It is inevitable that a show with a murder at its core will inspire fervent speculation and theorizing. But if any show shouldn't, it's Big Little Lies.
HBO's miniseries based on the Liane Moriarty novel comes to a close Sunday, and it's truly disappointing to see it end. Big Little Lies has been one of this TV season's most surprising series, inviting us into its coastal town full of complex relationships and deeply disturbing dramas. However, it was conceived as a miniseries, with high-wattage stars (Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman) who likely would never do multiple seasons of a TV show. All great things must end.
Ahead of the finale, however, speculation about who killed whom in the show's underlying murder plot is hitting a head. Vulture has theories and Entertainment Weekly is hosting speculation threads while, hilariously, warding away those who have read the book. This is partially why all the buzz about the murder mystery is so silly: Unless writer David E. Kelley and director Jean-Marc Vallée deviate from the source material, the answer to that question is literally a Google away.
The other reason it's an ultimately fairly pointless task: Big Little Lies is not about the answer to a murder plot. In fact, the show itself rejects that. Instead, it's about all that's happened along the way.
[Editor's note: We'll be spoiling the previous six episodes in this piece, but for the sake of those who wish to remain unaware, we will not divulge who kills whom in Moriarty's novel. Again, though, the answer is out there.]
If Big Little Lies were about the murder that happens during the finale's trivia night, it would have been a tremendously boring series. The last six episodes would have been sluggish chess piece shuffling, making us think that any one of the Monterey Bay moms or their husbands could have been capable of murder. There's been a little of that from the Greek chorus of parents of Otter Bay Elementary School, but time and again, Kelley and Vallée have discounted their legitimacy. Imagine if the show actually cared what they said.
The Greek chorus is almost a parody of those "who did it?" speculation threads. Everyone is a suspect because of gossip. Meanwhile, Big Little Lies itself reveals its characters to be anything but what the gossip makes them out to be. Madeline Martha Mackenzie is a woman with too much heart and a somewhat abrasive personality. Celeste Wright's picture-perfect marriage is full of darkness. Jane Chapman is not a brooding outcast, but a troubled young woman yearning for friendship.
By presenting its characters as such complex human beings, Big Little Lies argues against looking for clues a la Serial season one. It is much more interested in the lives of these women.
Celeste's abuse at the hands of her husband, Perry, is not presented as a tantalizing clue that perhaps he killed her, or vice-versa in self-defense. Instead, it is shown in brutal detail, capturing Celeste's pain in order to tell a story about abuse. Jane may be interested in the man who raped her, but Big Little Lies spends more time dissecting her mental space than it does sifting through clues as to who it could be. (The only lead she follows turns out to be a dead end.)
At a time when good shows are being hamstrung by constant teases as to a greater mystery that doesn't get solved — hi, This Is Us — it's refreshing that HBO let Big Little Lies be a quiet character drama. There's a world in which every scene turned into a hint as to the murder mystery; a world where all this theory-mongering was not only supported, but encouraged by the show. That's a far more disappointing world than the one we're living in.
Frankly, there will be some that will likely find the Big Little Lies finale too rushed, too uninterested in the murder mystery. Everyone reacts to art differently, so it's a valid response. But it's also a pitiable response: Such focus on the end likely means those viewers missed a rich, powerful story about fascinating characters along the way. Madeline would feel sorry for them.
The Big Little Lies finale will air Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO. Mic has ongoing Big Little Lies coverage. Follow our main hub here.