UK TV review: Big Little Lies (spoilers)
Victoria Russell | On 01, May 2017
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen Big Little Lies? Read our spoiler-free review here.
After seven episodes of persistent speculation, apprehension and downright dismay, the victim that succumbed to the secretive mothers of Monterey is finally revealed – and while it’s not particularly surprising, the revelation is startling.
HBO’s Big Little Lies has taken mainstream TV by storm, following the everyday trials of motherhood with the startling enigmas of home life behind closed doors. Reese Witherspoon stars as homemaker Madeline, who spends much of her time taking care of her two daughters, volunteering on the drama committee and arguing with almost everyone she knows. Someone who never comes in close range, however, is her best friend, Celeste, played by Nicole Kidman, who is mother to twin boys and a former lawyer, who gave up her career at the request of her controlling husband Perry, played by Alexander Skarsgård. The two mothers befriend new neighbour, Jane (Shaileene Woodley), who receives immediate backlash after her son, Ziggy, is accused of hurting the daughter of wealthy tycoon Renata – played by the ever-superb Laura Dern.
Despite the somewhat middling undertone, Big Little Lies kicks off with full steam with subliminal covetousness and frank hostility, and while it may appear to some that these characters are merely quarrelling about the trials and tribulations of middle-class suburban, it’s evident to see an everlasting fear of exposure and relinquishing control.
As we slowly discover the various secrets that these three women are hiding – Madeline and her affair with drama teacher Joseph (Santiago Cabrera), Jane and the trauma of being raped, and Celeste and her sadomasochistic relationship with her husband – the events have built up to the final episode and the infamous Audrey Hepburn & Elvis Presley Benefit.
Viewers have been consistently reminded from Episode 1 that the looming murder had taken place at the event, a night in which the most glamorous members of Monterey County emulate Audrey Hepburn and Elvis Presley to raise money for charity – and after weeks of questioning every move, motive and mother on the block, it’s genuinely hard to pinpoint the culprit and their target until this very last moment.
The penultimate scene of Big Little Lies may go down as one of modern TV’s greatest moments. After Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) – the new, younger wife of Madeline’s ex-husband – notices an upset and frightened Celeste quarrelling with her husband, she keeps an eye on the couple in a bid to make sure she is alright. Meanwhile, an intoxicated Madeline is sobbing to Jane outside at the recounting of her affair with Joseph. This sparks Renata to make amends with Jane, after accusing Ziggy of hurting her daughter – when in fact it was Celeste’s son, Max. Tension is running high and when Perry approaches the women in a bid to speak with Celeste, he becomes aggressive, and we’re suddenly very aware that the night in question is about to transpire at any moment.
The music intensifies, the images halt in slow-motion, and you rapidly find that your heart is racing. As Perry approaches the women, Jane’s face drops and it is quickly exposed that the man who raped her, and the father of her child, is, in fact, Celeste’s husband. He belligerently grabs Celeste, and Madeline immediately attempts to protect her friend but succumbs to Perry’s violent rage as he hits her across the face. And as Celeste, Jane and Renata become instantly in sync in a bid to stop him, Bonnie runs, determined to stop him, pushing Perry down a flight of stairs and instantly killing him.
The climactic scene is one of intense and overwhelming emotion; never have you seen such a profound example of solidarity and unity in recent years. Big Little Lies offers a sincere and powerful example of just how strong women are and the series offers an accurate and authentic portrayal of the complexities of motherhood and the constant stigma attached to what is expected of it. Director Jean-Marc Vallé, and writer David E. Kelley have done justice to these complex and confusing female characters, a trait that is shamefully infrequent in TV these days.
Big Little Lies is available to buy and download on pay-per-view VOD.