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Big Little Lies season 2, episode 4 recap: motherhood ain’t simple

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Hannah Keegan
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In episode 4 of Big Little Lies, we dive into the complexity of motherhood, substance abuse and checking in on friends. Spoilers to follow. 

Bonnie Carlson’s (Zoe Kravitz) mother, Elizabeth (Crystal Fox), is a force to be reckoned with. 

A hippy type who arrived like a storm into Monterey in episode two, and has been quietly traumatising her daughter ever since. Bonnie is edgy when she is around. We’ve seen a flashback of her ducking Bonnie’s head underwater as a child. Watched as she performed some sort of reiki ritual on Bonnie while she slept. We’re being given reasons to be suspicious by the bucket load.

This episode, Elizabeth has a stroke at a Seventies themed party for Amabella. Guests are hysterical. Renata, dressed in head-to-toe metallic gold, shrieks. Bonnie takes control. Later, she’s distraught (bloodshot eyes, trembling hands, curled in on herself totally). What does Elizabeth’s husband ask when he arrives at the hospital? “What did you say to her?” The implication is that whatever is wrong with Elizabeth, right now or at large, Bonnie is to blame.

Motherhood, and being the right kind of mother, is at the centre of Mary Louise’s (Meryl Streep), storyline, too, this season. She is childless now that Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) is gone (his brother died as a child), and she wants Celeste’s boys for herself. She files the papers. Celeste is unfit - “unwell!” - she’s telling anyone who’ll listen. 

I imagine that at night, right before she closes her eyes, she pictures her two perfect grandsons that look so much like Perry and his brother, and tells herself silently that, this time? This time, she’ll do it right.

Here are three more thoughts on episode four. 

Mary Louise is concerned about Celeste

Please don’t make Renata hand over her wedding ring

Renata Klein (Laura Dern) wants you to know she is self-made. She does not stand to inherent, thank you very much. The Gucci bag she’s carrying? She bought it. The $20 million glassy, beach-front mansion? Hers. That 50-foot yacht (“the Amabella!”)? Half hers, too. This episode, she watches her assets be noted and filed in a bankruptcy meeting. She navigates the situation like a tightrope artist who could slip and fall at any moment.

Her face crumbles when she’s asked about a $42,000 “medical bill” which turns out to be for therapy, she eventually reveals by gesturing to her head. And when she has to hand over that big, white gold wedding ring? Heart breaking.

Let’s remember she’s in that room because of her husband’s carelessness, not hers. In episode two, right after she got the news that Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling) had wrecked their finances, she confided in Madeline that she was scared: scared of going back in the hole. That was her childhood, she said.

As selfish and manipulative and downright mean Renata can be, I am rooting for her and her damn coin. 

Celeste in costume at the party

Can someone check in on Celeste? (Besides Mary Louise)

Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is the kind of woman people look at approvingly. She wears the silkiest shirts; the softest cashmere cardigans. They always look great on her. Her glistening, strawberry hair falls just so. Her skin? Smooth and creamy. In short: she’s the kind of woman who radiates a sense of Having It Together. 

Lately though? Not so much, not that anyone has noticed.

By now, we know she has a penchant for taking Ambien and driving around late at night, but this episode, she decides to take some Ambien and bring a man home from a bar. The next morning, she is sat swaying on the sofa, makeup smudged across her face with said man from the bar in the next room, when Mary Louise walks through the front door with her boys. It is a really disconcerting scene.

Later, she tells Madeline she didn’t even realise where she was when they walked in. She was not even mentally in the room. “Well,” Madeline says, “you’re entitled to your private life. She should have texted!”

Excuse me, Madeline? Her reaction is a lesson in how our beliefs about people, imagined or real, impact our ability to see them coherently. She shows us how we get each other wrong all the time. 

A round of applause for Chloe Mackenzie: a comic genius

I would like to make the case that Chloe Mackenzie, Madeline’s precocious seven-year-old daughter, is the most underrated character on Big Little Lies. Please take a scene from this episode as my evidence:

“This is opposites,” Chloe says, holding up big piece of card with two drawings on: one of her mother, one of a door.

“Okay, opposites,” Madeline says smiling. “Um, that’s a door. And that is…”

“Yeah, that’s you,” Chloe says.

Madeline looks confused. She doesn’t quite get it. A door?

“The door is hinged,” Chloe clarifies.

And I rest my case.  

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.

Images: HBO.

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Hannah Keegan

Hannah Keegan is the features writer at Stylist magazine.

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