I eagerly tuned in to the finale episode of HBO's Big Little Lies on Sunday, April 2, and was even more impressed with the conclusion than I thought I'd be. I had previously written that I was skeptical of the miniseries, worried I wouldn't relate to the show all that much , but as the episodes progressed, I found myself in so much of the story, especially in regards to the struggles the Big Little Lies women faced in parenting their children. What impressed me the most about the finale though, was how it really drove home the idea that we, as women and as mothers, need to look out for each other as well as each other's kids. And that is an idea I can squarely get behind.
Weeks earlier, when I watched the first episode, I was sure I was going to hate Madeline (played by Reese Witherspoon). She was in everyone's business. She was intense. Though it's superficial to admit, everything about her perfectly polished look made me think that looking good was a priority for her. But that judgment couldn't have been further from the truth. Throughout the series, Madeline evolves, showing a breadth and a depth of character, even admitting in the finale to Abigail, her teenage daughter, that trying to look and be perfect is actually where she draws a lot of her strength. Beyond being able to forgive any shallowness she seemed to exhibit, she became my favorite character because of how fiercely she looked out for her friends and her children. (Spoilers for Big Little Lies ahead.)
The first few episodes set up an epic "battle" between Madeline and her rival Renata (played by Laura Dern). There's a bullying problem in their children's first grade classroom, and the parents are all quick to pin the problem on Ziggy Chapman. It seems that problem — and the question of whodunit — extends to the parents as well. When questioned about the suspicious death at a PTA fundraiser, which is the frame around which the entire series is hung, all the other parents seem to think that the rivalry between Madeline and Renata was the impetus. Because their embittered fighting was the source of so much of the early conflict, I was doubly glad that Renata not only patched things up with the other moms in the end, but also that she did so with grace.
Big Little Lies doesn't typecast motherhood or the women living out the everyday realities of raising children as hysterical or overly dramatic. At every turn, it positions them living through difficult situations as believable, relatable; the modern version of motherhood that has, until now, been so elusive to TV.
I get tired of hearing about "mommy wars" in my own life because, of course, I wish women had each other's backs more. I wish formula-feeding mothers didn't feel judged by breastfeeding moms. I wish there could be actual thoughtful discussions online about vaccinations that didn't end with name-calling. At the start of the miniseries, I didn't "get" Renata. I wouldn't ever get that worked up about a birthday party, and I've never been a mom who worked full-time. I related much more to Jane (played by Shailene Woodley), and I respected her so much for how she apologized to Renata in the end. They were able to set their differences aside, because both of them were able to be vulnerable, and to share the heartache they were up against as they parenting their children.
More than just finding common ground as mothers, the final moments of the show were so particularly powerful because all of these women found common ground as women in a modern sisterhood. Celeste Wright (played by Nicole Kidman) was abused by her husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), and the abuse escalated throughout the course of the series. When her therapist, Dr. Amanda Reisman, told Celeste to tell someone, to start laying a trail of her abuse at the hands of Perry, I was inwardly begging her to tell Madeline. I knew Madeline would waste no time offering Celeste and her two children help. She probably would've insisted Celeste move in with her and she probably would've helped obtain a restraining order against Perry in record speed. But that moment never came. I was waiting and hoping for the moment when Celeste would feel strengthened by the sisterhood she had with her friends.
Instead, everything happened at once, and Perry is dead. But his death comes secondary to the fact that again and again, these women find ways to band together — even when the impossible happens. Renata didn't know anything about Jane or her past. She wasn't involved in Celeste's life at all. Still, she jumps to the other women's defense. And Bonnie (played by Zoe Kravitz) was only ever on the periphery of this group of women, but it's Bonnie who actually pushes Perry down the stairs. It showcases the profound nature of women standing up for women.
The women of Big Little Lies didn't blame any one person for Perry's death. Instead they banded together, tightening their circle around each other like a blanket, leaving nothing to chance and no one alone.
While I don't doubt such a collection of personalities would surely bring out conflict with each other in the future, it's also clear that Big Little Lies honors the newfound loyalty these women have to each other.
Throughout the entire series, each women did what they thought was best for their children. I love that Jane believed her son Ziggy when he denied the initial accusations of bullying by Amabella and Renata. She believed her son and didn't make him apologize for something he hadn't done — and all throughout their story, she upheld that belief.
Celeste's greatest moment as a mother came in the finale, when she confronted her son Max after learning he was the bully. Her marriage was in crisis. So was she. Yet, the first time she sees Max after finding out he's the bully, her instinct is to remind him that together, they'll right his wrongs and he'll get better. Big Little Lies doesn't typecast motherhood or the women living out the everyday realities of raising children as hysterical or overly dramatic. At every turn, it positions them living through difficult situations as believable, relatable; the modern version of motherhood that has, until now, been so elusive to TV.
The finale also featured a bit of an ambiguous epilogue to the series, showing all Big Little Lies' leads on the beach with their children in the aftermath of Perry's death and the investigation. And while I don't doubt such a collection of personalities would surely bring out conflict with each other in the future, it's also clear that Big Little Lies honors the newfound loyalty these women have to each other.
I feel extremely blessed in my own life to have a band of mom friends I can laugh and cry with. I can discuss anything with them. No topic is taboo. These women support me and understand the heartache that comes with loving your children and wanting to protect them from everything. They also understand my life outside of parenting, and I can share my dreams and my failings in equal measure. And Big Little Lies understands that moms create their own villages to support each other. Under a veneer of perfection and wealth and beauty helmed by five incredibly talented female leads, it understood the reality of what it means to be a parent in the 21 century.
It also depicted a lot of what's wrong in the world — infidelity, rape, bullying, domestic abuse — but it also ended up showing me a lot of what's right. It showed how being vulnerable can lead to learning, improving, and getting the help you need. It showed how all moms want the same thing: to protect and love and teach our children. And it showed that there is strength in sticking together. Yeah, the series checked a lot of melodrama boxes, but I love that Big Little Lies never wavered in telling the stories of strong women. I love that despite all their flaws, Madeline, Jane, Renata, Bonnie, and Celeste all did what felt right to them at the end of the day: they loved their children and they stood up for each other. It showed what a strong sisterhood could exist within motherhood.