The latest episode of Little Fires Everywhere continues to pit two mothers and their children against each other during a child custody trial that’s rocking their quaint Ohio suburb.
Elena Richardson, played by Reese Witherspoon, is a wealthy homemaker and journalist who rented a cottage to Mia Warren, played by Kerry Washington, without checking her background. But as they become more acquainted with each other and their teen kids become friends, they notice they have different perceptions of motherhood.
Elena’s best friend Linda McCullough, played by Rosemarie DeWitt, is about to adopt a Chinese baby who had been abandoned at a local fire station. It turns out Mia’s work friend Bebe, played by Lu Huang, left her baby at the fire station in the throes of a postpartum depression breakdown. Once Mia realizes that Bebe’s daughter May Ling is really the baby Linda plans to adopt whom she named Mirabelle, she helps Bebe fight for the baby. But Elena gets behind her friend, too, and now she and Mia are fighting each other over a baby that belongs to neither of them.
LOVING WHO YOU LOVE
The episode starts with Elena’s youngest daughter Izzy, played by Megan Stott, going to a house party months before with her best friend. They run into a spin-the-bottle game which in turns leads to 7 Minutes In Heaven. Izzy spins the bottle and lands on her friend. They go into the closet after being forced by the other teens. Inside, they touch each other romantically; they already had done this before. They start kissing until a boy opens the door in shock of them kissing with the other kids staring. The friend shouts at Izzy and accuses her of molestation.
Throughout the miniseries so far, Izzy has had a difficult time fitting into high school because of her relationship with the friend, who is now popular, while Izzy has sunken into a depression for being misunderstood. Their fracture is finally explained. Until the friend makes it worse again.
Later, Izzy and her friend are going through boxes of old dolls. Izzy asks her friend why she put the blame on her, and her friend says the peer pressure made her freak out and she rolled with it. At school, the next day Izzy brings the Cabbage Patch dolls and places magazine cutouts of faces and places them on the dolls. She’s selling the dolls based on race—Asian for the $10,000 the Elena offered to Bebe on behalf of the McCulloughs, white for $100,000, and black for free—to make a statement about the May Ling/Mirabelle case that has gripped the community. When students come up her outraged about the stunt, her friend throws Izzy under the bus again. In disbelief, Izzy is staring at her ex-friend when the principal comes to shut the social experiment down.
RICH GIRL, POOR GIRL
Mia’s daughter Pearl, played by Lexi Underwood, has led a vagabond lifestyle since she could ever remember with her artist mom, but now after settling in Shaker Heights, Ohio, she’s done. In last week’s episode, we learn Elena has crossed state lines to do a deep-dive investigation into Mia’s past where she learns Mia was supposed to be a surrogate mother but instead skipped town with Pearl and raised Pearl as her own child. Two episodes ago, Mia sells an old photograph by her former lover for thousands of dollars to help Bebe with her legal defense.
Pearl doesn’t know any of this. When her pseudo-boyfriend and eldest Richardson son Trip, played by Jordan Elsass, tells her he overheard his mother saying that her mother is paying for Bebe’s lawyer and had a lot money, half a million stashed somewhere, Pearl grows suspicious.
At home, Mia comes into Pearl’s bedroom wanting to talk. Pearl asks laughingly if it’s about the half a million and if she’s paying Bebe’s legal bills. Mia admits she sold a piece of art reserved for a rainy day. Pearl becomes angry that her mother received a large sum of money and didn’t spend it on their family. Instead, Mia spent the money on Bebe, whom she only known for three months. Pearl screams for her mother to leave.
The next day, Pearl tells Trip that she never had what she wanted. She shares a story of living on the property of a family with a girl who had horses. Pearl wanted everything the girl had. It upset her that the girl can have anything, and Pearl rarely had a bed. This is a revelation that though the Warrens lived as if they were in poverty but also lived in ritzy areas where Pearl has grown accustomed to seeing what other kids like her have and feeling deprived of such luxuries.
TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH
The name of the episode comes from Elena’s obsession to get the Christmas family portrait just right. In the beginning, she rejects the photos they had already taken, rendering them useless. After her oldest daughter Lexie, played by Jade Pettyjohn, gets into Yale University, she throws a nice dinner and invites the photographer back to the house for a redo.
During the photo session, the Richardsons are patiently waiting for Izzy. When Izzy shows up without the plaid Keds her mother requested to match other family members’ accessories, Elena throws a fit. We see later Izzy had gone back and put on the Keds, but she is sticking her middle finger in the photo Elena is already stuffing into cards. The Richardson patriarch Bill, played by Joshua Jackson, notices the faux pas. Soon, Elena begins chopping Izzy out of the dozens of copies.
When Mia returns home, she finds a distraught Izzy in her family room. Izzy had ran out of her mother’s car after she had to get picked up over the doll-selling debacle. They talk about the dolls, but Mia eventually admits about loving her art professor—a woman—which surprises and soothes Izzy to let her know nothing was wrong with her trying to find romance with her best girl friend.
When Izzy returns home, she finds the cutup photos of her in the trash. She collects them and tries to piece them together on her bedroom carpet.
As Izzy tries to figure out her slashed photos, Lexie comes in and tells her she broke up with boyfriend Brian, played by Stevonte Hart.
Earlier they had another race-based argument. Brian is still upset with Lexie when she used Pearl’s essay to get into a higher math class that she was first rejected for because she was black. Lexie reworks the essay and submits it with college applications, and now she’s headed to Yale. This doesn’t sit right again with Brian, who plans to attend Princeton University.
They’re in the fast food drive-thru when Lexie sends her hamburger back; she didn’t want the meat, just a grilled cheese sandwich. The attendant, who’s black, explains that wasn’t in the order but takes the burger back when Lexie insists it was. Brian in the driver seat tells Lexie he feels like she sent it back because the attendant is black. Lexie is upset that he thinks that’s the reason. When Lexie gets the burger sans the burger, Brian still seems unsure about Lexie’s unnecessary action.
Later on Lexie’s bed, Brian brings up the race issue again. He asks Lexie if she sees his blackness because everyone else does. He won’t be seen as a smart kid who got into Princeton because everyone will assume he’s an affirmative action case. Lexie tearfully explains herself, that’s she not racist, and though she turned Pearl’s story into hers, she didn’t mean for it to happen that way. Her whitesplaining doesn’t agree with Brian. When Lexie sees she’s not getting her way, she wants to tell him about the abortion but instead she tells him to leave.
Their heartbreaking breakup shows how deciding to ignore how race plays a major factor in society like Lexie can make a partner feel like they’re not being seen at all because their race is a part of their identity. Lexie uses the she-doesn’t-see-color excuse, and Brian asks what does she see. It’s hard for her to say to him as a person when he sees his blackness as a part of the equation.
The entire episode Elena and Mia are taunting each other as the trial for custody of May Ling/Mirabelle starts. In the court bathroom, Elena tells Mia that she knows her secret that Pearl wasn’t meant to be her child but a child for the Ryans, a couple she was a surrogate for while in art school. Elena even admits she visited Mia’s parents. Mia is taken aback by the revelation.
Meanwhile, Elena is pushing Bill to use the evidence in court as her husband defends Linda’s family, the McCulloughs. He tells Elena she doesn’t need to worry about Linda losing Mirabelle because people like Bebe don’t win these cases. Linda has the financial means to give Mirabelle whatever she needs while Bebe doesn’t. But as the episode progresses, Bill is seeing Elena in a different lens, a vindictive lens. With Mia on the stand, he doesn’t bring up her questionable maternity issues. Elena catches his arm, and he shoos her down.
While Mia is comforting Izzy, Pearl ends up at the Richardson home with Trip. Pearl wants Trip to tell his brother Moody, played by Gavin Lewis, that they’re dating. She had met Moody first, and Moody is in love with her and trying to figure out why they’re spending less time together. As Trip searches for Moody, Pearl sits down with Elena. We see them talking through the Christmas lights in the living room, but we don’t hear the conversation. It’s not until Elena drives Pearl home is where we get the gist of the conversation: Elena told Pearl about her paternity. Pearl in tears rushes past her mother, who’s in the driveway in shock that Elena came near her child.