Mystery novelist Attica Locke, a producer on the Hulu series, wrote the episode based on the novel by Celeste Ng. Attica was also a TV writer on Fox’s Empire and Netflix’s When They See Us and a part of a growing cohort of women authors bringing their bookish career to the small screen.
This episode highlights the intersection between two mothers with another mother being added into the mix of drama in the real rule-abiding community of Shaker Heights. Ohio, Elena Richardson, played by Reese Witherspoon, a well-to-do white woman who’s helping her friend keep the baby she’s trying to adopt; Mia Warren, played by Kerry Washington, a single black mother with an artist daughter who spends time with Elena’s kids; and Bebe Chow, played by Lu Huang, is a Chinese immigrant who works with Mia at a Chinese restaurant and recently learned that the baby she’s been looking for is the same baby being adopting by Elena’s friend.
The motherhood angle is emphasized in a turning point scene in Bebe’s apartment where Elena, who used her investigative journalism skills from her part-time job to find the address, shows up to offer Bebe money. Not knowing Elena’s intentions, Bebe invites Elena inside and gives her a hot cup of tea. Elena explains that she represents the McCulloughs, the family who will adopt a baby they named Mirabelle. But with Mia’s assistance, Bebe discovers Mirabelle is May Ling, the baby she abandoned at a Cleveland fire station due to financial hardship.
With the check in her face, Bebe asks Elena how much she would sell her kids. Upset that her offer wasn’t taken even with the threat of turning Bebe into the authorities for illegal immigration, Elena leaves the apartment with the check on the table.
THE DINNER TABLE
At the end of the episode, after Elena and Mia blow up in the Richardson kitchen over Mia lying about her role in Bebe finding out about Mirabelle/May Ling’s whereabouts, both mothers told their children at their separate dinner tables that they cannot speak to each other anymore.
Pearl is upset at her mother, whom she believes never trusted the Richardsons or took the chance to get to know them. She heads to her bedroom but doesn’t stay there. Within minutes, she’s being welcomed by Elena at the door as Elena finds Pearl clothes to sleep in.
Meanwhile, Mia is gloomily peering at a photo of herself very pregnant in a bathtub. She puts the photo back and goes to check in on Pearl. Finding an empty room, she drives to the Richardson home. The headlights in the window wake up Pearl.
SOMEONE TO LOOK UP TO
The strong connection between Izzy, played by Megan Stott, and Mia brightened in this episode with them collaborating on Mia’s art project at her home. Izzy confides in Mia that her mother Elena believes she’s at a boy’s house for a study session. Because Elena is worried about Izzy’s sexuality with lesbian rumors flying around school, Izzy knows it’s a secret that she would rather do art at Mia’s house. They’re interrupted by a frantic phone call from Bebe. Mia cuts the session short to meet with Bebe and convince her to fight for her daughter.
Izzy later finds an article on Lilith Fair on her pillow. She asks Bill, her father played by Joshua Jackson, about it. He tries to explain how her mother meant well when thinking Izzy would be interested in Lilith Fair, the all-female concert tour that started in 1997 by Sarah Maclachlan. Teary-eyed, Izzy tells her father she didn’t like the gesture.
The connection is undeniable between Pearl, played by Lexi Underwood, and Elena. Pearl sees Elena and her eldest children, Lexie, played by Jade Pettyjohn, and Trip, played by Jordan Elsass., as the model of perfection she wants to be. Elena symbolizes stability, and since Pearl has been begging her mother for that lifestyle, she feels she can absorb it at the Richardson home.
When Mia and Elena have their spat about what it takes to be a good mother and taking the sides of their friends in the fight for Mirabelle/May Ling, Elena brings up how well-behaved Pearl is even though Mia is not a good mother because she keeps moving Pearl around from town to town, school to school.
Pearl is officially a part of the popular girl gang when she’s sitting upon Lexie’s bed with Serena Wong, played by Lisa Yamada. Plus, Lexie is bragging about her lack of breakouts due to her having sex with her boyfriend, Brian, played by Stevonte Hart.
Later, in the algebra two class Pearl fought so hard to get into, the teacher is passing out tests. Pearl did well while Trip got a D. This presents the opportunity for Trip to come over to the Warren home and study with Pearl.
On the floor. With music playing. Of course, this leads to a make-out session that Pearl suggests should move to the bedroom. Now, her virginity may be the talk of the town.
But it doesn’t happen. Even Trip has the nerve to blame Pearl for seducing him into her bed while playing with Moody’s feelings! Pearl did neglect the other Richardson brother Moody, played by Gavin Lewis, but she’s taken by surprise hearing this from Trip as he jumps into his pants.
Pearl has an awkward run-in with Moody at a Halloween party. Dressed as Scary Spice from the Spice Girls with Lexie and Serena dressed as Posh Spice, Moody comes up to Pearl and asks about the racism aspect of Pearl being the black Spice Girl. He assumes the other girls are using her as a pet project due to her race. She clarifies that she chose to dress as Scary Spice. When the other girls call her name, she excuses herself, but it shows how her friendship with Moody depreciated amid Pearl’s ascent to popularity.
As the kids are trying to figure out their social circles, the adults are trying to figure out the custody arrangements for Mirabelle/May Ling.
With Mia’s persuasion and monetary contribution, Bebe hires a lawyer to fight for May Ling. The fight quickly moves to the TV news as reporters run up to Linda McCullough, played by Rosemarie DeWitt, with Mirabelle in the baby carriage. Linda running into her home along with interviews with Bebe and the lawyer swearing they will fight for custody lights up the TVs in all of the families’ living rooms.
When Bebe says in the report she was offered $10,000, Izzy asks in shock why the McCulloughs would offer that sum. But Bill looks at Elena, sensing she is responsible for the offer.
BURN HER UP
At the very end, Mia is cutting up strips of a photo she blew up. She hangs up the shreds on a rope. Mia puts a lighter to each shred and watches them burn. As she stands back, it turns out to be an image of Elena.
Little Fires Everywhere is streaming now on Hulu. New episodes will arrive on Wednesdays.