Warning: This Big Little Lies review contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 2.
Big Little Lies Season 2, Episode 2
“Tell-Tale Hearts” is a potentially unsettling reminder of how much we pass on to the children in our lives through example, as the kids of Big Little Lies‘ cast of characters do not as their parents say, but rather as they do, keeping secrets and/or telling lies just like their parents.
While the truth about Perry’s death may not be revealed to anyone in tonight’s episode, The Monterey Five are forced to get honest about many of the other secrets they have been holding onto—from Perry’s sexual assault of Jane to Madeline’s infidelity with the local drama director. It’s not easy to see the ways in which how they choose to deal with those truths coming out is mimicked by their own children, for better and worse.
At one end of the parental honesty spectrum, we have Jane, who, when confronted with the knowledge that Ziggy now knows who his biological father was, is completely honest with her kid (or at least as honest as you can be when you are trying to explain rape to a second grader). I wish this scene hadn’t cut when it did because this scene was incredibly powerful, like nothing I have seen on TV before, and I am honestly curious how you even go about explaining something like this: How much do you tell? What words do you use?
The silence that rape culture depends upon to survive starts young. Of course we shouldn’t go around explaining the most brutal aspects of violence to our kids, but they are living and growing up into a world where sexual violence is all around them. Ignoring the issue completely, especially when it directly impacts them in some way, is only adding to the problem.
It’s tough to think about, but a classroom of kids is statistically likely to include future teens and adults who will both enact sexual violence and have sexual violence enacted upon them. If we have any hope of changing that, we need to get way better at talking about these things both with kids and as adults. It’s important to have our pop culture stories modeling what that can look like.
The difference between how Jane handles Ziggy’s questions about Perry and how Celeste handles Josh and Max’s questions about Perry couldn’t be more different. While Jane lets Ziggy see how upset she is, modeling that it is OK to cry and show emotion, Celeste continues to keep everything bottled up inside, which sends a totally different message to her kids: that it’s not OK to show how you really feel. That you have to keep everything inside until it comes out, like in Celeste’s violent outburst that saw Max shoved to the ground, his mother exclaiming that she will not let him become like his father.
By the end of the episode, Celeste is inspired by Jane’s example, at least partially. She may not be honest with Max and Josh about Perry’s violent nature—how could she be when she’s not even honest with herself?—but she is able to talk to them about Ziggy’s relationship to them, and welcome a gathering that sees the three boys meeting one another as brothers rather than just friends.
Interestingly, Celeste is able to be somewhat honest with Mary Louise about Perry’s abuse. Earlier in the episode, we see Celeste only able to get angry about Perry’s abuse when she imagines, per her therapist’s suggestion, that Madeline is the one being hurt.
Similarly, Celeste is only able to express the extent of Perry’s violence against her when Jane’s honesty regarding her rape is being called into question. Even then, Celeste continues to take part of the blame for Perry’s abuse, saying that “we” were violent and that they both hurt one another, when, really, it was Perry who used his physical and emotional power to hurt, control, and manipulate Celeste again and again.
We get insight into how their relationship began. Prompted by Mary Louise’s comment that Perry first described Celeste to him as “an enigma,” Celeste remembers one of their early dates. When she tells him that she has no siblings, her mother is dead, and she isn’t close with her father, he tells her that, if their relationship should work out, then he’ll have her all to himself. Which is, objectively, a creepy thing to say.
Celeste is working so hard to work through her complex emotions involving Perry, and it looks exhausting. The episode begins with Celeste driving her car off the road in a confused state, on Ambien and in her pajamas having no memory of ever having gotten into the car in the middle of the night. Instead, her mind is filled up with memories of Perry: good ones, bad ones, if that is even a helpful distinction anymore.
Mary Louise continues to prove herself very manipulative. While she is ostensibly sticking around to help Celeste, and she does provide assistance that Celeste is desperately in need of, she is, altogether, a negative presence in Celeste’s life. Though she may not be violent like her son was, she is cruel, controlling, and increasingly singleminded in her pursuit for a truth about her son’s death and life that she wants.
What’s so difficult about Mary Louise’s actions is that many of them are helpful and or understandable on the face of it. She tells Celeste about her own deep depression following the death of her husband, but also hounds Celeste about the night her son died, her own plans to leave him, and anything that goes against this persona of the perfect son she has created for herself. Mary Louise isn’t looking for the truth, she’s looking for her truth, and most of her actions, while on the surface suggest empathy, are motivated by that goal above all else.
Meanwhile, Madeline life spirals out of her control when Ed overhears Abigail mentioning Madeline’s infidelity last year. For Madeline, this is another obstacle to overcome. For Ed, at least initially, this is the end of their marriage. It isn’t simply Madeline’s infidelity that bothers him, but also that this is the latest in a long line of secrets that Madeline has kept from him. She doesn’t confide in him in the way he hopes that she will, which breaks his heart.
The affair no doubt rankles Ed’s pride, something we have seen as important to him, especially in relation to Madeline’s ex-husband Nathan. Their contentious relationship is based on the tension that while Nathan is more tradtionally desirable than Ed, then Ed is the partner with a higher emotional intelligence. Madeline’s infidelity and, on a larger level, unwillingness to be vulnerable with Ed, is no doubt a real hit to that narrative of self.
While Nathan may not be emotionally intelligent—a fact Bonnie’s visiting mother gloriously points out to her daughter—he also knows his limits (and, often uses them as an excuse). Desperate to get through to his wife, he invites Bonnie’s mom Elizabeth to town. Elizabeth immediately sees that something is wrong with her daughter, but Bonnie refuses to open up to her mother, too. The only place she is able to be honest continues to be in rushed asides with Madeline.
For her part, Madeline understands that Bonnie is not doing OK—not least of which because Bonnie has explicitly told her that—and that she needs someone to talk to, but is unwilling and/or stretched too thin to be that person, despite her concerns. Instead, she uses her energy to complain to Celeste about it.
It’s not surprising that Madeline is hesitant to be there for Bonnie. She is the wife of her ex-husband and like Ed in relation to Nathan, is aware of the ways in which Nathan and Bonnie’s relationship thrives where Nathan and Madeline’s relationship did not. Bonnie has always been better at speaking openly and honestly, which is why it is so hard for her not to be able to do so with the people she loves and who love her.
In perhaps the least connected of the storylines, Renata is forced to confront a very likely future of not being rich (though who knows what “not being rich” means in this context) when Gordon is arrested by the federal government for insider trading. As of this episode, the realities of losing all of their money have not actually been realized, so it’s unclear what it will look like.
For now, we see the repercussions solely on the emotional level. Renata, who wasn’t born into wealth, feels a sense of utter betrayal at the possibility that Gordon might have sent her back into an existence of financial insecurity when she has worked so hard to escape it. She is furious and she is scared, and it is all happening so fast that she only has time to briefly talk to Madeline about it before moving on in a whirlwind of activity.
I am concerned that Gordon’s legal troubles are too disconnected, both thematically and plot-wise, from the season’s other storylines, but perhaps not. During their rushed conversation, Madeline and Renata theorize that the investigator looking into Perry’s death may have tipped the right people off about Gordon’s illegal actions. Are they being paranoid or is there some truth to the idea? Either way, Bonnie’s prediction that the lie is going to get them, some way or another, is already coming true in so many ways.
Can Jane and Celeste move in together so they can support one another as parents and be a little family with their kids? That would be very nice.
Dude, what happened to Perry’s brother, who died when Perry was only five? Do we suspect foul play?
I love seeing Divergent co-stars Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz in scenes together.