Seven episodes later, BIG LITTLE LIES finally answers the central question of its existence: Who died? And who killed them? The series’ murder mystery has, for weeks now, been the least interesting thing about it. Given the other stories it’s been telling, viewers probably wouldn’t have minded that much if the show didn’t quite stick the landing here. But it does, in a tense, thrilling final episode that’s so all-around good that it can be forgiven for crafting an ending that, at times, feels a little too neat.
The mystery’s solution shouldn’t surprise anyone. Of course, it’s Perry who’s dead. While the show has worked valiantly to convince us – even in this episode itself – that the victim could be anyone in Monterey, there’s a sense of rightness and inevitability here to Perry’s death that usually indicates a story well told. Of course Big Little Lies needed to kill its villain. After everything we’ve watched Perry inflict on Celeste, how could the series end otherwise? Yes, this is television, and it could have gone many different ways, but there’s a catharsis in this ending that feels necessary, as though the only way the show could have ever ended was in Perry’s death at the hands of a group of furious women.
The episode opens with a scene so familiar to audiences over the season – Perry abusing his wife. This time, Celeste is lying half-naked on the bathroom floor, unable to move after her husband’s latest assault. The scene feels worse than some of their previous encounters, and there’s none of the crackling passion that Celeste has argued fuels their confrontations. There is only pain, and a crushing sense of hopelessness. Perry isn’t going to change. In fact, he’s getting worse. It seems that Celeste herself has finally realized this, as her next move is to race to her therapist’s as soon as her husband takes the kids to school. She tells Dr. Reisman that she’s done. She’s planning to leave Perry while he’s on a business trip the next day, and all they have to do is survive the school’s trivia night gala first. Later, we see Celeste setting up her new apartment, as she both mourns the relationship she’s losing and remembers the horror that’s causing its end. We see snippets of Perry’s latest assault, which seems to have involved Celeste getting choked, thrown over furniture and punched in the stomach. It’s horrific, worse than any of the other beatings we’ve witnessed, and as viewers we’re torn between wanting to cry with Celeste over everything she’s been through, and cheer that she’s finally realized she has to get out.
During a conversation with her son about his friendship with Amabella, Jane learns that Ziggy knows the identity of the child that’s been bullying the little girl. After much cajoling and the use of a photo line-up, Ziggy confesses that it’s one of Celeste’s sons who’s been behind all the abuse at school. (Remember, this little boy not only strangled a classmate but bit her, and pushed another down some stairs.) To be honest, none of us should be too shocked that one of Celeste’s sons is guilty here. We probably all should have guessed it was coming. It’s Max who is the guilty party – not that most of us probably could have named either of these children since their primary function appears to be to lurk around the periphery of scenes. Only as it turns out, that’s kind of the point. Yes, Max and his brother whose name most of us probably don’t even know, lurk around the edges of scenes, and that’s enough. They’re children, but they’re still learning – and he’s picked up how to treat women by watching his parents.
Jane meets with Celeste to deliver this news in person, and it’s obviously devastating to her on multiple levels. And Jane attempts to console her friend only make it worse. “They’re kids, they bully. It’s human nature. The grow out of it,” she says, comfortingly. “Sometimes they don’t,” is Celeste’s heartbreaking and chilling reply. At home, Celeste urges Max to come clean about what he’s been doing. The little boy starts crying, and Celeste’s resolve to leave her husband hardens. Who knows better than she does that sometimes little boys don’t grow out of hurting the quiet little girls around them? And her son will never be able to do so as long as he still witnesses his father hurting his mother every day.
The long-awaited school gala finally arrives after seven episodes’ worth of build up. In what is possibly the weirdest theme night ever, it’s “Elvis and Audrey”, where all the men are required to dress up like the King, while the ladies don various Audrey Hepburn-inspired outfits. It’s very suburbia, to be honest. (And it’s definitely not an accident that Celeste, Jane and Madeline all end up as various iterations of Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.) Everyone’s drinking heavily and doing various on-stage performances of Elvis songs – and of course everyone has a great voice.
The real tension starts as Celeste and Perry are getting ready to leave for the party. They appear to be running late, but Celeste’s boys still tell her how pretty she looks when she comes downstairs. This nice moment is interrupted by a bombshell, quietly delivered, from Perry. He tells his wife that she has a message from her property manager at her new apartment. Alexander Skarsgård deserves praise for the quiet menance he embodies in this scene, as Perry continues to console his son over his lost tooth while simultaneously informing his wife that he knows she’s about to leave him. This scene is, frankly, terrifying. The tension builds to almost unbearable levels as we all – Celeste and viewers included – wait for the inevitable violence to start. Celeste looks as though she knows her life might, literally, be over at any moment, and her long walk out the front door is agonizing to watch. But the confrontation between them starts quietly, with a conversation in the car that sees Perry use every weapon but his fists – guilt, love, shame – as he begs Celeste to give him another chance to change. But for the first time, we also see Celeste push back, declaring that she deserves better than this, that she’s covered for his abuse for years, that she convinced herself she needed to stay for the kids. And now the kids are the reason she needs to leave, because Perry’s children know what he’s doing to their mother. Nicole Kidman’s so righteously furious here that her Australian accent comes out a couple of times, but it’s so good – and so necessary – that it’s hard to care.
When Perry follows his wife into the party, she won’t talk to him, and the two argue some more. Bonnie witnesses this, and follows them as they head down to a caution-taped terrace, where Jane and Madeline are already having an emotional moment. (Madeline is in her feelings because she’s been drinking, feels terrible about her affair.) Celeste also attempts to comfort her friend, but everything changes when Jane sees Perry and realizes that he is the man who raped her. The cascading realization that passes over all three women’s faces in the wake of Jane’s discovery is perhaps a bit convenient, but an amazing moment nevertheless. Things start to disintegrate rapidly after that, with a cut to flashing police lights and a blood-spattered Celeste. We still don’t know who died, though.
Because of course this show needs to drag this moment out to the final possible seconds, just to remind us all that Big Little Lies was never about the murder. Not really.
If final shots of Big Little Lies feel a little schmaltzy, that’s probably because they are. The episode concludes with Madeline, Jane, Celeste, Renata and Nicole out for a day at the beach with their children. And we see – finally – the murder we were promised in the series’ opening moments. That not only is Perry dead, but that it was Bonnie who killed him, shoving him down the stairs as he beat Celeste on the terrace. And while Bonnie is responsible for the fatal push that sent him to his death, the other three women were also fighting and wrestling with Perry as he struggled to get in another kick to his wife’s abdomen. It’s kind of a Pretty Little Liars for grownups vibe here, with all the women staring over the edge of the stairs at Perry’s body, then plotting a cover-up together.
This isn’t quite how it happens in the book. In Big Little Lies the novel, all the parents are out on the landing, and Perry backhands his wife in front of everyone. A scuffle ensues and Perry is pushed. Bonnie is the culprit there as well, but the novel goes a step further in explaining why to its audience. Bonnie herself turns out to have an abusive past, and the site of a man hurting a woman set her off. Here on the show, Celeste is not only beaten much more violently, but Perry seems to attack all the other women, as well. And they fight back as a unit, struggling to pull him off of each other, like a tiny suburban California coven convening to punish a man who hurt one of their sisters.
After that, the scenes of the women and their children cavorting on a beach together feel strangely earned. The series’ final moments are framed as though someone is watching the women – the clicking of a lighter, a shot framed by the lens of binoculars. This moment – which is not from the book either – seems to imply that the mystery is not entirely over, that someone (perhaps a detective or a gossipy neighbor) doesn’t entirely believe the big little lie of how Perry died. Whether this is meant to serve as a set-up for a potential second season is unclear. There are certainly other storylines (Celeste’s future, the state of Madeline’s marriage) that were left more open ended than not. But it’s hard to imagine how a second season might top this one, so perhaps it’s better that the final image we have of these women is one in which they are united, together.
Season 1, Episode 7 (S01E07)
Big Little Lies airs Sundays at 9PM on HBO
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Lacy is a digital strategist by day and a writer because it seemed like a good start to her supervillain origin story. Favorite things include: Sansa Stark, British period dramas, and that leather duster that Aeryn Sun wears in Farscape.
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Lacy Baugher | Contributor