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Big Little Lies MVPS: Episode 2.6 "The Bad Mother"

PreviouslyEpisode 1 (Nathaniel) Episode 2 (Spencer) Episode 3 (Lynn) Episode 4 (Nathaniel) Episode 5 (Eric)

by Chris Feil

... So.

By now I’m sure you all have seen the reports about what has gone on behind the scenes of Big Little Lies: director Andrea Arnold was removed from the show in post-production, a planned usurping by original season one director Jean-Marc Vallée once he completed Sharp Objects. Despite the free reign she had been given, a major lack of communication resulted in the show being snatched from her creative hands.

What a fiasco that’s only resulted in a somewhat disjointed season - looks like the blame for what hasn’t been working goes to producers for putting the show through a meat grinder. But what has been working can be easily ascribed to Arnold’s approach: the attention to character detail, a complex thematic landscape marinating hard-to-reconcile truths, the weight of suppressed feelings brimming over. Aren’t those things Big Little Lie’s fans would use to define the show and their love for it, not just its structural or aesthetic attributes?

Despite the timing and our allegiance to Arnold, Big Little Lies turned in what had to be its most thrilling episode yet this season, one that builds a huge sense of momentum leading into next week’s finale. Let’s look at this episode...

Top Ten MVPs of Big Little Lies, Episode 2.6 "The Bad Mother"

10 Madeline and Ed stop fighting sort of
While Ed indulges the idea of a revenge affair with Tori Bachman in a Starbucks, Madeline’s all nostalgic in her wedding dress. I’ve found their storyline to be a bit of a nonstart this season, but if Madeline’s need to be honest about Perry’s death is what reunites them like this episode hints at, it will be a surprising full-circle moment. Also "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" is kind of a rad wedding song.

9 Bonnie and her Depression Sweaters
You’ve heard of “hot girl summer”? Well honeys, she’s serving you “cold girl summer”. Look, I hate an obvious Look How Sad This Character Is costume choice as much as anyone, but I adore each and everyone of these cozy duvet covers.

8 Laura Dern’s F-bomb tirade
Discovering that Gordon had also payrolled their nanny for sexual favors is certainly the last straw for us as viewers, if any of us still had a glimmer of fondness. If it eventually proves to be Renata’s as well, thankfully (or: naturally) she gave him the tongue lashing he deserves before. A satisfying finale demands she kicks his ass to the curb!

7 Mary Louise at peace with the screaming
That cathartic sigh may seem like she’s shutting Jane out as she serves Mary Louise the business, but the terrifying suggestion here is that Mary Louise is somewhat soothed by it instead. SHUDDERS

6 That reflection shot
But this show’s favorite ominous notes are ones of surveillance. If we needed final confirmation that Detective Quinlan was aiding Mary Louise, we have it in one effective shot.

5 “We’re not family, Mary Louise!”
Get her, Celeste!

4 Becky Ann Baker’s empathic judge
Like an extension of Robin Weigert’s therapist, Baker does so much with her silences and measuring of the intention behind her neutral words. These scenes would be unbearable (not to mention look much worse for Celeste) if not for her diplomatic, empathic balancing of the truths before her.

3 Finally a good cliffhanger!
It’s not just the square-peg-round-hole editing (now with post-production explanation) that has been bothersome this season - David E. Kelley just hasn’t really written a season with much narrative momentum. Even if last season’s murder mystery felt obvious all along, it gave the show the feeling of building to something calamitous. But this ending promises a major showdown between Celeste and Mary Louise and we want it nownowNOW! Bonus points to Meryl’s closing expression, the epitome of her uncomfortably hilarious, eternally unshaken evil.

2 Zoë Kravitz’s resentment monologue
While the season hasn’t really featured Bonnie as much as it thinks it has, Zoë Kravitz’s performance has been a subtle knockout every episode. Instead of doing a lot with the little she has been given, here the actress was finally given a true spotlight, turning what could be a corny monologue into something that spells only more pain to come. Her initial warmth fades into a blur of past trauma making for a confusing present, Kravitz playing it as unleashing everything that’s coiled her but heartbreakingly without catharsis.

1 Celeste taking the stand, Nicole taking another Emmy?
Kidman’s courtroom scenes presented a one-two punch of retreat and confessional, unleashing all of Celeste’s conflicting interiority in a flurry of trauma, regret, shame, rage, and yes even love. That she returns to court donning Mary Louise’s signature armor of a blue cardigan is just one external sign that Celeste is declaring war at the same time she is intentionally letting her guard fall. The rest is all in the emotions coming to life in Kidman’s physically rigorous work, perhaps her best moment on the series thus far. Now for that epic battle to come...

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Reader Comments (15)

Joanna Kramer sorry, Mary Louise will will win the custody battle but decides to relinquish that custody to Celeste because they boys are already home and she didn’t paint their rooms with clouds.

July 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBecausewhynot

This episode shows, more then GoT did, these seasons need to be at least 10 episodes a season. These storylines feel rushed, gurl.

That being said, Nicole and Meryl facing off next week sounds absolutely fantastic. Meryl giving another courtroom performance? Kramer vs Kramer eat your heart out!

July 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Kravitz's limited acting gets on my nerves: She has three settings : she walks around moping; she glowers; she looks worried and preoccupied. Not a whole lot of range.

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMissy

becausewhynot -- NOOOOoooo. i can't handle Celeste losing her kids. but this made me giggle so thank you.

Chris -- it's weird that nothing has happened all season (really) but now everything is happening all at once.

Missy -- agree to disagree. I love Kravitz on this show. I think she's doing a lot of work to elevate the underwritten part. It's subtle but I think it's there but of course these things are very subjective.

Chris Feil -- YAAAS TO #6... i can't imagine any detective in real life would ever do that (is it even legal?) but that show was so good. Also totally agree on Becky Ann Baker. #3 might be why i'm having trouble with this Meryl performacne. PRADA aside i just have never thought she's very good at evil characters. Her best work is nearly always in more complex characters who cant be described as "bad guys" and I think Mary Louis is the worst. She gets more evil each episode.

AS FOR EMMY #2 for Nicole. I agree that it suddenly feels possible again (just like last season when Kidman came roaring to life in the final couple of episodes) but it makes me sad for Reese who started off both Season 1 and Season 2 feeling like the MVP before the narrative and Kidman Magic pushed Celeste to the podium again.

July 16, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I don’t think Kidman deserves a second Emmy. Am I the only who feels irritated by her character in the hearings? She has all this anger and rage outside of the courtroom, yet the moment she’s on the block she turns into some blubbering mess? I feel like her performance is really inconsistent this season.

Frankly, none of the drama happening to any of the characters excites me. Reese and Adam are such a boring couple and have no appeal whatsoever. Kravitz’ storyline with her mother is random AF, and I wish this season would’ve played into the Bonnie/Nate/Madeline/Ed storyline more. There’s so much more fire there.

Renata is getting boring and is so one note. Jane’s storyline is cute, but inessential.

Also, I wonder if this makes me evil, but am I the only one that thinks Celeste’s kids would be better off with Mary Louise? Her parenting looks so traumatic for those kids, and it feels like they’re going to grow to be extremely toxic. Even just sharing custody would probably help Celeste deal with her trauma and treat her alcohol and opioid abuse so that she can be a good mother for her kids.

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

@Missy agreed. There are so many talented Black actresses deserving of a higher career profile that, despite being underwritten, I wish Kravitz wasn't in this role.

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Reese has been the one gunning for an Emmy this season but Kidman on the stand might actually take it from her. I hope Celeste comes out on top. I'm not sure if I can emotionally handle it if she doesn't.

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrittani

It's actually uncanny how much the dropoff in quality mirrors Game of Thrones.

Juicy work of fiction is adapted—acclaim, success, perfection!
Showrunner runs out of book to adapt.
Source author writes an outline for how the plot advances.
Showrunner adapts outline into new season.

It's a terrible recipe!

I'll also be "the guy" who mentions this: Watching Nicole Kidman fight for custody of two children, against accusations that she is unfit (a "suppressive person," let's say?) is so on-the-nose and close to home that I actually wish I weren't watching it. But I won't stop, of course.

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

Kidman isn't going to win a second Emmy for this. It's only the start of the qualification year, and we'll have Olivia Colman playing Queen Elizabeth in that category... plus who knows what else.

I **hate** the idea of Celeste serving as her own counsel and questioning her mother-in-law in the final episode. Yes, it makes for high drama, but it's so unrealistic. Classic David E. Kelley Ally McBeal-era writing.

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I don't think anyone's getting Emmys for this season, esp considering they'll be moving to the Series categories. I'll honestly be surprised if the show is really in the awards convo next time around. I've found it incredibly hard to care at all this season about what's happening... I've been mostly bored after the first two episodes.

Considering the first season was some of the best television I'd ever seen, and this season a lot of the writing this season has been questionable at best, I'm starting to think that maybe those who were upset that it went from miniseries to series were justified...

I love Zoe Kravitz. She was who I was most excited for going in bc she got the short end of the stick in season 1, and I can't say I've been super pleased bc I think the plotline they gave her isn't the best, but I've really enjoyed her work and I hope this leads to more opportunities.

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

The final season of Game of Thrones just garnered a record breaking 32 nominations. Y'all seriously think this won't be up for damn near every Emmy it's eligible for? As good as season 1 was, I wonder if dare say it's been a bit overpraised when I see the reaction to this season. I'm not sure what people were expecting, but the story (admittedly a bit shaky in parts of its telling) went to the only place it probably could go. A major flash forward or anthology approach wouldn't have made any sense. I think its been a fairly fascinating look at trauma and how people deal with it in different ways. Doesn't allow for some of the liter touches with local play/classroom politics, but plenty of good stuff for this group to tear into to make it all worthwhile. Nicole Kidman slapped Meryl Streep people! Disco party! Super unrealistic courtroom drama! This is why we can't have nice, if a bit trashy, things. You want too much! Maybe I'm easily pleased, whatever, WIGS AND BANGS!

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I think you’re right about David E. Kelley. It’s not surprising that the show this season lost some
Momentum, he’s one of the best in the television business but most of his shows have 2-4 episode arcs. It’s probably a big challenge for him to stretch these stories out over 10 episodes.

However, this episodes courtroom scenes were fantastic. Kelley is a master of that form, and has been for over 30 years. I can’t wait until next week.

Glad to see Kravitz so high up this week. I really hope she gets some awards traction this season - she has done brilliant work and should walk away with the Globe, at least (though Meryl and Dern will fight it out for the Emmy).

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Definitely one of the better episodes of the season, but I'm still concerned about how they'll wrap it all up. I don't understand how anyone can watch Kravitz and not think that she's doing the best with what she's been given to do.

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

If this episode is submitted for Kidman, a second Emmy seems entirely possible.

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Episodes being "submitted" for Emmy is not a thing anymore. I mean, I'm sure they still *do* it, but it's obvious that outside of the guest categories (and even then...) it means little. An estimated 156 Game of Thrones actor slots shared by GoT, Fleabag, Barry and so on proves that. They nominate people from shows they like. The backstage stuff will definitely kill its momentum in several categories, but yes Kidman, Streep and Dern and still strong. Olivia Colman for The Queen seems like it'd be the one to beat though.

July 17, 2019 | Registered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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