Coming off the high of Episode 3, Episode 4 couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a comedown, even as it ratcheted up the multiple tensions just a wee bit more. Feels like something’s gotta give soon, doesn’t it? We are, after all, at series midpoint and we still don’t know who the murder victim is. It doesn’t bother me, though, as long as we’ve got such juicy character dynamics and relationships, not to mention such fantastic actressing, to distract us...
In this episode, Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and Ed (Adam Scott) try – and mostly fail – for rapprochement with Madeline’s ex Nathan (James Tupper) and his young wife Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz). Madeline’s Avenue Q battle also comes to a head at a meeting with the town mayor and nemesis Renata Klein (Laura Dern, disappointingly relegated to cardboard villain territory again after her breakout last week); luckily, Maddy’s brought her ace in the hole, Celeste (Nicole Kidman), briefly out of retirement to air her superstar lawyer skills. However, this development brings added strain to Celeste’s already, ahem, troubled relationship with husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgaard). It also leads to the revelation that Madeline has a guilty secret of her own. Meanwhile, poor Jane (Shailene Woodley) can’t get a break, as she learns more unwelcome news about son Ziggy (Iain Armitage).
This week’s MVPs:
10. Transitional parenting paradigms and glaring cha-zzams
Madeline and Nathan just can’t seem to bury the hatchet, can they? Unless it’s in each other’s skulls. (Not that their spouses are doing much better as peacekeepers.) Unfortunately for Nathan, he’s clearly overmatched. Looooved the disdain with which Madeline repeated his garbled parroting of Bonnie-derived New Age speak, including her deliberate pause and emphasis on “chasms” – which she, of course, pronounces correctly.
9. Ed as Elvis
I initially found Ed highly sympathetic (and Adam Scott’s been doing a great job, as Nathaniel and Spencer have noted), but lately I’ve been getting a bit of a Broadchurch-y vibe from his character. (Won’t spoil Broadchurch for those who haven’t seen it, but those who have know what I mean, yes?) Still, who can resist his turn as the King – or his adorable duet with Chloe (Darby Camp)? Sadly, apparently Madeline can. Proximity to hot theater directors probably doesn’t help.
8. Ziggy’s "abnormally wide-set eyes"
Young Iain Armitage continues to slay as Ziggy, the old soul who seems to be carrying all the weight of his mom’s love, fear, and doubt with him. While I’ve found his peer Chloe a bit annoyingly precocious, Ziggy by contrast rings much truer with his shifts between startling insight (“Last time we had pizza and we went to the zoo, you told me we were moving to Monterey. What now?”) and pure boy behavior (“Look, mom – a giant Harry the Hippo!”)
7. The child psychologist
Bless her for giving Jane some much-needed reassurance about Ziggy. He’s not a bully! Even if he’s got major daddy issues. In general, so far on this show, therapists and shrinks rule. (The teachers, on the other hand, are the worst.)
6. Celeste’s professional wardrobe
From the minute she swans into the coffeeshop in her high-powered lawyer suit (softened by the giant bow at her neck) we can see this is a new Celeste. Unfortunately, the next time we see her in that mode, donning an equally sleek, tailored and business-appropriate white dress for another meeting, she attracts all the wrong kind of attention from Perry. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who instinctively tenses up whenever he comes up behind her – doesn’t he feel like a shark circling? – or when he says those dreaded words: “Why didn’t we discuss this?”)
5. “I think the mayor is gonna like your…argument.”
Madeline's reaction to Celeste's professional look. Reese's cackle is everything.
4. Celeste as superlawyer
We finally get to see professional Celeste in action, and she is a total badass. In contrast to Madeline, who always seems to have her dukes up (metaphorically speaking), Celeste quietly, politely, and swiftly dismantles the opposition without once raising her voice –steel fist in a velvet glove. Where does this woman disappear to when she goes home?
3. Madeline and Celeste in car afterwards
Elated Madeline is surprised to see Celeste suddenly overcome with emotion after their moment of triumph, but quickly understands when Celeste confesses that she misses that side of her life – working – painfully. Madeline, too, would like more of that feeling, of being great at something not tied up with the role of wife or mother. Reese and Nicole have such chemistry in this, it’s no surprise the two are close friends in real life.
2. Shailene Woodley
Amongst this powerhouse cast, she’s been holding her own surprisingly well as the show’s dark horse (both actress and character). Her Jane doesn’t say much and keeps things close to the vest, but we can see the pent-up anxiety, pain, and even anger in those expressive eyes. At the same time, there’s also a certain opacity, a point past which we can’t see because she’s not letting us. Of the three female leads, she feels like the one with the most left to reveal.
1. Martha Wainwright’s “Bloody Mother**king Asshole”
The soundtrack for this show is amazing, even if I don’t for a minute buy that a bunch of present-day(?) 6-year-olds would happily sing along to Fleetwood Mac and Jefferson Airplane. Realism aside, songs on the show function almost like songs in a musical in how they crystallize the particular mood or theme of the moment, or punctuate a narrative or character development we’ve been witnessing. This song, in particular – which Jane listens to while running, and which closes out the episode – underscores her struggle with her demons while preserving their mystery.
Next week: Does Jane confront her attacker? Is it who she thinks it is? Or is it...? Nathaniel will return to share his MVPs for episode 5 next week.