Don’t hate me, but I’m actually glad Game of Thrones is over, so we all can focus on another HBO show that is way more deserving of the attention and viewership, Big Little Lies. The show that also won multiple Emmys and captivated the world (albeit in a much smaller scale), but, unlike GoT, earned every praise and accolade. I’m not hating on GoT – I’ve seen all eight seasons after all – I just think it’s a bit overrated.
Big Little Lies, originally intended as a miniseries, was adapted from the Liane Moriarty best-selling novel of the same title and follows the story of the wealthy, affluent elementary school moms in Monterey Bay, California. On the surface, the show really seems like a fun, gossipy show about rich, bored, privileged women with nothing better to do but to backstab each other. Kind of like Game of Thrones, but with way better grooming. The Iron Throne is the Monterey Bay school drop-off zone and the two queens – Madeline Martha Mackenzie and Renata Klein – are fighting to take each other down and reign supreme over all the other moms (and one dad).
But, surprise! The show is not actually a bitchfest of intrigues and gossip. This isn’t “The Real Housewives of Monterey Bay.” The first episode opens with a murder (though it’s not immediately revealed who the victim is) and starts to slowly reveal what’s under the surface of these beautiful, seemingly perfect moms. We know from the get-go that nothing is ever what it seems. We know everyone hides a secret. That’s not new. That’s like every show about wealthy communities ever. But what makes this show different is that it actually talks about something real, something that happens every day in every level of society: violence in the home.
Underneath the perfect hair and make-up, the gorgeous homes, the sprawling sceneries, the backstabbing and petty rivalries, Big Little Lies manages to talk about violence against women in a way that GoT has never been able to do right: by focusing the story on the women.
These women are Madeline Martha Mackenzie, played by Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon, the queen bee of Monterey Bay who inspires fear and hatred from the rest of the Monterey Bay moms and her best friend the seemingly perfect Celeste Wright, who is played by another Oscar winner, Nicole Kidman. On the first day of school, Madeline meets young single mom Jane Chapman, played by Oscar nominee Shailene Woodley, and she immediately takes her under her wings.
As if that’s not enough star power for one HBO show, Laura Dern also stars as Renata Klein, a successful business woman and arch-nemesis of Madeline, and Zoe Kravitz rounds off the cast as Bonny Carlson, Madeline’s ex-husband’s much younger new wife who just wants to make peace with everyone.
On the first day of school, Renata Klein’s daughter Amabella accuses Jane’s son Ziggy of biting her, and that one act of bullying ends up revealing much darker things that lurk behind the picture perfect facade of Monterey Bay. We find out later that – spoiler alert – Jane was raped and that was how Ziggy was conceived. She was forever changed from what happened and it shows: in flashbacks we see a younger more confident Jane having a good time, partying and enjoying herself and in the present we see her trying to deal with the trauma of what happened, from moving to Monterey Bay to search for the man who raped her to buying a gun and preparing herself for the worst, the possibility that he will find her first. Big Little Lies does not shy away from telling us of her struggle, how she often wrestles with herself when it comes to Ziggy. On on hand she loves him, but on the other, he’s a constant reminder of that really awful thing that happened to her.
One of my biggest problems with Game of Thrones was when Sansa was raped by Ramsay, instead of focusing the story on Sansa and how that traumatic event affected her whole world, the show chose to focus the story on how watching that rape affected Theon and his feelings of impotence as he looked on. It’s as unspeakable violence against women only has weight when it affects the men around her. But Big Little Lies does not care about how it affected the men. It cares about how it completely changes and upends a woman.
Rape isn’t the only violence depicted in this show. The central theme of this show is domestic violence and how it affects the people around it. And it doesn’t hold back and try to sugarcoat it, not even a little bit. We are made to watch and feel the beatings that the wife (I won’t say who it so as not to spoil it) has to endure. We can see that subtle shift in the husband’s eyes, his disappearing smile and that flip of a switch that turns him from a loving, doting husband to a monster. Big Little Lies shows that domestic violence can happen to anyone, even those who seem to be in a perfect, loving marriage, even those who are rich, beautiful and educated, even those who are always showing off their enviable relationships on Instagram.
The show also gives the viewers an insight on how complicated the situation is for the women in violent domestic relationships. How a lot of the times these women really cannot leave because their spouses have made them completely dependent either physically or emotionally. How torn the women are because they genuinely love the men who won’t stop hurting them, and their struggle to understand how the person who seems to love them more than anything is also capable of physically abusing them.
In just seven episodes, Big Little Lies takes pop culture into the ugly realities of everyday violence. Pop culture is guilty of glorifying violence to a point. I ain’t preaching because I like violent entertainment too. I was watching the Cinemax show Warrior the other day, and I got super excited when the lead, Andrew Koji, ripped out a man’s throat with his bare hand during a fight. And what GoT fan didn’t cheer when Ramsay was devoured by his hungry, abused dogs?
But seeing violence so often, whether it’s in mindless action films that I don’t like very much because they’re usually dumb or even in Star Wars, leaves us desensitized. Big Little Lies shows us the reality: that in real life, violence doesn’t end with the hero walking away bloodied but having saved the world from evil. In real life, violence has consequences. It doesn’t just affect the person doing the act of violence or the person on the receiving end of it. It affects everyone around it. It can even affect communities. Violence begets violence.
Big Little Lies may not have swordfights and dragons, but unlike the much-derided season 8 of Game of Thrones, it has a powerful story told masterfully through GOOD writing. Oh, and in season 2, there’s also Meryl Streep. What more do you want?
Season 2 of Big Little Lies starts June 10 on HBO in Indonesia. You can catch up on the first season on HBO Go (free with your First Media or Indihome subscription).
Photo from HBO