Big Little Lies overview: An important depiction of domestic abuse

Mike P Williams

Big Little Lies came to a tense and hugely satisfying climax in the UK last week, proving it was a miniseries that certainly lived up to the promise of its debut.

Before we go any further, the following contains spoilers.

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, and Nicole Kidman as a tight trio of working, socialising mothers within a gossip-filled LA community; Madeline, Jane, and Celeste are bonded by their children and the very different yet relatable personal lives they lead.

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Episode one (previously reviewed here) sets up one of the most intriguing mysteries viewers have come across in years, with a cleverly structured first hour that informs us about a murder but gives absolutely no indication about its nature and, significantly, who the victim and perp is.

Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley in Big Little Lies. Credit: HBO

That therein lies the structural beauty of Big Little Lies, with the impending six episodes delving into that penetrable gloss of modern Americana and a wonderfully real-feeling exploration into the ugliness of people.

By the end of the pilot it’s evident how exciting Big Little Lies is in terms of offering a murder mystery that’ll keep us guessing until the very end. The pivotal points its success hinges on is a) would it be able to maintain the quality we’d seen thus far, and b) if the suspense would hold out on the whodunnit? until the very end.

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Thankfully, all seven episodes give us just this, with a hugely impressive standard that follows through until its penultimate scene. Solid scripting that miraculously never dips is quite the feat. Instead, every episode instils this high quality of storytelling and flawless acting that’s on par with some of the most memorable TV of recent years.

But what this compelling drama morphs into is something altogether more sinister and, dare I say for many, unsettlingly real. We’re introduced to Celeste’s (Kidman) husband Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgård) blissful marital relationship before briefly glimpsing his unchecked aggression towards his other half and presented with this very dark diversion into domestic abuse. It’s extremely uncomfortable but merely the beginning of the horrific narrative that escalates alongside the handful of other story threads that unfold parallel to it.

Perry and Celeste as the envied couple… in public at least. Credit: HBO

The thing is that as the series develops we quickly realise Perry and Celeste’s deeply disturbing relationship is far more integral to the overall plot and infects other plot strands – most notably which child is bullying Renata’s (Laura Dern) daughter Amabella. It’s only at around the fifth episode that you click (or at least I did) that it’s one of Celeste’s kids that’s doing that bullying, thanks to a telling edit and cut.

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But the entire series is very busy in the sense that we’re dealing with a number of complex subplots: the reveal and fallout of Madeline’s affair; Jane’s rape ordeal; the tension between Madeline’s current hubby Ed (Adam Scott) and ex Nathan (James Tupper). Yet it’s never overbearing in the slightest. The individual story arcs intertwine and seamlessly merge into a cohesive, thought-provoking drama.

So by the end of the show and once we discover it’s Perry that snuffs it – I had my suspicions, despite the red herring they throw at us with Jane’s pursuit of alleged rapist Saxon Banks – everything culminates at the fundraiser. The reveal that Perry is the monster that raped Jane and how it’s Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) who pushes him down the flight of stairs to his demise is the best possible climax to the show – if you were a smart arse that figured it out in advance, then fair enough. I, however, was thrilled, shocked, and in awe by its twists.

Zoë Kravitz as Bonnie. Credit: HBO

The journey towards its climax is one to savour – I don’t even recall a lull or dip in quality which says a lot. It’s finale doesn’t disappoint either, despite some viewers knowing Perry’s fate prior to witnessing it.

With its domestic abuse storyline proving to be the most important central theme, the series is elevated even higher into the realms of must-watch TV with its visceral and visual depiction of what a revolting beast Perry is behind closed doors. It tackles a vital issue that’s often difficult for many women to speak out about and its portrayal unforgettable.

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In terms of awards, don’t be surprised to see Kidman walk away with a few over the coming year, that’s for sure. It should also garner a host of other nominations for its various achievements, too.

Kidman as the tortured Celeste. Credit: HBO

As is, Big Little Lies is a one-off miniseries based on a book. Therefore, there’s no reason we’d get a follow-up season (despite Witherspoon teasing us) but as with all lucrative shows you’ll never hear producers flat-out denying it.

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The question is whether we really need additional episodes to what is a superlative series that ties up in the particularly strong and assertive way it opens.

What was your opinion on Big Little Lies? Share your thoughts in the comments below…