Well. What to say?
Reese Witherspoon is perfectly cast. This role fits her like a glove, and I wonder if years from now, we will have trouble separating Reese Witherspoon from this role. She inhabits the character of Madeline like a second skin, bringing a delicious type-A bitchery to a character that could easily be infuriating in her determination to be chipper and vice-like grip on a good attitude, but instead is intensely watchable. She also brings nuance to the character, as she is more than just an overinvolved “nice” bitch, but an actual person. From Reese’s first “I am not 100% sure with that tone, young lady,” I knew I was going to love this depiction. I don’t particularly like this type of character (or person), I like my bitches stone-cold and with no-holds barred, just like myself, but I know Reese is gonna kill the shit out of this role.
Nicole Kidman’s storyline has the creepiest undertones. Her every interaction with her husband is trilling with tension and discomfort. You know immediately something is not precisely right with this perfectly sexy couple and their mirrored sons. Kidman gives her character a fragility and an elegance that makes her interactions with the other characters sing. Although I have no idea what they’re doing with her hair throughout this entire first episode. But based on the past few years of her favoring that washed-out beige-blonde, neither does she, so whatever.
As for Woodley’s character, she is the most relatable to the average viewer, probably, and being the newcomer to the school district, she also serves as the closest thing the opening episode has to an ingénue and a narrative point of view for the viewer. She is the outsider with a mysterious past. Woodley brings emotion and tenderness to her scenes with her scene, displaying a level of acting I did not think she was capable of, quite frankly. She’s clearly financially-outclassed in this new school district, and running from something. Her scenes with her son were well-acted, but I usually don’t give a fuck about the children so I found my attention wandering. The little boy is a good actor though. Actually, all of the child actors are particularly good.
Also, as an aside, some woman at one point notes that Kidman’s husband is a lot younger than her. Alexander Skarsgard is nine years younger than her. Is that a lot younger? Really? If their genders were switched would this be remarked upon? I cannot decide if it’s a commentary on how these times of PTA-battle-involved mothers can sometimes treat one another, or if it’s a reflection of the filmmakers themselves. If it’s the former, I’m digging it. If it’s the latter, I’m pissed.
So, the story opens with one of my favorite narrative devices-everybody talking about what happened the night of the murder, discussing the events leading up to it. This quickly just devolves into everybody talking shit on everybody, especially our main four ladies and especially especially Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline McKenzie. It’s clear that she’s a polarizing figure in the school system, sort of like how TV’s version of the Prom Queen was always polarizing—people either adored her or hated her, depending on how close they were to her orbit.
Another actress of note is Laura Dern, representing the working mother. We don’t see much of her in the first episode, but I will say that she looks fantastic silhouetted against the sunset with a large glass of wine. That’s how I like to imagine my life will look like in the future.
Bonnie, the new partner of Reese’s ex, is played by the always gorgeous Zoe Kravitz. She’s a yoga instructor who is a bit of a hippie, but she’s a believable one. In the words of the parents being interviewed by the police, her husband is a bit of a dick, but a likeable one (spoiler: he is not a likeable one).
It’s a good cast, simmering with so much more going on underneath the surface that I cannot wait to see more of. I can’t wait to see what’s next.