"It's not fair. If she keeps getting hurt, we have to protect her, right?".
On the final episode of HBO's limited series, Big Little Lies, Monterey mom, Jane (Shailene Woodley), asks her son a final time who is hurting the little girl he was accused of strangling the first day of school. Even after knowing that her son was being mistreated by some kids at the bequest of their parents and hitting Renata (Laura Dern), the mom of the bullied girl in a defiant act of frustration, Jane was relentless in the pursuit of truth in discovering who is abusing her son's classmate. This wasn't just to clear her son's name, or to protect the little girl, though both are valid and primary reasons. No, Jane had to assure herself that her kind, meek, honest son who was a product of rape would let nurture win and not nature. Jane moved to that beautiful, catty, affluent town to start over and escape her fears. Constantly moving from city to city at the first sign of trouble for her son, we weren't sure if Jane was going to stay long enough to find what she was searching for–answers, peace, and stability.
"He's ill, but you're ill too."
We are introduced to the ladies in all of their imperfectness and are immediately ready for the judgement and drama that comes with moms, husbands, affairs, divorces, and dreams unfulfilled. In all of the drama, it's easy to ignore the overarching theme of the series, women protecting women. This isn't a story of petty drama, it's the story of the uniting strength of women. Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is introduced as an obnoxiously perfect, over bearing wife and mother who can control everything but herself, and still, nothing at all. She trips and Jane, an new mom in town, stops to help with a little bit of prodding by her son. It's obvious then that living right for her son and being a good example is paramount for her. From there we meet stay at home mom Celeste (Nicole Kidman). She's smart,pretty, and thought to be in a perfect marriage as a kept wife to a handsome, successful and charming husband. The perceived passion between her and her husband is brought up several times in the detectives' witness interrogations, which is even more shocking when we find out that the witnesses know that Perry died after violently abusing his wife and "tripping" down the steps. Renata's passions are described as being solely in the boardroom by her neighbors, though her passion for her career and her family leaves her feeling judged by stay at home mothers, and Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) is the young, attractive step-mom who is married to Madeline's ex and is into a holistic lifestyle and active kindness. With a lineup like this, you know the drama is coming, and the six episodes before last night lead to the perfect ending.
"I hate everyone but Jane, believe it or not"
By last night's episode we identified everyone's secrets and the pettiness has taken back seat to the realities that the dark pasts and presents of our characters have illuminated. Madeline is cheating on her husband and feels like she is losing her teenage daughter, Jane was raped and wants to confront her unknown rapist who is also the father of her child, Renata is struggling between the corporate and family worlds and hasn't found the unrealistic balance of perfection she set up for herself as a success metric, and Bonnie, well she's actively nice but alludes to a troubled past. She goes out of her way to live in love and peace, with a quiet strength and beauty that is, admittedly, envy inducing. She lives on the other end of the spectrum of what happens to hurt people. She doesn't hurt others, she saves them–teaching self defense classes, encouraging therapy, and battling social injustices. One thing all of the women have in common is desiring qualities or aspects of life that another mom possesses, finding perfection in the very things that cause misery. As secrets are exposed, the bonds become tighter and the theme of protecting women is intensified in all of the wrong ways. Madeline's daughter wants to auction her virginity for Amnesty International, Ed, Madeline's husband, warns Bonnie not to offend Madeline by being,well, perfect and helpful, Renata's husband confronts Jane for hitting his wife in a school spat and Tom kicks him out of his establishment, Perry is concerned with Celeste's stress levels (but not the bruises he leaves her with), and Celeste is one beating closer to death, though we see her making plans for an escape, but not with the urgency it requires.
"Can you just help me, help myself"
The final installment of the miniseries ends just like it begins, with Madeline being distressed and Jane running to her rescue. This time, the problems are bigger than the petty trifles that Madeline have made the center of her world instead of confronting her real issues. Everyone's secrets are coming out full force at a school function, of all places. While men are dressed up as one of American symbols of cool, Elvis Presley, and women are dressed up as one of the symbols of prim and proper, Audrey Hepburn, people are confronting their deepest issues. Celeste is finally understanding the severity of her abusive husband and that it also is affecting her kids. Each secret being exposed is like a dose of kryptonite to the facade of her marriage. You see her husband Perry weakening with each show of brute "strength" to the point that in his final moments he is kicking Celeste outside of his son's school while the woman he raped, her best friend, and the mother of the child his son is abusing because of what he hears at home, are fending him off until sweet Bonnie runs behind him and pushes him to his death. Confession time, other than Stringer Bell in The Wire, I have never been so happy to see someone die (sorry Idris Bae, you just played spineless and conniving user so well). As wrong as that is, doing the best thing and the right thing aren't always the same. Domestic violence and rape are serious issues that are way too common in the world, but particularly for a country that uses moral high ground to justify actions and inaction.
"I should have left you a long time ago...and now I have to leave."
Women have a habit of protecting others at all expenses. As much as the supporting characters like to pit the women against each other in their police interrogations, the solidarity exemplified for each other even while combating their own demons is unmatched. Renata sees Celeste in pain even after discovering that Celeste's son is abusing her daughter and places that to the side and in what is without a doubt the most well acted scene in the series, all of the ladies place their feelings and safety aside when Jane is paralyzed with fear and the connection is made that Perry is her rapist. How ironic is it that the costume party is when all of the masks come off. Contrary to what the show initially has you believing, each woman is more than willing to run to the aid of another woman in pain. They are not family, but they are a tribe. They chose each other and at the weakest hour, combined to be an impenetrable force. Secrets were slowly draining these women. They were able to put on a good face, be who they thought people need them to be, but they weren't fulfilled. They weren't completely happy until they started telling their truths, relying on each other, and standing up for right. It took the death of Perry to serve as a reminder that even though someone can be hurting you, sometimes you still need an extra push to remind you that you need to use that strength to protect your most important asset, yourself. The ending is perfect and although we would love to see the girls come back for another season, it ends perfectly, with Ituna singing sweetly, "You can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need."