So, Lisa and I binge watched HBO’s Big Little Lies the past couple days. It’s a good story. You should watch it too, if you haven’t already. But beyond that, it’s an interesting piece to me specifically for the fact that it addresses plot out of order (well, that and the fact that it utilizes a totally kick-ass soundtrack that includes, among other things, remarkable use of Janis Joplin [and the Big Brother and the Holding Company’s] “Ball and Chain” and a cover of “You can’t Always Get What You Want” from Ituana, which if I remember to do it I’ll embed at the end of this little piece). In all seriousness, every piece of music this series uses is so perfectly matched to the story that it’s almost worth multiple views for this alone.
Anyway, regarding out of order (and doing my best to not give any spoilers beyond what happens very, very early in the story…I hate spoilers):
Not having read the book, I came into it essentially blind.
The story opens with a crime scene and the first episode is highly populated with snippets of interviews. It says this is a mystery, a crime story, a whodunit. And in the end, that is, of course, true. Played according to Hoyle, the next steps would be to bring the investigators in, and watch their struggle as they attempted to wrestle the truth from the suspects. The suspects would play off each other. Deviousness would ensue.
But instead, Big Little Lies goes a different direction, dropping into deep flashback to give us the lives of four women dealing with four different kinds of problems and four different family situation. No, strike that, what at first seems to be four women is actually five. The primary thrust of the story is told in that flashback, and rather than a true “whodunit” the story is a “howdidithappen.”
To a greater degree this annoyed me at the beginning.
I’m used to my mysteries being about the interaction of the investigators. I was more annoyed as the beginning of part two, when it became obvious what the structure was going to be. But by the middle of that episode I stepped back and started watching what the story was really about, and the fact is that this isn’t really a crime story at all. Of course, there’s a crime, and, of course there’s an investigation, but…well…to go further would break my rule on spoilers I think, so I’ll leave it there except to say that the structure works quite well for the story itself.
In fact, having now seen the series, I’m interested in reading the book itself to see how closely it’s followed. I assume fairly closely. In reality, I don’t know that the story could be told in any other fashion.
As a general note, and in regard to the series itself, I should say that I loved the cast of women in particular (the men were a tad predictable, but then, I suppose maybe that’s my male pattern stupidity raising up to pretend we’re not really that simple when in reality we might well be). Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley had the strongest roles (to me), and played them about as well as can be played. Zoe Kravitz is almost impossible not to watch, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern are award-winning actors, and it shows. The child actors are all pretty remarkable, too.
Anyway, if you like character-driven stories with a hint of danger, crime and mystery, you’ll love “Big Little Lies.” And if you’re a writer wanting to see how to play with time inside your work you’ll find value in watching it even if that kind of work isn’t your usual cup of tea.