TV Review: ‘Big Little Lies’: ‘Push Comes to Shove’

Big Little Lies

S1, E4: ‘Push Comes to Shove’

‘I am not afraid.’

Grade: B+




Well, I think it’s official, isn’t it? The real story of this show has shifted from Witherspoon’s magnificent ball of fury Madeline, to the continual dread of Celeste and Perry’s marriage. Let’s get to it…

‘Do you want me to hit you?…Sometimes I wonder.’

Big Little Lies has quite a lot in common with another female-led drama with a very similar name. Pretty Little Liars also has a framing mystery. Pretty Little Liars’ framing mystery is also substantially less interesting than the deceptively melodramatic inner lives of its leads. And Pretty Little Liars is also fascinated by the patterns of male violence and abuse.

If BLL’s first season is about anything, it is about the traps that the patriarchy creates for strong women – with their own often eager collaboration. Very, very few of the men in BLL seem to have healthy, functioning relationships with sex and their own masculinity. And – because of the world they live in – the burden of their ills is borne disproportionately by the women in their lives. Madeline cannot extricate herself from that thundering backside Nathan, parroting his Earth Mother Child Bride’s philosophies and mis-pronouncing ‘chasm’. Her current husband seems sweeter and saner, but we’ve seen him gaze at her daughter, and this episode he stares at Bonnie in the gym and vouchsafes the truly flesh-crawling line ‘God, I love….sweat….on women.’ The lack of sex in their marriage begins to look more and more like a defence mechanism on Madeline’s part. As does her passionate kiss with the director of Avenue Q. Which, it transpires, is not the first. And will likely not be the last.

Jane is sharing a house with the walking reminder of an unimaginable violation. When the (fairly useless) teacher at Ziggy’s school tentatively brings up the possibility that Ziggy might still be bullying Amabella, Jane is quick to her child’s defence. But she has excellent reason to believe that Ziggy might have inherited his father’s violence towards women. So she agrees to take Ziggy to a child psychologist…who calmly, kindly and quickly tells her that she doesn’t think Ziggy is a bully. Shailene Woodley does wonderful work here, letting the relief and pride blaze through her eyes. The men of Monterey may almost universally be scum, but Ziggy at least is not one of them.

You know who is, though, right? Yes, it’s time to talk about the unfolding horror story (and acting masterclass) of the Wright marriage. Madeline has asked Celeste for her legal expertise with the Renata-spearheaded bourgeois rampage against Avenue Q. Celeste agrees, and Perry is not happy. I find myself tensing now every time Perry enters a room, such is the power of Skarsgard’s magnetic malignity. And when he says, with deceptive gentleness, ‘Why didn’t we discuss this?’, my head draws in in self-defence. Celeste asks, with chilling directness, ‘Are you going to hit me again?’, and he responds ‘Do you want me to hit you, Celeste?’ It’s a masterly manipulation, throwing Celeste’s complicity back in her face. It’s more effective than the concern with which he murmurs that he’s only worried about her anxiety, and that she was working before when they had difficulty having children (which, Perry, I suspect was more about you than about her career, not that Celeste realises it). And when, later, Perry says he wants another child, his motivation could not be more explicit if he shouted it from the rooftops.

Who knows if Celeste would fall for it, but her assured, magisterial representation of Avenue Q certainly gets her thinking. Kidman’s fantastic here. Her relaxed, steely body language as she murmurs her devastating defence? The tears springing from her eyes as she articulates just what she’s been missing? The fierce joy as she savours her victory on her porch?

The shock when he grabs her in fury that there will be more than one meeting to discuss the case? The artful draping of her scarf to cover her bruise? The careful half-truths when she approaches her counsellor about the best way to present her case? The litany of Things Perry Doesn’t Like that sounds like an abuser’s checklist? The clear falsity of her defiant ‘I am not afraid [of my husband]’?

You are, Celeste. You are. And let’s hope that the preternaturally excellent psychologists of this community will help you to realise it.

Odds and sods

  • Bonnies has windchimes. Of course she does.
  • A word of praise for Laura Dern as Renata in that meeting with the Mayor. That gloriously smarmy trill of laughter at the Mayor’s faux-folksy humour. The veiled threats? Superb.
  • ‘I leave comments sometimes, under an alias.’ ‘What alias?’ ‘God.’ Madeline can still bring it.
  • Adam Scott is actually a nice-looking fellow, but that beard does not become him. Clean-shaven, his tip-tilted nose looks cute. With the beard, he looks like a chipmunk.
  • Madeline has maybe tracked down Jane’s abuser. I am still wondering if it is Perry.
  • Celeste and Perry’s kid saves Celeste by walking in when he grabs her. What are those children learning?
  • Ziggy might be being bullied, says the child psychologist. Some clever kid may have found his weakness. Could it be Amabella who is verbally tormenting Ziggy?
  • I am charmed by Chloe’s attempts to cheer up her mother with a custom playlist.
  • I am also semi-charmed by Eddie’s Elvis-based seduction attempts. Apparently he’s also tried vampire outfits before. Per Madeline: ‘I think he thought it was sexy? Like it would spice up our sex life?’ ‘And did it?’ ‘Well, it was funny.’ Poor Eddie. He’s still a creep, though.

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