It would be a mighty challenge for a person to count the number of television shows -- the scripted, lightly scripted and wholly unscripted -- that pit female characters against one another. Entire networks have been built upon the foundation of housewife-on-housewife drama; “I’m not here to make friends” is proclaimed so regularly by reality television villainesses that it’s now trite.
At first glance, it appeared as if HBO’s “Big Little Lies” could be filed away as another program that superficially examined infighting among women. Factions emerged among elementary school mothers in a tony coastal community. A rotating Greek chorus shared biting critiques and baseless speculation. Plotting and confrontation occurred over coffee shop tabletops.
Yet after Sunday night’s finale of the seven-episode miniseries, fans largely agreed that the conclusion of “Big Little Lies,” based on Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name, was a demonstrable celebration of sisterhood and “girl power.”
As always, passionate viewers convened online, praising tour de force performances from a cast that included Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz:
Kidman’s Celeste Wright, an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, had outwardly projected marital bliss and stability to her immediate circle of friends. Behind closed doors, she suffered silently as a victim of domestic abuse. It was among the most realistically painful storylines of the show. The yarn of truth unspools during the finale, and -- in more than one context -- her fellow mothers rally in support of her:
And while “Big Little Lies” tacitly concedes that female friendship is often messy and complicated -- the women compete with one another, name-call and interact with varying degrees of honesty -- the unity displayed at series’ end resonated:
Juxtaposed with a gruesome murder scene, the finale’s last moments show the women gathered on an otherwise empty beach. There’s no allusion to their past conflicts and divisions; they are splayed across beach blankets with glasses of wine, as their children frolic in the sand. Viewers took note of the conspicuous absence of men: