Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere has the potential to be one of the best familial dramas of the year. Having not read the book it’s difficult to judge how closely to the source material this goes but based on the first episode alone, the juxtaposing world views, the different layered elements of race, sexism and class along with a deliciously dark “whodunit” combine to make for a really intriguing set up.
Acting as an immediate hook, episode 1 of Little Fires Everywhere begins with a fire raging, engulfing a suburban home as Elena Richardson watches it burn. In the morning, the police investigator (who we later learn is just the neighbourhood watchman), Lou, tells her they’ve found evidence of accelerants being used. Given Elena was inside during the time, someone tried to burn her alive and they question whether it was her daughter Izzy who started it.
We then jump back to August 1997, four months earlier. Elena has an orderly life with a strict routine, and micromanages each of her children before heading out to her job as a real estate agent. At work, Elena reports a car in the parking lot. The owner of which, Mia, is homeless and living in her car with her daughter Pearl. They head to the supermarket together where they get ready, eventually using coupons to buy their food.
They’re shown around a new house by Elena who gives them a pitch about the house, which is met with a frosty response from Mia. Given they can’t rent month to month, they head back to their car in defeat until Elena spots them and realizes who they are.
Back home, her partner Bill is incredulous about her renting so rashly to someone she knows nothing about, while Mia and Pearl get settled in their new house, discussing the past of the town Shaker Heights. Moody introduces himself to Pearl and together, they help decorate her room until admitting she and her Mum only stay short-term in each house, working as a “series” of paintings before leaving.
Meanwhile, Elena drops Izzy off at school and tries to give her some encouragement and ideas on how to fit in with the other kids. That evening Izzy burns her hair to spite her Mother. Bill suggests she speak to someone regarding Izzy’s behaviour but Elena vehemently declines. Outside, she runs into Mia and suggests she take photos for her wedding. Mia politely refuses and this prompts Elena to instead offer her a job as a housekeeper. Mia takes offence to this of course and as Elena backtracks, Mia tells her that Moody has been hanging out with Pearl.
That evening, Elena invites Pearl to dinner and while she prepares, Elena phones Mia and tries to make conversation, which doesn’t go well. At the dinner table the kids joke about Izzy’s hair, until Elena stops them. After the rest of the meal goes smoothly, Elena drives Pearl home and they connect over books and literature. She drops Pearl off and as she does, Elena tells her she’s always welcome in her house, before shooting a concerned glance at the upstairs window.
In the morning, Moody takes Pearl to a junkyard after giving her a bike as a present, where he shows her his hideout. Only, a car pulls up outside just as they settle in together. At school, Izzy defies the entire orchestra while her parents sit watching her, looking over at Elena with the message “Not your puppet” written on her forehead.
That evening, Pearl is brought home by the neighbourhood watchman after Moody gets them both in trouble. Mia berates her daughter but as Elena tries to interject, Mia quickly dismisses her. With the door shut, Mia talks to her daughter about the police and how “people like them” have difficulty with police. Unfortunately it all spills over into a fight between them as they wind up in separate rooms.
Pearl stops by the Richardson house and drops off Moody’s bike in the morning. She’s invited in to chill with the kids, just as Mia arrives and starts taking pictures of Izzy. Mia gives her advice on which spray-paint to use in the future, before heading in to pick Pearl up. As she does, she decides to take Elena up on her offer of being a house-keeper.
Back home, Mia unveils her present to Pearl – a brand new bike. While she admires this, Mia has flashes to her past but sees Elena in her visions instead while Izzy plays with the flame of her candle in bed.
As the episode closes out, Elena hears back from her housing reference about Mia – the person on the phone has never heard of Mia, throwing big question marks over exactly who Mia is and what her past may hold.
Acting as the foundation for future episodes to follow, already the show has established a nice dynamic between the free-spirited Izzy and Mia compared to the more orderly and straight forward Elena and Pearl. There’s a really interesting juxtaposition at play here between the two sides and the obvious differences in race, sex and class are even mirrored in the colour of clothing too.
Black, white and red are all used throughout the episode and the naturally delivered dialogue, with a good mix of overlapping lines and heartfelt performances, give this melodrama a semblance of realism. Whether the rest of the series can keep this up or not remains to be seen but as a scene-setter, Little Fires Everywhere may just have sparked some serious flames here.