Big Little Lies S2E6: The Bad Mother

Season 2, Episode 6

Laura Dern as Renata Klein in season two of HBO's Big Little Lies
Courtesy of HBO

Big Little Lies is back for its penultimate episode (“The Bad Mother”) and the custody battle has well and truly begun with shots being fired from both sides. After the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking to myself that there can’t be many big revelations left, right? Boy, was I wrong.

One of the biggest shockers from last week’s episode was Corey (Douglas Smith) emerging from the police station. This prompted many online theories ranging from him being an undercover cop to him being related to Detective Quinlan (Merrin Dungey). I had my suspicions about him but still genuinely wanted there to be an innocent explanation as to why he was there. And there was…sort of.

Quinlan is desperate to get a breakthrough in the case and called Corey in for some kind of questioning. She knows about Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgård) relationship to Jane (Shailene Woodley), she knows he raped her, she knows Ziggy was a result of that rape, and she sure as hell doesn’t believe he slipped. Interestingly, she hasn’t come to Jane with this information and questioned her over it (that we know of). She’s building a murder case and her knowledge of these facts means that she has Jane in her sights as the main suspect. She thinks that the odds are in her favor due to their being five witnesses so she’s relying on one of them cracking. Except now Quinlan is pretty much offering the first woman to crack a break, with the rest of them being fucked.

It feels like Quinlan is almost going rogue with her actions now. She doesn’t care who cracks first; she just wants (or needs) one of them to do it. You would think that the knowledge of the rape against Jane and the abuse against Celeste (Nicole Kidman) would change her point of view and feelings towards what’s happened. Instead, she just seems desperate to prove that one of them murdered Perry. With just one episode left it feels a little late to start digging into Quinlan’s past, but perhaps there’s something there that’s fuelling her motives.

Merrin Dungey as Detective Quinlan in Season 2 of Big Little Lies
Courtesy of HBO

Quinlan doesn’t have enough evidence to bring a murder case to trial so it feels like she’s using the custody battle as a way to finally get a confession. She’s present at the hearing and is sat silently watching the women and their reactions. We’ve seen her and Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) watching the recordings of the women giving their official statements about Trivia Night. Both women are desperate for the truth, but we just don’t yet know how deeply they’re working together to get it.

We know that Mary Louise is cunning and vindictive, but what if the custody battle wasn’t really her idea to begin with? Maybe Quinlan has convinced her that the only way to get the truth about what happened to her son is to make Celeste crack. She knows these women’s weaknesses and she’s reached a point where she probably isn’t afraid to try and exploit them. Mary Louise’s own weaknesses are her sons and her wanting to be the perfect mother; has Quinlan exploited those too?

Mary Louise is still apologetic to Celeste and tells her that they’re still family despite all that is happening. It’s those little moments that make me think she isn’t entirely behind everything. She’s been led to believe that she’s doing the right thing and Quinlan has convinced her that one of the women murdered her son. I’ve defended Mary Louise since the season began and I still haven’t changed my mind. But as this season seems to want to paint the women as bad people, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was revealed to be a monster in the finale.

It would be a more fitting end if it was revealed that she was a victim, too. I said last week that Mary Louise could be a victim of Perry in some way or another and I’d still like that to be the final revelation in her character’s story.

The battle has only just begun but no one wants to play nice. Celeste is the first to take the stand and her interrogation is so painfully brutal that it’s upsetting to watch. We knew that her crashing the car while being on Ambien would be brought up to be used against her, as well as her drunken one-night stand. I don’t think we were prepared for even more to come out of the closet, though.

Nicole Kidman as Celeste in season two of Big Little Lies on HBO
Courtesy of HBO

Firstly, I just want to say how wonderful it is seeing Denis O’Hare on our screens again as Mary Louise’s lawyer, Ira Farber; but secondly, I wish he wasn’t playing a total bastard. He plays it so well, though, which is a testament to him as an actor. Ira is another ruthless character who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Ira, Mary Louise, or even Quinlan have had someone following Celeste, tracking her, and documenting her every move. We were shocked when we discovered that Celeste had engaged in a one-night stand, so it was even more of a jaw-dropping moment when we discovered that this wasn’t a one-off. Celeste is shocked that they know, too, and struggles to remember the names of the men and where she met them. She admits to drinking, the Ambien, to meeting men and having sex with them (some of them in public). She then admits to something which will undoubtedly damage her: some of the sexual encounters got aggressive.

This is when Ira shows his ruthless and cruel streak as he realizes he’s hit a nerve with her vulnerability and proceeds to stick the knife in deeper. She’s shown a slideshow of photographs of the men she’s slept with just to humiliate and discredit her. When she tries to point out that her having sex with men doesn’t impact her ability to be a good parent, he asks if the children have ever met any of these men. We know they have and so does Mary Louise. But it turns out they’ve seen even more than we have; they’ve wandered into their Mom’s bedroom while she’s unconscious on Ambien and seen the men. We, and Celeste, should have learned by now that the children of Monterey love to talk about the discoveries of their parent’s lives.

He doesn’t end there as he manipulates Celeste into admitting that she inflicted abuse on Perry, too. We know that, for the most part, this isn’t true. In Season 1 we only ever saw Celeste fighting back through self-defense. Perry was the abuser and she the victim. Ira asks why, if things were so bad, she never called the police or asked for help and then implies that maybe she was asking to get beaten up by Perry. He wants the courtroom to see Celeste negatively and wants to paint a picture that she used physical violence as a sexual fetish.

We know that’s not the woman she is. Yes, she’s having aggressive sex with random men and fantasizing a lot about the sex life she once had with Perry. But she’s a broken woman who’s been a victim of abuse for a long period of time. She doesn’t know any different at the moment. She may think she’s missing the aggressive sex but she’s really missing the father of her children and the man she loved (and maybe still loves).

Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley as Madeline, Renata, and Jane in season two of Big Little Lies
Courtesy of HBO

Obviously, these scenes are meant to shock and upset us but they’re really there as a stark reminder about victims of abuse in real life. Women and men who have been on the receiving end of abuse often fail to come forward and speak up about it. People often ask, why is that? Why did you keep quiet for so long? Why did you only speak out about it later? It’s because they don’t want to relive that abuse by retelling the story over and over. They don’t want someone to doubt them, to make out they’re lying, or even make them feel like what happened to them is somehow their fault.

I’ve been on the receiving end of abuse myself and I know what it feels like to be doubted. I also know how it feels to have the police imply that perhaps I did something to invite that kind of behavior towards me. Speaking up is hard enough without having our stories used against us by the very people who are there to protect us. Nobody should be afraid to speak out about something bad that they’ve endured, but these scenes remind us why so many don’t. Hopefully, the outcome will show people that yes it may be hard, yes you will be doubted, and yes people will try to blame you, but speaking up is worth it. People have to pay for their wrongdoings.

If anything, the drama in the courtroom gives us some insight as to why these women lied about what happened. They probably lied through fear—fear of not being believed or blamed for something that was self-defense.

We were given a slight sense of hope, though, as Celeste finally finds the courage to challenge Mary Louise. Celeste has been painted in a bad light and her skeletons have been dragged out of the closet; now it’s time for her to do the same to Mary Louise. But what does she suddenly know about her that could change things? Obviously, this whole thing has been leading up to the reveal about Perry’s twin brother and us finding out whether Mary Louise is a monster or not. Has Celeste hired someone to do some digging? Or has she gone straight to the source and got the information from Perry’s father? We know he left Mary Louise following the death of their other son, but we just don’t know why yet. Will it be Mary Louise taking the stand or her ex-husband?

Jeffrey Nordling and Laura Dern as Gordon and Renata Klein in season two of Big Little Lies on HBO
Courtesy of HBO

Renata (Laura Dern) has had it particularly hard this season after we found out her husband Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling) had lost not just his but her own self-made fortune. It’s been truly brilliant to see Laura Dern own every single scene that she’s in, and this week she doesn’t disappoint. Renata doesn’t deserve any more heartbreak. For her, money is a way of showing the world that you’re a powerful woman. Now that she’s had that taken away from her, you would think that we would see her slowly climbing back up the ladder of power. But this week she’s been kicked back down to the bottom again with an even worse revelation.

It turns out that Gordon has been paying Amabella’s nanny for sex for quite a long time. I don’t know how much pain needs to be inflicted on Renata but on first viewing, this felt a little unnecessary. But after giving it some thought I can see why it was done. In a previous episode, Renata stated that she would stay with Gordon, as “that’s what women do. We stay with them.” She doesn’t need to stay with Gordon; she needs to get rid of him. She probably imagined that he couldn’t get any worse but hopefully this final push will be what gets her away from him.

I think Renata needs to realize that she can still be a perfect mother and an empowered woman without a man (and his money) by her side. She made a fortune herself before and that’s exactly what she needs to get out there and do again. She’s better than this (and him).

As Gordon’s lies continue to come flooding out week after week, Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is sat wishing that she can reveal hers. Ed (Adam Scott) is finally trying to connect with her on an emotional level but can tell she’s still holding back about something. I don’t think he realizes that what she’s hiding is so big, though. It’s nice to see him finally trying to connect with her but at the same time, that moment of happiness is taken away by the fact that he’s not being entirely truthful with her either.

He’s met up with Tori (Sarah Sokolovic) and she attempts to seduce him again. Apparently, she keeps both a masturbation diary and a bucket list and he’s made his way into both of them. I don’t know whether I believe her. Despite always seeing some sort of spark between them I really do just think that she’s going to use him to get her revenge on Madeline. She’s saying all the right things to get him interested. I’m genuinely hoping that he realizes that cheating as a punishment is an awful idea and stays focussed on repairing his marriage. But maybe if Madeline tells him the truth of Perry’s death in the finale he will respond by telling her he’s had sex with Tori by that time. He’s tempted, or he wouldn’t have met up with her again. Maybe all of the women in the show will be truly better off without these men in their lives.

Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Kravitz, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley as Renata, Madeline, Bonnie, Celeste, and Jane in Season 2 of Big Little Lies
Courtesy of HBO

Nathan (James Tupper) still seems incapable of supporting Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) in any way, and this is the first time we really see him at the hospital with her. He was the one who originally called Elizabeth (Crystal Fox) to town as he thought Bonnie was going to leave him and needed help to support her. Elizabeth quickly pointed out that he was incapable of noticing his wife’s problems and when they began. Instead of learning from that moment, he seems even more distant from her now than ever. We rarely see them together as a couple. Even at Amabella’s party, he spent more time on his ridiculous feud with Ed than he did enjoying himself with his wife.

Despite having a vigil at her mother’s bedside, Bonnie is still angry with her for a few things. She’s angry that she began having sex at 13 years old in an attempt to feel loved by someone, and she’s angry that she shoved Perry down the stairs after spending years wanting to do the same thing to her mother. Most interestingly, she’s angry that she’s married a man who she possibly doesn’t…Love? Respect? Want to be with? She doesn’t get to finish her sentence, but I can only presume she doesn’t love him. I honestly didn’t see it coming. I know they’ve been disconnected this season but I thought that there was love there at least. It’s starting to feel like most of the women have just settled for the men they are with.

While the scene in which Bonnie confessed everything was truly brilliant, I have some concerns as to where the plot has gone. I have a confession to make: I haven’t read the book. Therefore I recently only found out that in the book it was, in fact, Bonnie’s father that abused her. I’m curious to know the creative reasons why it was changed to Elizabeth for the screen.

The first season spent so long showing us the inequalities between genders. These women were struggling to maintain power in a world where men are automatically handed the power instead. It taught us about the power of women and how their solidarity made them stronger. Women had to be celebrated and be viewed as equals. Now, the second season is telling us that women are the abusers and that they’re just as bad as the men. It’s worrying that they seem to have lost focus on the important messages about women that the first season taught us. There’s no denying that women do bad things, too, but that was never the point of this show or the book before it.

There’s only one episode left, which is something else that concerns me. While I’ve loved almost every second of this season it feels like there is so much going on that it will be almost impossible to resolve it all in just one more episode. It feels like we’ve been hurling towards Bonnie’s confession for weeks but I think she might get beaten to it now. Maybe all of the women will finally confess together? Will it just be revealed that Mary Louise is a monster and Celeste wins? Or will Quinlan realize she was wrong to try and ruin these women’s lives and close the case?

It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, but in the wake of the news that we probably aren’t getting a third season, I really hope they’ve written a satisfying ending.

Written by Martin Hearn

Martin Hearn is a Social Media Manager for 25YL who also writes, has a penchant for interviews, watches too much TV, and plays too many video games. He joined the site through his love of Twin Peaks and also has a passion for shows such as The OA, The Crown, American Horror Story, Lost, and Desperate Housewives. His hobbies include insomnia, dancing in secret, and buying too much Twin Peaks merchandise from eBay. Martin lives in Middlesbrough, UK, which is the birthplace of the Parmo (you may want to google that amazingly beautiful delicacy that definitely won't cause a heart attack). He loves spending long weekends binge-watching TV shows with his partner Anthony.

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