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The World Is Ending: Breaking Down the Third Episode of ‘Big Little Lies’

In an episode that sets up the drama for the rest of the season … a bunch of second-graders learn about the terrifying ills of climate change

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 third episode, “The End of the World.”

A wise man (OK, a fictional priest) once told me (OK, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and assorted international audiences) that love is awful. And, well, if you take Big Little Lies’ word for it, that’s not far off.

In “The End of the World,” just about every Monterey relationship is in shambles. Madeline and Ed are attempting to work through the aftermath of her infidelity; they’re in couples therapy with Monterey’s apparent only therapist, who so far seems something less than empathetic. In their down time, Ed is (reasonably!) standoffish, going so far as to bond with Bonnie in the hopes of antagonizing both Madeline and Nathan at the same time. As for Bonnie, she says of her husband, “Nathan has no idea who I am.” And over in the Klein household, Renata and Gordon are on the ropes. “When I first met you, you had your guardrails up to your earlobes,” Gordon tells her. “Penetrating you was like piercing a cement wall.” (Everyone needs a kink!) She tells him to sell his toy trains.

All screenshots via HBO

The lone exception to this woe is Jane, who finally went on a real date with Cute Aquarium Guy. He’s a weirdo, to be sure—he goes on a long rant about sustainable fisheries, which is fine in theory but gosh, he really gets into it—but he’s also thoughtful, kind, and willing to let Jane move at her own speed. After an attempted kiss frightens her, he later asks permission to gently hug her. He bonds with Ziggy, teaching him to surf. He is, so far as we know, a genuinely good guy, and one who makes Jane happy. Mazel tov to everyone involved.

The Investigation Into the Death of Perry Wright

It seems like Detective Quinlan might have finally gotten her big break: Making good on her promise from last week, Mary Louise, now armed with many of Celeste’s darkest and seemingly damning secrets, goes to pay the police a visit. Quinlan—whom we’ve seen semicovertly monitoring the Monterey Five in recent episodes—insists she has no new information to share.

“You don’t believe my son just slipped,” Mary Louise asks, craning her head, “do you?”

We don’t know what Mary Louise says after that, but we do know that Quinlan does not believe that Perry’s death was an accident. Last week, Mary Louise learned that Perry beat Celeste (she might throw an “allegedly” in here), that Perry fathered another child with Jane, that that encounter was also violent, that Celeste discovered this the night of Perry’s death, and that Celeste planned to leave Perry, and told him so the night he died. In “Tell-Tale Hearts,” Mary Louise suggests that together, these things struck her as deeply suspicious. She stops short of using the word “motive,” but that might be where Quinlan comes in.

  • In terms of the central plot of the series, “The End of the World” moved slowly. But every big explosion needs a setup.

Feud of the Week

Tough break for tots, real and fictional alike, born circa 2010 (yikes): The planet they’ve inherited is reeling, almost certainly irreversibly, and the world they’ll know is one of collapsing ice shelves, devastating wildfires, superstorms, thousand-year floods, resource scarcity, migration crises, and all that jazz. Sorry, guys!

But do the wee ones really need to know? Or more specifically, do the wee ones in tony Monterey, whose well-tended trusts all but guarantee that they personally will float above most of the decades’ coming nastiness even as whole Pacific nations sink beneath the seas, really need to know? The resounding opinion of the parents of Otter Bay Elementary: keep that shit to yourself.

Enter Principal Nippal, whose lofty environmental convictions brought about what might be Lies’ most deliciously preposterous setup yet: a global warming assembly. After new second-grade teacher Mr. Perkins (Mo McRae) turns a classroom reading of Charlotte’s Web into a lesson on—say it with me now—SUS-TAIN-A-BIL-I-TY, poor, ever-sensitive Amabella Klein can’t cope.

“I think [Charlotte] didn’t want any pigs to get eaten,” Mr. Perkins tells his attentive 9-year-olds. “And we all know why, don’t we?”

“How many gallons of water does it take to make a single pound of sausage?” he asks. “A thousand,” the class chants back. “And how many showers does that add up to?” he continues. “Over 50,” the class replies. It’s at this point that a closet door swings open, revealing Amabella collapsed on the floor, becoming—we learn later from a child psychologist dressed as Little Bo Peep, naturally—the school’s first known victim of global warming; or at least of a global-warming-induced anxiety attack.

The resulting furor—Renata storms into Principal Nippal’s office and pledges to (1) get rich again, (2) buy a polar bear for each Otter Bay student, and (3) squish him like a bug—leads the principal to convene a parent assembly to address, you guessed it, climate change. It devolves into a shouting match in 20 seconds flat, leaving Nippal to shout “shut up!” at the parents from the stage. He then summons Madeline to the microphone, who’s too broken up about her problems with Ed to focus much on carbon. “Most of us know that most endings to most stories fucking suck,” she says. “We have to tell our children that life is an illusion and sometimes things don’t work out.”

Well then. Maybe look into some child-dosage Xanax?

This Week in Meryl Streep

Mary Louise won’t take no for an answer. First, she turns up at Jane’s work and attempts to convince her to have Ziggy take a paternity test—which she’s sure will be proof that Perry was not a rapist. When Jane turns her down—she’s perfectly certain of what happened the night Ziggy was conceived, thanks very much—Mary Louise goes further still: She shows up outside Jane’s home, waiting by her car until she walks out with Ziggy, in effect forcing an encounter with her grandson.

Jane is much cooler about this than she needs to be. In lieu of seeking the restraining order that I exhorted her to get through my TV on a minimum of three occasions, Jane goes out to coffee with Mary Louise. There, they gab about Ziggy, and Mary Louise shows her photos of Raymond, Perry’s little brother who died when he was 5, and who just so happens to be Ziggy’s doppelgänger. At the very least, Mary Louise now seems convinced of Ziggy’s parentage, and seems as though she might slowly be coming around to the idea that Perry was not the man she believed him to be: “I just can’t surrender to this notion that he was …” She looks away. “Evil. I can’t—I just do so want to believe there was good in him. I can’t—”

Mary Louise cuts off that particular thought. Is it that she can’t surrender to the idea that he was evil, or that she suddenly finds that she can’t see him as a bearer of goodness? She’s warm with Jane, and it’s possible to imagine that she is finally softening somewhat and accepting reality for what it is. Or is she?

About that other son: We’ve now had multiple mentions of Raymond, and it seems possible that Mary Louise’s defense of Perry, and of Perry’s violence, began long before he fell down the stairs. If Perry, then just a child himself, was responsible for his brother’s death, that would mean that Mary Louise has likely spent most of her life aware of what he was capable of and apparently protecting him. Does Mary Louise really believe Perry was a good man? And if she’s spent so many years knowing the truth and fighting for him regardless, what might she do now?

The Five Meanest Things People Said to Each Other in Episode 3

5. Therapist: “Why did your first husband leave you?”

Madeline: “Because he’s an asshole.”

4. Renata: “Yes, hello, doctor, I would like my daughter transferred to Stanford, please.”

Doctor: “Because?”

Renata: “Because it’s Stanford”—[gestures around the room]—“I mean, please.”

3. “What … what the fuck?” —Renata, on encountering Mary Louise

2. “I will be rich again. I will rise up. I will buy a fucking polar bear for every kid in this school. And then I will squish you like the bug that you are. Pretends like he’s not a smoker, hasn’t been laid in 15 fucking years, don’t you talk to me like that. And you? I can’t be bothered to squish you.” —Renata, to the people who take care of her daughter on a daily basis.

1. “I told you—these second-grade mothers? They’re Shakespearean. That woman? She’s the fuckin’ Medusa of Monterey. And yes, I smoke. Do you want one of these?” —Principal Nippal

Most Profound Child of the Week

Shouts to Amabella, whose anxiety over the destruction of the earth (and, OK, a little anxiety over her parents) caused her to have a panic attack at just 9 years old. But we’ll give the award to her classmates, whose cheerful mantras brought the thing about:

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.