Sunday, July 21, 2019

REVIEW: 'Big Little Lies' - The Custody Case Between Celeste and Mary Louise Reaches Its Conclusion in 'I Want to Know'

HBO's Big Little Lies - Episode 2.07 "I Want to Know"

Celeste questions Mary Louise about a tragic event from Perry's childhood. Madeline worries their lie is tearing the Monterey Five apart.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the season finale of HBO's Big Little Lies.

"I Want to Know" was directed by Andrea Arnold with story by David E. Kelley & Liane Moriarty and teleplay by David E. Kelley

This was a complicated and curious season of television. Its mission statement was essentially the central lie being told by the Monterey Five is toxic. It leaves them constantly paranoid and questioning the motives of everyone around them. And yet, a huge chuck of the narrative centered on stories that had absolutely nothing to do with that central lie. At some points, it was clear that the show was using trauma as a way to tell a story about how it seeps into every corner of one's life. It isn't so easy to overcome past hardships. Jane has struggled to embrace her new romance with Corey while Celeste has conflicted feelings about watching old videos of Perry. But the show also just wanted this to be a soap opera set in a courtroom. The main uncertainty heading into the season finale was whether or not Celeste would retain custody of her children. That was the action set into motion by Mary Louise. Meryl Streep certainly brought a lot of energy, passion and excitement into this role. The show was certainly intrigued by the prospect of examining how Perry came to be the way that he was as an adult. But instead, the show mostly just talked around the subject. Sure, it was textually important when Mary Louise took the stand in the custody case. Celeste wanted to dig deep into her mother-in-law's parenting style and how emotionally abusive she was to her son after his brother's tragic death. That too presents as the inciting trauma that came to define the lives for every member of this family. That means Perry's death runs the risk of repeating the cycle. Celeste is fighting to ensure that Max and Josh don't become just like their father. Jane wants Ziggy to also know that he doesn't have to worry about being bad because of the circumstances surrounding his conception. And yet, this is far from being a story about the children. Everyone is trying to do right by them. But the story is mostly interested in the interior lives of the five women who all got in line when it came to lying about how Perry died. Bonnie pushed him and Madeline told everyone to lie about it. That confession isn't forced onto the Monterey Five though. Instead, the show suggests that it's a conclusion that they come to on their own. They see it as the one thing that is corroding their friendship. They may be able to see it as the thing that keeps them bonded for life. But that's not necessarily a good thing. It means they stand together in the courtroom as Celeste fights for her children. She emerges victorious in that battle. Sure, it's ridiculous to watch how much the judge actually allows in this case. Celeste and Mary Louise basically stand up and deliver passionate speeches whenever they feel like it. There isn't really a sense of law and order. The judge then says that there are conditions to her granting continued custody to Celeste. And yet, those aren't heard. That mostly makes it important that the family unit will stay exactly as is while Mary Louise goes back to her home without getting the answers she came to Monterey to find about her son. Instead, she saw his true self in that video. That was apparently enough even though she continued to lash out in the courtroom about how both Celeste and Jane were complicit in the actions done to them. That's horrendous and shows the environment that led to Perry's creation as a toxic individual. But that's really the whole point of all of this. Mary Louise isn't behind some conspiracy that is closely monitoring the Monterey Five to see if she can get one of them to crack. Instead, she is just a concerned woman who wants to force her will onto others and then leaves quickly as soon as she doesn't get her way.

But all of this is still building to the Monterey Five walking into the police station together. That doesn't quite feel like a natural ending though. It may feel that way because there is no outside pressure that is bearing down on them. Sure, there is plenty of evidence from throughout this season that shows the damage that has been done to their personal lives. All of them were at infliction points when it came to their intimate relationships. Madeline, Bonnie, Jane and Renata had to decide just how committed they wanted to be with the men in their lives. With Bonnie and Renata, this was the end for their marriages. Elizabeth's sudden death makes Bonnie realize that she can no longer keep lying. She has to be honest in every aspect of her life. She relies on her husband and father mostly as caregivers for her daughter. She relies on them in order to keep her safe as she braces the unknown. She doesn't even have to convince the rest of the Monterey Five that this is for the best. It's not a beachside debate in the middle of the night. It's not something that the Monterey Five have the chance to talk about with their husbands and partners. Ed remains completely in the dark about the secret Madeline has been keeping. It was important to him in the past that he could sense that Madeline was still holding something back. So, it may be rewarding to see them work things out and even have a vow renewal ceremony here. And yet, they don't really address the underlying issues. This may be Madeline's way of coming forward with everything that she has done knowing that her husband will support her through the worst of it. He just isn't given the opportunity to process that information before making this life-affirming commitment to her. That's odd given the show previously set that up as something of importance. But the show did that with many things this season. It made the characters fear that Detective Quinlan was closely in and could arrest them at any moment in time. It made them think that their lives could be in peril because of some outside threat. But the show repeatedly wanted to be an introspective look at how one central action could come to define the lives of five friends. That's an aspirational idea that just wasn't executed all that well. It may be a delight to see Renata completely destroy Gordon's room of toys because he found a way to keep them. That mostly highlights how her rage isn't healthy for this family when she continues to assert that she always puts her daughter first. It's also nice to see Jane able to take the next step with Corey. It just comes at a time when her life is continued to be defined by Perry. It's a lot of give and take when it comes to this show and trying to analyze what this ending was trying to do. There will always be an appeal with this series simply because of the caliber of talent on the screen. But the format was too loose this season with no real reason to keep watching to see what would happen next in the lives of these characters. As such, it was hard to exactly track what the character journeys were suppose to be. That confusion amounts to an ending that will probably leave most viewers feeling ambivalent overall.