otter Bay about how “we lie to our kids,” I feel a feeling it may not be Bonnie who cracks.

Big Little Lies Recap: The Best Monster