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About That Tennis Racket Injury on ‘Big Little Lies’

Celeste’s forehand told us more about her husband than any scene before it

(HBO)
(HBO)

At the beginning of Big Little Lies, Celeste and Perry Wright were the one couple you couldn’t take your eyes off of. Here were these two glorious, chiseled human beings (played by Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard) living in a sophisticated modern beach house with cute twin skater boy sons and a walk-in closet the size of a Prada purse boutique. They were the only two parents in Monterey who still had (rather hot) sex, and Perry did an adorable impression of a T. rex for his kids to boot. But like so many other things on Big Little Lies, the Wrights’ superficial appearance was masking something more disturbing lurking underneath. Perry’s sudden bursts of aggression quickly devolved from what once appeared to be passionate psychosexual role-playing into unrelenting domestic abuse. By Sunday night’s episode, the possibility of Celeste getting seriously hurt — or killed — appeared to be so concrete that you no longer wanted to see what the Wrights were up to. That is, until Celeste shut down Perry’s bubbling masculinity by whacking his erect dick down with a tennis racket. It was melodramatic, sure, and also possibly not the most realistic portrayal of long-simmering domestic abuse. But after watching Perry bully and manipulate Celeste for five straight episodes, that boner blow was a much-needed turning point, and something of a revelation for both characters — not to mention an extremely fitting metaphor for Perry’s particular fears.

In their first and only joint-therapy session, in Episode 3, Perry admitted he was afraid of losing his wife, whom he sees as a kind of beautiful, otherworldly creature that could move on and leave him at any moment. The session was heavy enough that it inspired some puppy dog fawning from him, including a sappy kitchen slow dance later on. But he returned to his old ways soon after, growing increasingly suspicious that Celeste was aiming to — gasp — rebuild her successful career as a lawyer (she is). Celeste, on the other hand, kept going to that therapist. And in Sunday night’s episode, she was taken aback to finally hear what this woman really thinks of her marriage. “When are you going to leave him, Celeste?” Dr. Reisman asked with scared eyes. “When he hurts you badly enough?” Celeste was temporarily spooked, until Perry — who has a knack for distracting his battered wife with grand romantic gestures — surprised her by flying home from Phoenix in time for the opening night of Madeleine’s play.

Perry’s plan to have an intimate evening with his wife failed because he couldn’t keep it in his pants. He literally pulls it out and points it at Celeste in a desperate moment that summarizes their disturbingly lopsided relationship. Celeste is momentarily tempted (I mean, look at that thing … she’s only human). But in the end, she knows she can’t abandon her friend’s play, and — more importantly — doesn’t want to encourage her husband’s unhealthy possessiveness. Perry, infuriated by her rejection, grabs and pulls her hair. Celeste instinctually retaliates by grabbing a tennis racket and grand-slamming Perry’s penis straight to the hospital. If you listen close enough, you can even hear the moment of contact.

Considering Perry is a successful, good-looking white dude who consistently beats up his wife, it’s hard to sympathize with him — and that is not the purpose of the tennis racket incident. Instead, it’s a moment that reveals how deeply flawed he is. Perry’s fragile self-confidence hinges on his own virility. (As he is licking his wounds, he later complains that Celeste “could’ve done permanent damage.”) There couldn’t be a better metaphor for his troubled existence than his wife batting down his literal manhood with the help of a classic suburban accessory. Perry thrives or dies based on the power he can assert over his wife. Without a functioning member, what’s his value? How can he possibly feel secure in a relationship if he has neither sexual domination nor emotional manipulation as an option? Perry didn’t suggest having a third kid in the fourth episode just for the hell of it. Getting his wife pregnant may be the only move he has left to assert power in his marriage.

As for Celeste? She may have been contemplating whether she wanted to leave her husband after that therapy session. But the moment she grabbed for that tennis racket, it was obvious what her decision would be.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.