Why everyone is talking about (and why you should be watching) Big Little Lies
When it started, Big Little Lies seemed like just another chick-lit show.
In much the same vein as Desperate Housewives, it had beautiful women all full of secrets, living in dream homes you don't see outside of the richest of suburbs, and the whole thing has pinned together with "Whodunnit?" murder mystery.
Even the promotional material for the mini-series gave off a cheeky vibe, like these ladies have a naughty secret - but more like having a crush on the pool-boy, not being involved in a violent murder.
The show has recently finished its run, and the core mysteries - Who died? Who killed them? Who was Ziggy's dad? Who has been attacking Renata's kids? - have all been solved in a satisfying manner.
But the more the show went on, the less it became about those mysteries, and more about the impossibly perfect lives of these women rapidly crumbling under any kind of scrutiny. Minor spoilers ahead...
Even as we're finding out that Madeline (Reece Witherspoon) has cheated on her husband (Adam Scott), and that Renata's (Laura Dern) daughter has clearly been pointing out the wrong abuser, and Jane (Shailene Woodley) has been protecting her son from the persecution complex of a town too-closely knit, all eyes have still been on Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard).
With the Greek chorus of murder witnesses telling the police throughout the show just how perfect a couple they are, that is exactly how they are presented to us in the early episodes: an impossibly happy husband and wife with two impossibly perfect children.
However, just like everything else in Big Little Lies, the more time we spend in their company, the more that facade falls away, and we see what's truly going on underneath, but in layers that are constantly changing our opinions and perceptions of this couple.
Firstly, yes, they are very physical. They can barely keep their hands off each other, and their love-making looks tense and exhausting, more like a sport than anything emotionally involving.
Then, bit by bit, we see the violence.
Clip via Entertainment Access
Perry slaps Celeste, and she hits back. They fight, and then they have sex. It would appear that violence, for them, is a form of foreplay.
"Maybe that's their kink," you'll probably think to yourself. "Each to their own."
It is only when the violence feels like it is beginning to spiral out of control, and the eroticism that seemed so eternally tangled up with the slaps and punches, begins to separate, it dawns on you that more than anyone else in the show, Celeste's life is in real danger.
Perry is very aware of his anger problems, and even tries to fix them, going to couple's counsellor Dr. Amanda Reisman (Robin Weigert) for one session and eventually breaking down that yes, as a couple, there is something toxic at their core, accepting half the blame along with his wife.
When Celeste returns to Dr. Reisman solo - Perry is too busy to make a habit of getting better - she initially fights back the thought that there is anything wrong with their relationship beyond a little overly boisterous love-making.
However, between the counsellor's spelling it out for her ("He will kill you, eventually. You are in danger."), and Perry's constantly growing physical threat, Celeste does eventually see her husband for what he is: a legitimate soure of fear.
The show has come under fire for the advice that the doctor gave to Celeste, in which she should rent an apartment in secret and fill it with food and pay the bills and keep it on standby should she need to grab her kids and make a dash for it at a moment's notice.
However, you have to remember that this is a show in which the character's know just how rich everyone else is. You just have to take a quick glance at the real estate to figure that out, and surely if Dr. Reisman was dealing with another abuse victim of different financial means, she would have given different advice.
What the show does deserve credit for, beyond the staggeringly great acting, beautiful direction, intelligent writing and genuinely entertaining plot arcs, is opening up room to bring such subject into prestige television.
Too often we're given mindless violence in prime-time TV with little in the way of realistic consequences (we still love you Game Of Thrones, Westworld, House Of Cards, etc.), while anything to do with "abuse" usually falls to the soaps and is lost in the soup of a million other subplots going on at any one time.
Big Little Lies lured us in with pretty people living pretty lives, and dumps us out the other side with our brains buzzing with big questions, and creating a unique awareness of a topic that too often feels like it is bordering on the taboo, when it really shouldn't be.
For this reason alone, Big Little Lies might be the most important show on TV this year.
If any of the issues in the show or this article have affected you, please ring:
The Samaritans @ 01-872 7700
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