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Big Little Lies season 2, episode 6 recap: the bad mother

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Hannah Keegan
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In episode six of Big Little Lies, Celeste is put on trial, Renata realises she’s been living a lie and Madeline sways in her wedding dress to Patti Smith. Spoilers to follow. 

In season one of Big Little Lies, men were downright evil. 

Let’s count the ways: Madeline’s (Reese Witherspoon) ex husband Nathan (James Tupper) paraded his new isn’t-she-perfect yogi wife Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) and their daughter Skye in front of her heartlessly. He then swept in as a hero to their daughter who he’d originally abandoned, as Madeline watched stunned. 

Then there was the unknown monster who raped Jane (Shailene Woodley), fathered her child and haunted her every thought. She searched for him online, fantasied about shooting him in the head, even sat in the office of a random interior designer she thought could be him.

Finally, of course, there was the biggest, baddest wolf of them all: Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgard). To think of those scenes where he smothered Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) face with a cushion, dragged her across the floor by her hair, kicked her as she lay crying, stopping only to answer their son’s knock at the door (“mommy isn’t feeling well”), is to wince with unease.

In this episode, however, we’re asked to consider the ways women terrorise each other; specifically mothers and daughters. We already know that Bonnie had an abusive childhood; one where her mother Elizabeth was the monster under the bed. In the book, this role went to her father and his victim was Bonnie’s mother; a quiet woman who he’d attack if she so much as laughed the wrong way. The flip feels like a way for the show to explore what happens when maternal love goes wrong.

“I resent you for not feeling safe at home,” Bonnie says tearily to her mother as she lays in a coma (she had a stoke in episode four) this episode, “I resent you for being ashamed of me. I resent you for all the sex I started to have when I was 13 to prove to myself that I could be loved.” When she pushed Perry down the stairs, she was thinking of her, she tells her. 

“Can we kill her?” she later asks when the doctor tells them that, at this point, it’s a waiting game. Um, no, they absolutely cannot, the doctor replies wide-eyed. “You would do it for a dog,” Bonnie says casually. Yikes, but also, fair enough.

Here are three more thoughts on episode six.

Celeste is on trial

It is judgement day for Celeste Wright. The past few episodes, we’ve been drip fed the ways she’s not coping: she’s crashed her car after taking ambien and driving around (something she now does regularly); had lots of sex with lots of men she does not know; drank and drank and drank some more; taken to injuring herself (cue mysterious bruised arms). 

This episode, all this has been compiled into a nice, smart  power-point presentation for us! A power-point presentation that’s shown at a custody hearing by Mary Louise’s (Meryl Streep) lawyer, if you would believe it. “Do you remember this man’s name?”, he asks a mortified Celeste, “what about this one?” She doesn’t. Jack? Maybe Joe? Who cares anyway. 

He then insinuates that she is as sick as Perry when it comes to sex and violence. The camera lingers on Celeste throughout this whole ordeal; we see her face move through shame, anger, helplessness. It has an unreal, nightmarish quality. 

“Have you really gotten over your sickness?” he asks. Someone give her a hug. 

Reality crashes into Renata 

The Kleins are at rock bottom. Their bank accounts are drained, their mansion is empty, their daughter is sad and anxious. But, still, they have their marriage right? Wrong! This episode, we find out Gordon (the man responsible for burning their money in the first place) has been having an affair with the nanny. The nanny of six years. 

We find this out at a bankruptcy hearing. The nanny asks for severance pay, as well as the $160,000 she was promised for other “services”. What services, the trustee asks. Stress, ahem, management, she finally says. She won’t go further. She’d prefer to leave it at that. 

When Renata finally gets him alone in the car, she goes off. “Shut the fuck up for the rest of your fucked-up, fucking life, do you hear me?”, she yells while simultaneously stuffing tissues down his throat. “I don’t want to hear one fucking word from your fucked-up, little fucking twerp mouth on why you fucked up no matter what fucked-up excuse you come up with, you fucking shit.” 

It’s the perfect scene. 

Take the wedding dress off please, Madeline 

Madeline and Ed are another couple who are going through it: a result of Madeline’s affair with the theatre director last season. This episode, though, Madeline is feeling nostalgic and a little tipsy. Ed comes home to find her swirling around in her wedding dress to Everybody Want to Rule the World (their wedding song). She looks fairly unhinged underneath the layers of white silk. 

So far, the show hasn’t paid much mind to how she’s doing. She’s the pit bull in the pleated skirt who scoffs at the inability of the others to keep it together. “You know what, I’m so tired of taking care of you and your fucking feelings,” she says to Bonnie this episode, “I know your mom had a stroke, but let’s not forget you’re the one who pushed him.”

But Bonnie, in her role as the most perceptive (and generally human) on the show, sees through Madeline’s fussing and accusations and endless cheer. “It’s getting to you, isn’t it?” she asks her later, “the lie”. 

Images: HBO