Little Flashbacks Everywhere
After last week’s solid episode with plenty of interesting juxtapositions and inner turmoil, we return for a tumble through time for this flashback-heavy hour of drama. Although coming from polar opposite backgrounds, what’s particularly interesting here is how the two make a single decision that sets off a whole catalyst of issues that bring them stumbling into one another’s path. This episode fills in the blanks and although it does feel like a bit of a throwaway hour, given it goes over a lot of the information we already know, the excellent acting from our two young leads go some way to make up for that.
In Pennsylvania 1981, episode 6 of Little Fires Everywhere sees us with Mia and Warren as the former prepares to leave for art school. We then skip forward to Mia learning some valuable lessons from her teacher, Pauline, surrounding the essence of art and how it can change you.
After finishing one of her projects, Mia explains how she created this piece to Pauline and it impresses her so much that she invites her along to an art gallery opening. However, that happiness is short-lived when Mia is followed from the train station by a strange man. Only, that man happens to be a guy called Joe who asks her to be a surrogate Mother for him and his wife.
Brushing it aside for now, Mia makes her way to the art opening and things look to be on the up for this young lady. Unfortunately, due to pressure and budget cuts, Mia is forced to go back and see Joe, desperate for money to fund another year of art school and in doing so, agrees to be their surrogate Mother.
A year later, Mia finds herself terrified when she’s given the assignment of a self-portrait. When Warren comes to visit, they discuss the baby and what she’s done to raise the funds. With Mia starting to make serious waves in the art world, her pieces being shown alongside some of the more famed artists, her and Pauline hook up together while taking pictures in the bath.
With more of the past shown, we cut forward to Ohio 1983 where Elena hires a babysitter to look after Moody while preparing to head back to work. Only, it turns out she’s pregnant again which immediately causes her mood to change completely, knowing her time back back working again is likely to be shortlived.
A frazzled Elena speaks to her Mother and Bill about being pregnant. The former encourages her to give up work completely and be a housewife, while Bill is happy and decides on the name Isabelle.
We then cut forward to a desperate Elena trying to feed Izzy as an infant. Four kids are most definitely not the same as three and the changed dynamic has caused the entire family to come unstuck. Starting to resent Bill for encouraging her to do this, Elena instead decides to visit Jamie after leaving the kids for the evening.
Jamie’s career is flourishing and he’s just started working for the New York Times; a snapshot of what Elena could have been had she stayed in Paris with him. He confirms as much to her and it’s something that bores a hole in her mind and sticks as a niggling feeling of regret which, as we’ve seen over the weeks, grows into something far more profound and destructive.
After refusing to sleep with him, Elena returns home in the morning but as she heads off to see Izzy, the receipt with Jamie’s number sticks out of her bag…which Bill sees.
Mia meanwhile, returns home from New York and tries to explain what’s happened to her Mother. Following Warren passing away and her family telling her she needs to honour her brother in a different way, refusing to let her go to the funeral while pregnant, Mia phones New York and tells Pauline she needs some time.
Deciding that raising the baby herself is the best way to honour Warren’s memory, Mia writes a letter to Joe and Madeleine, explaining that she lost the baby, and heads off alone after making this big decision.
We then skip forward to Mia with a very young Pearl and as she phones New York, she learns that Pauline has passed away after being ill. She wanted to tell Mia herself but unfortunately that hasn’t played out that way. As the episode comes to a close, we see Mia making her way to Shaker Heights.
With muted colours deliberately running through this episode and plenty of cultural references to the time, the two contrasting storylines between Mia and Elena play out nicely here, with the former surrounded by bright colours and lots of interesting and deliberate compositional techniques. Even the subway train, as mundane as public transport can be, is covered in graffiti which reinforces the art world Mia embraces and loves so much.
It’s worth noting that the two young actresses that play both Mia and Elena (Tiffany Boone & AnnaSophia Robb) absolutely nail their roles and AnnaSophia in particular manages to hit those Reese Witherspoon ticks perfectly. Whether it be the same timbre during the scripted lines or the exaggerated mannerisms that nail the character of Elena, you really believe that this is a younger version of that character.
Although the jumps back and forward through time are a little messy and perhaps may have benefited from a more linear progression rather than jumps from 1981 to 83 and back to 82, there’s enough here to fill in blanks and set the foundation for the final two episodes to follow.