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A Mouth Full of Tissues: Breaking Down the Sixth Episode of ‘Big Little Lies’

Everybody wants to rule the world, but the Monterey Five is quickly learning that no one ever can

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 penultimate episode, “The Bad Mother.”

As we barrel down Highway 1 toward Big Little Lies’ Season 2 finale, it’s anyone’s guess as to what—or who—is going to fall apart first, potentially taking down the whole Monterey house of cards in the process.

Bonnie’s mother, Elizabeth, has yet to show signs of consciousness, and her doctors seem ready to throw in the towel. “Can we kill her?” asks Bonnie, who’s been fantasizing about doing exactly that. “You’d do it for a dog.” She also fantasizes about standing up in court and confessing to Perry Wright’s murder, so things are going well in her imagination. And she finally admits—albeit to her unconscious mother—that no, she doesn’t love Nathan: “I resent you for making me feel so fucking worthless,” she says, “that I settled for a man that I don’t—.” She stops there, but we can guess how she really feels about Nathan, who has never seemed to be her equal in any sense. That’s not the only thing she confesses to Elizabeth, but we’ll get to that later.

All stills via HBO

Elsewhere, alas, Gordon’s trains are being auctioned off at last, even the valuable, vintage ones (oh yeah, he knew what those suckers were worth)—but that’s not all. Gordon, it turns out, wasn’t just sleeping with the family’s French au pair of six years, Juliette—he was paying for her, ahem, services. Renata has the privilege of learning this at a bankruptcy hearing, in which Juliette asks the trustee overseeing the dissolution of the Klein estate about her severance for, as she put it, “other services rendered for which I was promised to be taken care of.” Pressed for more detail, she adds, “stress management.” Renata’s got a lot of revenge she’ll need to take care of once she finally—get your forced smile on!—rises up again.

Also in the infidelity camp: Ed meets Tori (and her boobs, which, you might have heard, have been done) for coffee, where she proceeds to tell him, “Look, let me tell you what my shrink told me: It’s not about inflicting payback on your cheating spouse. It’s about getting a sense that you didn’t just take it. You didn’t just swallow your pride and resign yourself to being some wimpy-ass victim.” Furthermore, she says, she’s attracted to Ed. “I keep both a masturbation diary and a bucket list,” she says. “You made both.”

But later on, Ed walks in on Madeline dancing alone in her wedding dress and veil to Patti Smith’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”—Ed’s pick for their wedding—and he seems to have a change of heart.

“Well, like I said before, you can’t just wave a wand,” he says, having lamented earlier that there was no magic that could make him believe in their marriage again. “But that was pretty fucking close.” Will he still feel that way when he learns, as it seems many in Monterey might soon, what really happened to Perry?

The Investigation Into the Death of Perry Wright

Celeste’s guardianship hearing for the twins is underway, and Mary Louise’s lawyer seems intent on painting her as an unstable parent with a pattern of risky behavior, substance use, and violence. “I’m not going to look you in the eye and say that I am healed,” Celeste tells the judge, “but I will say this: I am in the process of healing.”

She is asked, under oath, if she pushed Perry, and she insists that she did not. We know that this is true, but Detective Quinlan, who held down a seat in the courtroom during Celeste’s questioning, didn’t look convinced—particularly after she turned her gaze toward Bonnie, who suddenly looked uncomfortable on the other side of the room.

Meanwhile, Jane confronts Corey, who insists that he’s not a cop and that he was summoned to the police station by Quinlan. “I told her the truth: that you didn’t tell me anything,” he tells Jane. But he adds that Quinlan knows that Perry raped her and that he is Ziggy’s father. “She said with five witnesses, the odds are in her favor,” Corey continues. “One of you will finally crack. The first one who does gets a break, the other four are fucked.”

In theory, all five women could continue to stick together. Whatever the pressures of Quinlan’s questioning or potential turns under oath on the stand in Celeste’s guardianship hearing, if the Monterey Five stick to the story, there’s no one who could refute them: They’re the only witnesses. But we now know that Quinlan—who we also saw this week sitting with Mary Louise and replaying interrogation footage of Celeste, and who is apparently under no pressure from her bosses to stop poking at a case that we last heard was all but closed—believes that two of the women, Jane and Celeste, had motives to kill Perry that night. And Mary Louise’s lawyer trotted out a The Staircase–esque digital projection of Perry’s fall that purports to prove that he couldn’t have fallen as far as he did if he simply tripped. Someone, he says, had to have pushed him. It’s hard to imagine Jane or Celeste being willing to take the fall for that. So to speak.

Oh, and there’s this: Bonnie’s now keeping a bright-green diary, in which we see her scrawl a confession to Perry’s murder. It’s a Chekhov’s gun if there ever was one.

Feud of the Week

Madeline and Bonnie, who were at each other’s throats for most of last season—OK, it was just Madeline being at the then-zen Bonnie’s throat—have largely been at peace this time around, even as their husbands’ bizarrely swear-heavy feud has escalated. But as both Madeline and Bonnie grow more anxious about keeping the truth of Perry’s death a secret—Madeline is stressing about lying once again to Ed; Bonnie is stressing about, uh, being a murderer (or at the very least a manslaughterer)—their detente has frayed.

When Bonnie mocks Madeline’s attempts to smooth everything over, Madeline snaps. “Oh, fuck off, Bonnie,” she says. “You know what, I’m so tired of taking care of you and your fucking feelings. I know your mom had a stroke, but let’s not forget you’re the one who pushed him.”

Madeline doesn’t know this (yet?), but Bonnie’s also the one who’s out confessing this in the wild. Alone in her mother’s hospital room, she launches into a tearful recounting of the emotional and physical abuse she endured at Elizabeth’s hands as a child. “But mainly,” she says, “I resent you for killing a man. I killed Celeste’s husband. He didn’t slip. I pushed him. I snapped, and when I lunged at him, I was pushing you.” Bugging a hospital room doesn’t seem likely (or legal), but it doesn’t help that Bonnie wrote down her talking points in her diary ahead of time.

Madeline eventually tries to make peace with Bonnie on their way into Celeste’s hearing, but Bonnie cuts her off. “It’s getting to you, isn’t it?” she asks. Before she can respond, Renata joins them, presenting a case study of blazers:

Seems like it might be getting to everybody.

This Week in Meryl Streep

The good lady Streep mostly loomed this episode: nodding sternly from the petitioner’s table at the guardianship hearing, in the dark next to Detective Quinlan as they replayed Celeste’s interviews with police.

At the hearing, Mary Louise trots out all the sinister legal dark arts, from revealing that she had photographers tailing Celeste and documenting months’ worth of her liaisons with men, to coming to her table before the hearing began to tell her with faux sincerity, “I just want you to know how sorry I am that it’s come to this, but at the end of the day we are still family.”

“We’re not family, Mary Louise,” Celeste replies.

And she looms over the other mothers too. When Jane comes to Mary Louise’s door after the hearing to beg her to call off the custody fight, Mary Louise does just what she said she wouldn’t: She hints that she might try to take Ziggy from her too. “Are you struggling, Jane?” she asks. “With your conscience, perhaps? Ziggy told me you purchased a gun. Did you plan to use it on my son? Did you move to Monterey to hunt him down?”

And even when Mary Louise is quiet, her presence can still be felt. For instance when, well, Renata decides she needs to stoop to make her point about how important it is for Madeline to continue keeping Ed in the dark.

You know what they say about short people and trustworthiness.

The Five Meanest Things People Said to Each Other in Episode 6

5. “We’re not family, Mary Louise.” —Celeste

4. “Hey, who wants to touch something prickly? OK—she’s just to my left.” —Corey to a group of children, while Jane glowers at his side

3. “I resent you for making me feel so fucking worthless that I settled for a man that I don’t—” —Bonnie, absolutely ethering Nathan to her mother

2. “Oh, fuck off, Bonnie. You know what, I’m so tired of taking care of you and your fucking feelings. I know your mom had a stroke, but let’s not forget you’re the one who pushed him.” —Madeline to Bonnie

1. “Shut the fuck up for the rest of your fucked-up, fucking life, do you hear me? I don’t want to hear one fucking word from your fucked-up, little fucking twerp mouth on why you fucked up no matter what fucked-up excuse you come up with, you fucking fuck shit. Fuck it! The fucking nanny?!” —Renata as she stuffs tissues into Gordon’s mouth

Most Profound Child of the Week

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.