One thing we all need to take away from “Big Little Lies”: the power of female friendship
Disclaimer: There are major spoilers ahead!
Let us count all the moments Zoë Kravitz’s character Bonnie was sidelined by the other moms in Monterey in HBO’s limited series Big Little Lies. She’s younger than most of the other women, she’s free-spirited and connected to the earth, and she essentially came on the scene as “the other woman,” so to speak, when Nathan walked away from his marriage with Madeline (Reese Witherspoon). If we had a buck for every time the Monterey moms threw shade at Bonnie, we’d be on a shopping spree for days to come.
At Amabella’s birthday party, when Bonnie so very coolly danced alongside Laura Dern’s character Renata, some of the other moms expressed later on that it was most frustrating part of the event (“There were a lot of boners in the room.”). Many of them find it hard to take Bonnie seriously, since she’s a yogafied fitness instructor who hasn’t proved her worth in a traditional career. Finally, let’s not forget the many times Madeline has criticized Bonnie’s (step)parenting choices — oh yeah, and that one time she puked on her.
However, even if it comes off initially as soapy, gratuitous drama, Big Little Lies has a lot more living underneath the surface. It’s a sharp, relevant commentary on the common narrative of sexual violence in women’s lives, as well as the difficult negotiations many of them have to make between motherhood and womanhood. These female characters are complex, nuanced, flawed, and incredibly tuned in to their surroundings. They are all of us.
Most importantly, Big Little Lies is a testament to the power of female friendship, a reminder that women, when push comes to shove, are as generous with one another as they are at times judgmental. Which is exactly where the heart of the finale lies.
Let’s do a quick recap. The toxic relationship between Nicole Kidman’s Celeste and Alexander Skarsgård’s Perry came to a head when Perry beat his wife so severely that she was left in a heap of pain on the bathroom floor. By snooping through her phone, he also finds out later that she is planning to leave him and take their sons with her.
Shailene Woodley’s lovable character Jane finally receives confirmation that her son Ziggy is not the bully that has been harming Amabella — it’s Max, one of Celeste and Perry’s sons — and she informs Celeste in the most respectful way possible. Madeline’s husband Ed, played flawlessly by Adam Scott, is still feuding with her ex Nathan, and we’re left to assume that he has discovered the truth about Madeline’s affair. Oh, and how can we forget? Tom and Jane are a thing now! We dig it.
By the time the school fundraiser begins (which, can we just say, is the most extra school fundraiser that ever did exist), tensions are running so high that there is barely any oxygen left in the room. Madeline gets semi-drunk in order to cope with the death stares coming from Joseph and his wife, who sniffed out their affair. Celeste pulls aside Renata in a huff in order to reveal the truth to her about Amabella’s perpetrator. Ed and Nathan fall into a dick measuring contest, trying to one-up each other with their singing and pathetically shoving each other around.
At this point, we just know that Jane is about to discover that Perry is her rapist, the father of her son. We can feel it coming, as The Weeknd would say.
However, the men — Ed, Nathan, Gordon, and even Tom — are too stuck in their own egos to see what’s happening. They are too self-involved, too unaware, too busy battling each other, to see that Perry is aggressively acting out on his wife Celeste in a public place, literally chasing after her with a violent look on his face.
Bonnie is the only one who notices the looming danger — the woman who has been excluded and mocked. When we witness the recognition in her eyes that there is something utterly wrong about the rising spectacle taking place, we don’t see a woman who has been ostracized. We see a concerned, astute human being who refuses to let any harm come to the women around her.
When she follows her sharp instincts and quietly follows Perry away from the party, she finds him in a brawl with all four women — Madeline, Jane, Celeste, and even Renata, who is fighting alongside the women she has essentially been waging a war with all season long. Petty grudges mean nothing when it comes to protecting each other against menacing men like Perry.
Even though we expected (and hoped) it would be Celeste or Jane to kill Perry, Bonnie rushes on the scene with warranted rage and shoves Perry down the stairs, where he meets his death. In the Big Little Lies book, Bonnie’s character has a history of abuse, which makes this all the more powerful. She carries with her the collective exhaustion and fury of all the women in Monterey and around the world who have been harmed at the hands of a treacherous man.
We can’t help but hoot and holler and fist pump at the justice played out before our eyes.
The alliance doesn’t end there, though. These five powerhouse women unite and come to an unspoken agreement: The police will never know the exact truth. It will seem like Celeste merely acted out of self-defense. Besides, this was the kind of retribution that nobody, not even the cops, would ever have achieved themselves. So no matter how much the detectives question the verity of their claims, Madeline, Jane, Celeste, Renata, and Bonnie stick to their stories. The authorities have no choice but to believe them. They’re unbreakable.
Not that we needed the confirmation, but the final scene of Big Little Lies, which consisted solely of the mothers and their children soaking up the warm sunshine, reminded us that these women never needed men to rescue them or avenge them. They’re doing just fine on their own, thanks very much, and they’ll continue to do so.
As we watch the mothers of Monterey frolic on the beach, freer than ever before and finally in harmony with one another, we are left with a singular message: that women have no choice in this lifetime but to look out for one another, support one another, and stand up for one another. Because men surely aren’t going to do it for us.