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Big Little Lies - Serious Mothering - Review + Poll


It’s good this isn’t it? And you know it’s a winner when the second an episode finishes you want to tee up the next without even a toilet break. Big Little Lies is epic, a sweeping panoramic sea scape of televisual brilliance.

Okay I am gushing. I can’t help it.

Part two of this seven part mini-series aired tonight with secrets, lies and violence touching, trapping and wounding every family. Relationships are beginning to crack amid beautiful striking backdrops. As the children attend their first day of school and seemingly build bridges, albeit off screen, their parents move from DEFCON three to DEFCON two. Alleged biting by sharp as a tack Ziggy propels the parallel story of his mother Jane and her new friends. Someone was murdered. We don’t know who but clues line up, red herrings are tossed to see how we react and potential victims unknowingly present themselves. A case could be made for Celeste to be either victim or murderer. Who would’ve thought steady Ed capable of intimidating threat. And Renata and Jane clearly have simmering rage that needs a portal.

There is never a moment when I am comfortable. Even in the comic moments - and I did enjoy “We do have a session where the rules are more relaxed….our peri-menopausal class” - I had to be prepared for a scene to brutally yank me away to a girl on the beach or rage fuelled sex which sits on the borderline between consent or no. The school bullying constantly a mirror for the adults - Ed uses it to build his ninja-side, Perry to intimidate and belittle his wife, Madeline to turn the bullying on Renata.

This show is so much more than the story. Every single element is a character, from the scenery to the music. I can’t recall a show that has used it’s assets so tangibly as an ensemble element. Of course this is part of good film-making but Big Little Lies seems to magnify them with power. This is evident in the locations, the properties and even more clearly with the music. We are not presented with atmospheric dramatic scores to build tension or rage. In fact there are none. Music is used as a character to progress the narrative. Take the B-52’s Dance This Mess Around articulating Renata’s frustration and Jane’s fear - or what we think is fear. Or Heartaches and Pain, Charles Bradley, over contentious Mackenzie breakfast where the music is a device. The biggest demonstration is River, Leon Bridges. Not only are we shown this on the play list but Chloe articulates what this song is supposed to do. Perhaps this is an overreach but on the whole this approach produces an exquisite result.

‘Serious Mothering’ also highlighted the quite wonderful performances of the younger cast, especially Iain Armitage (Ziggy) and Darby Camp (Chloe). The children are the catalyst for the drama. Their roles are not written as ‘nice to haves’. And their portrayal is not sickly or cutesy or apple pie. We don’t know if Ziggy is a good guy or a bad guy, in much the same way as we don’t know who dies and who kills. There is something supremely endearing about Armitage but there he also presents an unexplained edge, spying on his mother. And then he is also just a typical six year old. As any parent of a six year old will recognise when they see him questioning his mother just at the moment when she needs to get him to school. Chloe is the arbiter of emotions, especially her mother’s in ‘Serious Mothering.’ She tells the story with her playlists but there is no saccharine after taste in the way she portrays Madeline’s and Ed’s younger daughter. And then there is Kathryn Newton (Abigail) whose deadpan take down of her mother is both frighteningly on point and funny. These young stars, including their equally watchable class mates do the older cast justice. It is a joy to watch Nicole Kidman expose a partial truth about her violent marriage to Perry and battle inside and out with her feelings.

‘Serious Mothering’ is another cracking episode in an atmospheric and distinctive miniseries. Lives are unravelling. Jane becomes more and more mysterious as her secrets no longer satisfy her son. Madeline’s anger and frustration, picking fights with everyone -
“I can’t even keep track of the fights you start…someone needs to start an app” - will, at some point, find their focal point. And Celeste is shrouded in a darkness that will surely overwhelm her soon.

The only downside in this episode, as in the first, is the narration of the talking heads. Locals who are being interviewed by the police and who illustrate the bitterness and disputes that are ongoing in the community. The stories are telling themselves, we don’t need to have them confirmed by characters we are not allowed to get to know.

But. They do not deflect from the best of this show. Serious Mothering was serious business.

And the writing is great:
“I love my grudges. I tend to them like little pets”

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