We’ve made it to episode five of “Little Fires Everywhere,” isn’t it time we finally concentrate on Reese Witherspoon? Oh, wait, is that what we’ve been doing the past four episodes? Oh well, this episode features more Elena, more Elena in flashbacks, more Elena fighting and, most importantly, more Elena investigating. As if she were eager to return to the nonstop screaming and monologue delivering of “The Morning Show,” Reese Witherspoon takes Elena to the big apple to get to the bottom of Mia’s (Kerry Washington) lies. But first, Paris.
The episode opens in Paris 1976. Elena is young and now played by AnnaSophia Robb. She shows us a spark in Elena, clubbing the night away. Yet, much like her semester abroad, all things must come to an end. Elena tells her boyfriend Jamie (Luke Bracey, looking like a young Heath Ledger) that her parents have set them up with jobs back in Shaker Heights. Jamie wants to stay in Paris, eventually, make it to the New York Times. Their dreams aren’t aligned, more liker her’s aren’t big enough for him. Their relationship ends.
Back in the present-day, Elena is all consumed with helping Linda win her case over Bebe. After taking her plight to the press, Bebe has earned visitation rights with the baby. Bill (Joshua Jackson) have agreed to represent Linda (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Mark McCullough (Geoff Stults) in the custody suit. While Bill is doing his part, Elena wants to get to the bottom of Mia’s involvement. She sees a photo of a pregnant Mia, by Paula Hawthorne (Anika Noni Rose), called “Duo,” in the New York Times going for quite a lot of money. Izzy (Megan Stott) supports Mia more than Elena. “[Are you mad at Mia] because she’s helping Bebe, or is it that she’s in the New York Times and you’ll never be?” Consider Elena’s old wounds fully opened. She books a flight to New York to figure things out.
This doesn’t go over well with Bill at all, who tells Elena she’s unraveling. “I’m fully raveled” Elena spits back. Against his wishes, she gets on that plane and is in Mia’s old art school by morning. All it takes is a bribe of Magnolia Bakery pastries and Elena gets ahold of the class records of an old class taught by Paula Hawthorne. Elena finds no Mia Warren, but she does find Mia Wright, former address in Pennsylvania. She can’t stop there, she wants more answers. Good thing she has friends in high places, more like former flings. It turns out Jamie did make something of himself and is currently high up at the New York Times. She asks him to use the Times’ resources to look into Mia Warren/Wright. He agrees, as long as they can have dinner.
The dinner consists of more drinks than food, as Mia and Jamie journey down memory lane. Jamie talks about his workaholic life as a New York Times reporter and how turning 40 caused him to slow down. Elena looks longingly at Jamie, not because she lusts after him (ok, maybe a little bit). She sees a life she could’ve had that is so much different than the one she has. For a couple of hours, she forgets about Bebe, Mia, her four kids, all of her Shaker Heights drama. Did she make the right decision to go back to Shaker Heights? Should she have stayed in Paris, become a reporter and not have four kids? Her mind races as she enjoys the copious wine at dinner.
After the outing, Jamie assumes Elena was going to go home with him. Rebuffed, the two argue and relitigate their breakup. Jamie dresses down Elena in a vicious screed that, while harsh, feels not untrue. She’s searching for dirt on Mia to try and compensate for a lack of excitement and grandeur that her life normally lacks. Her world is immaculate, organized and extends only as far as the city lines of Shaker Heights. Even when her local drama takes her to New York, it pales in comparison to the stuff the New York Times cares about.
However, we should check back in with Shaker Heights. In particular, Elena’s daughter Lexi (Jade Pettyton) has some drama of her own to deal with. Lexi finds out she’s pregnant, after having sex with Brian (SteVonté Hart) at prom. She tries to broach the subject of kids with Brian, but he makes it clear he doesn’t want kids for a very long time. Before Elena leaves for New York, Lexi tries to talk to her Mom, but she doesn’t give her the time of day. Unable to open up to anyone, Lexi takes it upon herself to go to the abortion clinic. The one person she calls is Pearl (Lexi Underwood), who offers to drive her home after the appointment. Rather than give her name to the nurse, Lexi makes her appointment under Pearl’s name to keep her anonymity.
Following the abortion, Pearl takes Lexi home to Mia’s house to convalesce. Mia takes her in, but she doesn’t provide Lexi the four-star luxury treatment she’s used to. In fact, she dresses her down for the way that she has used Pearl as a prop in this situation, for her college essay and with every social interaction. One remembers Mia’s cutting line to Elena last week about her having more options than everyone else. Lexi took advantage of the options that were afforded to her. In the process, she also managed to take advantage of her friend, subconsciously doing so because of her race and her class. “Wash that dish. I know you’ve never done that in your own house,” Mia says, knowing full well she’s won yet another argument.
Undeterred from her encounter with Jamie, Elena continues to ignore Bill’s calls as she makes her way to Mia’s parents’ home in Pennsylvania. Immediately, Mia’s parents drop some truth bombs on us in the course of a few quick sentences. The last time they saw Mia, she was pregnant. They said that baby was never going to be their grandchild. Finally, they saved the biggest revelation for last. The baby Mia was carrying was not hers. Now we have two questions: Who is Pearl’s Father and who is Pearl’s Mother?
- After two full episodes centering around Bebe and Linda’s battle over May-Ling/Mirabelle, their drama takes a backseat to Elena. Bebe gets visitation rights to the baby. This takes a toll on Linda, who breaks down the first time she’s asked to hand over the baby. Out of the corner of her eye, she spots Mia driving away. Linda drives over to Elena for a confrontation about why she employs Mia. “When did you know? Before or after you asked for my husband’s checkbook?” Burn!
- Elena uncovers that Mia had a brother named Warren who died in a car accident. Did she change her last name from Wright to Warren as an homage to him? Why did she feel the need to change her name? What are these secrets that Mia keeps? The revelations of today’s episode provoked more questions than answers.
- We also finally get some details about Pearl’s Father. Mia reveals that she met him on a subway (this could explain some of those flashbacks. She also describes him as “persistent, charming, intelligent and not interested in being a parent.” Very interested. What’s the over/under on us meeting him by the show’s end?
- Every member of the Richardson family is enamored with Pearl. Trip goes over to Pearl’s house to express his feelings for her. His feelings are mostly expressed in self-deprecating platitudes. “You read ‘The Bell Jar’ for fun, I don’t know what ‘The Bell Jar’ is,” he waxes semi-poetically. I liked eternally-friend-zoned Moody (Gavin Lewis) better.
Best Line Reading
Pearl has pulled away from Mia all in service of becoming further ingratiated into the Richardson household. Finally, the incident with Lexi at the abortion clinic has put into perspective for Pearl. She’s just an anecdote to the Richardson’s, someone to trot out or use as they see fit. Mia sees her opportunity to relate to Pearl and takes it. “It breaks my heart that she can’t see you for you, that she only sees what you can do for her.” Kerry Washington delivers this line beautifully. She doesn’t need to gloat about being right. Her main prerogative is to comfort her daughter during this tough, but necessary, revelation.
Our jaunt to New York City is not for nothing, because Luke Bracey proves to be a wonderful scene partner to Reese Witherspoon. One can feel the young love and chemistry between them when they go to dinner and drinks. Yet, Bracey really shines after their final nightcap, when he dresses down Witherspoon. “I wanted to see if you’d own up,” he says when asked why he broached the topic of their breakup. Jamie strived for something and achieved it, while Elena walked the straight and narrow. Their rift feels grand and makes for one of the more interesting details of Elena.