Celeste (Nicole Kidman) – Beautiful, rich, and madly in love…something’s got be wrong…
Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) – Her preferred state is agitated….
Renata (Laura Dern) – The wounds you get as a child can last forever…
Jane (Shailene Woodley) – That kid, he’s gonna have a good life…
Of these four women, it is more than a solid bet, it is a lock – that one of them is going to end up badly battered and dead. It is also a solid bet that one these women is the murderer.
Now that is not a spoiler. You see, this post is about the HBO Series Big Little Lies which aired its third episode this past Sunday night. In the opening of the very first episode, and the very first scene in that episode we saw and heard police detectives talking about a murder, and the murder victim.
Now fully three episodes in, we still haven’t a clue about the identity of the victim or the killer. Welcome to Monterrey California in the heart of the Big Sur country.
I guess the first time I saw the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California was when actor Michael Parks drove across the bridge on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the TV series Then Came Bronson. The show ran for all of 27 episodes in 1969 which is nearly a lifetime ago.
The next time I saw this bridge was in the late 70’s. Driving up from LA to San Francisco, the bridge was even better driving across it in person than I had remembered when Bronson did it.
Of course we stopped at the famous Big Sur restaurant called Nepenthe. It was the thing to do then, and the restaurant is still going strong today.
Then, on Sunday, I got 4 separate views of the bridge. I was watching Big Little Lies, which is both a wonderfully written and produced show, yet is also aggravating. Per HBO’s own description, here is the set-up:
Told through the eyes of three mothers – Madeline, Celeste and Jane – Big Little Lies paints a picture of a town fueled by rumors and divided into the haves and have-nots, exposing the conflicts, secrets and betrayals that compromise relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends and neighbors.
Which is fine by me – but what makes the show maddening is the framing device of the murder. Now remember, as I said before, we are now three full episodes in. We don’t know who became the victim and we don’t know who the perpetrator of this murder is.
In some respects, BLL is strongly reminiscent of certain aspects of Season One of True Detectives. Not the whole season or even the main characters.
I am making specific reference to the two black detectives (Papania and Gilbough) who we might find discussing the case…
or interviewing Rust Cohl and Marty Hart.
Here in BLL, we get a series of the Monterrey detectives making comments all of which are made by a single but different person each time rather than as a part of a dialogue. They often seem intrusive and are almost always an interruption or digression which neither propels the story or offers us some way to know more than we already know. Simply – I find them annoying.
But the real meat and potatoes of Big Little Lies are the women. I like Madeline Martha Mackenzie . The role is handled by Witherspoon who does quite well in conveying all of the strength and drive and determination that Madeline presents in external social situations. She’s on less than solid footing within her own home.
She apparently is quite jealous of her ex-husband (James Tupper) Nathan’s new wife Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) .
And this is not at all veiled which makes Madeline’s current husband, Ed McKenzie (Adam Scott) insecure.
Speaking of insecurity, let’s have a look at Celeste Wright and her husband Perry Wright (played by Alexander Skårsgard). Celeste left a blossoming career to move to Monterrey and marry Perry.
Their union produced twin boys now 6 years old. Which is the same age as Amabella (the daughter of Renata), and Ziggy who is Jane’s son, and Chloe who is Madeline’s youngest daughter. What’s more – all of these children are in the same class at school.
Celeste appears to have a near perfect marriage and home. Only below the surface lies a violent streak within husband Perry. Perry has instilled a sense of being physical to his boys in the form of encouraging them to first fight rather than talk at school. And, to no one’s surprise, Perry allows himself to become far more physical with Celeste than need be. I’m not saying he slaps her around, but their arguments often include arm-pulling, a bit of choking, and the like. Which also leads to make-up sex.
But in episode three, Celeste had been held by Perry in a choke hold, She said if that happens again, she’d leave him. And that lead to a session with a marriage counselor.
To everyone;s surprise Celeste found it difficult to accurately describe the level of physicality that Perry used on her. And once the door was opened on that topic, Perry would admit that he was scared that Celeste would leave him. As was said, If she left, there’d be a line of a thousand men waiting for a chance.
Renata Klein was the oldest of these women, and likely the richest. She lived in an Architects Digest styled home (translation most beach frontage, biggest picture windows, and most expensive). Her husband Gordon Klein (Jeffrey Nordling) was successful and always desired his wife.
They were the town’s likeliest couple to be called royalty (if royalty existed at all – it would be them). They were a techie power couple, and it is quite likely they were also despised for some valid reasons or some not so valid forms of jealousy. Renata was also snobbish in the worst sense, assuming of course that snobbishness has degrees none of which are acceptable.
It was Renata’s daughter Amabella who was at the center of and core of all the contretemps that followed. On a day when all the Moms had arrived at the school to pick up their six-year olds, Renata had been told by the class teacher that Amabella was upset. One of the other kids had put their hands on the little girl in a frightening manner.
As the other three moms stood with their kids, Renata asked Amabella, ‘Who was it that attempted to choke you’. Little Amabella pointed directly at Ziggy (jane’s son). He immediately denied the accusation.
But the matter was far from over. Such is life in Monterrey for these particular parents and children. As it turns out, Jane is a single Mom, and lived in the smallest house, and has more than a few secrets of her own.
That’s about as far as I can take you with plunging even deeper into spoiler territory. This HBO drama is a solid drama and if you haven’t already guessed as much, I am solidly hooked. The series is airing at 9:00 PM on Sundays on HBO and has pushed (for me) Showtime’s Homeland into a time slot different than its intended broadcast time. Which means I watch Homeland later.
I am happy to report that I give Big Little Lies a strong recommendation. For the record, Episode 3 closed with Neil Young’s Harvest Moon was the song that played over the closing credits. Check out a trailer: