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Big Little Lies MVPs: Episode 4 "Push Comes to Shove"

Editor's Note: We're passing the baton around for Big Little Lies so that we keep up. Nathaniel took episode 1 and 2, Spencer looked at episode 3. Lynn Lee takes the baton for episode 4....

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.

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Reader Comments (30)

I haven't read the book so I have no idea what's gonna happen next, but I would NOT be surprised if Madeline continues her affair with the hot director and if Perry turns out to be the murder victim; he's the actual worst!

March 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Shailene continues to impress episode after episode.

March 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

This is everything I wanted the adaptation of the book to be. What I love is how all the actresses so perfectly fit what the role requires of them. It's a different skill set for each role, and they all knock it out of the park.

Also, I'm glad someone pointed out how beautiful and professional Nicole's wardrobe was this week. That insight about Perry being a shark circling is too apt.

March 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChris James

I don't think Perry has anything to do with the murder. The framing device testimonials (which the show has been very sporadic with, never knowing when to include them and when not to) never seem to be talking about him. Unless that's a big red herring, but if the death (whoever it is) was domestic, why all the talk about Jane and Ronata and so on.

But as much as I think Reese is the show's MVP, Celeste's storyline is getting to me more. The low-key return to the councilor but this time by herself, the way Nicole face swings about as she tries to assess her situation, the joy and the sadness in the car with Reece or her uncontrollably laughter on the terrace... I literally gasped twice when she said something to Perry and worried something bad was going to happen to her.

It was a shame to not see much of Dern, but her fake cackle at the mayor's meeting was legit extraordinary. "You're adorable!"

I too have been surprised by Woodley. Holding more than her own against the heavier hitters. The only major character I don't think serves much purpose is James Tupper, but the screenplay doesn't really know what to do with him beyond the very basis necessity of his character as a source for much of Madeline's anger.

March 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Oh come on - Renata's reactions to the Mayor were my favourite thing in this episode! So over the top delightfully fake and hilarious.

Nicole and Alexander are knocking it out of the park, the tension they build and the discomfort I feel watching them - Alexander in particular is utterly terrifying...

Nicole and Reese have such a lovely chemistry - I feel like they're best friends in real life.

March 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermorganb

Astute point about Shailene as a dark horse! I never thought I'd warm to her so much but that's why she's won me over in this series. Perfect casting for an actress in her position. And with Stone, Lawrence and Larson as Best Actress winners, I dare say Shailene feels underrated.

March 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

For me, Shailene and Reese were the best this week. They were both very good under conflicting duress. I had some writing issues about the Celeste legal outfit and legal book/binder (over the top), but I do think Nicole knows how to play this character. The gossipy neighbors continue to bug me. The child psychologist should lose her license. Maybe focus on the mother?

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterFaye

The adult psychologist is on it. The child psychologist was very cursory and might have asked to speak more to Jane to help understand her trauma. But I only speak as a long-time patient. Great show.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Ugh, this show is so good! I wish this was Netflix so i could just binge the whole thing lol.

I thought Nicole handled the mayor/Avenue Q meeting really well. A less skilled actress would've played it more calculated and less natural, and it wouldn't have been as believable that she was "amazing." But Celeste really was, thanks to Nicole's understanding of the character and script.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Surprisingly this show has been very divisive among audiences. I loved it and continue to love it every time I watch it. But if you go on twitter and on these discussion forums you'll see some people adoring it and some people trashing it. So weird for a show with such production values and quality acting and I think it speaks volumes about how audiences receive stories from women and about women.

Celeste, as with all of Kidman's creations, seems to be the most controversial figure. I think Kidman is genius in it, really fleshing out a character that is very tricky to pull off effectively. And Skarsgard is a very very able partner. Together they contribute the most well-realized sequences of the show for me. Insanely beautiful and graceful people, picture of perfection, with a very dark disturbed and perverted undercurrent. Very few beautiful actors have that skill. Yet I go on twitter, and a bunch of self-proclaimed open minded watchers, go on and on about Nicole's plastic surgery. What a petty petty revealing reaction, so entertaining and fascinating.
I heard a Vanity Fair podcast yesterday where two of the cattiest pop culture consumers and commenters I've ever listened to talked about the show with the most misguided conviction I've ever encountered. It's a thing of beauty.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

Tony T - sadly, the sexism is real. There's an unfortunate tendency to treat the show as a "glorified soap" or "Lifetime movie" because, yes, it focuses on women (and primarily well-heeled white women at that), their relationships with each other, and their problems trying to fill the narrow roles that have been assigned to them. The men are at best supporting and, more often than not, repressive.

The fact is, though, that these are real problems, worth pondering, and they're being beautifully portrayed by a cast that's uniformly bringing their A game. What's not to love? Sure, the plot's got some soapy/melodramatic tendencies - taken from the book, I assume (I haven't read it) - but the fact is no one would complain about that if the main characters were men.

Relatedly, on another site I saw a commenter astutely point out that BLL has some thematic similarities to Showtime's "The Affair," in which two of the four main characters are male. Yet "The Affair," at least initially, got much more unmitigated praise. Coincidence? I think not.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

Okay okay. Nicole you finally got me. I'm usually right there with her acting but this character is tricky tricky and now it's coming together beautifully.

Lylee -- totally agree. I really think "soap" as a pejorative" is not much different from "romantic comedy" as pejorative. They are simply genres and like any genre capable of being great or terrible or any mix thereof. It's all in what you do with them. Genres don't grant quality but somehow gendering them brings up perceptions about quality (or lack thereof).

March 16, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I hate the phrase "Lifetime movie." It's consistently attached to films or tv shows starring women only in order to diminish them because they address domestic concerns. There's no comparable term for films or tv shows starring men and addressing domestic concerns (like Manchester by the Sea - a film I love).

I actually think this is Nicole Kidman's best work in years, a very complicated, rich performance.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Nicole's plastic surgery for this character does not bother me. Reese with her horny indignation is perfect.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMinerva

This is one of the most well-cast projects I've ever seen...no one is not pulling their weight to aide this story.

I don't even care for Shailene in life, but here I find her incredibly appealing...I was rooting for her when she was cursing out that teacher and cheering with her when the psychologist reassured her about Ziggy. Says a lot of her as an actress. She's got it, 100%.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Tony T was the podcast Little Gold Men?

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Up until beginning to read this blog site about a year ago ( I have never written in ,), my favorite actresses were Cate Blanchett Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman . Unfortunately, since joining up here NAT and the many bloggers have totally turned me off on Kidman.The drooling over her",acting"is ridiculous? Ifshe farts you all want to nominate her for an Emmy or a Oscar.
I have gone back and rewatched many of her movies. after Rabbit Hole she has shut down in her ability to show emotions. They seem forced and awkwar!!! In this miniseries she is the least of the actors to shine.

I know this will not be popular among the readers here. But it is my opinion!

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterItell

This may seem absurd, but has Jane met Perry? One thing that sprang to mind watching Perry's chilling outbursts has been, What if he is the man who raped Jane? Think about it: he travels a lot, has a temper and sadomasochistic tendencies, and Ziggy is about the age of his and Celeste's sons. It's a stretch, I know, but left me wondering where it's all going (i.e. worlds colliding).

Anyway, love Big Little Lies!

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Itell - all you have to do to get your dose of Kidman-hating is turn to the rest of the world. The lady cannot catch a break. Working incessantly since she was 14 and despised blindly, really because she is in no way relatable - which is why i adore her. So i think we'll continue to shamelessly love her while the rest of the world finds fun ways to bash her skin.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

People need to give Nicole Kidman a break. She is just a working actress. She went through her own trauma being married to Tom Cruise, who is closeted and a leading Scientology whack-job.

Shailene impresses me the most because we have not seen her do complex work like this before (at least I have not).

For Reese, it's more validation that she is a good/great actress. I hope she does many more projects like this in her 40's and 50's, etc.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

Tony T and Marie

I judge people on their acting ability , not on their private life. Acting is just a job like all of us who work. These men and women are not gods and goddesses.

They happen to make more money than most, so they have somewhat glamorous lives.

But they also have the same problems as we do. Kidman and Cruise were an item that happened to throw her into the movie star status. Planned???

Again, who cares? I want to enjoy movies and the people who are in them. That is what i judge.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterItell

Itell, I really like this site and I've been coming here for Years. But on this site movie stars are not treated as normal human being who happen to be overpayed, overpraised and overhyped by society. They are considered superior, god-like creatures who arent held by the same standards as everyone else.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Itell - it's fine not to think that Kidman deserves the praises but you mentioned that up to reading this blog, Kidman was one of your favorite actresses and the constant drooling of her turned you against Kidman? It doesn't make sense. Not all Kidman's performances get the praises here; Nat has been cool toward her performances in Strangerland, Railway Man, Paddington and Genius to name a few.

Again, you are entitled to your opinion but it's fair for others to call you out as haters when you wrote something like 'if she farts, you guys will give her Oscar or Emmy" and contradicting your own stance on Kidman pre and post reading others' opinion on the blog.

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDrew


March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJono

It is obvious to me now that this site is not for me. I need a site that deals with movies in depth and not fawning over actresses. I do sincerely thank you for all for the input. I am NOT a hater!

I guess I need to be on a blog site where the majority are straight!!! Never thought I would say thatbut Amanda made this abundantly clear!

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterItell

I am absolutely loving Big Little Lies. Woodley slayed me on Sunday. Heartbreaking. This episode should be Kidman's Emmy submission. So so good.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

" after Rabbit Hole she has shut down in her ability to show emotions."

See, I can understand (well....) not being a Kidman fan like some of us, but I never understand this particular criticism. If you don't think she can show emotions then I'm not sure you're actually watching.

Mareko, I actually thought the same thing. I even tried to pause on the intruder nightmare Jane had but couldn't get a clear look at the face.

For Emmy: episode 1 for Reese, episode 3 for Laura, Episode 4 for Nicole... Shailene has been pretty consistent throughout, maybe she has her own major episode coming up. I dread seeing her placed in supporting though just because Reese and Nicole are bigger stars (and producers on the project).

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

This show has such a great cast it´s almost too much. I could watch Robin Weigert just sitting in that chair, smiling and listening calmly all day.

Zoe Kravitz should be the only choice for that Girl With The Dragon Tattoo sequel.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commentertherealmike

therealmike - omg, Zoe Kravitz would be great in that. Yas.

There's strangely been a lot of homophobia in the comments on this site lately. Is this Trump's America???

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I'm definitely getting Broadchurch vibes from Ed! My first instinct is to love him because Ben Wyatt is adorable but there's definitely something off with Ed. That whole conversation with Bonnie was all kinds of weird. And, ugh, Perry is so awful. I wouldn't be upset if he's the one who dies... Celeste needs to get out ASAP

March 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMeagan

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