At first glance, Big Little Lies may seem like a show about many things: There’s bangs, Meryl Streep insulting Reese Witherspoon’s height (she’s five-foot-one), lies that are simultaneously big and little, domestic abuse, more bangs, various crimes and misdeeds, California, and community theater, among other things. But at the heart of it, the HBO show is really just a love story.
Yes, I am referring to the love Renata Klein (played by the impeccable and sublime Laura Dern) has for being rich.
Spoilers for Big Little Lies follow.
Renata is a villain among the Monterey, California, moms for much of the first season. While some of the other mothers at Otter Bay Elementary School don’t have demanding careers outside the home, Renata is a high-powered executive who often feels ostracized by the group for her drive and ambition.
But eventually, Renata becomes one of the “Monterey Five,” the group present when Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), the abusive husband of Celeste (Nicole Kidman), is pushed to his death by Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz). Everyone else thinks Perry fell, and the women are bonded over the secret.
That bring us to the second season, when Renata is best friends with (most of) the other women and basking in the full glory of her life. In the first episode, she poses for a magazine photo shoot in a flashy red coatdress and Wonder Woman–esque gold belt with thigh-high knee boots and, erm, an actual weight. (See the pic above). Renata professes to the photographer, “I’m so tired of those shots of women. I mean, they’re in power, right? They own banks, and they’re all, like, demure. Bullshit.”
Renata’s world begins to crumble by the next episode, however, when the FBI arrests her husband, Gordon, for securities fraud — and it turns out he has also risked all the money Renata earned independently from him as well. In a fit of shock and rightful rage, she screams at her husband in jail:
I’m not gonna not be rich. I will not have you …
Which is followed more forcefully with her pointing hard at the window:
I WILL NOT NOT BE RICH.
Renata’s anger is understandable. As she tells Madeline in a later scene, she worked her entire life for all she has accomplished, in order to escape her troubled childhood. (Madeline replies, “Do you need a Xanax?”) Furthermore, right before her husband’s arrest, Renata finds out she made the cover of the magazine she was being photographed for and excitedly boasts to him, “Guess who’s going to be on the cover next month of the No. 1 women’s magazine in the U.S. of fucking A.?”
It’s obvious Renata adores her money and not just for material reasons: Yes, she has the Chanel outfits and the expensive house in Monterey, but her wealth symbolizes all she has achieved. She loves her money, and she’s proud of it. If only we loved anything half as much.