If you haven't watched the finale of Big Little Lies, please stop reading now. I'm about to spoil it so badly.
Last night's finale of Big Little Lies took a story that began as a murdery Real Housewives of Monterey and ended it with a beautiful depiction of women's survival and mutual support. I knew what was going to happen, and I've still never felt better about watching someone get what was coming to them, although what happened to Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones claims a close second.
But there was one detail that the show's writer and director, David E. Kelley and Jean-Marc Vallée, left out, and its exclusion subtly weakened the finale's emotional payoff.
It's one of the biggest differences between the series and the Australian novel it's based on, a delightful, frightening book by Liane Moriarty that you probably ignored because it's marketed condescendingly to women (there is an actual lollipop on the cover, and the only indication that it's a thriller is a cover blurb from Stephen King). For the most part, I think Kelley and Vallée did fine with the excellent source material they were given, but what they chose to leave out of Big Little Lies' final episode speaks volumes about the pitfalls of men telling women's stories. And it has to do with Zoe Kravitz's character, Bonnie.
In the book, Bonnie is given more of a backstory. At first, she seems like a not-too-bright, very annoying, New Age-y yoga teacher, but through a few minor interactions with other characters, it becomes clear that Bonnie's chill "express yourself" attitude is actually a response to surviving her own trauma. When she sees Perry hit Celeste at the elementary school's trivia night, she can tell that it's happened before. She's triggered. She flashes back to her own traumatic childhood as the daughter of an abusive father, and that's when she pushes him as hard as she possibly can.
This is not a negligible detail. It's literally the book's justification for manslaughter.
Bonnie's backstory also answers an important question raised multiple times by characters like Celeste and Jane about what happens to the child of a violent parent.
Glimpsed through this lens, the already-powerful finale would have been that much more effective. I have no idea why Vallée and Kelley chose to leave it out, and I don't think they do either, because this is what Vallée said when asked about it in Variety:
It would’ve been nice, but we didn’t find a way to put it in... we realized we didn’t need it. The finale is bigger than giving a justification for Bonnie to push [Perry]. Whether or not she’s been abused in the past, this girl can be strong even if she’s tiny.
"We didn't need it" is an odd justification for leaving a narrative of abuse out of a story that's profoundly caught up in the ramifications of abuse. I can't help but think that only a male director would have this kind of blasé attitude towards cutting a storyline about how abuse stays with victims—and even perpetuates violence—in a show that's absolutely about that.
Kravitz's depiction of Bonnie brought some real gravitas to Big Little Lies; she was easily one of the show's most sympathetic characters, even though she obviously wasn't supposed to be. Including her narrative of abuse would have made her even more complex and real.
What was so powerful about Moriarty's book was that it gradually revealed that every single woman in the story had at one point been mistreated or abused. Told by two men, the finale becomes more of a commentary on women helping women, of being strong even if they're "tiny," and that's a much less interesting takeaway than what a series this dark and complicated requires. It ultimately presents the punishment of one man as a resolution, whereas in the book—and in real life—it's a rare occasion that an abuser sees justice.