‘Big Little Lies’ Recap 1×05: Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?

Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright, Shailene Woodley as Jane Chapman and Reese Witherspoon Madeline Martha Mackenzie. Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/HBO

This episode starts out with a pretty dumb jump scare– Madeline dreams she is walking around near the edge of the cliff she sees every day on her commute, and Renata attacks her with MUPPETS (the ones from the “Avenue Q” performance she’s been worrying about) and she falls off. Wocka wocka wocka!

The song that begins in that scene and plays through the subsequent montage, then recurs throughout the episode, reminds me of Ennio Morricone’s “Navajo Joe” theme, which is also used repeatedly in Election, which stars Witherspoon in one of her more iconic roles. I’m not sure if it’s an intentional reference or not. I do wish Big Little Lies had its own spaghetti western-style theme where the lyrics were just, “Big li-ttle lies, big li-ttle liiiies!”

Nathan sees Jane at the gun range– one is practicing because he’s a belligerent creep who thinks his ex-wife’s husband is Charles Manson; the other is planning to go murder her rapist. Amabella has bite marks on her. Her parents play good cop / bad cop, except that Renata is such a bad cop she yells at Gordon for his chillness.

Perry comes home to make wild love to Celeste. Madeline, still unaware of the abusive nature of her best friend’s relationship, gets off the phone feeling envious, and Ed, dashingly, warns her not to use the downstairs bathroom for a while.

Madeline lurks on Abigail’s FB page and finds her friend inquiring about a selfie: “Is this the shot you want to use on your secret project? Is it sexy / slutty enough?” Folks, I’m here to tell you that this is leading to the dumbest subplot of the novel.

Jane has an appointment with Saxon Baker. She gets a call from the school about Amabella’s bite marks and yells “FUCK!” in a crowded restaurant. Celeste takes this opportunity to try to practice law some more, purely for Jane’s sake and definitely not because she feels compelled to find ways of asserting her independence from her abusive husband.

Joseph the director– who should have a theme song about how his name should be Adulterous Joe, in my opinion– demands an audience with Madeline in private. They get in his car and talk about their situation and she shuts it down. He starts to drive her back and a car crashes into them. The townsfolk speculate.

Perry acts fun with the kids at dinner, doing a monster voice and chasing them around. Ed asks Madeline why she was in Joseph’s car. Perry angrily picks up the Legos.

Jane meets with the principal. She wishes she could tell him that Ziggy was a product of rape. Renata barges in. Renata is kind of like if Madeline had a worse husband, a bullied kid, and a stressful work situation. They handle problems in the same way, but Renata is just that much more desperate to keep her life together. Madeline’s apparent humanity comes from having it pretty good, although having it pretty good is also what allows her to put the theater-director-smooching out of her mind, which is a fairly inhumane thing to do.

Jane, listening to a cover of The Misfits’ “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?,” smokes a fatass spliff and calls Madeline, telling her the kind of stuff you’d say to your friend if you were about to go commit murder and probably go to jail.

Celeste goes to therapy without Perry– after picking up the Legos, he had dropped them on her head, then hit her repeatedly. She confesses that he’s hit her before. Celeste seems to have trouble admitting to the abuse, and her behavior and conversation seem to point to a few wrongheaded and contradictory notions she holds onto:

One is the idea that people with good breeding don’t get involved with this sort of thing. He probably believes this too, and that’s why he never hits her in a way that creates a visible bruise. It’s important to keep up appearances. This is also the reason Jane can’t tell the principal about Ziggy’s conception.

Another is that Perry and Celeste are kinky, and the passion they feel towards each other consumes them and overwhelms them– therefore, she seems to think, it’s not just common, punitive hitting, it’s different because glamorous people are doing it to each other. The Lego thing seemed to change her mind somewhat, but she’s still in denial.

One thing this show taps into that I think is super-interesting is the idea that intelligent people can often end up in abusive situations– if you have the kind of mind that Celeste has, you can use it to justify anything. It’s also important to note that Celeste mentions she had four miscarriages before the twins. Enablement often comes from a feeling of debt and obligation to the other person.

Saxon Baker turns out to be just a normal interior designer named Saxon Baker, so Jane drives away. Big Brother and the Holding Company’s “Ball and Chain” plays. As iconic as that album is, it’s easy to forget how greasily psychedelic the music is at moments, and it’s pretty jarring both in contrast to the kind of music you might expect to hear on TV, and in contrast to how you might remember Janis Joplin’s music sounding. It’s perfect for a closing montage of Jane driving away only to get pulled over, Celeste and the boys greeting an emotional Perry at the airport, and sinister flashes of the Elvises and Audreys of the show’s inevitable climax.