The end is finally here, and the little fires are truly everywhere. The “Little Fires Everywhere” shows no interest in mending fences. Instead, its characters quite literally opt to burn everything down and start anew. The flashback that opens the episode finds the Richardson kids young and putting on a lemonade stand. A young Izzy takes an injured bird home, only for it to fly around the house, defecating everywhere and causing Elena (Reese Witherspoon) to scream. Moody tells Izzy, “Once a human touches a baby bird, its mother rejects it forever.” We don’t know whether that bird’s mother cut it out from her Christmas card. However, this sentiment describes the bond (or lack thereof) between Elena and Izzy. The finale doesn’t tell the story of them bridging the divide. Instead, it finds the women starting new lives amidst the little fires, which are everywhere.
Before we dive into the mother-daughter Richardson drama, let’s talk about the “centerpiece” of the season. We finally get a ruling on Bebe Chow (Lu Huang) vs. McCullough court case. But first, Linda McCullough (Rosemarie DeWitt) gets put on the witness stand. Her gravest offense, serving fortune cookies at her tacky, culturally insensitive birthday party for Mirabelle/May-Ling. There are many excuses Linda gives for not fully acknowledging Mirabelle’s race (“they don’t make Asian dolls, not even at American doll,” “race isn’t everything”). However, her final point feels most honest: “No mother gets it right 100% of the time.” With that, the McCullough family wins the case.
However, Elena became nervous after Linda’s testimony and wanted to make sure they didn’t lose the case. She goes to pay her “Vagina Monologues” friend Elizabeth (Jamie Ray Newman) a visit at her abortion clinic to see if Bebe “explored her options” when pregnant with May Ling. Elizabeth rightly tells Elena disclosing that information is not just immoral; it’s illegal. After pleading and blackmailing, Elena just waits until Elizabeth leaves her office in order to check the database herself. While she doesn’t find any information about Bebe, she does see that Pearl Warren had an abortion. Remember, Lexi (Jade Pettyjohn) used Pearl’s (Lexi Underwood) name out of fear.
Armed with new ammo of humiliation, Elena heads to Mia’s (Kerry Washington) apartment to evict her. The timeline moves from “I’m not renewing your lease” to “be out by tomorrow” after a series of jabs. “You do know that Pearl was pregnant, right? Another feather in your mothering cap.” Elena condescends to Mia. A smile comes on her face as Mia prepares to shatter Elena’s world. “If [Lexi] had the mother she deserved, she might have had the courage to put her own name down at the f***ing clinic, and she might not have needed to spend the night here in my arms while her own f***ing mother was gallivanting at my parent’s house,” says Mia, tearing into Elena’s reality. She’s so flustered and mad, she storms away past Pearl like the Wicked Witch of Shaker Heights.
As if cutting Izzy (Megan Stott) out of the Christmas cards last week wasn’t bad enough, Elena reaches a new parenting low. After discovering Elena kicked Mia and Pearl out, Izzy grabs gasoline and moves to set fire to her bedroom. Her siblings and Elena catch her in the act and, rightfully, freak out. However, Elena doubles down on her hatred of Izzy that’s been burning since she’s been born. “Do you think that I wanted a daughter like you? I never wanted you in the first place!” Elena shrieks. Izzy leaves. She’s never had her mother’s love, and she’ll never get it. Moody (Gavin Lewis) goes after Izzy while Lexi tries to defend her to Elena. Lexi confesses to her abortion, telling Elena she isn’t her perfect daughter. “Yes, you are!” Elena howls with more rage and denial than any of her other level 10 screams.
It’s finally time for the titular “Little Fires Everywhere,” as Lexi joins forces with Moody and Tripp (Jordan Elsass) to burn the Richardson estate down. They shuffle Elena out of the house, even as she wants to stay in bed. Bill comes home just in time to watch everyone escape the fire. Later the next morning, the firefighters ask Elena who started the fire. Rather than throw any of her kids under the bus, Elena takes responsibility.
The fire gives everyone a new chance at life. Izzy hitchhikes towards a better life, while Elena can pursue a new life without her. Their shaky bond has been severed. Meanwhile, Mia drives Pearl to New Jersey to reconnect with her parents. In voiceover, Mia reads an essay that Pearl wrote about Shaker Heights.
- The battle for Mirabelle/May Ling is supposed to illustrate how white, privileged people always get what they want, often at the expense of more impoverished people of color. However, denigrating the validity of adoption or adopted families isn’t the smartest way to go about making that point. The show ends with Mirabelle being stolen from the McCullough’s home, presumably to be raised by Bebe. However, why are the McCullough’s bad people for pursuing a legal adoption? Linda could use some racial sensitivity training, but it’s clear from her testimony she loves Mirabelle and has an earnest desire to build a family.
- Not entirely case and point, but it’s touching when Mirabelle says her first word, calling Linda “Mom.”
- One of the most uninteresting storylines begets one of the best line readings. Moody finds Pearl meeting up with Tripp at the junkyard. He calls Pearl a slut. Tripp responds by beating him up. While Moody maligns about Pearl at home, the wise Izzy gives him a talking to. “She’s not yours. You don’t deserve her just because you liked her,” Izzy claps back. She cements herself, yet again, as the most decent and kind person on the show.
- As useless as the teen love triangle is, Tripp emerges as a good advice-giver. As Pearl vents about her mother’s lies, he puts Mia’s actions into perspective. “Whatever she did, she did it to hold on to you,” he tells Pearl.
- Elena doesn’t just pick a fight with each one of her children. She also screams at Bill. “You have your freedom because I gave up mine,” she wails. His reply could not be more biting. “You should’ve had a career in journalism because your spin is impeccable,” he jabs back. This culminates with him leaving for a bit, only to return when the little fires go everywhere.
- Megan Stott knows how to deliver shade. At the beginning of the episode, Elena asks why she threw the ugly Keds away. “It’s what we do in this house, throw away the things we don’t like,” she replies. The library is open, honey! Reading is fundamental!
Best Line Reading AND Episode MVP
The best line reading also belongs to the finale MVP. Kerry Washington feels most at home in dim lighting, reciting monologues about her youthful escapades. She recounts to Izzy how, when she drove out to California while pregnant with Pearl, she witnessed a fire from afar. “Sometimes you have to scorch everything to start over. After the burning, the soil is rich and life can grow there, life that is maybe even better than what was there before. People are like that too, and they’re resilient. Even from total devastation, they start over, and they find a way,” she prophesies. “Little Fires Everywhere” is about starting over and finding a new life. The past haunts each of these characters, but only by moving on can they find solace. Washington also solidifies her bond with Pearl in a beautiful way as she opens up about why she kept her for herself.
“Little Fires Everywhere” was a flawed blend of social commentary and soap opera that, nonetheless, gives its two central actresses room to shine. Reese Witherspoon makes the smart decision to lean into the more horrendous bits of her character. As fun as it is to see Reese show a new side to her typical housewife role, the show’s focus on her family negates the overall goal. The show’s writers smartly deviate from the book by making Mia and Pearl black. Class tensions often derive from racial tensions, and the integrated and “progressive” Shaker Heights suburbs is an excellent setting for a discussion of racial micro (and macro) aggression. Kerry Washington achieves the balance of ABC-level heightened drama and real racial insights. Rather than focus on its two A-list leads, the show buries their drama under an under-cooked adoption battle that distracts more than it adds.