‘Big Little Lies’ Season 2, Episode 4 Recap: Unhinged

Season 2, Episode 4: ‘She Knows’

Good therapists (does Dr. Reisman still count?) will sometimes tell you that the reason we all fall into patterns, making the same mistakes over and over, is because the pain we’ve experienced in the past drives us to recreate the situation that caused it — so we can fix it. The subconscious wants a do over. It’s why we “marry” our fathers and mothers. It’s why we become them, and then realize we’re becoming them, and then fight so hard against becoming them.

And maybe it’s also why Mary Louise is trying to take Max and Josh away from Celeste.

Mary Louise is a childless mother. She has buried her two sons: The first, Raymond, was lost long ago in an accident we still know very little about (save for the fact that her husband blamed her for it); and now Perry is gone, too.

Apparently stepping in to play Super Grandma hasn’t quite been enough to fill the void. But if Mary Louise gets custody of Max and Josh, she gets her do over. Maybe she can do it better this time. Maybe she can fix the past.

Which is not to say that Mary Louise has any right to be doing what she’s doing. Oh, she deserved that slap she got from Celeste.

But the slap only strengthens Mary Louise’s case that Celeste is out of control. She’s chronicled the evidence: Celeste’s malaise, her stockpile of pills, and most recently, the daze-y, Ambien-induced stare she wears as her one-night stand ambles around the house in front of the kids — all of it is enough for Mary Louise’s attorney to file a petition for custody on the basis that Celeste is, in a word, unhinged.

Celeste is in good company, though, considering that’s how Chloe describes Madeline in what shall forever be known as the sickest burn in “Big Little Lies” history.

If amateurishly smoking a cigarette on Renata’s back deck is considered unhinged, then Madeline is certainly that. She doesn’t know where she stands with Ed, who still hasn’t left but is completely checked out. The only thing that puts any spring in his step, literally, is Bonnie, whom he dances with lightheartedly at Amabella’s birthday party — while simultaneously declining to dance with his wife.

This year, Amabella’s party is the place to be. The ’70s disco vibe brings the funk and the outlandish costumes, as well as a safe haven for every stressed out Monterey family to kick back and comfortably pretend.

Renata and Gordon have turned their house into the Land of Make Believe for this party, the theme of which clearly has nothing to do with Amabella or the kids. (They were good sports, to be fair. Most Gen Z-ers probably don’t care about dinosaurs like The Trammps, but maybe D.J. Chloe got them jazzed up with a playlist before the festivities.) Regardless, the whole thing is a show put on by the Kleins, who are fresh from a bankruptcy hearing in which they nearly had to surrender the clothes off their back, as well as reassure the trustee that the house, in which they’re throwing this sham party, is on the market.

But the pretense is especially wearing on some. Celeste and Bonnie, for example, have about had it with the Trivia Night cover story. Echoing Bonnie in Episode 1 (as well as many commenters here and various “Big Little Lies” buffs around the internet), Celeste isn’t entirely sure why they lied about Perry’s death in the first place. And if she could have her do-over, she wouldn’t lie again. This is a fact that Madeline, the ringmaster of the “let’s say he slipped” circus, takes as a personal affront — the same way she takes pretty much everything else.

In another sense, though, Bonnie is actually doing quite well at pretending. She’s smiling more, loosening up. But her mother, Elizabeth, is still around and still making Bonnie generally uneasy. On the dance floor, she takes Bonnie’s head into her hands and suddenly slows her sway, closing her eyes, conjuring clairvoyance.

Bonnie has seen this trick before and pulls away. “No,” she says firmly and walks off.

It’s not the only dance floor confrontation we see. Like Madeline, Nathan clearly isn’t too pleased with the little get-down between Ed and Bonnie because he promptly regresses to the level of the children surrounding him and picks a physical fight with Ed. They’ve been bro-foes since Episode 1, and we all knew this was coming.

But what nobody saw coming was Elizabeth’s stroke. As Bonnie’s mother collapses to the floor, foaming at the mouth, Bonnie shakes her, screaming, and the whole family ends up at the hospital.

If some of us are destined to repeat history, Bonnie’s marriage seems something of a mirror image to her parents’: free-spirited woman marries straight-laced white dude. And like Nathan, Bonnie’s father, Martin Howard (Martin Donovan), obviously doesn’t see her clearly, either.

“Did you say something to her?” Martin asks her accusingly.

“You mean did I cause this?” she shoots back.

“I didn’t mean that.”

“Yeah, you did.”

Still, dutifully, Bonnie sits all night by her mother’s side. Eventually, Elizabeth wakes, and Bonnie tenderly touches her hand to comfort her. Elizabeth’s eyes dart around as she grunts in a panic, envisioning Bonnie drowning.

And the episode fades to black.

So, what are we to make of this prophecy that the show seems dead set on beating into our brains? Since Elizabeth arrived in Monterey, she has been seeing flashes of menacing water. She has even stated her fears outright, telling Bonnie that she sees visions of her drowning. Even Bonnie has tempted the drowning fate, walking deep into the ocean as if toying with a death wish.

Would “Big Little Lies” ever be this straightforward? Is Bonnie really going to drown? Is someone else going to drown? Is this an allegory? Is this a red herring? What is happening? The show can’t possibly be showing us continuous foreshadows of Bonnie drowning only to have her actually drown.

In other words, is that a tornado off in the distance? Because I think we’re headed for a twist.

Things I’ll Be Thinking About Until Next Week:

It’s really just one thing this week. It’s little but also … big? At the beginning of this episode, as in Episode 3, we find ourselves back at Trivia Night, reliving the first seconds after Perry’s death. This week, though, a trembling Celeste can be heard shouting, “I pushed him!” Madeline convinces Celeste she did not, then turns to Bonnie to absolve her as well. The scene ends when Madeline jolts awake. Is this dream merely a vehicle to give us more specifics about what happened, or does it suggest something deeper? Did Celeste, amid the chaos, momentarily believe she pushed Perry? Was she perhaps asserting that she was willing to take the rap? Was she just being figurative? Or, are there possibly more details about that night that we don’t yet know?

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