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Yuppie Investigative Unit: Who Died on ‘Big Little Lies’?

Parsing the clues in the first episode

(HBO/Ringer illustration)
(HBO/Ringer illustration)

I have a lot of questions after the premiere of HBO’s suburban mom fantasia Big Little Lies, and I’m sure you do, too. For example: Which first-grade schoolyard punk terrorized the adorable Amabella? Why would anyone name their child Amabella? Why is Jane (Shailene Woodley) packing? What self-help podcast has Shawl-Collar King Ed (Adam Scott) been subscribing to?

We’ll spend many sunset-soaked moments pondering the answers to these questions, but ultimately, they are hardly the ones that matter. Because as much as BLL is a satirical, skewering, and prickly ode to lush interiors and Nicole Kidman’s perfect honey-blond dye job, it is also a suburban murder mystery. David E. Kelley has given us the True Detective season we deserved, with dashes of Desperate Housewives drama and Valley of the Dolls undertones for good measure. The only trick: In addition to not knowing who did it, we do not yet know who was killed.

The title of the first episode is “Somebody’s Dead,” and the episode starts with a lot of tropes to prove that statement — flashing police lights, yellow tape, shocked bystanders trying to process what just happened. We’re not given a ton of detail, but here’s what we know from the witness interrogations and from the sharp, black female cop who will ultimately act as the show’s voice of reason: The homicide took place at a fancy costume party/trivia night for the local school. The victim was found on the back terrace, with a broken pelvis and fracture at the base of their skull. As the police interviews reveal, nobody trusts or likes anybody in this small, tight-knit community, and everyone is real petty. Also, everyone seems to think Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) is the root cause of the death.

So! Based off of what we know from this week’s episode, let’s try to determine who most likely got pounded to death by Monterey nice. I’m not currently convinced that any of the core trio — Madeline, Jane, or Celeste (Kidman) — are the victims. If anything, my instinct says these three are probably in cahoots and will form a ride-or-die murder pact, which I admire. But here are my top four guesses:

Possible Victim No. 1

Renata Klein (Laura Dern)

God, she’s insufferable. Beautiful, rich, on the boards of several different tech companies. She’s seen Hamilton four times at least. She’s a powerful working mother who loves to brag about the fact that she’s living that Lean In life, complete with the magnificent view, infinity pool, and lame-duck husband who wears transition lenses. She is incredibly resentable.

Why She Might Be Dead

Renata is the kind of woman who will threaten children, thereby inciting someone else’s Mama Bear rage. Her daughter Amabella — again: Did you misspell “Annabella”? — was the victim of a schoolyard choking, and Amabella accused her new classmate, Ziggy, of doing it. Unfortunately, Ziggy is the son of Madeline’s new friend Jane, so battle lines were instantly drawn. It’s now Renata (has a giant deck she could easily be pushed off of) vs. Jane (owns a gun) and Madeline (is one missed Xanax away from a rage blackout).

Possible Victim No. 2

Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz)

God, she’s insufferable. Beautiful, bohemian, young, tantrically sexy, spiritually centered, and smug as all fuck about her good vibes and social consciousness and handmade Peruvian jewelry. She’s the yoga-toned threat to a lot of people’s happiness: All the men want to ogle her, and all the teenagers can “relate to her” — which means all these uptight Monterey women dream about kicking her in their Piloxing classes.

Why She Might Be Dead

She’s married to Nathan, Madeline’s ex-husband. She’s befriended Madeline’s teenage daughter and undermines all of Madeline’s parenting. She also signed a petition to stop Madeline’s community theater production of Avenue Q. Basically she’s slowly and pointedly killing Madeline’s soul.

Possible Victim No. 3

Nathan Carlson (James Tupper)

Nathan is Madeline’s ex-husband and yes, he’s hot, but he seems like a real weenus. He’s rude; he antagonizes his ex-wife; he is the stereotypical “I traded up” sort of guy. He just seems like a really selfish man-baby.

Why He Might Be Dead

He doesn’t seem to serve a huge purpose on the show, which means he’s probably just a device to further the plot (by getting murdered and allowing the Sisterhood of Homicide Cover-ups to band together). We could easily get rid of him. Also, notice how witnesses refer to him in the past tense: “Nathan was a dick.” A clue?

Possible Victim No. 4

Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgard)

Perry is Celeste’s handsome, wealthy, doting husband. He seems like a great, dedicated father to their two boys. He even pushes back business trips to make sure he can take them to their first day of school! He’s incredibly good-looking. There is nothing wrong with him, except for the violent rage that threatens to boil over and harm his entire family.

Why He Might Be Dead

Celeste is described as “volcanic” by a witness, which leads me to believe that the violent undercurrent we’ve already seen in the first episode will be the end of Perry. (Again, making way for the Sisterhood of Homicide Cover-ups.)

Final Guess

At the close of the first episode of this miniseries, I think Perry is the mystery victim, because if looks could kill, Celeste has already killed that guy five times over. Never cross Nicole Kidman.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.