I’m finally up to date on Big Little Lies, the best soap opera on television, which means I’m qualified to write a recap (finally). I know you’ve been waiting for it just as feverishly as I’ve been waiting for Celeste to shut down Mary Louise’s shit once and for all! More on that later.
Episode four, titled “She Knows,” was light on heavy-hitting plot points but heavy on hitting. Let’s take a leisurely beach walk through this episode’s most notable character developments, shall we?
SPOILERS AHEAD, OF COURSE.
This episode sets up what we can expect to be an animating conflict for the rest of the season, unless the ladies take my advice and pull a Perry with his meddling, always-underfoot mother. After spending the last episode pestering a rape victim for tales of her son’s supposed kindness, Mary Louise finally finds an apartment—in Jane’s building. She reveals this in the course of perhaps the most densely packed, dramatic five minutes of the season so far, after Mary Louise crashes a pumpkin-carving party at Madeline’s house, turning up holding a bundt cake like a dead rat. Mary Louise, always laser-focused when meeting members of the so-called Monterey Five, practically scorches Bonnie with her glare when meeting her in passing for the first time.
When Celeste pulls her aside and tries to explain how insanely fucked it is to move in with your son’s rape victim, Mary Louise, always the sensitive one, floats the idea yet again that’s she’s not so sold on Jane’s story. After all, if he was being unfaithful with one woman, who’s to say there aren’t others, and who exactly pushed him to cheat in the first place, hmmmmm?
Nicole Kidman’s wig reacts without a moment’s hesitation, slapping her across the face and sending her glasses flying. I was really hoping we’d see her hilariously unnecessary fake chompers also go flying, but they have to save some action for the finale, after all.
As cathartic as this moment was, Mary Louise looks back, slyly conveying that the moment of violence is a victory for her: We find out later in the episode that she’s petitioning for guardianship of her grandchildren, Max and Josh, because she’s concerned Celeste is “unwell.” Mary Louise has seen Celeste roughly break up an argument between the boys; she’s snooped through her pill drawer, all of which will clearly be used an ammunition against her. As therapist Calamity Jane observes, it’s going to be a painful battle to keep her sons.
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I consistently feel bad for Madeline, and I felt that a bit more acutely in this episode. She’s done the apologize-for-the-affair thing by the book: She’s framed it as about her, not Ed, and they’re delving into her deep anxieties around growing up poor and never finishing college in marriage counseling. (Although she fails to see the connection between her lack of self-worth and her constant acting out.)
Now, I’m mostly sick of Ed’s shit. Yes, his wife made a mistake, but that doesn’t mean he gets to act like the worst incarnation of Adam Scott forever, and Madeline, clearly nearing wit’s end, urges him just to leave her already if he’s going to. I agree!!!
In a bit of a throwaway—and a deeply unbelievable scene—Madeline’s youngest basically comes out and calls her “unhinged.” This is funny to Ed, who continues tormenting her. Cool!
Other than Madeline’s continued self-loathing, she wore a great outfit to Amabella’s insane disco-themed birthday party. Big hair! Sequins! Gimme!
That brings us to....
It’s a tough episode for this formerly rich lady, enough so that you almost feel bad for her. Although haughty as usual, her ego is severely bruised during a bankruptcy hearing (scheduled on a Saturday to avoid running into the real poor people) when she’s forced to hand over her wedding ring and the Tesla they drove in on.
All the more reason to force some good vibes with an over-the-top birthday bash for Amabella, a child basically named to encourage bullying. The whole gang shows up for live music and dancing and for Ed and Madeline’s former husband whose name I won’t learn throwing a couple lame punches.
That this Studio 54-themed party didn’t feature a Boogie Nights–esque scene where the ladies rail lines and say how much they love each other was a writing travesty, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Then, when it’s gift bag time, Bonnie’s mother—amid visions of water, yet again—has a stroke and collapses. As she’s coming to in the hospital, she gets another vision, this time quite clearly of Bonnie, suspended lifeless in the water. Foreshadowing for Bonnie going the way of Virginia Wolff? Time will tell. But for now, a heady reminder that there are consequences in dallying with dark forces—one that each character would be wise to heed.