Like it or not, Big Little Lies was excellent television. Between the high quality of the performances and the first-rate storytelling, the show succeeded where many other television shows go flat. As Homeland fell apart and as Billions became even more cartoonish, Big Little Lies occupied the space left empty by those former stalwarts.
And yet, the show ought to be understood for what it was. It was a morality play, with a caricatured villain, one who is all evil all the time, surrounded by a group of women who resolve their conflicts and their differences when one of them murders the big, bad wolf. Or, dare I say, the Antichrist. That would be Perry. At the end, Perry is dead and the women have formed something like a coven, a world with children but without men. In the feminist paradise women and their children frolic on the beach, without a care in the world. Because, don’t you know it, all of women’s problems are the fault of men. No more men; no more problems.
One notes that this coven has retreated from the real world of business and commerce, the better to leave it in the hands of men. One does not like to have to point out the obvious, but such is one logical consequence of the bewitching beach play.
And no, I did not call this group of women a coven. Kathryn VanArendonk did, in New York Magazine. The women might be having a wonderful time on the beach but they are henceforth partners in crime. Bonnie murdered Perry and the other women are happily covering for her. After all, no one is unhappy to see Perry sent to his eternal reward.
This is called female solidarity, but we note, because we must, that these women are all functioning like housewives and mothers. They are not gainfully employed. They can spend their afternoons in the sun with their children because someone is working to provide for them.
Anyone who has bought feminism will thrill to this show. And, of course, that is the problem. Art, such as it is, ought not to confirm your beliefs, your orthodoxy. It ought not to tell you what to think. It ought not to stoke your hopes that one day the women of the world will unite to overthrow their evil capitalism oppressors. Since the character of Perry is a caricature, an extreme version that was concocted to sustain the true faith, it is almost too convenient when we discover that he, having spent the series beating up his wife Celeste, was also Jane’s rapist.
It is one more step into the void. It is far from obvious that Jane never laid eyes on Perry before their fateful last encounter. But, apparently, such was the case.
If you believe that all men are really this bad and that the brutality that Perry visits on Celeste is par for the course, you have been indoctrinated to within an inch of your rational faculties. Unfortunately, the character of Perry lacks subtlety. He does not share any human qualities with any of the other characters. He is an embodiment of human evil, the kind you would find in a morality play or perhaps in the book of Revelation. But, to find Perry convincing you need to be a true believer. The show is, in this regard, a test of your faith.
And the picture of the women on the beach is anything but realistic. If you are a true believer you can accept it. If you are thinking at all, it makes less sense.
VanArendonk describes the scene:
Even more potently, the last scene with Celeste, Madeleine, Jane, Bonnie, and Renata all chasing each other on the beach isn’t unhappy. They’re not overwhelmed by the burden of their secret. The trauma is not eating away at them. We get several close-up shots of their faces, and the implication is that they haven’t forgotten or dismissed what’s happened. They know. They glance at Bonnie, whose hands are responsible for actually shoving Perry down the stairs, and none of the expressions are accusing, or pitying, or traumatized. They acknowledge what’s happened, and that it’s hard for her to live with, and they support her. Their husbands are nowhere to be found.
In our culture, vigilante justice is generally frowned upon. Yet, given the evil of Perry we do not feel especially worried about it. Besides, the murder looks like self-defense. But, if it’s self-defense why would the women not come forth and explain the circumstances. If Perry is as bad as the show says he is and if he is endangering Celeste’s life—by attacking her in public—then the murder is justifiable. If so, why cover it up?
Is it true that the women are not traumatized? Do they really feel nothing? If so, they are more caricatures than characters. They have apparently overcome their inhibitions and have murdered their oppressor. This provides them something that resembles liberation and even mental health. It opens the door to Feminist Paradise.
It’s not exactly: Ding dong, the witch is dead, but it feels like: Ding, dong, the capitalist patriarchal oppressor is dead.
Even if Perry deserves his fate, most men do not. If a woman comes to imagine that all men are as bad as Perry and if she decides to become more aggressive toward them, what do you think will happen? At the least, it will provoke pushback. At worst, it will put women in danger. Why would anyone promote behavior that might get women hurt? In most situations women are not equipped to fight with a much stronger male being.
the Big Little Lies finale holds up a giant, marvelous, self-confident middle finger to the question of men underestimating the women of this show.
Gestures of middle-fingered self-confidence, getting in the face of men, work far better on the screen than they do in real life. If a woman who is hostile toward men receives push back the fault will lie with the man. And yet, would it not be better to avoid such confrontations entirely.
VanArendonk wants it to be an exercise in male bashing:
It’s not really an indictment of the world around them, but watching these women dance around on the beach, needing only their children and each other, still feels like a strong closing statement. Mess with them, interfere, hurt or love them if you will, but in the end, they’ll take care of themselves. No men required. Or even particularly desired.
Again, this is unreal. It is a morality play about a world run by women. And by women flying kites on the beach. Like today’s Sweden and today’s Germany. How are those working out?
According to VanArendonk the moral of the story is that being a housewife is frivolous, not as real and meaningful as going out and murdering someone.
It feels like a shift, as though after episodes of following these women as they gossip over wine and coffee and fret about things like party invitations, they finally come together over something real and meaningful.
The author and the showrunner are selling a narrative. They are creating a world that affirms their ideology. They will cherry pick a few facts to support their idea, but their true goal is to convince the gullible to join their cause.