Big Little Lies S01E01 review: a formulaic feminist fandango

big little lies shailene woodley

On the surface, Big Little Lies seems like just another series dragging us through an entire season of “someone is dead, figure it out.” The Affair did it, Revenge did it, How to Get Away with Murder did it. Big Little Lies is doing it.

I know. I’m tired, too. It’s like clickbait in TV form.

But Big Little Lies also brings with it a star-studded cinematic cast and themes of femininity and parenthood that set it apart from the rest, so it’s definitely worth sticking around for at least another episode.

The pilot opens — where else? — at a crime scene. Someone is dead, someone is hiding, someone is breathing heavily. If you’re wondering who died and who did it, you haven’t been paying attention. Unless you’ve read the source novel by Liane Moriarty, you aren’t going to know until the season finale. It’s the sad truth.

Don’t worry, we’re in this together.

And if you have been paying attention, you know what’s coming next. That’s right: it’s flashback time.

We get taken back a few weeks, to a time when Madeline Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) is being a Mom™. She’s dealing with her sulky teen daughter and snarky 6-year-old written by someone who has never met a six-year-old.

Big Little Lies centres on family, and the love and torture that comes with it

These relationships are important. Big Little Lies centres around the parent-child dynamic. Every piece of drama that happens in the pilot episode happens because of the kids. Renata Klein (Laura Dern) picks a fight with Ziggy, Jane’s (Shailene Woodley) son. Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) tells his wife Celeste (Nicole Kidman) that their twins can’t be friends with him. Madeline has an intimate moment with her daughter when she feels they’re drifting apart.

Big Little Lies is centred on family, and the love and torture that comes with it. It plays with domesticity, most obviously by casting big names we associate with glamour to play understated housewives in a small town. Everything can be confused as a facade — hence the show’s title — but one thing that can’t be misconstrued is the love these women have for their children.

The show is pushing the limits these mothers will go to protect their own — and we know for certain that the show will end in murder. The big (little) question lies in who gets pushed the furthest.

Another draw to the show is how it focuses on women. These women are flawed, they are real, and they are the glue that holds everything together. If anything, they are reason enough to watch Big Little Lies.

A bonus is that they are acted beautifully. Witherspoon carries her character with the confidence of Elle Woods. Nicole Kidman’s face is remarkable. Even Shailene Woodley is watchable, which is a feeling I’ve never experienced before.

These women are the heart of the show, and what a heart it is. I will not be tuning in to find out more about the murder. It’s inconsequential. I will be tuning in because I am interested in these women.

Also Alexander Skarsgard is hot.

THEORY TIME (spoilers ahead):

  • Celeste committed the murder. That stare at her husband when he was reading to their children? She’s capable of killing, and you can’t convince me otherwise.
  • Her demon twins hurt Amabella. Did you hear the book their dad was reading them?
  • Amabella lied because she was afraid of retaliation.
  • Jane Chapman is running from her ex-boyfriend, with whom she is an accomplice for murder.
  • Zoe Kravitz is actually a god.

Stares into the Ocean tally: 7



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