This article contains spoilers through Season 2, Episode 5 of Big Little Lies.
Of the children on Big Little Lies, Chloe (Darby Camp) has always been one of the more perceptive ones. In Season 1, she tried to mend fences between Ziggy (Iain Armitage) and Amabella (Ivy George). In an earlier episode this season, she braved her mother Madeline’s (Reese Witherspoon) wrath by calling her “unhinged,” a harsh burn from a second grader. And last night’s episode sees her wordlessly hugging her father, Ed (Adam Scott), prompting him to break down in tears.
There’s no way Chloe knows that Ed and Madeline had just had another devastating conversation about their crumbling marriage. But she’s picked up on their pain and is weighed down by their emotional distress.
This far into its second season, Big Little Lies doesn’t have to include moments such as these, considering how much ground the HBO drama still has to cover in its remaining two episodes. But Chloe’s display of affection for her father is a valuable reminder of how children—despite the efforts of the adults around them to protect them from strife—end up carrying a heavy emotional burden in their families. Though they may not know the particulars, their desire for clarity makes them extra sensitive to their parents’ turmoil.
The show touched on this theme earlier in the season with Jane (Shailene Woodley) and Ziggy. Episode 5 explores it more deeply, in part through the custody battle between Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and her manipulative mother-in-law, Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), over Celeste’s twins. The boys (Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti), grieving their father’s death, have been lashing out: They get expelled at school after sending a bully to the hospital, and one of them calls Celeste a “bitch” when she admonishes them for their actions. Big Little Lies has raised the question before of whether the boys have learned aggression from their abusive father, but here they seem more like they’re trying to get their mother’s attention.