By Daniel Reif
Monterey’s beaches do not bolster wonder. Sure, one is inspired to ponder the waves which arrive humbly off peaceful currents, but one is also cautious to dip in the same liquids which sit under concrete gray skies; troubled, heavy waters lying beneath the silent shallows. If you decide to dip, you’ll uncover just how big the deep is.
By the mid-point of HBO’s Big Little Lies, the cold motif of Monterey’s wet sands is in full sync with the stories of the privileged elite whom travail such sands, and the seaside is no less captivating through the show’s photographic intimacy. Cinematographer Yvez Belanger never goes unnoticed in the confounding kitchen of on and off-screen cooks. The shooter behind Dallas Buyers Club and Wild is sharp alongside his acclaimed collaborator and director, Jean Marc Vallee. Crushed blacks and peaking sunlight mesh almost every scene to realize the darker reality of The OC soap outfit. Close-ups are not taken liberally and the camera creepily detaches, but the third-person vision does not undercut the emotional scope by over-cutting the ‘mise en scene’. From the peaks to the valleys of this drama, the editing is a brooding flavor savor.
The tonal balance is imperative. You are here to feel, not simply gaze. With our central women established, David E. Kelley’s adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel now sets sail on climactic sights. Oh does the mothership rock, but oh does it stay finely afloat.
Ep. 4: “Push Comes to Shove”
Battling theatrics continue, but episode 4 may be the most tempered hour for the mothers and fathers alike.
Madeline, Celeste, and Jane cool in the face of flames; the dads are light (Skarsgaard’s Perry is particularly interrupted from a rage); Bonnie welcomes a new face to her and Nathan’s home; and for now, the kids are all right.
“Push Comes to Shove” is relieving filler. As a bridge between character and climax, the episode is, humbly, the most important of the series.
Ep. 5: “Once Bitten”
If the density of marvelous work couldn’t impress more, the recurring faces which lie behind the principal participants, are big on personality and steamy on insight. In “Once Bitten”, P.J. Byrne as Principal Nippal (put aside he actually does play a principal), gets due time to neurotically collapse under the mountain of mommy pressure. He cracks, as do your laughs, when his office becomes the final civil mediation in the central Jane v. Renata battle.
The rocks fall hard from the cliffs. Major events unfold all over episode 5. The roulette of individual drama signals the unavoidable collapse for all.
Ep. 6: “Burning Love”
Nearing end, the mothers make decisions big and small to reach resolutions and bonds. Though the gossip-laden town spices up the tension in the continued flash forwards to eventual witnesses of the mysterious finale, the women begin to finalize this journey by warming the storm. In episode 6, the post-trauma/post-climax town we have all relied upon for juicy insight becomes the show’s biggest lier in one simple line: “women are chemically incapable of ever forgiving.”
Ep. 7: “You Get What You Need”
Trivia and alcohol twist fatally sour, and the long-awaited reveal of perp and victim rewards a shock you cannot forget. In a second twist HBO has made public since the original airing of “You Get What You Need”, the last scene hints more mania in store for the future of our Monterey mommies. Hit a patio, pop open some red, and cheer to that!
Big Little Lies is a top-to-bottom achievement. David Kelley’s invigorating and thoughtful teleplays shine through Jean-Marc Vallee’s seductive and empathetic direction. Pound-for-pound heavyweights in the profession of acting realize a layered portrait of mothers old, young, careered, callous, cool, and collected. Sumptuous soap plots never undermine intense realities. This is The OC with character; a Wild for domestic families; a Boston Public about elite parents; a powerhouse of ensemble work.
You can binge all seven episodes on HBO Now.
Season Rating: 9.5/10
All episodes written by David E. Kelley; Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee – 2017 – HBO – TVMA
April 28, 2017