The second episode of Little Fires Everywhere deepens the shaky acquaintanceship of two matriarchs trying to accept their newfound ties.
Kerry Washington is Mia Warren, a single black mother who moves to rule-abiding Shaker Heights, Ohio with her daughter Pearl, played by Lexi Underwood. Reese Witherspoon is Elena Richardson, a rich white mother with four teenage children distraught over how her youngest daughter, Izzy, played by Megan Stott, is not aspiring to be the American dream she set up for her family.
As Pearl hangs out more with the Richardson children—Izzy; Lexie, played by Jade Pettyjohn; Tripp, played by Jordan Elsass; and Moody, played by Gavin Lewis—Mia and Elena are seeing their lives collide more, whether they like it or not.
DOING THE MATH
Pearl wants to take algebra two, but the white male school counselor placed her back in geometry. The counselor claims Pearl attended too many schools and assumes she’s being bused in from Cleveland. Knowing her race is really the decision, she later tells Mia about the situation at the Chinese restaurant where her mother works. But Mia is watching her coworker, Bebe, deal with the diners, especially a baby.
Pearl picks up on the disinterest and asks Elena the next morning if she could proofread her essay to get into algebra two. Elena gladly accepts and mentions the school doesn’t like to put the students of color in the higher-level classes. In the kitchen, Elena puts the essay down on the counter to fetch Izzy for school. Lexie sees the abandoned papers and takes a peek.
Elena’s book club is reading The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, which of course riles her conservatism as she complains she had voted for Arthur Golden’s classic Memoirs of a Geisha instead. At the book club inside her spacious living room, Elena touches on motherhood not being mentioned as much in the famous feminist play.
The moderator shoots back about the last chapter revolving around childbirth and asks if she’s less of a woman for not having children. Pouring liqueur in the background, Mia wanders into the conversation to defend Elena, who barely read the play distraught over the mention of “vaginas,” and discusses the buried motherhood theme. Elena approves Mia’s defense and introduces Mia to the book club.
After the book club, Mia and Elena are bonding on the sofa with wine. The invisible competition comes up again when Elena absentmindedly tells Mia that she helped Pearl with her letter to advocate for her upgraded math class. Mia abruptly ends the bonding session. At home, she asks Pearl about how she got into the class. Pearl said she stood up for herself without mentioning any help from Elena.
WHO IS BEBE?
Back at the restaurant where Pearl is talking to Mia about her math dilemma, Mia zeros in on Bebe Chow, the quiet Chinese immigrant working at the restaurant played by Lu Huang. Mia senses Bebe needs help after Bebe shows happiness then sadness when handling a baby for a family, so Mia gets up from the dining table on her night off and tells Bebe she will take over her shift.
Later, Bebe makes homemade noodles for Mia that she brings to Mia at home. Mia gives Bebe her tips from the night before. Her kindness touches Bebe, who admits she lost her baby daughter.
Mia tells Bebe she doesn’t have to share her story to explain her behavior; she understands as a mother. This signals another mother being brought into the equation and how her race will play a role in discovering what happened to her daughter.
still, Who is Mia?
The episode opens in a years-old flashback of Mia having sex in a cramped car. She’s only distracted by baby Pearl waking up. She kicks out her sex partner and comforts Pearl.
This accompanies the New York City subway flashbacks that Mia has been having since the first episode. She’s scared sitting on the subway and the main person she’s staring at across from her in the car is Grey’s Anatomy actor/activist Jesse Williams. At one point, his unidentified character flickers into Elena. Mia’s traumas may take a backseat to Bebe’s traumas we have yet to see.
The first three episodes of Little Fires Everywhere is streaming now on Hulu. New episodes will arrive on Wednesdays.