I did not expect to like this show, let alone to be so gripped by it that come the finale I was glued to my screen clutching a glass of red with my nails bitten to the quick. I was prejudiced by the ‘Girly’ (how I hate that word) book covers, and assumed the show would be sugary sweet and a tad sickening.
Boy was I wrong.
Here are 5 reasons why the show was, in fact, hide-behind-the-sofa scream-at-the-screen incredible:
1 The focus on female friendships
The women are the storytellers here, and the narratives are revealed by them, as and when they choose. Why do Celeste and Madeline so readily embrace Jane into their elite friendship group? Simply because Jane stopped her car upon seeing another woman in difficulty. A chance encounter is the start of their friendship, and the instrinsic feeling we have sometimes upon meeting a fellow human being that this is person is a friend. It can’t be explained, and no one tries to here. Madeline decides that Jane=friend and embraces her whole-heartedly, defending her from the wolves at the school gates. The dissection of the day over coffee (or something stronger) may seem self indulgent to the outside world, but in fact it is a strong coping mechanism. A problem shared becoming less of a problem, and more of a plan. The friendships here are gutsy and devoted – think less Gilmore Girls and more amazons armed with sharp tongues and chardonnay. And the odd gun.
2. The music
The moment I knew for sure that this was something truly special was when the credits of the first episode rolled and a PJ Harvey track blasted out of my speakers. Music sets the tone (quite literally) for the drama itself, and the soundtrack for this series has always been on point. It is like invisible theatrical scenery, heightening all the unsaid thoughts and feelings week by week.
3. The cast
Stars of subastance:
Nicole Kidman’s strong Celeste beaten down to the quiet fragile flower that blooms in public but cowers behind closed doors.
Resse Witherspoon’s perfectionist woman scorned determined to fight the good fight and only cry when no one can see
Shailene Woodley’s troubled secret-keeper, desperate for confidants but scared of secrets she needs to share.
A cast of superwomen. I should have known this would be something special when I saw their names on the posters . Someone give them all Emmys for crying out loud.
4. Hard-hitting issues
The problems these women share are not small . This is not a schmaltzy happy ever after small town drama.
Jane is dealing with the aftermath of a brutal rape, and fears that her son, the product of the rape, could be guilty of the violent accusations levied at him by other mothers, because of his genetic code.
Madeline’s first love left her and her baby to fend for themselves, then 16 years later moved back to town with his young, bohemian beautiful wife (the impeccable Zoe Kravitz) and their new new child, who JUST HAPPENS to be the same age as her first child with her new husband. And yet he can’t understand why she is so upset whenever she sees him. Th past back to haunt her in human form.
Finally Celeste’s happy marriage is a lie, with domestic violence rife at the root. This is dealt with the delicately and is never over simplified. Is there love in their marriage? Sure. Does she fight back? Yes. But the extent of the physical and emotional abuse is drip-fed to the viewer until we are screaming at her to run for her life.
5. The finale
So many times you invest body and soul (and many hours of your life) into a TV series, only for the ending to be a damp predictable squib barely worthy of air time. The butler did it. It was all a dream. Or in the case of LOST: ‘we never had a plot – eat that suckers’. So as I made myself comfortable for the series conclusion it was with a fair amount of trepidation that it would not live up to it’s own high standards of storytelling. I needn’t have worried.
*spoilers following – you have been warned*
I had guessed that one of Celeste’s cherubic twins would be for Amabella’s abuser – if a child witnesses abuse it becomes normalised so it was not far-fetched for at least one of the husband-from-hell’s progeny to emulate the behaviour so regularly displayed by his father.
I had also predicted that Perry would prove to be Jane’s rapist. We knew from her tale that the perpetrator was a groomed professional who switched from nice as pie to psychopath next door in less than 60 seconds. Add that clue to the fact that he and Jane had NEVER BEEN IN THE SAME ROOM TOGETHER and it looked certain. I loved that this truth was never spoken aloud. Jane’s face upon meeting him again said everything the women needed to know, and it seemed fitting that it was the women that took him down en masse.
The only plot point I could not foresee before the big reveal was the identity of the murder victim. I wanted it to be Perry – no one deserved the gruesome end more after all! But I was scared that Celeste or Jane would be in the body bag, as so many abuse victims are only free from their abusers in death. I was so relieved to be wrong on this count, and oddly satisfied that Bonnie gave the final push. Defending the women that scorned her for her husband’s actions showed her goodness and worthiness more than any dinner party ever could. When push came to shove she was one of them.
Even though I guessed 2 out of the 3 big reveals, I was left satisfied rather than disappointed. I had not guessed the answers because they were spelled out, but because they made sense. This was not a dumbed-down ending, but a finale for which the foundations had already been laid, as far back as episode one.
The show may be called ‘Big Little Lies’ but at it’s heart it was about stone cold truths, and the friendships that allow them to be revealed.