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‘Big Little Lies’ Review: A Prime Suspect Emerges As Episode 3 Crosses the Line Between Passion and Rage

Who's the victim and the killer in "Big Little Lies"? We've got a few new theories after a telling hour of television.

Big Little Lies Adam Scott Reese Witherspoon

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Big Little Lies” Episode 3, “Living the Dream.”]

Sex and violence have been interlinked throughout “Big Little Lies,” but Episode 3 took on the connection directly. A powerful, slow-building scene at the heart of the episode between Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) voiced the internal dilemma facing an abusive couple who doesn’t fully understand their dangerous desires. Does Celeste like her “dirty secret”? Is Perry always aware where the line is? Are they addicted to the danger? The pain? The violence? Or is Celeste merely trapped in an abusive relationship she doesn’t know how to free herself from?

Signs certainly point toward the latter, but the show’s darkly comic cuts emphasize the complicated connection between passion and rage. Immediately following Celeste and Perry’s quiet confession, we cut to Renata (Laura Dern) and Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling) having loud, angry sex in his office bathroom. Despite Renata’s concerns about having sex on his desk because she’d be “too loud,” the bathroom proves too close to the rest of the office to offer sanctuary. And just when you think the harsh juxtaposition of violent attraction is over, boom: There’s Ed (Adam Scott) and Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), a sexless couple sitting in bored silence as the principal drones on about the fateful fundraiser.

READ MORE: Reese Witherspoon Made ‘Big Little Lies’ Because She Had Enough of Hollywood Reducing Women to ‘Wives and Girlfriends’

All of these scenes build to that punchline: seeing the Mackenzies’ expressionless faces, oblivious to the passion and problems of their enemies and friends. “I don’t know, do I?” Ed asks, when Madeline asks if he knows Renata, further emphasizing the disconnect. And from their safe, serene world, we shift to another confession: Jane’s (Shailene Woodley); this one wholly tragic, free from the confusion and comedy built into the earlier sex scenes. Jane’s story explains a lot, and it opens up many possibilities regarding who died and who did it.

Below are our updated theories and thoughts, focusing on the main characters and building off what we learned this week. Leave your own thoughts at the bottom. (But book readers: Don’t spoil the fun for us by spilling secrets.)

Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and Ed (Adam Scott)

Big Little Lies Santiago Cabrera Reese Witherspoon Episode 3

Madeline and Ed became a lot more interesting last week, when the two had it out on the beach and Ed paid an intimidating visit to Nathan. (Though, for the record, we think Nathan is overreacting big time to Ed’s perfectly reasonable actions.) Still, the couple went through a tough time this week when Abigail told her mother she’d rather live with her dad and Bonnie.

Such a switchover is ripe for conflict, especially when the two couples are already spitting fire at one another. Madeline could go after Bonnie for any number of perceived slights or mistakes the step-mom makes with Abigail. Or maybe Ed follows through on his pseudo-threats and takes Nathan out. Both scenarios seem a little easy for a complex show, but hey: Passion can lead to problems.

Odds She’s the Killer: 12:1
Odds She Got Killed: 3:1

Odds He’s the Killer: 4:1
Odds He Got Killed: 8:1

Jane (Shailene Woodley) and Ziggy (Iain Armitage)

Big Little Lies Shailene Woodley

We knew that gun would come back into play, though we don’t think a dream sequence counts as fulfilling Chekhov’s principle. Still, Jane’s revelation explained why she’s sleeping with a pistol under her pillow, as well as her suspicions about Ziggy. She clearly wants to trust him more than she actually does, and that’s because he’s the son of a violent, lying rapist. Considering how she described her rape — “and then he changed” from romantic to “extremely aggressive” — Jane likely fears, deep down within her shamed soul, that Ziggy might flip a switch, too, becoming violent at the drop of a hat and maybe even dangerous.

Is there a logic to her concerns? Not really, but fear isn’t always based in logic. It’s based in instinct. No matter how much Jane wants to believe her boy is innocent, sweet, and perfect, his origin story is a horrific moment of contradiction for her. “He gave me my Ziggy,” she says, but that’s not all he gave her. What damage is she hiding? What is she capable of, if pushed too far or simply pushed at the wrong time?

Odds She’s the Killer: 15:1
Odds She Got Killed: 14:1

Odds He’s the Killer: 12:1
Odds He Got Killed: 10:1

Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Perry (Alexander Skarsgard)

Big Little Lies Nicole Kidman Alexander Skarsgaard

Let’s be straight about something: Perry is a piece of shit. Acknowledging the complexities of this couple’s emotional attachment to one another doesn’t absolve this abusive garbage person from his actions. And the fact Celeste finds some sort of twisted excitement in mixing violent fights with intense make-up sex is in no way comparable to his horrific acts. She’s responding to his choices, not making them for herself. Celeste wants to make this work because she loves her husband, and she’ll internally justify that instinct for…how long?

Hopefully not too long, as Perry’s admission to the therapist is far from a breakthrough moment. He was trying to be honest in order to evoke pity and compassion from his wife. He may even believe what he says about worrying she’ll leave him, but that kind of justification isn’t anywhere near good enough to make up for what he’s done — as if anything could be. It’s merely encouraging the cycle of abuse so many loving relationships gone bad become. It’s tragic in its own right, and it doesn’t spell good fortune for either of them in terms of who did it and who gets killed.

Odds She’s the Killer: 3:1
Odds She Got Killed: 4:1

Odds He’s the Killer: 4:1
Odds He Got Killed: 3:1

Renata (Laura Dern) and Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling)

Big Little Lies Jeffrey Nordling

Oh, Renata. No matter how angry you get, I’m never going to believe you’d do anything about it. You and your pot-smoking, heavy-drinking hubby are smokescreens meant to cloud our view of the real killer and victim. You’re excellent foils for Madeline & co., of course. Every protagonist needs an antagonist, and you’re so damn empathetic sometimes we wonder whose side we’re supposed to be on: Madeline’s or yours.

Still, unless there are some important secrets coming down the pipe, we can’t see how you’d play into a violent killing: We learned this week the injuries were “severe.” “We’re talking multiple broken bones,” the detective said, and while we’re still thinking the stairs play into the brutal state of the victim’s body, it just doesn’t fit that Renata or Gordon would push or be pushed — not to that extreme.

Odds She’s the Killer: 20:1
Odds She Got Killed: 15:1

Odds He’s the Killer: 15:1
Odds He Got Killed: 20:1

Person of Interest: Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz)

Big Little Lies Episode 2 Zoe Kravitz Reese Witherspoon

Episode 3 made a point to showcase the polarizing effect Bonnie has on men and women. We’ve seen it in small doses when Ed and Madeline discuss her intentions, but the dance she did at Renata’s daughter’s birthday party evoked extreme responses from the guests (and future interviewees): The women commented on how inappropriate it was, while the men were overly complimentary about her sensual moves. Perhaps there’s more going on with the would-be peacemaker than meets the eye.

Odds She’s the Killer: 17:1
Odds She Got Killed: 9:1

READ MORE: ‘The Leftovers’ Season 3: Kevin Goes Back to the Hotel in New Trailer Touting Critical Support — Watch

Best Guesses After Episode 3:

Killer: Ed
Victim: Perry
Scenario: This pick is based in the innate desire to see Perry get what’s coming to him and not, in any way, a logical prediction. Perry is more of a prime suspect than a lead candidate for victimhood. His death may lean a bit too far toward wish fulfillment for what’s starting to feel like a complex killing to fit the complicated mystery surrounding it; hence our pick for Ed as the killer. While it may seem like the very tall Perry would have the reach on Ed, perhaps Mr. Mackenzie can back up his strong poses toward Nathan and take down opponents who appear more formidable. And if he catches wind of what Perry is doing to Celeste, the exasperated Ed might flip a switch and go postal on Per Per. That, or he’s protecting his wife when she comes to Celeste’s defense. Or Ed thinks Perry and Madeline are having an affair! Not that they would — Madeline would never do that to Celeste. But it’s the thought that counts.

Leave your guesses in the comments below! “Big Little Lies” airs new episodes every Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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