HBO's Big Little Lies: A Review

“I read a quote once that said…friendships are the masterpieces of nature.” - Big Little Lies (2017)

HBO’s Big Little Lies seems deceptively dismissable: luxurious houses and rich women ring a bell, don't they? Often, such problems don’t reach a deep emotional layer and are sadly limited to fashion dilemmas and good looking men.

However, this show does something pleasantly unexpected. We’re granted extremely well-written and well-rounded female characters.

We are allowed particular glances into the mind and personal sphere of each character, and viewers quickly learn how each woman sees herself, how they are outwardly perceived and how the family dynamics are in each household.

The problems these women face every day (abuse, discrimination, and sexism in ranging degrees) are problems that affect women, families, towns and countries, thus all of us. That is the main point the show strives to make.

In essence, it's a simple, classic murder mystery: somebody was murdered at a fundraiser at Otter Bay, the local school. The three main women are the primary suspects.

However, this occurrence is a mere excuse to explore something endlessly more fascinating: the social intricacies of a largely intolerant town in which it is uncommon to deviate from the status quo.

Many shows all too eagerly focus solely on women backstabbing each other over some hunk. In contrast, Big Little Lies shows us three women bonding through their differences and similarities, helping each other out in difficult times, and providing unconditional support.

All of the women have something in their past that regularly comes back to haunt them.

Queen bee and part time working mom, Madeline (a delightfully sassy Reese Witherspoon), has a new marriage lacking passion. Some part of her hasn’t processed that her first husband left her, and it’s emotionally straining to regularly run into him and his younger, ostentatiously sexy new wife (Zoë Kravitz).

Young single mom, Jane (Shailene Woodley), has a son born out of sexual assault and has moved to Monterrey as an attempt to leave her past.

Celeste (Nicole Kidman) suffers domestic abuse at the hands of her seemingly perfect husband (Alexander Skarsgård). Her marriage is the one all of the women envy; not even her best friends are aware of what exactly goes on in her home. They only know that the sex is frequent, incredible, and on the rough side. In reality, however, it verges into marital rape.

The abuse is of such a severity that it’s a realistic mortal threat to her life, but she suffers in silence out of fear, pride, and love. There’s the traditional, manipulative cycle: an aggression followed by a momentary decline in violence when the bruises get a bit much for hubby’s conscience, a rose or expensive jewel provided as an apology, and the desperate, pleading, and false promise of “stay and I’ll get better” attached to it.

Interestingly, Celeste doubts the abuse altogether because she fights back in self-defense.

The ways in which a husband's marital violence reflect on his children are shown exceptionally. Perry is so sure that the violence he uses against his wife does not affect his children that he overlooks the signs that he is turning one of his children into an abuser. The abuse that Celeste receives and the abuse in the children's school are related by a common factor: everyone is silent and no one betrays the abuser.

We’re offered a rare, painfully honest look into the psyche of a woman suffering domestic violence, illustrating every part of the vicious abuse cycle. Most admirably, there is no victim blaming.

The show builds toward a highly satisfying finale for all its main female characters. In the end, they are obliged to unite against a common threat. They have brought each other to an ultimate personal freedom, which is vastly unique in television.

Each actress and actor is allowed to demonstrate their chops fully. The director of the show, Jean-Marc Vallée, usually directs films and to some degree, that shows. The series has a highly cinematic quality, and there’s a sophistication to the handheld camerawork that’s rare in TV.

One performance that has been blatantly disregarded is Shailene Woodley's as Jane Chapman. Jane suffers from PTSD. Her character frequently jogs by the ocean, always paired with the isolation of her headphones. By means of therapy, we get to see flashes of her past.

At times, Jane is overwhelmed and scared by her own memories and even her son. She fears he’ll display violent behavior (like his father), but she loves him unconditionally and raises him to the best of her ability. It’s a difficult role.

Woodley has an understated calmness and elegance here, and it stands in stark contrast to the internal pain she is battling. This turbulence is conveyed with an admirable ease and transparency.

Some claim Woodley is still too young and inexperienced an actress to handle it. I found it highly refreshing to see her play a grown woman and I think she handled it with grace.  

After Jane confides in one of the women about what has happened in her past, we no longer see her go jogging alone. Instead, they share their struggles and pain in silent unison, a symbol of their unbreakable bond.

What’s ultimately so powerful about Big Little Lies is that it shows something that a lot of women probably already know: women should help and stand up for other women when they are suffering.

This concluding, poignant message is the only true way for each of us to reach personal liberation. A life lived in absence of fear is a blissful one.
“The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”
― Aung San Suu Kyi

By Ayla Van Damme


  1. WOW. I need to watch this show ASAP

    1. Thanks! :) It's most definitely worth a watch.