As the solution to a mystery, it’s a bit imperfect. It seems unlikely that out of everyone at the party, only Bonnie would know to follow Celeste and Perry, and it’s especially strange that Jane had apparently never met Perry before. And, of course, their convergence at a single school in Monterey strains credulity. Then again, none of that really matters, because this show never really pretended to be a whodunit. What matters is the moving visual poetry of Jane realizing who Perry is: Madeline looks at Jane, realizes what’s happening, and looks at Celeste, who then looks back at Perry. It’s only a handful of glances, but it contains a horrifying revelation, a profound expression of friendship and mutual understanding, and a painful statement about the nature of abuse. Celeste believes Jane instantly, and she doesn’t even seem surprised. Making Perry Jane’s rapist, and making Celeste’s son Amabella’s tormentor, finishes off one of the show’s central ideas about domestic violence—it’s never just hurting one person.
The final scene, that of all the women and their children enjoying the beach, further rounds out the show’s thinking about men and women. Without the toxic presence of male viciousness—definitely Perry, but also Nathan and Ed and Joseph in milder ways— everyone finds themselves free to wander around in a utopia of maternal solidarity and care. It’s a continuation of the moment when all the main women instinctively put aside their issues with one another to protect Celeste, to fight off a man with evil intentions. Granted, the pastel paradise idea might feel a little over-neat, and it certainly cuts off any full resolution of Madeline’s storyline, but it’s a really beautiful vision that encapsulates so much of the show’s previous work.
And this show did a lot of work. It managed an array of different characters and storylines and kept them all operating at a high level of aesthetic and intellectual quality; it also treated clichéd subject matter with unusual clarity, warmth, and empathy. We started with upscale “Desperate Housewives,” and we ended up with an astonishingly thoughtful depiction of therapy, marriage, parenting, female friendship, and stay-at-home mothering. We also got a show that remained wonderfully radical in its thinking about gender—in its investigation into the many kinds of ways that men hurt women, in its focus on women knowing and talking to one another. Of course, we also got Nicole Kidman doing some of the best work she’s ever done. May the Emmys rain down upon her.
So, in summary: the show maintained a truly impressive level of quality all the way through. In its writing, cinematography, and acting—especially in the case of Celeste and Perry’s relationship—it set new standards for the genre. And if Nicole Kidman in particular does not win all possible awards and adoration for her performance, she’ll have been absolutely robbed.
—Staff writer Charlotte L.R. Anrig can be reached at email@example.com.
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