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Disco Demolition: Breaking Down the Fourth Episode of ‘Big Little Lies’

Nothing good ever comes from a costume party in Monterey, so let’s strap in for Amabella’s birthday!

HBO/Ringer illustration

The sound of waves crashing against jagged rocks is growing louder, the strumming and humming of Michael Kiwanuka’s “Cold Little Heart” more distinct—that’s right, Big Little Lies has returned! The star-studded miniseries is no longer a miniseries. So join us each week as we recap the latest in lies, backhanded compliments, and carpool crises. The journey continues with Season 2’s fourth episode, “She Knows.”


It’s autumn in Monterey, which is to say that it is still 65 beautiful, windswept, beachy degrees. Halloween is coming, Madeline and Ed are still on the outs, and the Kleins are in bankruptcy court, where they are forced to surrender their Tesla, Gordon’s Rolex, Renata’s wedding ring (briefly), and her deepest, darkest cosmetic surgery secrets (permanently). No word on the trains.

We’re also treated to Amabella’s blowout disco birthday party—Renata’s last hurrah as a member of the obscenely wealthy parent class, complete with wigs, sequins, wacky eye shadow, a performance by the Trammps, an Ed versus Nathan shoving match, Amabella wearing a miniature version of Renata’s dress, and a stroke suffered by Bonnie’s mother, Elizabeth, which might have been caused when she tried to suck the evil out of her daughter’s head with her hands. Never a dull moment in Monterey!

The episode’s title, “She Knows,” seems at first to refer to Mary Louise, who knows—or at least thinks she knows—that Perry’s death was not accidental, and is mobilizing accordingly. By the episode’s end, however, there are other options, none of which bode well for our resident secret-keepers. Is it Detective Quinlan—who has run-ins this week with Bonnie, Jane, Madeline, and Renata—who finally knows the truth? Or is it Bonnie’s mother, Elizabeth, whose maybe-magical intuition has led her to some information—either that Bonnie was the one who pushed Perry, or that something bad, literal or metaphorical, is coming for her daughter? The episode closes with Elizabeth awakening in the hospital and seeing what might have been a vision: Bonnie’s body floating face down in the surf. The show has made ample use of both flashbacks and cuts to the future—scarcely 10 minutes could go by last season without a shot of police at the scene of the fateful fundraiser gala—and it’s worth wondering just how seriously we’re meant to take this. Either way, the weight of this secret is getting heavy for everyone.

The Investigation Into the Death of Perry Wright

Detective Quinlan appears at last to be zeroing in on the Monterey Five. First, she turns up at the hospital, where Bonnie sits beside her still-unconscious mother. It turns out Quinlan is there for an unrelated DUI case—but our resident yoga teacher doesn’t learn that until after she charged at the detective and shouted, “Seriously? What the fuck?” Not exactly the least eyebrow-raising interaction you might have with a police officer who (rightly) suspects your involvement in a violent death. And when an apologetic doctor tries to explain to Quinlan that Bonnie is there for another patient, the detective replies, “I know who she is.” (Cough, she knows, cough.)

Screenshots via HBO

Then Quinlan appears at Monterey’s second most popular coffee klatch, interrupting Madeline and Renata’s avocado-toast-slash-gossip-session to tell Madeline that, oh, by the way, she heard she gave quite the rousing speech at the global warming assembly. That speech, you might recall, had little to do with global warming and quite a lot to do with Madeline’s life falling apart. “I’ll look for it,” Quinlan says of the chance of a recording. Seems like our detective’s been paying awfully close attention to the Monterey Five, and now they know it for sure.

Speaking of knowing: Mary Louise finally meets Bonnie, and fixes her with such an intense stare that Bonnie wonders whether she knows about her role in Perry’s death. It’s hard to imagine that she could—given all the revelations in the second episode, she has seemed confident that it’s Celeste who did the deed—but she at the very least seems to know that Bonnie was there, and that all five of the women were complicit.

Feud of the Week (and, This Week in Meryl Streep)

If this whole season has been one long exercise in Mary Louise inviting herself to a party where she isn’t actually welcome, “She Knows” gives us that in literal form. Madeline hosts a pumpkin-carving party at her house for the Monterey Five and their kids, and Mary Louise, having heard about it from the twins, shows up unannounced. As she has so often done this season, she successfully barges her way in, and goes on to happily inform Jane that she’s secured herself her very own Monterey home—in Jane’s apartment complex. Sleepovers with Ziggy will abound!

Celeste takes her aside to ask whether she really thinks it’s appropriate to move in alongside the woman her son raped, an act of such violence and terror that we’re still seeing Jane struggle to be physically intimate with new beau, Corey. Mary Louise again questions whether Perry really did rape Jane, and suggests that it might have been Perry who was a victim—of Celeste. Celeste then slaps Mary Louise. (Imagine being told to slap—or stage-slap, even—Meryl Streep!) But Mary Louise wins the point: She straightens up, inspects her glasses, and asks Celeste coolly, “What should we call that—foreplay?”

As the episode progresses, we see her plan come into focus. She hires a lawyer—the best available in the area, we learn, and one who’s not above playing dirty—and petitions for custody of Max and Josh, claiming that Celeste is unstable and unfit to be their guardian. She isn’t wrong that Celeste is struggling: In “She Knows,” Celeste takes home a local bartender—not usually her style!—in an Ambien-and-booze-induced haze. And when Mary Louise arrives the next morning to drop the twins off, Celeste is still woozy, with no memory of the night before—to the point that she is as shocked as her sons and appalled mother-in-law when the shirtless bartender comes strolling out into the kitchen. (“Hey buddy,” he offers, and then understandably peaces the hell out.) This is the second time we’ve seen Celeste go on an Ambien misadventure this season: Last time, she crashed her car and had no memory of even getting into it. She’s not in a good place.

But are things so bad that Mary Louise should be granted custody? Throughout the season, we’ve seen her gathering evidence to support her claim, and if, or maybe when, Celeste falls under formal suspicion for Perry’s death, things will look grimmer for her still.

The Five Meanest Things People Said to Each Other in Episode 4

5. Madeline: “So you’re all talking about me behind my back, blaming me? That’s rich. That’s really rich.”

Celeste: “We’re not blaming you behind your back, Madeline.”

Bonnie: “You’re right here. It’s to your face.”

4. “I’m sick of all the pretending. What do I mean, pretending? Are you kidding me? Are you looking at this room? This is pretending. You, me, us, everything.” —Ed to Madeline, while wearing a ridiculous Afro wig

3. “I’m just a little bit curious as to what you’re doing and if you plan to take my kid next.” —Jane to Mary Louise

2. “We worked it out. It’s better that we don’t have to sit around those penniless losers.” —Renata on avoiding the other participants in bankruptcy court

1. “What should we call that—foreplay?” —Mary Louise on being slapped, truly one of the meaner things that has ever been uttered on Big Little Lies

Most Profound Child of the Week

For Chloe’s school project, she is asked to put two opposites on a board. She chose to place a drawing of a door beside a drawing of Madeline. Why, you ask?

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.