Entertainment

HBO keeps cut-cut-cutting to the very heart of tension

Big Little Lies is TV crack for me, a juicy, addictive soap opera but with seriously good writing and acting, as if Peyton Place were made like The Wire.

Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard’s perfect life is in fact less than perfect in HBO’s Big Little Lies.

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Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard’s perfect life is in fact less than perfect in HBO’s Big Little Lies.

The show: Big Little Lies, Season 1, Episode 3 (HBO)
The moment: The therapy session (contains spoilers)

Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgard) life looks art-directed: gorgeous, rich, with twin sons and a seaside mansion. But there’s a crack in the foundation: He hits her. She hits him back. Now they’re meeting a couples’ therapist (Robin Weigert).

Celeste and Perry sit on the couch. Immediately, it’s uncomfortable. “Things can just get a bit volatile,” Celeste begins tentatively. “We fight a lot.”

“Are we talking about a physical expression of anger?” the therapist asks. Slowly, they admit they are (though they minimize it).

“I’ve always been afraid she’d go through me,” Perry finally says. “Outgrow me. Figure me out. I’m constantly looking for evidence she doesn’t love me.”

This show is TV crack for me, a juicy, addictive soap opera but with seriously good writing and acting, as if Peyton Place were made like The Wire. (The seven hour-long episodes are written by 90’s TV king David E. Kelley and directed by Canada’s Jean-Marc Vallee.)

Its one flaw: It falls prey to the current fashion of cutting its timeline to ribbons, and showing us ultra-brief flash-backs and forwards, images without context, that we’re supposed to figure out later: a woman running, footprints on a beach, neighbors gossiping in a police interrogation.

But then it gives us scenes like the one above, a six-minute squirmer with long two-shots of Kidman and Skarsgard.

She keeps darting her eyes at him, desperately reading his face for clues.

Anyone can create drama if they cut-cut-cut. But the suspense in these long takes is both delicious and painful.

Johanna Schneller is a media connoisseur who zeroes in on pop-culture moments. She appears Monday through Thursday.

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