little fires everywhere

Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon (courtesy of Hulu)

Elena Richardson watches as her beautiful home burns down while she is still inside. The question is, who did it, and why?

Jump back 4 months when Mia Warren (Kerry Washington) and her daughter move to Shaker Heights, an upper class neighborhood that very strictly monitors grass height, they quickly become entwined with the Richardson family. Mia is an artist and a Black single mother that moves frequently and lives on the most basic necessities. Elena (Reese Witherspoon) is a white affluent mother of four and has always had her life planned out.

Mia’s daughter Pearl (Lexie Underwood) wants more from her life than the nomadic lifestyle her mom has made that rarely leaves enough money to afford her own bedroom. She falls in love with the posh suburban lifestyle of the Richardson family and connects with them while distancing herself from her mother. Similarly Elena’s youngest daughter Izzy (Megan Stott) is disillusioned by her experiences of not fitting in at school or at home. She looks up to Mia as an artist and an outsider, and finds solace as her apprentice when the divide between her and her own mother grows wider.

Elena and her carbon-copy of a daughter Lexie encapsulate privilege and ignorance. In one instance, Lexie appropriates Pearl’s personal experience with discrimation for her own Yale admission essay. The stealing of a Black woman’s story without understanding why it’s wrong is a major point of contention in the series between Lexie and her boyfriend that happens to be Black.

Witherspoon, unsurprisingly, delivers a strong performance. She plays a very similar character in the very similar show “Big Little Lies.” She is overplanned and calculated to a fault. Washington is the real powerhouse of the series, as she has the most to work with in terms of character and storyline, and delivers her emotional scenes with power and her words have a force that was always present in her work on “Scandal.” A large portion of her storyline follows her helping an undocumented Asian coworker fight a custody battle for her daughter she left at a fire station to save her life. This storyline acts as a major talking point throughout the series in regards to who deserves to be this kids’ mother, does wealth or lifestyle determine what is a “better” life?

The show can be a bit generic at times. A boy that likes a girl that likes someone else and the mother with a rebellious daughter aren’t anything new. But one of the most engaging elements is the story surrounding motherhood. The payoff for Mia’s actions throughout the series is interesting, but could have been more impactful than it was handled. The backstory reveal had a full flashback episode, but used different actresses to portray their younger selves, a choice that lessened its impact.

“Little Fires Everywhere” takes on subject matter that is both engaging and important, with subtle comments and actions that reflect what people of color are subjected to daily. It explores the ways in which class, race and motherhood can become entangled and issues that arise in society. The show exists in shades of grey, presenting characters that both have made morally questionable choices under circumstances that are extremely complex. Luckily these ideas are sometimes thoughtfully approached and with the intriguing element of mystery it will keep you watching.