‘Big Little Lies’ recap: Shailene Woodley & Laura Dern battle for Emmy frontrunner status in episode 6, ‘Burning Love’ [POLL]

Who gave the best performance this week in the sixth and penultimate episode of HBO’s “Big Little Lies”? “Burning Love,” like all seven episodes in the limited series, was written by multi-Emmy winner David E. Kelley and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee. But who was the MVP in front of the camera? Vote below in our poll.

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In last week’s episode, Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and the director of the community theater’s “Avenue Q” production, Joseph (Santiago Cabrera), were discussing their prior extramarital affair when the situation was interrupted by a car accident. That close call prompted them to finally let each other go. Elsewhere, Renata (Laura Dern) rightfully freaked out upon seeing her daughter had been bitten by another student; once again Jane (Shailene Woodley) had to defend her son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) against the accusation, but the school had no proof of his guilt or innocence. Jane also made an impromptu visit to the man who may have been her rapist (and Ziggy’s father), but to no avail. And Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) and Celeste (Nicole Kidman) continued their physically abusive relationship, following a violent altercation with sex.

With only one episode left, “Burning Love” kept its secrets close to the vest, withholding answers to the big questions. Who sexually assaulted Jane and fathered Ziggy? Who is bullying Renata’s daughter? And most importantly, who is dead and who killed them? In terms of those mysteries the episode revealed little, but did continue to ramp up the tension in the already tense community of Monterey.

‘Big Little Lies’: 86% of readers say Nicole Kidman was the MVP of episode 5, ‘Once Bitten’ [Poll Results]

Madeline’s long debated musical “Avenue Q” finally had its opening night, after which Joseph’s wife Tori (Sarah Sokolovic) confronted her to ask if Madeline was having an affair with her husband. If being accused in public was not enough to deal with, Madeline’s husband Ed (Adam Scott) also seemed suspicious as he confronted her about the lack of passion in their marriage. And to make matters even worse, at the dinner she and Ed attended with her ex-husband Nathan (James Tupper) and his second wife Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), Madeline learned that her daughter Abigail (Kathryn Newton) was working on a secret project: selling her virginity online to benefit Amnesty International. Like any parent would, both Madeline and Nathan freaked out. Desperate to convince her daughter to stop, Madeline confessed her infidelity to Abigail — could that possibly end well?

Meanwhile, Celeste enjoyed Perry’s penitent behavior after his abuse from last week. But back at therapy her psychologist (Robin Weigert) urged her to get an apartment and to tell a friend about the abuse as part of a plan to escape when their relationship inevitably turns violent again. While she appeared to have found an apartment by episode’s end, Celeste still hasn’t told anyone about the abuse.

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In writing this week’s episode, Kelley didn’t play favorites with Woodley or Dern when it comes to doling out strong material for the Best Movie/Limited Supporting Actress race. Both play women who fear for the safety of their children for different reasons, and both have been giving some of their best performances in the same episodes. This week was no different as Jane confronted Renata and her husband about a petition demanding that Ziggy be suspended from school. This time it came to blows, but after their fight Jane visited Renata’s home to beg for her forgiveness. The two appeared to find common ground, and later Renata invited Jane and Ziggy for a play date where they could observe whether her daughter Amabella (Ivy George) was really being bullied by her son.

For Woodley, this is her most mature performance to date, showing new depths as the fiercely protective mother of a son conceived in a sexual assault. And Dern showed a likable, compassionate side of her often fragile and prickly character, drawing the audience in as strongly as ever.

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