BiLLs tackles everything from parenting and marriage, to divorce, friendship, murder, and domestic violence. And that’s just episode one…
We’re seriously late to this party but so glad we finally showed up. Having just watched all fourteen episodes of HBO’s Big Little Lies (BiLLs), we can safely say this drama is so much more than your typical binge-watch.
Based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, the series snagged our attention with its sweeping California coastlines, wealthy comforts (think gorgeous women and cozy schmoozing), and Architectural Digest inspired homes. But it kept us watching with storylines about women we recognize, women we know. The main characters are busy mothers, pressured to keep up appearances while juggling households and jobs, friendships and rivalries, husbands and exes. Their insecurities: real. Their jealousies: petty. Yet their worlds are easy to connect with and impossible not to envy.
Though we sank into our sofas expecting a breezy sixty minutes of vicarious fun, we ended up spending hour after hour with Madeline, Celeste, Renata, and Jane as they drew us deeper and deeper into the hearts of their open floor-plan, immaculately designed, 7000 square foot waterfront homes.
Caution: Spoilers Below!
At its core, BiLLs is a ‘whodunnit’ that strings viewers along with the kind of wildly unreliable, tut-tut gossip that keeps you both cringing and guessing. Ultimately, however, the narrative centers on Celeste, and we learn that among all the “big little lies” everyone’s telling, it’s hers that advance the story.
By all outward appearances, Celeste has the perfect life. A husband who treats her “like a goddess.” A to-die-for home with expansive views from the Pacific bluffs. She’s the seemingly perfect mother to a set of seemingly angelic twins. She’s regally tall and elegantly slim. Smart. Beautiful. Kind. Did I mention she has a J.D.?
Beautiful home. Beautiful children. Beautiful husband. That’s how it seems. That’s how she makes it seem. But when a bullying incident at her sons’ school raises suspicion that her sweet boys may be to blame, the illusion begins to wear thin. And as we witness the behavior her sons are imitating, we learn what Celeste is hiding. Her life is a lie, and her perfect marriage is violently abusive.
But a woman like Celeste should know better, shouldn’t she? Shouldn’t a highly educated, comfortably wealthy, California attorney turned stay-at-home mom know better than to stay with an abusive husband? Of all people, shouldn’t she? Yet Celeste doesn’t leave. Despite her husband’s violence, despite her fear, despite the damage to their children, she stays.
And that’s precisely why BiLLs is worth watching. It opens our eyes to the confusing, psychologically fraught, and deeply personal world of domestic violence. It shows us that even when it’s painfully evident that a woman should leave, even when her therapist tells her she must leave, even when she herself knows that to survive she has no choice but to walk away, it’s just not that simple. Sometimes she can’t.
So we observe as the conflict between Celeste and her husband escalates. We see the extremes of his rage and the obsessiveness of their inter-dependence. We witness his violent flare-ups, their passionate make-ups, and the toll on their children.
And in a small town like Monterey, where rumors practically course through gossips’ veins, no one knows. Like so many women, Celeste keeps the abuse a secret, even from her closest friends. She conceals her bruises with expert maquillage and with ankle-skimming trousers and wrist-gracing blouses.
Watching the deception carried out by privileged and positioned Celeste, it’s not difficult to make the obvious leap between her behavior – staying with an abuser and covering his tracks – and that of victims of domestic violence across socioeconomic and ethnic boundaries. And though BiLLs can only intimate why a woman like Celeste would stay, it fully conveys how complex and how dangerous it is for any woman to leave.
That the show depicts the pattern of domestic violence in such raw and provocative terms is important. Because the pattern is what needs to change.
We need more stories like Celeste’s. We need to witness the trauma of the Celestes and the Janes. Tuck it within the darkly comedic plot of a titillating drama. Draw us in with enviable lifestyles and beautiful homes. Keep us guessing with a suspenseful whodunnit. But by all means leverage our captivation and show us what we really need to know.