Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
One of the most powerful tools in an abuser’s arsenal is control. They can isolate until you truly believe there is no one else to turn to, no life of your own, no room to breathe under their firm grasp. I thought of this watching Celeste try and fail to maneuver around Perry’s anger. He focuses with such laser precision on his target that he charges the air in every scene. “If you go to pieces again whose going to put you back together?” Perry asks. He’s using her past anxiety against her. Any fault or misstep becomes a hammer he can use to chisel Celeste into the sculpture of the docile mother and wife he requires she aspires to be.
Celeste isn’t satisfied with merely orbiting Perry and their children. Six years of servicing everyone’s needs but her own has her feeling empty. But Perry makes it difficult to leave. Every violent outburst is soon followed by riveting sex and some gesture of kindness. It’s enough for Celeste to believe that maybe he can change. But it’s really just another turn in the cycle of abuse Perry has had her spinning in for so long. Big Little Lies is smart to hold such focus on Celeste’s life. It’s her story that perfectly contrasts the enviable beauty of his upperclass world of characters and the horror lurking beneath the lacquered surfaces of their beautiful lives. She’s the best example of how women buck against the narrow boxes of identity afforded to them by children, partners, and society at large.
On Madeline’s behalf, Celeste meets the mayor to discuss the issues bubbling around the Avenue Q play at the community theater. Renata attends, seeing an opportunity to strike back at Madeline. She’s all forced laughter and grand talks about propriety. She uses her role as the mother of a young child to bring up the moral issues she sees with putting on such a play. It’s a moving speech, at least for the mayor. But Celeste proves to be a cunning opponent.
“Legally, you’ve already lost,” she says.
She uses Renata’s suggestion community image to serve her own needs. Celeste is in her element, even though this doesn’t show the full extent of her legal skills. Madeline and Renata are in awe of her abilities. In Madeline’s car, their celebration about the successful meaning soon gives way to Celeste crying.
“I feel so ashamed for saying this but being a mother is not enough for me. It’s just not. It’s not even close,” Celeste says.
Realizing how profoundly the law calls her is a bittersweet revelation for Celeste. Perry abuses Celeste when he sees her thinking of wanting to return to work as a lawyer. He literally strangles her, stopping only because one of their sons walked in.
Celeste doesn’t even know how to get help when speaking to her therapist, Dr. Reisman, one-on-one. She talks around the real issues. It's as if naming the problems makes them real.
“For me the issue isn’t how best to talk to your husband but why you’re afraid to,” Dr. Reisman says.
Celeste says she isn’t afraid but it’s clear the cracks in her carefully curated facade are starting to become noticeable.
Madeline is buckling under the pressure of her passionless marriage. The play is the only thing that seems to bring her any happiness. Madeline’s story has been fun to watch for its brand of verbal violence and clever machinations against other mothers like Renata. But it gets a delicious twist when Joseph kisses Madeline. The editing of this scene is superb. Just when Joseph leans in for a kiss the show cuts to a shot of Celeste’s shocked face as she listens to Madeline recount the story over wine. The scene bounces between Madeline recounting the story hedging the truth a little and what actually happened. Madeline more than kissed Joseph back. Hearing Madeline discuss her make out session as a reflex isn’t just funny but reflects how deeply she avoids her own problems. “I might have grabbed his ass. I dob’t know!”
But this is only a small part of the truth. At the very end of the episode, we learn that the reason Joseph is in love with Madeline and initiated that kiss is because they had an affair.
“What happened last year ago was an accident,” Madeline says.
Given Joseph’s refusal to pretend that there isn’t anything between them puts a ticking clock on when Ed and the rest of the town finds out. Instead of dealing with her own problems Madeline decides to solve Jane’s.
She thinks she’s found Ziggy’s father. Saxon Baker is an interior designer. Madeline not only researching this but telling Jane and Celeste about it seems like just the beginning of a world of hurt. Madeline is juggling a grenade she is ill-equipped to handle. Given that Jane quickly imagines getting the opportunity to shoot her rapist in a variety of different scenarios — the shooting range, running on the beach in the blue dress — proves this situation is emotionally volatile. It also puts into a new light her joking earlier, “I’d kill him if I could.”
At one point Bonnie says, “Everyone has their baggage.” She’s responding to Ed, who comes by the yoga class, she’s teaching only to unfurl a litany of excuses for Madeline’s rage. But what Bonnie says can apply to every woman on this series each burdened with their own traumas — rape, abuse, abandonment issues, lack of independence — with no idea how to carry them let alone be honest about the ways they’re warping their lives.
-Jane’s teary relief hearing from the child psychologist that Ziggy is a good kid and not a bully is heartbreaking. This is definitely Shailene Woodley’s best work as an actress.
-Madeline is fully of so many gloriously venomous one liners in each episode it’s hard to choose just one. But my favorite this week is undoubtedly what she said in the car with Celeste after their successful meeting with the mayor, “Stick that up your tight ass, bitch!” A message definitely intended for Renata.
-On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird and unnerving did Ed telling Bonnie “I love swear on women” come across to you? I’m putting it at a solid 9.
-Perry trying to get back on Celeste’s good side by talking about having another daughter as some foreplay was weird. “Let’s have that little girl tonight,” he said. No, thank you.
Photo: Courtesy of HBO.