TV Review: Big Little Lies: ‘Once Bitten’

Big Little Lies

S1, E5: ‘Once Bitten’

‘I’m not a victim here. I’m not.’

Grade: B+


This episode is about escape – and, of course, evokes it with extended shots of its lead characters behind the wheel of a car. The women of Big Little Lies are in prisons of their own devising. The light tries to find them, and sometimes they rush to meet it, and sometimes they screw their eyes tightly shut. Let’s get to it…

‘I’m not a victim here. I’m not.’

As we discovered last week, Madeline has a clue as to the identity of Jane’s rapist – a man named Saxon Baker. She says, with injured innocence, to Eddie that all she wanted to do was give Jane closure. But we know that our Made-LEIN is not the world’s most reliable narrator, and there’s every possibility that she wants to stir some shit up. She may not know exactly how much shit, though, but once she twigs that Jane has a gun and is in constant practice, she begins to worry.

And Jane has a lot to worry about, because somebody’s been biting Amabella, and Renata is on the warpath. Interestingly, Renata’s first response is to practically berate her little girl for refusing to implicate the culprit – who Renata is, of course, convinced is Ziggy. Renata tells her daughter that she needs to stand up for herself – in a voice brooking no disobedience whatsoever. Amazingly, her daughter is not bullied into disgorging the name of her bully.

So, of course, Renata descends on the school to make an almighty stink, and Jane, of course, tries to take back control the only way that seems available to her. She goes – alone, contrary to Madeline and Celeste’s plan – to Saxon Baker’s office, with a loaded gun in her bag, She follows him into his sanctum, gets close enough to him to smell him – and flies, in tears. Either Saxon Baker’s not the man, or Jane couldn’t go through with whatever it was she was planning to do – if she even knew what it was.

Also in limbo of sorts is Madeline. She wants to cut off the director of Avenue Q, but she’s incapable of transferring the energy of that illicit passion to her marriage. A tense, inconclusive conversation with the man in his car is interrupted by a teenager who loses control of his car and crashes into them. There are questions about what precisely the two of them were even doing together – Eddie certainly looks wary, doesn’t her? – but Madeline is reminded of the people who love her – and Abigail, at least temporarily, is back home…

And what of Celeste? Once more, the show turns its lens on the complications and pressures on Celeste, and why she might remain in her marriage. Her unambiguously abusive marriage. The show uses some quite neat visual gimmickry, fracturing the narrative of Celeste’s day by zigzagging between her frantically daubing makeup onto her bruises, to showing us the beginning of a tense household argument about chores, to an ugly and mercifully brief shot of Perry smacking his fist into his wife’s face. Celeste knows enough to seek out a counsellor by herself, but it takes all of that professional’s considerable skill to pry from her the admission that Perry has hit her, and that he will hit her again, and that Celeste knows that. Yes, he might be beautiful, and great in the sack, and a loving father, but what are their children learning? What might they already have learnt? What will it take for her to leave, as she has wanted to do so many a time?

So when Celeste picks up her children and drives to the airport, I sit up with a whistle escaping my lips. Only to find that they’re there to pick up an elated Perry. Oh, Celeste. What will it take?

Odds and sods

  • Okay, look, I know that shot of Jane running, followed by Celeste and then Madeline, is manipulative. But godDAMN if I didn’t love it.
  • Increasingly I think Perry is the one who raped Jane. Look at that shot of him and Celeste having sex, with his hand on Celeste’s throat. Recall Jane saying that Ziggy’s father has ‘a taste for erotic asphyxiation and raping women’.
  • Madeline’s warning about texting and driving comes true.
  • Madeline has nightmares about Renata shoving her off a cliff. Hmmmmmm…..

2 thoughts on “TV Review: Big Little Lies: ‘Once Bitten’

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