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What Is Up With the Detective on ‘Big Little Lies’?

More specifically: What is up with her and that lighter?!

HBO/Ringer illustration

Season 2 of Big Little Lies starts off in unfamiliar territory. The villain has been vanquished; the Monterey Five—Madeline Mackenzie, Celeste Wright, Jane Chapman, Renata Klein, and Bonnie Carlson—are all getting along; there has been no Amabella-adjacent drama. It is almost as if everything has been resolved, as if the show was supposed to be a miniseries [winks]. But since it’s not, the new season must find new conflict and new enemies for the main protagonists to face. Meryl Streep’s Mary Louise, the mother of the late Perry Wright, is an obvious fill-in in this regard, as is the overwhelming guilt hanging over much of the Monterey Five. But there is another figure looming, a character who, up until this point, has remained in the (extremely literal) shadows ...

Stills via HBO

Detective Adrienne Quinlan is introduced in the first few minutes of Season 1, as she stalks up to the scene of the crime on Trivia Night with her partner. She then appears throughout the season, questioning characters about a mysterious death and the politics of Otter Bay and staring at people threateningly through a one-way mirror. And most memorably, Quinlan appears in the final moments of the Season 1 finale, peering through binoculars at the Monterey Five as they frolic on the beach. In Season 2, she still hasn’t given up; according to Renata’s gossip grapevine, the case is basically resolved but notably not closed. Though that hasn’t exactly stopped Quinlan from creeping and, presumably, obsessively reviewing the tapes of the Monterey Fives’ statements. But despite being correct in her suspicion that more happened on Trivia Night, Quinlan simply doesn’t have any proof to go on. Bonnie’s current crisis may provide her with a new lead before long, but for now Quinlan is just a detective with a nagging obsession that could be seen as debilitating.

The more we see of Quinlan, the more questions I have: Why is she so invested in cracking what seems to be a basic case of self-defense? What does she have against well-lit environments? What is the nature of her relationship with Susie Burke from IBM? (Renata seems to know, but I need details.) And most importantly, what in the world is with that lighter?

Is the clicking a nervous tic? Just a side effect of a stressful job and restless hands? Or is it something more sinister? Perhaps it’s a fixation device for hypnosis, like Catherine Keener’s spoon in Get Out. How does her poor partner feel? Isn’t he losing his mind over that constant clicking? Does he ever just burst out and yell, “Are you gonna actually use the fucking thing or not?!”

The most frustrating thing at this point—aside from the sound of that lighter—is that we don’t have answers about any of this; her true motivations or the reasons behind her obsessions. Quinlan may have committed several crimes against fashion so far, and she may be one more lighter click away from permanent hatred on my part, but for now, she doesn’t seem particularly evil—just a little too committed to bringing our favorite ladies to justice. But Season 2 is still young, and how Quinlan and Mary Louise will factor into things is still yet to be seen. The most we can say is that neither will make life easier for the Monterey Five. As Season 2 ramps up, I look forward to seeing Quinlan face off against Mackenzie and the rest. In the meantime, will someone please get her a Juul?

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.