Big Little Lies: “You Get What You Need” Series Finale Review

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Big Little Lies expertly closes out its story with a perfectly plotted, excellently acted, and all-around thrilling finale.

It’s a testament to the entire cast and crew of Big Little Lies that, despite already knowing what was going to happen from reading Liane Moriarty’s novel, my heart was nearly pounding out of my chest during every minute of the finale. To say that “You Get What You Need” was a tense episode, would be an understatement. It was a ticking time bomb, and the explosion was well-worth the wait.

The mastermind behind this wonderfully suspenseful hour of TV is the show’s fearless leader Jean-Marc Vallée. The director truly showcases his impressive skill set this week as the show’s major loose ends are tied up at the school’s hilariously ostentatious fundraiser. Vallée has been delivering consistently good work throughout Big Little Lies‘ run, but this finale is on a whole other level. The last 20 minutes or so are entirely wordless, and yet his brilliant camerawork is able to tell us so much within the silence.

In Moriarty’s novel, the climactic showdown at the fundraiser is intense, but also very expository. It makes sense, as the reveal that Perry is Saxon Banks and is the one who gets murdered requires a bit of back-pedaling. Here, however, all Vallée needed was his cast’s faces to tell the story. I can’t get over the amazing simplicity of it all. In a single shot, we see Shailene Woodley’s look of supreme horror as Jane realizes who Perry is. Then Madeline catches her face and looks at Celeste who, in turn, looks back at Jane. Then all three women—well four, technically, because Renata is also there—turn to look at Perry. A whirlwind of information is communicated in about 30 seconds, and it’s absolutely incredible.

Even before all of this goes down, though, the episode already filled with tension. David E. Kelley’s fantastic plotting of the final events of the series made it so that every moment carried a weight of importance. Leading up to the fundraiser, we see Madeline continues to grapple with whether or not to tell Ed about her affair, Renata’s husband Gordon confronts Jane about her attack at the school, and Jane gets asked out on a date by Tom the barista, who apparently isn’t gay.

We also see another horrifying altercation between Celeste and Perry. Vallée smartly starts the scene from their son Max’s point of view. He’s in another room playing video games, but he can hear everything through the vents. This comes into play a little while after, when Ziggy admits to Jane that Amabella told him Max is the one who’s been bullying her this whole time. What follows is an absolutely heartbreaking scene in which Celeste both confronts and consoles her son about his actions. “People do bad things sometimes. I can help you,” she whispers in his ear as she holds him close.

Nicole Kidman is expectedly outstanding throughout the entire episode, no more so than when Perry confronts her about making plans to leave him in the car before they head in to the fundraiser. Celeste shouts back at Perry, now more convinced than ever that she must leave him in order to save her and her sons’ lives. Alexander Skarsgård, for his part, is terrifying, even as he admits that he’s in the wrong and he wants to be better. His anger is just so uncontrollable that you’re never sure what he’s going to do next.

Though he doesn’t do much except for yell while he’s in the car with Celeste, he does a whole lot more later. Madeline, Jane, Celeste, and Renata all find themselves outside for different reasons. Madeline is panicking after Ed’s romantic Elvis performance (Adam Scott is amusingly dubbed). Jane is consoling her. Renata comes to apologize to Jane after Celeste tells her the truth about her son. Finally, Celeste herself comes out in order to leave Perry once and for all. What none of these women see, however, is that Perry has followed her and Bonnie has followed after him.

In the book, it’s revealed that Bonnie is the one who pushes Perry because she herself came from an abusive household as a child. In the show, this added bit of backstory isn’t needed. Big Little Lies has, first and foremost, been about the sisterhood that’s formed between these women. It’s a messy and complicated sisterhood for sure, but that’s what makes it all the more authentic. When Jane first confesses the story behind Ziggy’s conception to Madeline, she sits and cries in her car afterward because she knows how easily Jane’s story could’ve happened to her. Women, even if they aren’t victims of rape or abuse themselves, know how common it can be. So when Perry starts to attack Celeste after all the pieces of the puzzle have been put together, all these women come to her defense. When Bonnie sees what’s happening, she doesn’t hesitate. She runs right up and pushes him as hard as she can. She does what any woman would do.

This is not to say that had Ed or Gordon or even Nathan been there that they wouldn’t have tried to stop Perry. In fact, in the novel the husbands are all outside as well and are just as shocked by Perry’s behavior. But Big Little Lies‘ best asset has been its enthralling exploration of the many different kinds of women in your neighborhood and how, even through their differences, they share an unspoken bond.

Now these women share an unspoken secret as well. We see the police question them, and they each give the same story in order to protect both Celeste and Bonnie. The final shots of the episode see all of the women together on the beach with their kids. They seem happier, but will likely bear the weight of what happened with them forever. It will be okay, though, because they have each other.

Though I’m sad that there will be no more of this funny, moving, and totally engrossing show to look forward to, I’m very happy with how Big Little Lies ended. This show was a perfectly complete story, and was masterfully put together by a team of ace people both in front of and behind the camera. More importantly, it told a story about domestic abuse in a thoughtful, non-exploitative, and very realistic way. Perry and Celeste’s story felt like it could have easily happened to someone in the neighborhood where I grew up. If even one woman watched this series and was inspired to get out of her own abusive relationship, than this show will be more than just Emmy-worthy. It will be life changing. Finale Grade: A / Series Grade: A-

 

Some Other Notes:

  • Thank you for sticking with me throughout Big Little Lies! What a ride this has been. Admittedly, the downside of reading the novel beforehand is that I could never offer my predictions for what was going to happen, since I already knew. Still, it was interesting to see differences between the book and the show. This show has been everything. There was never a bad episode throughout it’s entire run, and I can’t tell you how much I looked forward to watching it each week. It’s rare when every element in a series—writing, acting, directing—is all top-notch, but when it happens, it’s magical.
  • Reese Witherspoon said that she wanted to produce this project because there were so many interesting parts for women. I certainly hope that the success of this show inspires more like it. I am all about diverse, complex, and interesting lady roles.
  • There’s so much that happened in this episode that I hardly even got to talk about the fundraiser, which was very over-the-top and I loved it. I also loved how everyone’s costume was befitting of their personality. My favorite is a tie between Madeline’s adorable Holly Golightly look and Bonnie’s ultra-glam Roman Holiday dress. Also, Adam Scott fully shaved his beard and looked 10 times better. This is probably why Madeline felt so guilty as he sang his song.
  • Renata’s full-on My Fair Lady look was A LOT to take in.
  • The shot of Perry and Celeste leaving the house after Perry has casually told Celeste he knows about her apartment is bone-chilling.
  • Nicole Kidman Forever. That is all.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

 

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