5 takeaways from "The End of the World" on "Big Little Lies"
Nothing says "ominous and foreboding" like naming your new episode "The End of the World." So would the Monterey Five's worlds keep revolving after Sunday night's new hour of "Big Little Lies"? Let's talk about the five biggest takeaways from another solid Sunday with HBO's hit show.
1. Environmentally conscious
It's the end of the world as we know it – and nobody's feeling fine, as it turns out.
After two episodes that exhilaratingly blazed through a lot of plot material and moved its pieces around with blinding speed, Sunday's hour instead pumped the breaks of its fancy SUV for a bit to focus on its relationships and talk about the environment. No, not the global environment – though a lot of characters would like to discuss the planet's health with you, from Jane's aquarium co-worker/potential boyfriend who REALLY wants to know where his comes from at a restaurant to the kids' teacher and his bizarrely climate-conscious interpretation of "Charlotte's Web." (Charlotte just didn't want to waste water, you see! Sustainability!)
That all just turns out to be thematic, however, as "Bigger Littler Lies" really wants to talk about the climates parents create and their impact on their children. There's Madeline, slowly coming to terms with the fact that her obsession over Abigail not going college likely comes from her own disappointment about not getting a higher education – while also coping with a sulky Ed post-cheating bombshell. Renata's intensity combined with her husband's new legal woes put Amabella on the ground in a closet thanks to a panic attack, and while Bonnie's slowly emerging from her funk, she's thinking about the environment she grew up in, flashing back to when her mom trained her how to hold her breathe underwater the old fashioned way, aka pushing her under the water and forcing her to survive.
Add in the Monterey Five's overall simmering concerns about getting caught, and the kids aren't just feeling the heat of climate change on the globe; they're feeling the effects of the climate changing in their own homes as the sins of their parents increasingly infect them.
2. You get a therapy session! You get a therapy session! EVERYBODY GETS A THERAPY SESSION!
Man, go Dr. Reisman, just raking it in as Monterey's seemingly only therapist.
This week, it's Madeline and Ed's turn to go to relationship counseling as they attempt to sort through her infidelity and his role in letting it happen. As we expect from Dr. Reisman, she's incisive, picking up both on Madeline's insecurities about her daughter having a better life than herself and Ed's general wet blanket-ness perhaps nudging his wife toward cheating.
There's also her usual sessions with Celeste, trying to help her move on from her husband's death and accept that, really, it was for the best, as he could've killed her long before they killed him in self-defense on Trivia Night last season. She's clinging to the good, but Dr. Reisman also thinks she might be suffering from a form of PTSD, unable to cope with normal life without his domestic warfare. Meanwhile Celeste even seems like she's trying her hand at playing therapist herself, helping Madeline come to terms with what she's uncovering in her sessions in a heart-to-heart between friends in the car after each one.
Even Renata's getting in on the action, hiring a therapist of sorts to talk with Amabella after her panic attack. But not just any therapist, of course, but one who dresses up like Little Bo Peep – because duh, Renata hires the most bougie, preposterous therapist on the market. Just because she's dressed as a children's character, however, doesn't mean Little Bo Kid Therapist isn't an expert at dropping some truth bombs, as she uncovers Amabella's concerns about the environment and the end of the world, as well as her stress about her parents.
Again, after two episodes of rapid-fire plot developments, Sunday's episode was more about the emotional impact of everything that's happened – from infidelities to, of course, Trivia Night. That meant a lot of hours clocked at the therapist – which also meant some bonus time with the show's quiet MVP: Robin Weigert as Dr. Reisman. She crackled in her scenes last season with Nicole Kidman, and those scenes haven't lost any of their power in round two, as she proved this week she's a great scene partner for Reese Witherspoon as well. Distant yet deeply empathetic, soft in here delivery yet sharp in her discoveries, it's a truly great supporting performance from Weigert, opening up and uncovering new depths to each character and performance she shares the screen with.
For a small character surrounded by big performances, an unknown name amongst superstars, she's made a mighty impact on the success of "Big Little Lies."
3. Mary Louise is losing it
Everyone's world is coming apart on "Big Little Lies" – and that includes Mary Louise, who's clinging harder and harder to the fantasy of her son while reality tries to pull her away.
Last week, she gallingly wondered if Jane was making up her accusation toward Perry, or if she slept around and doesn't know for sure. This week, she took her behavior one step ever further and confronted Jane at work to ask her how sure she was about Perry's guilt – and if she would be willing to put Ziggy through a blood test. But after awkwardly stalking Jane and getting her first glimpse of Ziggy, even she can't deny that it's Perry's son. Of course, in classic Mary Louise fashion, she passive aggressively needles her way into trying to push some blame on Jane, saying he could've misinterpreted a signal, and talking glowingly about the sweet, innocent boy in front of the woman he raped.
In case that wasn't enough, she also officially wore out her welcome at Celeste's house after getting caught snooping through her medicine drawer and raising her eyebrows at using Vicodin. Never mind that her son and his vicious physical abuse is the reason Celeste needs it.
With the idealized son in her mind and in her memory increasingly disappearing, replaced by the ugly man he grew into, and her only tethers to Earth – Celeste and now Jane – tired of being nice about pulling her toward reality, I have a feeling we'll be seeing her team up with Detective Quinlan sooner rather than latter. She's far too desperate to accept the truth.
4. Somebody save this poor principal
Boy, could Principal Nippal use summer vacation already. Thanks to his teacher's over-zealous interpretation of "Charlotte's Web," he's reached his mental breaking point – which is saying a lot since last year someone bloodily died at a school event. Now he's coping with Hurricane Renata blowing into his office about Amabella having a panic attack and blaring at concerned parents to shut up at a conference – an award-winning conference, at that! – discussing the way they teach the students about the changing climate. Looks like somebody picked the wrong week to quit smoking cigarettes!
For a storyline about children feeling crushed by the weight of the end of the world – either their homes or the literal planet – it's a lot of fun, but it also admittedly feels a touch out of place. Though this concerns all the parents, this is Renata's plot, and her story now has a completely different tone from the rest of the show. Last season, catty bougie mom drama was a comfortable part of the fabric of "Big Little Lies." This season, as Madeline's story has taken a turn for the serious, leaving her precious little time for gossip and sass, and as the rest of the characters are dealing with serious problems like PTSD from losing a husband, killing a man or moving forward from a rape, Renata's scenes have felt more and more like a completely different show, brief transmissions from Planet Bravo's Real Housewives of Monterey.
That being said ...
5. And now your Laura Dern Meme of the Week
How am I supposed to complain about a subplot that gives me Laura Dern just demolishing every single living person daring to share the screen with her? They may not gel entirely with the rest of the show right now ... but they're also some of the best comedy on television, and certainly the most meme-able.
This week Dern once again generously offered plenty of GIF-worthy moments, from her tantrum at Principal Nippal – involving a plan for saving the environment involving her buying everyone at Otter Bay a polar bear and a proud proclamation announcing that will rise again out of her current state of sub-flithy richness – to her verbal slaps to Amabella's concerned emergency room doctor. And you just knew putting Renata and Mary Louise in the same room, even for just a few seconds, would be magic. They only had a few words, but in the process, they created a new one: p*sf*ck. And now Merriam-Webster has its Word of the Year.
All worthy nominees, yet I think I have to go with her delightful reaction during Madeline's rambling, emotional vent of a speech at the parents conference.
The tone of her scenes – fully comedic soap – may not belong on the "Big Little Lies" in its current, increasingly serious form, but considering Laura Dern's delicious scenes belong on my television screen forever, I'll allow it.
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