TV Review: Big Little Lies: ‘Burning Love’

Big Little Lies

S1, E6: ‘Burning Love’

A premiere, an eye-patch and a broken urethra.

Grade: B




An ominous place-setter, this one. Even with the fighting and projectile vomiting, eerily quiet. Let’s get to it.

‘This is my problem. I can never let dead dogs lie.’

No, no you can’t, can you, Madeline? As we know, Madeline tracked down the man whom she thought might have raped Jane. It is not entirely clear what she expected Jane to do with the information, and honestly it seems disingenuous of Madeline to act so shocked that Jane would want to confront him. The last we saw, Jane got close enough to the man to smell him…and then fled, in tears. It transpires now that Jane doesn’t think that Saxon Baker is the man who raped her. Which means that he’s likely out there somewhere (Perry! Perry!).

And you know who also is constitutionally incapable of letting dead dogs lie? Well, if you were going to say ‘Renata’, I have a slight twist in the tale for you. Someone has started a petition to suspend Ziggy from the school. A furious Jane confronts Renata, shoves her and injures her eye. And just when you think that Celeste’s services will once again be required, Jane proves that the youngest of our leads is also the best at How Do I Adult. She finds Renata and issues a sincere apology. She lays bare her worries about her child, and her sympathy for Renata’s own fears. And Renata – initially scowling ungraciously behind her eyepatch (!) – unbends. And suggests a really solid plan: she’s going to set up supervised playdates between Amabella and all the kids in the class, one by one, to see who it is who’s bullying her little girl. Go Detective Klein! And the petition? Oh, that was Harper, the cringing wannabe Igor to Renata’s Dracula. Not that Renata even knows that the woman is alive. Harper’s on Jane’s radar now, though, and Jane issues a magisterially blood-curdling threat: ‘We’ve all gotta have each other’s backs. Who’s got yours?’ Awwwwww, YISSSS.

‘Life can be ugly. Got it. I’ll make a note of it.’

Abigail has been working on a secret project, and Bonnie gets a little advance notice before the big unveiling. And discovers that Abigail wants to auction off her own virginity online. To raise money for Amnesty International and to draw attention to sex slavery. Uh-huh. Nathan is immediately furious, but honestly, I think everybody is far kinder to Abigail’s attention-seeking, privileged bullshit than it deserves. The girl is an outstanding idiot if she thinks that she is doing anything except make the real problem of sex slavery about the foot-stamping of one pretty, wealthy white girl. Fuck that noise, Abigail.

Bonnie and Nathan break the news to Madeline and Eddie at an awkward-but-going-better-than-expected dinner-party, and the combination of stress, medication, wine, shellfish and the scale of Abigail’s bullshit causes about the reaction that you’d expect: full-on, Exorcist-style projectile vomiting.

Madeline finds Abigail, but her own guilt about her affair with the director of Avenue Q causes her to zag where Abigail likely expects her to zig, and hopefully helps her break through to her daughter. She confesses the affair to Abigail, pleads with her not to fuck up – even acknowledging that the fuckup is for a good cause (…, I’m not even sure about that) rather than Madeline’s own selfishness, and Abigail softens.

‘Sometimes that’s the essence of a happy marriage, isn’t it? The ability to pretend.’

Line of the evening from Eddie here. Madeline and Eddie’s marriage is clearly sexless (one half-hearted attempt at a kitchen tryst aside), and they’re clearly not entirely happy about it. But so long as it’s never mentioned, then all can be well, right? But Eddie’s frustrations have been building for a while now, and there is a quiet explosion after the premiere of Avenue Q – which Celeste missed because Perry had a busted urethra. We’ll get to the cause of that in a moment, but the story is that the Wrights sexed each other so vigorously that they nearly broke Perry. A comparison that cannot but sit uncomfortably with Eddie and Madeline. Eddie gently, politely lays bare his frustrations – along with his gratitude for waking up every morning next to the girl of his dreams (Eddie’s self-abasement still creeps me the fuck out, by the way). A weeping Madeline begins to make a confession….and Eddie shushes her. Are we to assume that he knows, but is willing to forgive and move on? Or that he really does believe that the essence of a happy marriage is the ability to pretend?

Certainly Celeste seems to think so, doesn’t she? Madeline believes that Celeste’s life is ‘north of perfect’, and – even despite Celeste’s counsellor’s urging – Celeste does not disabuse her of the notion. Celeste needs to be envied, as she admits in a moment of shining clarity. Even though she has been brought to admit that her husband abuses her, and will hit her again, she is shocked at the suggestion that she leave, that she document her injuries, that she confide in anyone else. Her counsellor lays out, in pitiless detail, what a good lawyer would do with her silence in a custody battle, and you can see Celeste absorb the blow. But what does it take to get Celeste to actually act? Well, Perry’s back from a work-trip, and getting frisky with his wife just as they’re about to leave for the premiere of Avenue Q. She tries to extricate herself, he grabs her hair, and she gets him good and proper with a racquet. And a nation cheers. Perry’s urethra is broken in two places, and you would think that a master manipulator like Perry Wright would use the guilt to pry his wife away from her friends or any attempt to resume her career – the ‘see-saw’ of power, as Celeste describes it, has shifted from her to him. But Perry miscalculates, snarling that she’s lucky he didn’t kill her. I guess the wound to Little Perry short-circuited you, huh, Per’?

Well, whatever it is, Celeste gets a flat and spends the closing moments of the episode doing a surya-namaskaara as the sun sets.  While her seething husband prowls in their house. I have never been more proud of Celeste – and more terrified for her.

Odds and sods

  • Okay, who do you think died, and who do you think did the killing? Did Perry kill Celeste, or the other way around? Did Jane kill Perry (whom I still think is Jane’s rapist)?
  • Who is bullying Amabella? My money’s on the Wright twins.
  • When Nathan and Bonnie break the news of Abigail’s project, Eddie says ‘If this is a joke…’. I mentally add ‘it’s not funny, because I have already fished out my credit card, and I am frantically googling the URL on my phone under the table.’ Eddie’s not right, you guys.
  • Bonnie is such a slimeball. Just…her holier-than-thou right-on-ness really grates.
  • That eye-patch, though…
  • Okay, Celeste’s dress in the final moments is an abomination. It’s like Fraulein Maria’s curtains threw up at Coachella or something. No. Absolutely not.
  • They don’t get into this, but of course Celeste’s escape is only available to her because she is a woman of means. It’s a substantial investment to line up deposit for rent, groceries, utility bills, and to do it all at basically a moment’s notice.
  • Related to the above: how come Perry lets Celeste have her own money? You’d think that would be Abuser 101: keep control of the finances.
  • Also: clear your browser history, Celeste!
  • Loved the shots of Chloe and Ziggy playing. Just clowning around to music, running, laughing, tumbling. In an episode about finding connections, there is something so lovely about the freshness and simplicity of these two six-year-olds just getting on with it.

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