The penultimate episode of Big Little Lies is probably the most scattered so far, largely because it has to push so many plots forward ahead of the finale that there's little time left for thematic work. It's more of a table-setting installment than anything else.
But on this show, even table setting is thrilling. Between a tense dinner party, Avenue Q's long-awaited opening, another incredible therapy scene between Nicole Kidman and Robin Weigert, and some of Shailene Woodley's best work yet, Big Little Lies's sixth episode has no shortage of memorable moments.
In honor of that — and to keep our recap of such an unthematic episode structured — let's revisit our ranking of the performances of principal adult cast members and see how things are holding up.
8. Nathan Carlson
Bless James Tupper, but there's just nowhere to go with Nathan. He's a lousy father without much opportunity for redemption, and he's routinely upstaged by both Madeline and Bonnie in how they work with Abigail. He's on his best behavior in episode six at a dinner with Madeline and her husband, Ed, but even there he mostly recesses into the background.
7. Ed Mackenzie
Adam Scott has been a real gift to Big Little Lies all season, but this is not his spotlight episode. Like Nathan, Ed is fine — but he's not the focal point of the dinner.
6. Perry Wright
Kudos to Alexander Skarsgård for perfectly playing the line between Perry's charm and his deep, ugly menace. In episode six, his violent attack leads Celeste to break his urethra with a tennis racket, something she's easily able to wave off as a consequence of overly passionate sex. But Perry isn't playing a game anymore. With deep loathing, he tells Celeste, "You're lucky I didn't kill you." That's all she needs to hear to start making moves in her life. Big Little Lies has always portrayed Perry as a conflicted figure, but this episode makes it clearer than ever that he is the villain of the piece.
5. Bonnie Carlson
This is easily Zoë Kravitz's best episode as Bonnie, as she hosts the dinner party with equal parts grace and tolerance. Her reaction when Madeline asks if the music is Adele — "No, it's Sade, actually" — is nothing short of grand generosity in the face of blinding whiteness. In fact, the entire dinner is basically a duet between her and Madeline and the inherent conflict in their parenting strategies. Bonnie and Nathan reveal Abigail has been trying to sell her virginity on the internet to raise awareness of sex slavery in the world, which prompts Madeline to vomit in response. It's hilarious to watch Bonnie go from Zen master ("That's fine, that's a human reaction") to furious as Madeline's puking gets more aggressive. "Goddamnit" indeed, Bonnie.
4. (tie) Renata Klein and Jane Chapman
Renata's and Jane's stories are virtually one and the same in episode six, as a petition begins circulating to suspend Ziggy Chapman from Otter Bay Elementary. It's never taken seriously by the school, but Jane is so furious about the witch hunt against her son that she lashes out — physically, even — against Renata. She accidentally hits Renata's eye, leading to a reconciliation scene between the two that ranks among our favorite scenes of the series.
Their coming together — which both Laura Dern and Woodley play with a perfect blend of defensiveness and yearning for connection — leads to Jane being allowed into the inner circle. When the mom who started the petition questions why Renata and Jane are talking, Jane gets in a brutal bit of shade. Renata laughs in delight, shouting "Touché!" This leads to a round of the very bitter Greek chorus of parents insisting they didn't believe in the reconciliation, proving once more that the chorus knows nothing.
2. Celeste Wright
This is a quieter week for Celeste compared to episode five's deeply powerful therapy scenes. Writer David E. Kelley and director Jean-Marc Vallée smartly move us a few weeks into Celeste's therapy; she's honest about the abuse, but is still reticent to do anything about it. She's still avoiding dealing with the reality by accusing her therapist of getting too involved. "I'll get you the number of the Better Business Bureau, you can report me," Dr. Reisman shoots back. "In the meantime, start documenting the abuse."
Ultimately, Perry's threat to kill Celeste motivates her to look for apartments to which she can escape, giving her a clear path to the conclusion of her story in the finale.
1. Madeline Martha Mackenzie
It's a big week for Madeline! Avenue Q opens, she's haunted by her past affair with the musical's director and she has dinner with her ex-husband and his wife. It's at the opening that the director's wife hounds her with accusations of cheating, which puts her in a bad space on what should be a triumphant night. She almost confesses her wrongdoing to Ed later, but he stops her short.
It all comes to a head at the dinner, where Madeline's inability to parent her daughter combined with her conflict over the affair leads her own body to reject her violently — hence the puking. In Reese Witherspoon's best scene of the series, she unleashes on Abigail, refusing to walk on eggshells around her daughter and railing against her decision to sell her virginity. When Abigail snottily shoots back, "It must be nice being right all the time," Madeline responds with, "I'm not right! I'm not fucking perfect!" Then, her voice receding to barely a whisper, she confesses her affair.
It's a moment of powerful connection unhampered by unrealistic sentimentality. These women don't hug and kiss at the end; their relationship is deeply damaged. But finally, they've got somewhere to go. It took openness and honesty, but Madeline Martha Mackenzie may have finally earned her daughter's respect.
The season finale of Big Little Lies airs at 9 p.m. Eastern on Sunday on HBO.
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