If episode 3 of Big Little Lies is anything to go by, the Monterey Five therapist has her work cut out for her. Spoilers to follow.
If there’s one thing we know about Perry’s slippery mother, Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), it’s that she loved her son. So devoted was she to Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) that he lived his life in the bright glow of her rose-tinted lenses. So far, anyone who’s dared to question her darling son’s benevolence has been shot down as silly! Hysterical! A slut!
Only now, in episode three, is the spell finally starting to lift. Mary Louise sees Ziggy, Perry’s son by Jane (Shailene Woodley) - a woman he raped - for the first time. She waits outside his school, clutching her handbag nervously to catch a glimpse. The moment Ziggy plods out her jaw drops. He looks exactly like Perry’s brother as a child, we later learn. Twins, in fact. No paternity test needed.
The scene closes with Mary Louise begging Jane to tell her it wasn’t rape. “I can’t surrender to this notion that he was evil,” she says, fighting tears, “I do so want to believe there was good in him”. Jane shakes her head, looks away and doesn’t give in. And Mary Louise is left to come to terms with the man she raised.
Here are three more thoughts on episode three.
I’m worried about Amabella
The fact that Renata (Laura Dern) and Gordon Klein (Jeffrey Nordling) are parents is quite a frightening thought. They are pushy. They live by the belief that throwing money at something always fixes it. And they have zero grasp on what’s best for their daughter.
This episode, Amabella is found curled up under a table at school after having a panic attack and is rushed to ER. When Renata arrives at the hospital she is manic (“check for bite marks! She was bitten last year!”) and directs her concern in strange, volatile ways.
She’s rude to the doctor (“I would like my daughter transferred to Stanford,” she says, gazing around the room in disgust, “I mean, please”) and argues with Gordon (“you have done enough”) in front of her already-consumed-with-anxiety seven-year-old.
Renata then decides to have a child psychologist dress up as Little Bo Peep for a play date with Amabella. Her frilly, gingham bonet and squeaky voice is truly surreal. And what do we learn? Amabella doesn’t want her dad to go to jail, thinks something is going on with her mum and is worried about the end of the world. What does Renata decide to do with this information? March straight to Principle Warren to moan about climate change being on the curriculum.
Can someone please save this child from her awful parents?
Celeste misses the war
In episode two, we saw Mary Louise do a patronising, sing-song performance of “I don’t belieeeeve you” when Celeste shared that her son was violent with her. Now, it’s clear Celeste has internalised those words and is using them against herself. She watches old videos of Perry looking handsome and innocent, lists all of his great qualities to her therapist (“Celeste, she replies, “he nearly smothered you with a cushion”) and listens wistfully to her and Perry’s sons’ memories.
Dr Reisman compares her to a soldier who misses the war, “they can’t handle the mundane,” she says, “normal life is dull”.
When her boys asked whether their dad was a bad man last episode, Celeste pulled them close, stroked their hair and told them he was wonderful, but that he could also be weak. Weak was an interesting choice of word. It implied that on the occasions he looked at her lovingly, behaved well, didn’t hit her, he was being strong. And that, Celeste, is a low bar for strength.
Is there not another therapist in Monterey?
A quick disclaimer: I am all for the Big Little Lies therapist (Robin Weigert). She’s skilled. She’s prepared for every emotional defense a client will block her with. And she gets results. When Celeste walked into her office for the first time last season, she was clutching Perry’s hand protectively and shyly gazing his way when asked if their arguments ever became physical (“no, no, never”). Fast forward a few sessions and Celeste was organising her exit from the marriage.
But the idea of Ed and Madeline - who are dealing with the fall out of Madeline’s affair - going to see her too feels gimmicky. This episode, they attend a joint session where we learn the obvious: Ed is disengaged and Madeline doesn’t believe in herself. Celeste and Madeline meet up to compare “Madame Shrink’s” techniques afterwards. It doesn’t add much to the episode.
Will every cast member sit on her incredibly depressing, velvet green couch before the season’s out? They certainly need to, but it might not be that interesting to watch.
Season two of Big Little Lies airs in the US on HBO on Sundays and in the UK on Sky and NowTV on Monday mornings and again in the evenings.