Are our inner selves always more fragile than the ones we’ve tricked the world into thinking are the real us? Only Jane in Big Little Lies wears her disaster on her sleeve. In episode four of his series writer David E Kelley played a particularly skilful trompe l’oeil act of dazzling us with the shiny surfaces of the world he portrays while at the same time throwing his characters down its hidden cracks.
Renata held a disco party for Amabella (though it wasn’t actually even her birthday) that looked like something we’d all love to be at, especially since Renata and Gordon’s beach front house, with its sweeping staircase, has to be the most delectable of all the gorgeous real estate on display in this drama. A real live band got everyone moving and the outfits were rainbow fabulous - but all was not well underneath.
Celeste was pure elegance in Missoni-style stripes with added shimmer - while her mother-in-law prepared to ruin her life. Bonnie, in bobbed wig, had never looked so beautiful or mysterious - even as her own mother dropped like a stone in front of her eyes, the victim of a sudden stroke. Ed in an afro looked hilarious, until his wife’s ex tried to have a fist fight with him. Actually, he looked even funnier then, though you tried not to think it.
The whole party was really Renata’s attempt to trick herself, let alone everyone else, that her life wasn’t circling the drain thanks to Gordon’s financial foolishness. Plus it suits her to play the superficial materialist, because actually she’s more humane than that and knows that something more important than bankruptcy is going on: the disintegration of her marriage. “They betray us and we stay,” she said, of men, in a moment when she let her mask slip at the start of the episode. “Please someone tell me to stop talking,” she added, poignantly, before she could get it back on.
This will also be the episode remembered for the moment Meryl Streep became the devil; where it became clear that Mary Louise is quite prepared to destroy others in order for Perry’s “goodness” to survive the aspersions they would throw at it. She goaded Celeste enough to get her to hit her, and she began proceedings to steal her children (something that looks inexorably likely to happen). Only Streep is able to steer this character just the right side of Grand Guignol, who can add enough flecks of humanity (for example when Mary Louise momentarily balked at just how cruel to Celeste she is going to have to be in the custody fight) to keep us believing her. And only Streep could make eating pizza seem sinister.
So the storm clouds are gathering. And that’s before we even give credence to Bonnie’s mother’s wacky vision of her daughter floating - drowned? - in water. Deep vulnerability is everywhere, even as the characters put on brave - and beautiful - faces. Here’s hoping they don’t get punished for being too much like real, flawed human beings.
Watch Big Little Lies through NOW TV with a free 7-day trial of their Entertainment Pass