In its seventh and final episode, HBO's Big Little Lies finally revealed the identity of the murder victim, and of the murderer. Was there a big twist? Yes, and no. As the season progressed, it rapidly became obvious that the whodunnit element of this series from director Jean-Marc Vallée was really just a framing device.
Far from a tightly plotted murder mystery of Hitchcockian proportions, #BigLittleLies was essentially a character study — and after six weeks of getting to know the women of Monterey, intimately, the audience cares enough for Vallée to loop back to that central question: Who lost their life at the Otter Bay trivia night?
Obviously there are major spoilers beyond this point, so if for some reason you're reading this before seeing the finale, watch it and come back. Reading about this superb piece of television is no substitute for actually experiencing it.
Who Was The Murder Victim?
After weeks of escalating jealousy, loss of control and abuse of Celeste, it's Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) who gets killed at the trivia night. That wasn't a surprise in and of itself, and you may have seen it coming — I did, from around episode three, before briefly doubting myself and then coming back to the suspicion — but Big Little Lies didn't need to produce a twist here.
Who Was The Murderer?
In the moments immediately prior to the murder, as Jane sets eyes on Perry for the first time and realizes he is her rapist, Vallée's camera switches from Jane to Madeline and then to Celeste, each comprehending in a wordless exchange the true extent of Perry's crimes.
We cut forward a few moments — this show's lively, choppy editing style is perfect for keeping details hidden until the right moment — and Perry's dead, not shot as we were lead to believe but bleeding out from a head wound on the steps which lead up from the road to Otter Bay school.
In the police station, the women cover for each other. Watched from the perspective of the female police detective through the one-sided mirror of the interrogation room, the women's dialogue is muted. Their words are irrelevant, their identical statements deliberately designed to protect the killer.
Who saw that coming? Unless you've read Liane Moriarty's book, probably not you. After witnessing Perry's aggression toward Celeste, and identifying the fear on her face, Bonnie follows Perry down to the steps just in time to witness the physical confrontation with the four women. Something snaps. Unseen by the others, she runs over in a rage and pushes Perry off Celeste. His death is more or less immediate.
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If Bonnie seems like a slightly random choice, or a convoluted way of bringing all five women together, she's not — in the book it's explained that she grew up in an abusive household, watching her father get violent with her mother until the age of 20. Although that backstory is (smartly) excised from the script here, the fact that she recognized something between Perry and Celeste which the others at the party didn't feels like a clear unspoken hint that her history is carried over.
It ties in with two of the show's major themes — that kids are never as blissfully ignorant as we imagine, and that from one case to the next, the signifiers of an abusive relationship are always there, even if people are largely blind to them.
What Happens Next?
In the book, the women protect Bonnie but she ultimately confesses her crime and pleads involuntary manslaughter, receiving a suspended sentence and 200 hours community service.
The series bends that ending in a different direction. After Perry's funeral, bravely attended by Jane (Celeste's silent gesture of appreciation is easily their most meaningful interaction across the series), we see the five women spending time with their kids on the beach.
After everything they've been through together, it makes perfect sense that the pettiness of the Renata-Madeline "feud" has now been buried, ditto any sense of discomfort between Madeline and Bonnie. The sight of the five women united both by their secret and their shared trauma is a manifestation of Big Little Lies' ultimate thesis: That while society encourages women to pull one another apart, their deep capacity for love and empathy will ultimately win out.
There are no plans for a Season 2 right now (if it happened it would be an original story, but Vallée says he's done), but the very final shot of the episode finds the women being watched on the beach through binoculars. As a collective, they may have survived and emerged the other side, but just as life rarely offers true closure, we're left to imagine that this chapter in the women's lives is not quite done. It's the perfect ending to a series about life in all of its mess and its glory.
Was the conclusion of the whodunnit satisfying, were you surprised it was Bonnie, and how do you feel now that Big Little Lies is over?