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The ‘Big Little Lies’ Exit Survey

Reese or Nicole? Ed or Gordon? And, oh yeah, what about that resolution of the murder mystery that fueled the entire season? We weigh in on ‘Big Little Lies’ and everything that made it a flawed but somehow perfect miniseries.

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

Trivia night’s over — we now know who died, who did it, and also what everyone sounds like singing Elvis songs. (Because of course.) After the season finale of HBO’s Big Little Lies, we asked the Ringer staff 10 pressing questions about the episode and the season as a whole. Oh, by the way: Yeah, there are spoilers below.

1. What is your tweet-length review of ‘Big Little Lies’?

Alison Herman: Come for the beach houses, stay for the nuanced and deeply empathetic portrayal of a particularly female kind of unhappiness. And the beach houses.

Amanda Dobbins: I too like wine.

Andrew Gruttadaro: Remember The O.C.? It’s like that, only Reese is Summer, Nicole Kidman is Marissa, and the soundtrack is more aggressive. Yes — more.

Donnie Kwak: More like MonteCRAY, amirite?

Chris Ryan: Reese Witherspoon Flu Game.

Kate Knibbs: Big Little Lies made me want to move to California and pursue strong female friendships.

Ben Lindbergh: @RWitherspoon @shailenewoodley @ZoeKravitz @LauraDern @DarbyECamp @mradamscott @NicoleKidman @QueenKidman_ @ShaileneArmy @alexskarsgard_ @Big_Little_Lies You guys were good.

(Tweets can be really long now.)

Lindsay Zoladz: I cried a little and I screamed A LOT.

Hannah Giorgis: BLL is what would happen if the characters from The O.C. grew up and moved north, but with a smidgen of murder.

Daniel Varghese: Big Little Lies, using its three lead actors and amazing cinematography, managed to make a lackluster script a compelling slow burn.

Katie Baker: Ed is such a cuck.

(HBO)
(HBO)

2. Were you satisfied by the resolution of the trivia-night mystery?

Rubie Edmondson: Almost too satisfied. I would have preferred if the series didn’t concretely reveal the identity of the person who pushed Perry — it would’ve made the “Why are they lying?” conversation in the police department all the more powerful.

Baker: While it was a definite win for the matriarchy, my answer is still no, because those smug-ass lookie-loos who wandered off the set of The Slap and mouthed off all season in their police depositions apparently remain alive and well.

Gruttadaro: I mean, the right guy died, so …

Kwak: One thousand percent. We will be talking about “Elvis & Audrey” night for many years to come. The finale exceeded expectations, and they were very high.

Lindbergh: Extremely satisfied, which was impressive in light of how many plot threads the finale had to tie together. Relieved to learn that I wasn’t wasting my time shipping Jane and Tom.

Kjerstin Johnson: To paraphrase the Dixie Chicks, Perry had to die. Six episodes deep, it was clear that only his cold, broken-peened body would wrap up the series most cleanly. Still, I almost wanted it to be someone else for surprise’s sake.

Dobbins: The “who pushed Perry” reveal is the silliest part of the book, and I was glad that the show underplayed it. I would’ve been happier if they changed it altogether.

Zoladz: The mystery of who provided Adam Scott’s reedy Elvis vocals at trivia night? No. No, I was not.

Herman: Yes, though not the buildup. What a nice reversal of how so many other dead-body shows have played out!

Sam Schube: Quite! I enjoy twists, Zoë Kravitz, and narratively satisfying crimes of passion.

Varghese: Definitely. The most evil person on the show died, which apparently was all it took to solve all of the community’s issues. Not exactly the most nuanced resolution, but that’s OK. Poetic justice was delivered.

Giorgis: If anything else had happened, I would’ve filed suit against HBO.

3. What was your favorite part of the series?

Baker: The vast expanses of time everyone spent in the car.

Dobbins: Every time Reese Witherspoon picks a fight, a mean angel gets its wings.

Giorgis: BLL’s decadence is breathtaking but not Gatsby-level obnoxious; it captures and magnifies suburban California drama with an addictively alluring lens.

Edmondson: The Reese one-liners that were made to be gleefully rewound and rewatched over and over again. Alexander Skarsgard’s casting.

Gruttadaro: The post-murder “Ladies Only” beach day.

(HBO)
(HBO)

Kwak: The ending montage over this song, the therapy scenes, and Zoë Kravitz’s cheekbones.

Ryan: Reese Witherspoon: walking in and out of rooms; starting trouble, producing off-off-off-off-Broadway theater; oversharing with her daughter; oversharing with her barista; tending to her grudges like pets.

Zoladz: Any and all scenes with THE QUEEN DR. AMANDA REISMAN, light of my life, therapist of my heart.

Johnson: The part in the opening credits where the kids are in the line and they each do a flourish for the camera. Whereas the cold-blooded murder got campier and more distant as the series progressed, this scene always gave me chills.

Varghese: The stunning scenery of central California and the perfect title sequence.

Knibbs: The big bridge they drive over and when Reese Witherspoon said “Get fucked!”

Herman: Too many to name, but let’s go with the effortless fusion of entertainment and substance. Critics who dismissed this show as a soap opera or a televised beach read were wrong; so were the ones who discussed it in terms of pure prestige. Big Little Lies is both, and it’s not ashamed of or self-conscious about either. We can drink our wine and contemplate the impossible standards foisted on mothers, too. Women can have it all!

4. What was your least favorite part of the series?

Gruttadaro: It was super fucking cold that they made Tom serve them drinks at trivia night.

Baker: Any and all scenes involving Nathan and/or Ed.

Dobbins: Adam Scott is not high-impact enough for Reese Witherspoon.

(HBO)
(HBO)

Edmondson: The decision to have Jane assault Renata. For Renata to almost immediately forgive her seemed out of character on both sides. I thought the writing for Jane’s character was wishy-washy throughout the series and lacked the strong point of view of the original book.

Lindbergh: The gossipy Greek chorus in the police interrogation room. I’ve never liked a TV storytelling tic less. At no point did the talking heads tell me anything the real characters hadn’t already conveyed more effectively, and their constant interjections were an oddly insecure note in a story that was otherwise confidently told. I wish they’d all fallen down some steps at trivia night.

Ryan: Wasting 15 minutes of the finale on Elvis karaoke. If that was Adam Scott singing “The Wonder of You,” then this is Matthew Broderick singing “Twist and Shout.”

Herman: The framing device, which gave us a perfectly intriguing pilot but clearly wasn’t built to last seven episodes. Somewhere around Episode 4, the lead detective was clearly running out of ways to say, “Some seriously ugly shit went down,” and the interjections from various townspeople had long curdled from entertaining to unwelcome. The interstitials were a set of training wheels that stayed on long after the show found its balance.

Zoladz: Gordon.

Varghese: After six episodes scored with consistently excellent and interesting music, that they chose to end the season with a cover of an already bland Stones song is a travesty.

Johnson: Zoë Kravitz’s character, Bonnie, didn’t get a fair shake. Sure, she’s not one of the big three, but we saw Laura Dern’s character rage, despair, spar with, and screw her husband. We didn’t get the same of Bonnie, who was often assuaging someone else’s feelings (usually her lowlife husband, Nathan’s — why are they compatible? Unclear) or an object of desire for other men. Rather than get into Bonnie’s own desires (or flaws), the show treated her as a foil for Madeline, and someone who could be around to deliver just the right plot point — the petition, Abigail’s virginity auction, and of course, the finale’s big reveal.

Knibbs: They should have spent more time at that outdoors fire-pit wine bar.

(HBO)
(HBO)

5. Who should win the Emmy for best actress in a miniseries: Reese Witherspoon or Nicole Kidman?

Baker: Ugh, this is hard … Nicole’s captivating presence and general excellence in cashmere were still not enough to distract from an Australian accent so strong I kept waiting for it to start plugging Foster’s. Reese responding to Nathan’s “I root for you” with a sincere “I appreciate that” was truly Penny Lane post-trade-deadline-esque. But since that’s a scene involving Nathan, it is disqualified for being extremely annoying. Tie goes to the runner!

Zoladz: Nicole Kidman.

Knibbs: Nicole Kidman.

Gruttadaro: “Don’t act like I never told ya.” — Kanye West, but also Nicole Kidman.

Kwak: Nicole Kidman deserves every acting award for this performance; she didn’t get a single beat wrong from start to finish. I’m still kind of flummoxed at how brilliant she was.

Edmondson: Nicole Kidman, hands down (and franken-accent aside). Her physical embodiment of Celeste’s aching body during the latter half of the series was understated and incredible.

Varghese: Nicole Kidman’s holistic portrayal of a woman in an abusive relationship is surely more worthy. Kidman captured all of the conflicting emotions that would be felt by a person in her situation. The anger, the sadness, the desperation, the denial, it’s all there in her voice, her face, her presence. It’s an amazing performance.

Johnson: Reese Witherspoon.

(HBO)
(HBO)

Dobbins: I underestimated Nicole Kidman at the beginning of the series, and I think her therapy scenes in particular brought an emotional weight that was otherwise lacking in the show. But Reese is my queen and Big Little Lies is her kingdom. Don’t screw this up.

Ryan:

Schube: Tell Reese to skip the Emmys and go straight to the Kennedy Center Honors.

Herman: Nicole will win, but Reese should. A nagging feeling of existential emptiness is a lot harder to imbue with sympathy from us non-tech-moneyed types than physical abuse. And yet in Madeline Mackenzie, Reese has given us an authentically comic creation with an unmistakable undertow of tragedy, a character whose obliviousness is as hilarious as her kindness is genuine. She makes sure we’re incapable of writing off Maddie’s problems even as the script makes clear they’re objectively less dire than Celeste’s. Case in point: Has any objectively clunky line been more elevated by its half-sarcastic, half-combative delivery as “I love my grudges — I tend to them like little pets”?

Lindbergh: Reese. Celeste has a harder life, but Madeline’s range of emotions makes for a more difficult role.

Giorgis: Nicole Kidman’s wig remains resolute even and especially amid moments of panic. It is the true star of BLL, the only character who can always be counted on.

(HBO)
(HBO)

6. Which beautiful house would you want to live in?

Baker: Chez Wright, because my decade-old Rainbow flip-flops deserve to live on backlit shelves.

Dobbins: The back deck, the closets, the giant hotel shower — give me Celeste and Perry’s house any day.

Herman: Nicole Kidman’s, the only one actually located in Monterey and now paid for in perpetuity by what has to be a stupendous life insurance policy.

Knibbs: Celeste and Perry had the best deck but the worst marriage, and their house is probably cursed now, so I’m gonna go with Mackenzie’s beachfront mansion.

Edmondson: Madeline’s. Can’t beat that walk-out beach access.

Ryan: I liked Dr. Amanda Reisman’s stained-glass cathedral!

Gruttadaro: I think Renata and Gordon’s, especially if Gordon promises to leave this outfit in the closet:

(HBO)
(HBO)

Zoladz: Literally any one that has a deck from which I could melodramatically throw wine glasses into the cold and indifferent sea.

Kwak: They all kind of blend together in my head, but I’m going to say Renata and Gordon’s house, if only because I, too, want to wear tinted shades and Adidas tracksuits and roam around a glass house in slip-on loafers clutching three fingers of bourbon.

Lindbergh: I’m not trying to play to populist sympathies here, but honestly? Jane’s house. I’d rather own any of the other houses, of course, but only so I could turn a tidy profit when I sold them for something with solid walls that’s much farther away from a beach. I don’t like sand.

Schube: Give me Bonnie and Reese’s ex-husband’s semimodern treehouse:

(HBO)
(HBO)

Giorgis: Bonnie and Nathan’s sprawling bohemian paradise, with its earth tones and ceramic wine cups, is my dream home. Turn up the Sade, please.

Varghese: So hard to choose. Can I just sleep in the back of the cool coffee shop?

7. Please match the character (Maddie, Celeste, Jane, Renata) with the wine varietal (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet, pinot noir).

Baker:

Maddie: chard

Renata: sauv

Jane: cab

Celeste: pinot

Dobbins:

Celeste: cabernet

Renata: sauvignon blanc

Jane: pinot noir

Maddie: chardonnay (I am aware that she is regularly shown drinking red wine but THAT IS A MISTAKE.)

Edmondson:

Celeste: chardonnay

Madeline: sauv blanc (Reese Witherspoon is human sauvignon blanc)

Jane: cab

Renata: pinot noir

Zoladz:

Maddie: sauvignon blanc

Celeste: pinot noir

Jane: the sweet, sweet blood of degenerate men, or, if they don’t have that, just the house red is fine

Renata: [Sends the wine back several times and passive-aggressively settles on an unsweetened iced tea.]

Ryan: I don’t know wine well enough. So …

Ed: a very floral IPA

Gordon: Belgian sour

Nathan: expensive canned lager designed to look like Schlitz or Pabst

Joseph: actual Schlitz

8. What is Chloe, the tiny DJ, doing 20 years from now?

(HBO)
(HBO)

Ryan: Music-supervising HBO’s Big Little Lies reboot.

Zoladz: Firing me.

Knibbs: Chloe runs a disgustingly successful viral music marketing startup, “Chlo’ Really,” which she launched after establishing a rabid following by livestreaming herself DJing her high school commute. She will have a septum piercing and she will date Amabella. They will live in Staten Island because 20 years from now California will already be destroyed in the Really Big One and Staten Island will be cool.

Gruttadaro: Single-handedly keeping the music industry afloat and teaching a class at Berkeley focused entirely on the key change in Weezer’s “Undone — The Sweater Song.”

Baker: I mean she’s basically Hayden Panettiere in Remember the Titans, so: married to a Ukrainian boxer, I guess?

Kwak: Probably somewhere in Bushwick (I guess in 20 years, it’ll be Brownsville), being pretty and insufferable — a.k.a. pretty insufferable.

Schube: Still talking your ear off about her college radio show, Big Little Tunes.

Johnson: She pauses, imperceptibly, while browsing the “New Arrivals” vinyl crate. The record store is playing the new single from Ziggy Chapman. She taught him everything he knows about music, but people think he’s god’s gift to neo-trap-rock. It used to drive her nuts, but these days — in between music supervision for Blue Ivy Carter’s production network and her monthly queer DJ night, “Pocketful of Rainbows” — she’s too busy to be bothered.

Varghese: Hopefully being the lead of a spinoff sitcom also featuring all of the children from Stranger Things.

Herman: There is no doubt in my mind a child of Madeline Mackenzie’s raised in Monterey, where the tap water is probably fortified with self-esteem, will accomplish whatever she sets out to do in life. In the premiere, we’re told that’s running her own label, though exactly what kind is never specified. Initially, I assumed fashion; her predilection for Leon Bridges and obscure Elvis tunes then switched me to record. And then I realized that no hyper-empowered child of liberal-yet-firmly-capitalist parents would ever let herself be constrained by, uh, labels. Chloe is almost certainly She-E-O of a burgeoning brand megaplex with tentacles in every culture industry and a foundation in none. Don’t ask her about her company’s maternity leave policy.

9. What project — TV show, movie, podcast, book club, whatever — should Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley do together next?

Dobbins: Are you familiar with the novels of Elin Hilderbrand? They’re all set on Nantucket; they all involve women making major personal decisions and also enjoying the local produce. We can do one a year.

Baker: Amy Sohn’s Motherland.

Edmondson: An HBO limited series of my other favorite Liane Moriarty novel, The Husband’s Secret.

Johnson: A 9 to 5 remake. Reese is Dolly Parton, Laura is Lily Tomlin, Nicole can be Jane Fonda, and I’m not sure Shailene Woodley even needs to be there.

Lindbergh: We’ll have to wait a while, but a Golden Girls remake.

Knibbs: I know Ocean’s Eight will be an all-female heist movie, but we need 10,000 all-female heist movies to wash away the bad taste left by 2008 caper Mad Money. Which is why they should remake Heat. Kidman and Witherspoon will take the De Niro and Pacino roles; Laura Dern will take the Val Kilmer role and really make it her own. Shailene can play the Jon Voight character. I’d like to see Selma Blair join the project, as well as Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah, so they can atone for Mad Money.

Kwak: We obviously need to recast the upcoming ScarJo comedy with the dead guy.

Zoladz: Literally anything but Ghostbusters.

Schube: Subscription-based, livestreamed bridge club.

Herman: A winery, obviously. Anything Francis Ford Coppola can do, YA franchise plus lifestyle-brand seed money can do better.

Gruttadaro: Fast & Furious 11

10. What is the biggest little lie?

Baker: In life? Eggplant parm. In the show? Nathan.

Edmondson: “The children didn’t see anything.”

Herman: That a longtime resident of Northern California would wear something as classically East Coast prepster as a Hermès scarf wrapped around the strap of a Longchamp. I can buy Maddie’s blazers and mysterious lack of Lululemon as the lingering traces of an unspecified (though I’m guessing Main Line) upbringing, but that minor costuming detail has been driving my inner Californian nuts all damn season.

Kwak: Ed’s never gonna find out, is he?

Zoladz: Ed Mackenzie’s singing voice.

Knibbs: Alexander Skarsgard’s prosthetic penis.

Johnson: That “Amabella” was an intentional character name and not the result of someone misreading “Annabella” scrawled on a napkin.

Varghese: That anyone without a job could afford to live in Monterey, California.

Dobbins: That prestige cable needs men.

(HBO)
(HBO)

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.

This post has been updated with more answers.