This Big Little Lies review contains spoilers.
Big Little Lies Season 2, Episode 5
Some of the best moments in this episode, and in the series in general, come when these wonderful actors are playing off of the solid child actors playing their kids. Season 2 has leaned even further into the theme that we pass our bad habits and traumas onto our children if we aren’t careful (and, sometimes, even if we are), but that’s not the only way the role of parent is explored in “Kill Me,” which tells an emotionally-complex story before descending into some potentially bad soap operatics in the episode’s closing montage.
The big plot-driver this week is Mary Louise’s efforts to assume full custody of Max and Josh. She has hired the best attorney in town and they are already trying to get under Celeste’s skin. During the first meeting with the judge, Mary Louise delivers a thinly-veiled performance proclaiming that she thinks Celeste loves her children, she just doesn’t think she can take care of them right now.
Celeste manages not to crack, but only barely, and as her own attorney explains to her just how bad the process will likely get, it becomes clear that Celeste isn’t the only one with something to lose here—and I’m not just talking about Max and Josh. Her attorney informs her that the case will most likely bring up the mysteriousness of Perry’s death and, as Renata, Madeline, Bonnie, and Jane are on the list of people who will be asked to testify in the custody hearing, they will be asked about it, too. This time, if they keep the secret about Perry’s death, they won’t just be lying to the police in the interrogation room, they’ll be lying under oath.
It’s making the deal Mary Louise’s lawyer offered Celeste look pretty damn good, even if Celeste doesn’t consider it for a second. The boys would spend weekdays with Celeste and weekends with Mary Louise, which sounds like a pretty sweet set-up for a single mom struggling to keep her life together. That being said, Mary Louise is a manipulative sort and she did raise Perry. Celeste has lots of reasons to want to keep Max and Josh far away from Mary Louise, even if she is not being completely honest with herself or others about all of them.
Something that’s not going to look good in the custody hearing? The fight Max and Josh just got into at school. When a boy comes up to Ziggy and tells him his father was a rapist, Max and Josh jump to his “rescue.” The three brothers beat up the initial bully, and get suspended for four days for the violent attack. While we’ve seen this kind of violent behavior from Max and Josh before, Ziggy has never been an aggressive kid. His actions obviously scare him, too. That night, Ziggy asks Jane is he will grow up to be a bad man, an awareness that only speaks to how well he is set up to be the exact opposite. Jane’s answer proves that, too. She isn’t teaching Ziggy how to be a “big, strong man.” She’s teaching him to be a kind and compassionate human.
Meanwhile, Max and Josh are not asking their mother that same question—in part because their mother is still unable to accept the fact that their father was, in fact, a bad man. Her denial, should she continue to clutch onto it, doesn’t serve to protect them. Kids are smarter and more observant than we tend to give them credit for. The twins know how their father treated their mother and when they ask her if he was a good man and she tells them he was, that gives them the idea that his behavior was OK… was good even.
This is part of the reason why they attack the boy bullying Ziggy with violence or why they call Celeste a bitch: it is learned behavior. It’s Perry’s behavior they are mimicking, but Celeste’s inability to be honest about the violent actions of their father is no doubt confusing. She may be telling them it is a bad way to treat her, but she is calling Perry, who hurt Celeste with his words and his body, a good man, when he no doubt did much of the same.
Speaking of violent behavior across generations, we get more explicit confirmation that Bonnie’s mother abused her as a child. In a previous episode, we saw a flashback to Elizabeth dunking Bonnie under the water when she was a child and not in a friendly way. While it’s not clearly spelled out—which feels honest to how these subjects are often talked about in real life—it seems like Elizabeth has anger problems, compounded perhaps by alcohol abuse.
With Elizabeth awake but unable to communicate because of her stroke, Bonnie confronts her father, Martin, about the abuse her mother put her through as a child. Why didn’t you protect me? Bonnie demands of Martin, a characterization he doesn’t agree with. He thought he was protecting Bonnie, by keeping the relative peace when really he was allowing Bonnie to stay in a situation that was huring her. Both of her parents failed her, though in very different ways.
I’m not sure how I feel about adding this additional layer of domestic abuse onto Bonnie’s backstory, as it was not there in the first season and feels, in some ways, like unnecessary drama that cannot be fully explored because of the massive presence of The Secret. We don’t need another reason for why Bonnie is falling apart. She saw a man beating up her friend, and then pushed him to his death and lied about it. That’s more than enough reason to stare into the ocean every night. This insight into Bonnie’s past does give us some context for why Bonnie might have been so willing to go along with The Secret in the first place: her family taught her to lie.
What does it look like when a secret comes out? That’s what Madeline and Ed are figuring out and, frankly, it’s going OK. They seem to have a breakthrough on the way back from a (very brief) marriage retreat, addressing unresolved issues that go back much further than Madeline’s infidelity. Ed has always felt like Madeline chose him because he was a safe, stable choice to be a mother to Abigail He has never said this… until now.
Madeline, for her part, doesn’t deny that this wasn’t a factor in her decision-making process, but also assures Ed that she loves him and wants to be married to him. She can’t promise that she won’t self-sabotage again because she’s still not sure why she does it, but she can promise that she won’t cheat on him again. She promises only to make new mistakes in what is, frankly, a pretty moving display of rhetoric. Will this promise be good enough for Ed? He himself seems unsure.
Elsewhere in the episode, Renata loses her spot in the magazine on Women in Power we saw her excitedly doing the photo shoot for in the first episode of the season. She’s pissed—and it’s not hard to understand why. She is a woman in power. She is a “self-made” woman—something that is extremely hard to do in this country. Now, she is being completely judged by Gordon’s choices and actions.
Ranata can’t fix her own life, so she tries to fix Celeste’s, totally underestimating Mary Louise in the process. Mary Louise is the most infuriating kind of person to argue with because she hides behind a calm, collected facade of politeness while she burrows into everyone’s biggest insecurities. She is smart, she knows where to dig. For Renata, that is her working mother identity, which she has often been judged for, and her current bankruptcy. When Renata invites Mary Louise over to convince her to stop the custody hearing, Mary Louise pokes at both insecurities and making me wonder if Celeste is screwed.
Unfortunately, what is a pretty excellent episode ends with a closing montage that presents some storyline possibilites that could have Big Little Lies biting off more than it can chew. Bonnie sees Corey leaving the police station, suggesting that he might be part of the investigation into Perry’s death. The woman Ed ran into at the supermarket in the season premiere approaches him at the bar, suggesting he is considering sleeping with her, while the man Madeline cheating on him with looks on. Earlier in the episode, Elizabeth manages to communicate to Martin that she had a vision of Bonnie drowning.
This show has enough interesting drama to sort through without adding undercover cops, more layers of infidelity, or premonitions to the docket. Hopefully, with only two episodes left to wrap up the many unresolved plots and themes of the show, Big Little Liesresists asking too many new questions, digging deeper instead of growing larger.
Corey may be a police officer? This is so depressing. Jane only deserves nice things in her life an she actually seemed to be getting them this season.
I don’t think Ed will cheat on Madeline. That would mean relinquishing the moral high ground he so cherishes.
Bonnie’s mom asks her to kill her. Yikes! Does this mean this season is going to take on the subject of assisted suicide on top of everything else?