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‘Big Little Lies’ Finale Review: Now That’s How You End a Murder Mystery

We appreciate the pulse-pounding, edge-of-your-seat, all-the-adjectives-you-can-think-of finale via a moment-by-moment breakdown of when we knew who did It and who died.

Big Little Lies Finale Reese Witherspoon

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/ HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Big Little Lies” Episode 7, “You Get What You Need.”]

The “Big Little Lies” finale can be neatly broken up into two parts: brutally teasing motivations for murder and letting suspects off the hook. Much of the tightly wound episode’s opening was spent playfully foreshadowing events to come, as fights were picked (Madeline and Joseph, Gordon and Tom) and suggestive lines were delivered. (A favorite: Celeste’s therapist saying, “It’s one thing he could kill you, but god forbid you miss a party.”)

Well, joke’s on you, therapist lady: Perry’s the one who got got! While director Jean-Marc Vallée and writer David E. Kelley waited until the final minutes to reveal who died and who did it, “You Get What You Need” gave us exactly what we needed to figure things out as the night’s events unfolded. Each character was given a moment of absolute guilt or absolute innocence, so that we were well-prepared for the dramatic unveiling. Such expert pacing and spirited storytelling made for an absolutely thrilling finale, and one we’re already eager to discuss.

READ MORE: ‘Big Little Lies’: Shailene Woodley on American Repression, Violence, and Why ‘Every Parent is Afraid of Their Kid’

So, in order to honor the impressive work of all involved, we’ve broken down the most telling moments of Episode 7, focusing on how we were pushed and pulled to and from suspect and victim for a full hour. Let us know what moments stood out for you in the comments (and we’ll start the campaign for a Season 2 tomorrow).

The Players

Reese Witherspoon as Madeline Martha Mackenzie
Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright
Shailene Woodley as Jane Chapman
Alexander Skarsgård as Perry Wright, Celeste’s husband
Adam Scott as Ed Mackenzie, Madeline’s husband
Zoë Kravitz as Bonnie Carlson, Nathan’s second wife
James Tupper as Nathan Carlson, Madeline’s ex-husband
Laura Dern as Renata Klein
Jeffrey Nordling as Gordon Klein, Renata’s husband

Big Little Lies Finale Iain Armitage Shailene Woodley

Red Herrings

First of all, a great finale couldn’t end by revealing anyone outside the main cast as the murderer or the victim. “Big Little Lies” spent too much time developing its nine main players to allow a silly secondary character to adopt an integral purpose in the final few minutes of a seven-hour series. That means, Tom (Joseph Cross), the sweet, bike-riding, Uber-ordering cafe owner, was too late to the game, and even a silly feud with Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling, who was a series regular) couldn’t convince us either of them were involved in the climactic killing.

READ MORE: ‘Big Little Lies’: Why Reading the Book Doesn’t Ruin the Big Reveal on HBO’s Murder Mystery

The same goes for Joseph (Santiago Cabrera), the play director and Madeline’s partner for the “best sex of her life,” as well as all the kids, whose ultimate guilt was established midway through the finale when Jane found out it was Celeste’s son who had been abusing Renata’s daughter. The predictive opening shot of the finale illustrated how the boys adopted such aggressive behavior, even though Perry and Celeste were both adamant neither of them had been affected by his abuse. They heard. They knew. And they learned, which proved to be the final straw for Celeste — and the damning sin for Perry.

Time Remaining: Full Episode

Who’s Left: Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Perry, Ed, Bonnie, Nathan, Renata, Gordon

Big Little Lies Finale James Tupper

The First Three Out

Renata was the next to go, thanks to an attempt at foreshadowing that really revealed how much we’ve grown to love this cornered super mom. “I hate everybody right now,” Renata told Gordon, as they prepared for the party. “Except Jane. Believe it or not. How funny is that?”

Of course, it’s funny because they were the first enemies of the series, so the fact that they’re now so close only shows how well “Big Little Lies” developed its characters. Even when Renata went to apologize to Jane at the party (near the fateful stairs), we knew the two were safe. (It was fun to watch Madeline’s reaction, though.)

Ed followed a similar emotional trajectory. The moment he started crooning “The Wonder of You,” a love song of hopeless devotion to his partner, we knew he could never be a killer — and we’d kill someone if he was the victim. Ed’s journey was proving to Madeline what a stable, loving partner looks like, even in the face of adversity. He constantly tried to prove himself worthy of the love she never gave him. Maybe she never will, but it was more than evident he’d never harm her, or anyone else, the second he nervously sipped his triple vodka and started pledging his love to Madeline in front of the party.

READ MORE: ‘Big Little Lies’ Soundtrack: Listen to This Soulful Playlist From HBO’s Addictive Mystery Series

And this may sound dismissive, but once Ed was out of the running, then Nathan was, too. Their mini-fight after Ed’s number simply served to reveal the surprise contender for the final four (and ultimate murderer), Bonnie. Nathan was as falsely macho as Ed, but only Ed was properly motivated — their songs proved it.

Time Remaining: ~20 minutes

Who’s Left: Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Perry, Ed, Bonnie, Nathan, Renata, Gordon

Big Little Lies Finale Zoe Kravitz

The Final Four

Bonnie was the first one we knew was involved. Sure, signs pointed to the night ending badly for Perry pretty much the whole episode, if not the entire season, but it was Bonnie’s knowing glances around the party as her husband sang about missing the woman who dumped him that tipped us off. (Bonnie, you need to get yourself an Ed — not Ed, but an Ed.) Whether she’d be the victim or killer wasn’t clear, but it quickly became apparent she was the latter when she wasn’t down by the stairs when things broke bad.

Speaking of the stairs, I spent the last 20 minutes of the finale screaming at the screen, “No, Reese, get away from the stairs!” Then, “Get away from the stairs, Shailene!” And then, “No! Laura Dern, you get your ass away from those stairs and back to safety!” (I tend to call actors by their real names instead of their characters in the heat of the moment.) The point being, “Big Little Lies” created options a-plenty in a torturous climax by putting as many of the prime suspects near the murder site as possible. It seemed like anyone could be the victim or the killer …until Perry showed up.

While I respect the hell out of how the ending was edited — cutting away from Perry moving toward Celeste and making us watch the survivors appear, one by one, among the wreckage of the party — we knew who was dead and who did it before Vallée kindly showed us. That’s not a slight, mind you. The desire to see what happen and the postponement of that sight has been a recurring device of the series, and it worked again here. I’m not sure how I feel about Perry being Jane’s attacker; that feels a little too tidy. And the slow cover of the Rolling Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was equally on the nose, especially for a series that’s been so good about music.

But “Big Little Lies” more than paid off on its long-delayed revelation. Considering we’ve been wondering whodunit since day one, the buildup had to be worth the wait and it was. When you’ve got an ace in your pocket, it’s not that you need to know when to play it; you need to know how to play it. And “Big Little Lies” played beautifully all season.

Grade: A

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