Little Fires Everywhere
I want to start this recap by explaining that I watched this episode soon after my daughter was born. She had been screaming all day because of gas and reflux, and I was emotionally and physically exhausted when I finally turned on the screener. I have a support system of a husband, friends, and a nanny — we even had a night nurse for a while — and I was still overwhelmed.
The beginning of this episode is a reminder of how powerless parenting a new baby can make you feel in the best of circumstances, and especially if you happen to be by yourself and without a solid income in a foreign country that isn’t welcoming to people who look like you. Yes, this episode of Little Fires Everywhere can be a little heavy-handed in how it forces the issue of race. (Of course the white store clerk is going to be mean to Chinese immigrant Bebe and the white bus driver is going to take a kind heart to pretty little white girl Izzy when they’re both short the titular 70 cents.) But it also reminds us of just how recently people in modern society have been able to be more open about topics like postpartum depression, the hardships of nursing mothers, and baby hatches.
The episode also really, really makes me hate Elena.
The first few minutes fill in the blanks from the end of episode two, opening with a flashback to a few months prior where we learn what happened with Bebe and her baby daughter. The scene starts with Bebe’s exhausted eyes. Her newborn won’t stop crying and she can’t get her to nurse. She tries to buy formula and begs for help when she doesn’t have enough money, saying the baby is starving and she herself hasn’t eaten in a week. Instead, she is admonished that she should try breastfeeding because it’s free. She goes home to her empty apartment to find that the power’s been turned off. Alone, broke, and seeing no other choice, Bebe bundles her daughter in all she has — including her own winter coat — and leaves her at a fire station.
After the opening credits, we flash to the present. Mia and Bebe are at work at Lucky Palace. Mia urges Bebe to look for her daughter because “a mother is a mother.” Bebe says things aren’t as easy for her; she’s in the country illegally and the authorities could send her back to China.
Mia gets a little jumpy at any discussion of going to the cops; this is not the first time she’s shown concern over interactions with law enforcement. But she does ask around at the fire station. She also asks Bill, who comes to her drenched in sweat after mowing the lawn that she told Elena she’d handle, if he knows of any immigration attorneys since he’s also a lawyer.
The mystery of the missing baby is not that hard to solve. Linda, Elena’s best friend from childhood, and her husband have just adopted a little girl who was abandoned at a fire station and she is going all out on a first-birthday party for her. Who abandons a child like that, Elena says to Mia. Never mind that, just minutes before, the wealthy and perfect mother of four suggested that she may have also had issues with postpartum depression or something else, because there was a time when she couldn’t take care of her kids.
“If you can’t handle being a mom, don’t get pregnant,” Elena says, as if such an event is ever that simple and children should only ever be planned and born into well-adjusted homes.
Meanwhile, it’s time for the homecoming dance. Pearl wants to go, but Moody would rather they stay home and rent Before Sunrise, and I don’t know which of them is right. Izzy, who has just sat through a mortifyingly uncomfortable conversation with her mother about whether she’s gay, suggests they go as a group with Moody’s friend Carl, because Elena told her that “everybody’s telling a story, Isabelle. Whether they admit it or not.”
This works out great for Lexie, who is in hot water with her boyfriend Brian because he found out she stole Pearl’s guidance counselor story for her Yale application essay. She offers to take the new girl shopping, buying her a dress for the dance before Brian can talk to Pearl. She also accidentally hits on the giant question mark of Pearl’s life: Who is her dad? Or, at least, does he look like her?
The dress immediately becomes the object of the latest row between Mia and Pearl. Mia is horrified that her daughter has taken a gift from “some rich, spoiled white girl.” Pearl again brings up her father and wants more of an answer about him than he’s the person “who gave me you.” She wonders if he could “help us have a better life,” a life where they are financially secure enough that she doesn’t have to shop at thrift stores and transfer schools all the time, and Mia doesn’t have to work in her friends’ house. And why did Mia have to work in that house, anyway?
The night of the dance and the baby’s birthday arrives, and Mia and Pearl have mended their relationship enough for Mia to get her ready for the dance and drive her to the Richardsons’. Elena and Bill are loading boxes for the party into their car, Elena stopping long enough to compliment Pearl and brush off Mia’s orders that Pearl be polite enough to call her “Mrs. Richardson” — and to tell Bill to get Mia to help him load the car without being polite enough to ask Mia to help.
Everything stops when the three adults see Izzy in her homecoming dress. Her parents are taken by how proper and polished she looks. Mia notices that she nicked her leg shaving and needs a bandage. Elena takes Izzy upstairs to clean her up, adding the final touch of conformity by applying her own lipstick to her daughter’s face.
However, Izzy can’t keep up this charade for long. Seeing girls whisper about her on the dance floor, she makes Carl her unwitting dance partner, puts his hands too far down on her back, and shocks him by giving him a huge kiss. Despite Moody’s attempts to talk with her about this outburst, she storms out of the school gym and, although she doesn’t have adequate funds, takes a bus ride to Mia’s house for comfort, forcefully rubbing her mother’s lipstick off her mouth.
At the dance and the after-party, Brian is still angry with Lexie because she doesn’t see how big a deal it is that she stole another person’s story, particularly a woman of color’s, and used it as her own. But she’s able to quickly win him over by giving him something that he wants: they have sex for the first time, throwing out their previous game plan to base their consummation on what worked for Brenda Walsh and Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills, 90210 and wait until prom.
None of this is known to Elena and Bill, who have their hands full at the birthday party. Elena has learned that Izzy’s fallout with a friend may have been sexual in nature, a rumor Bill was secretly already aware of. But this is forgotten for the time being, thanks to Mia.
Determined to find out whether Linda’s adopted baby is the same one that Bebe abandoned, Mia offers to serve as photographer for the party. She finds a birthmark on the back of the baby’s head that matches the one Bebe remembered and speeds off to tell Bebe the news. Bebe, so overcome with grief, longing, and guilt, demands to go to the house that instant. She crashes the party just in time for the candles to be blown out. Hysterical, she’s restrained, just as the camcorder recording the event crashes to the ground.
• We don’t give Bill enough credit. He’s the one who suggested Elena might need to see a therapist over her relationship with Izzy in episode one. He also mowed the lawn in a suit and tie this episode, apparently knew the rumors about his daughter and was fine with it, is in the process of quitting smoking, and puts up with his wife’s mandated sex schedule. So what if Mia found a Penthouse magazine in his desk drawer last episode?
• Lexie loves her pop culture references, telling Brian he looks like Tyson Beckford (maybe she likes that Toni Braxton video?). But the 90210 logic seems a little extreme. That show’s “Spring Dance” episode aired in 1991, when Lexie would have been about 12. I guess 90210 really had an impact on her. It could be worse. Set Little Fires a few months later and the kids would be referencing Dawson’s Creek.
• In all seriousness, if you feel you have postpartum depression or are feeling overwhelmed, talk to your doctor or call this number.