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The last couple weeks of “Big Little Lies” have been all about interpersonal intricacy and emotional nuance. We’ve seen Celeste struggle to understand her status as an abused woman, Jane try to keep her rage under control, and Madeline grapple with her infidelity. This week, however, eases off the accelerator a little bit in terms of complexity. The emotional power remains, but “Burning Love” focuses more on the idea of building pressure than expanding internal landscapes.
After all, we’re rapidly approaching the final episode—the moment when somebody dies a violent death—and we need to really start believing that all of this emotion can spill over into brutal physical violence. Accordingly, this episode presents moments of escalated physicality, moments that certainly fall short of murder but nonetheless demonstrate the extent to which conflicts in Monterey can resolve themselves in bodily ways. After hearing that Renata has been petitioning for Ziggy’s suspension, Jane physically attacks her and ends up accidentally poking her in the eye. Bonnie, Nathan, and Abigail end up in a scuffle when Abigail reveals her plan to sell her virginity on the internet, and when Madeline finds out over dinner, she projectile vomits all over Bonnie’s table and then Bonnie herself. And then there’s Celeste and Perry. Perry tries to talk Celeste into sleeping with him, and when she continually pushes him away, he snaps and yanks her hair; she responds by swinging at him with a tennis racket, the result being a trip to the ER and a broken urethra.
The episode also practically overflows with uses of the word “kill.” Perry ironically tells Celeste, “You’re going to kill me. I have to go to Phoenix,” and Madeline offers a toast to her, Ed, Bonnie, and Nathan for “not killing each other.” A darker, less flip use of the word shows up when Perry—hobbling—growls at Celeste, “You’re lucky I didn’t kill you.” All of this near-slapstick violence and wordplay feels like appropriate escalation, but it also feels a little too hokey for a show that’s normally so mature.
Fortunately, the episode still contains a few moments of trademark sophistication and power. When Perry starts to manipulate Celeste, she stops him and says, “Look what you’re doing.” She points out his strategy in a flash of subtle empowerment. Jane and Ziggy (played by a particularly talented young actor) also share a lovely, tender moment as she tries to explain sex to him, and Madeline tremblingly reveals her infidelity to her daughter. Most movingly, though, Celeste rents an apartment on the advice of her therapist, and the last brief shot of the episode shows her kneeling on the floor, doubled over, bathed in blue light before a roaring sea. Taking the image as a metaphor, the show’s women are finding themselves increasingly prostrate before their subconscious fears and desires—and next week, at least someone’s going to drown.
—Staff writer Charlotte L.R. Anrig can be reached at email@example.com.
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