This week’s episode of Little Fires Everywhere explores how two mothers in picturesque Shaker Heights, Ohio who are at odds deal with the early trials and tribulations of motherhood.
Reese Witherspoon is Elena Richardson, a wealthy white housewife with four teens, and Kerry Washington is Mia Warren, a single black artist mother with one teen. They have clashed since the beginning of their relationship until an incident put them against each in a battle over motherhood.
We travel back in time to the early 1980s where both Mia and Elena are becoming young mothers before they are ready.
The episode starts with young Mia, played by Tiffany Boone who has an uncanny cadence like her adult counterpart Kerry Washington, in box braids decorated with jumbo beads at the dining room table with her parents, played by the unappreciated Obba Babatundé and Melanie Nicholls-King, and brother Warren, played by Aubrey Joseph, praying over her success in New York as an art student. At school, Mia finds her classroom and becomes enamored with her new professor, Pauline, played by Anika Noni Rose, who wears sleek microbraids with Cleopatra-rivaling beaded necklaces. How young Mia and Pauline are styled is the best fashion of the series that it deserved a shout-out.
Pauline pushes all her students to tap into the “terrifying, repulsive and uncanny” to produce their art. She also takes a liking to naive Mia, whom she invites to a gallery opening after learning Mia had singed parts of a photograph for effect. Mia knows how to play with fire. At the opening, Mia meets Anita, played by Sarita Choudhury, the gallery owner who constantly works with Mia. And Pauline snorts cocaine and offers it to Mia. They eventually end up at Pauline’s place, with Mia sleeping on the sofa.
HOW ELENA BECOMES A MOTHER
We also see a young Elena again like in the previous episode, who’s played by AnnaSophia Robb, preparing to head back to The Shaker Times newsroom after maternity leave with baby Moody. Yet once she starts, she knows she has to keep a hold on her job, especially after her friend gets a promotion to editor. But at the doctor’s office, she finds out she’s pregnant again. She doesn’t tell Bill right away, but young Linda, played by Alona Tal, and young Mark McCullough, played by Andy Favreau, detect it while they’re all having dinner. The McCulloughs had suffered a miscarriage but hadn’t told their friends yet. While Elena is becoming a mother of four, Linda is struggling to even have one child.
This worries her since the family is expanding in the cottage that’s now rented to the Warrens and her budding journalism career is taking a fourth hit. After having baby Izzy, she’s falling apart. Three kids is different than four kids, as Izzy keeps crying and crying. One day, the water is turned off, and Elena begins breaking plates. Bill, the younger version played by Matthew Barnes, arrives home from work where Elena leaves Izzy in his arms and heads to the pharmacy for the pacifiers.
Staring at the pacifiers she’s taken back to the disco night in Paris with her former boyfriend Jamie, played by Luke Bracey. Outside the pharmacy, she calls Jamie. A scene later, she’s in Rochester, New York meeting with Jamie for a beer. Jamie just received his job at The New York Times as an editorial assistant with goals to become a foreign correspondent.
Elena is devastated by the news because her life has hit another roadblock. Jamie wonders aloud what it would’ve been like if Elena stayed in Paris. They eventually move to a hotel, where Elena has to stop the action to pump breast milk into the bathroom sink. She doesn’t recognize herself anymore. Jamie becomes a casualty in Elena’s confusion, and Elena runs out the door and drives back home.
HOW MIA BECOMES A MOTHER
Mia rides the subway to school. That’s where we meet Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams, the man who keeps coming up in Mia’s subway nightmares. He is Joe Ryan and stares at Mia several times on the subway until he follows her out of the station. Equipped with mace, Mia threatens to use it against him. He explains she looks like his wife, Madeleine, played by Nicole Beharie. They’ve been trying to have a baby, so they could pay Mia to carry their child as a surrogate. Mia takes the number.
Soon, she receives a letter from her school that tuition has been suspended for the next year. She desperately needs $12,000. On the Ryans’ sofa, she negotiates that amount to carry their baby. With contracts signed, Mia is given a turkey baster by Madeleine. She admits she’s a virgin, and the innocence washes over her face. Madeleine mirrors Linda with trying to conceive during a time before in vitro fertilization was an inaccessible process.
Mia and Pauline kiss in the dark room while developing photographs and become an item. When Warren comes to visit Mia, he is surprised by her apparent pregnancy. Warren warns Mia that their religious parents wouldn’t approve of the decision, but he gives her music to share with the baby since he won’t be the baby’s uncle technically.
Weeks later, Warren is killed in a car accident. Nine months pregnant, Mia shows up at her family home in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, but her mother refuses to embrace her. The day of Warren’s funeral her mother tells Mia she can’t go to the funeral because it would take away attention from Warren.
Alone in the house, Mia writes a letter to the Ryans about having a miscarriage and calls Pauline to tell her she plans to stay home for awhile. But instead she prepares her car and drives across the country to California. She gives birth to Pearl there.
After getting adjusted in Southern California, she calls Pauline from a payphone. Anita picks up. Mia is confused why Anita would pick up. Anita breaks the news that Pauline died suddenly from ovarian cancer. That’s when Anita promises to help Mia with her art career. Anita also adds she packed up Mia’s belongings in Pauline’s apartment, including the photograph of a naked Mia in the bathtub that was dubbed “Duo” that inspired Elena in the last episode to start doing serious research on Mia.
Pearl grows up in the backseat of the car always driving to a new destination until she’s old enough to be in the front seat when they arrive in Shaker Heights.