Celeste Takes the Stand in ‘Big Little Lies’ Episode 6 (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Big Little Lies Season 2 Episode 6, “The Bad Mother.”]
Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) rarely interact with each other, unless part of a group setting, and even then, I can’t remember them ever exchanging more than a couple of words. And yet, these two characters have a lot in common, maybe more than anyone else in the Monterey Five. They are bonded by trauma, and I’m not just talking about Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgård) death, which Bonnie was responsible for.
Both women are victims of abuse; one spousal, one parental. Both of them suffered extreme violence at the hands of the person who they were meant to trust and rely on the most. The person who was supposed to make them feel safe. The damage caused by these attacks goes way beyond the physical scars and bruises; it’s deep-seated emotional trauma that has had lasting effects on the psyche. It made them feel worthless and resentful and self-destructive. And no one can truly understand that unless they’ve been through it themselves.
This is why the custody court case is so infuriating. Celeste is the victim here, but you wouldn’t know it from the character assassination she faces from Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) and her lawyer Ira (Denis O’Hare). Celeste’s past is dredged up and thrown back at her. She is shamed about the “aggressive” sex she’s been having with random nameless barflies. Did the boys ever meet these men? Did she ever hit Perry first? Was the violence ever thrilling? Did it lead to sex? Was she ever violent with the kids? Why didn’t she tell the police? The objectionable questioning makes her sound complicit in the abuse, if not responsible.
The court grilling almost breaks Celeste. She knows that she hasn’t been handling things perfectly. Of course she hasn’t; she’s still dealing with the trauma caused by years of domestic abuse, while also processing the death of her husband. As Celeste tells the judge, she is still in the process of healing, and that might take some time, but through all the pain and heartache and stress, she has always been a good mother to Max (Nicholas Crovetti) and Josh (Cameron Crovetti).
Where Mary Louise sees a mother who is “unwell,” Jane (Shailene Woodley) sees “a woman who is struggling” and who needs support from her friends and family. “Who isn’t [struggling]?” Jane yells at Mary Louise as she urges her to drop the case. But the conniving grandma twists Jane’s words and throws them back at her. “Are you struggling, Jane?” Mary Louise asks. “Ziggy tells me you bought a gun… Did you plan to shoot my son?” It’s a thinly veiled threat as if to say, ‘if you don’t back off, I’ll come for Ziggy next.’
Celeste does have support, thankfully, from her friends, and her two boys. Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) tells her not to give up; that she has to get back on the stand and fight. So that’s what she does. Celeste tells the court that she was too “ashamed” to admit her problems, even to her therapist, but it’s time to get everything (well, almost everything) off her chest. Yes, she was taking Ambien to help her sleep, but she’s stopped. Yes, the violence did sometimes lead to sex, and that in itself was confusing. “It sickens me,” she tells the judge. The reason she’s been hooking up with strangers is because she wanted to feel in control. To be free of Perry. “I wanted to push him out,” she says. But the sex, like her pill-taking, has stopped. She is trying to get better step by step.
The situation isn’t as black and white as Mary Louise and her lawyer would want the court to believe. Celeste’s relationship with Perry was complicated. She loved her husband and always thought he would get better. “When I was happy, I stayed because I was happy. When I was depressed, I stayed because I was depressed,” she explains. People stay with their abusers for a whole host of reasons. For Celeste, she was afraid of what would happen if she left. Afraid of how Perry would react. Afraid of being alone. Afraid of losing her family. “I stayed to survive,” she says. “I stayed for my boys.”
At the same time, Bonnie also unburdens on her abuser. She reads a self-written letter to her barely conscious mother (Crystal Fox), who in the last episode told her daughter to put her out of her misery. “I resent you,” Bonnie begins. For the childhood she had. For the yelling, the hitting, the bruises. The fear of growing up in a home where she didn’t feel safe. All the sex she had at 13 to prove she could be loved. For wanting to “beat the s**t” out of everyone. “For making me feel so worthless that I settled for a man I don’t even…” she stops short of saying the word, but we all know where she was going.
“But mainly, I resent you for killing a man,” she continues. “I killed Celeste’s husband. He didn’t slip. I pushed him. I snapped. When I lunged at him, I was pushing you… That push was a long time coming.” The confession is cathartic. A weight lifted. And as Bonnie finishes by forgiving her mother, we see a tear roll down Elizabeth’s cheek. While she may be bedridden and immobile, it’s clear she understood everything that was said, though she may never acknowledge the damage she caused her daughter.
Meanwhile, Jane breaks things off with Corey (Douglas Smith), after finding out about his visit to the police station. Corey says he isn’t working with the police; he was just asked to come in for questioning by Detective Quinlan (Merrin Dungey), who wanted to know if Jane had said anything about Perry. Apparently, the police know Perry assaulted Jane, and they know that he didn’t fall down those stairs. But, Corey says, he didn’t tell them anything. Still, the trust is broken, and Jane isn’t ready to commit to a romantic relationship, even though Corey refuses to just walk away.
Madeline is also trying to earn back trust from Ed (Adam Scott). While Ed is propositioned by Tori (Sarah Sokolovic) for some no strings attached payback sex, Madeline digs out her wedding dress from the closet. She puts the dress on and dances around the bedroom to the wedding song Ed picked. “I’m trying to reconnect with the person I once was,” she says, back when she thought she was going to be a great wife. “You can’t just wave a wand,” Ed tells her when he walks in on her one-woman wedding reenactment. “But that was pretty f**king close.”
As trust is being repaired in one marriage, it is shattered in another. Renata (Laura Dern) learns that Gordon’s (Jeffrey Nordling) betrayals go beyond financial screw-ups. He’d also been receiving sexual favors (or “stress management”) from Amabella’s (Ivy George) nanny, Juliette (Nelly Buchet), who now wants compensation from the recently bankrupt couple. “Shut the f**k up for the rest or your f**ked up f**king life!” Renata yells at her man-child of a husband on the drive home, before shoving tissues into his mouth.
Next week is the final episode of the season (perhaps the series?), and as relationships fall apart, and pressure mounts, the tables are about to be turned on Mary Louise, as she will be forced to take the stand and answer Celeste’s questions. Mary Louise won’t be able to slam the door and tune out reality anymore. It’s time for her to face the fact that her “sweet, gentle little boy” was a monster.
Big Little Lies, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO