Why Is Renata’s Violent Behavior on Big Little Lies Being Celebrated by Fans?

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Big Little Lies Season 2, Episode 7. Last night’s finale confirmed what has slowly become clear all season: Gordon Klein just might be the worst man who ever lived. Even so, Renata’s bat scene on Big Little Lies has Reddit questioning the series’ intent. It was satisfying to see Renata take some kind of revenge, sure — but after two seasons dedicated to exploring the devastating consequences of domestic violence and physical abuse, why are they now seemingly celebrating a woman hitting her husband in the chest with a baseball bat? (Yes, it looked like the strike to Gordon was accidental — but clearly, the scene was intended to be more gratifying than scary.)

Reddit has become somewhat divided on this issue, with some fans condemning Renata’s behavior outright, and others claiming the Renata-Gordon situation has no business being compared to a dynamic like Celeste and Perry’s. “I love Renata, but I’m surprised that this [subreddit] has kind of celebrated her actions by calling it ‘iconic’ and ‘best screen grab’ (look at the current top posts) instead of calling her out on the physically abusive behavior,” one Reddit user writes. “It’s also the way her reactions were framed within the show: for laughs. I’m just wondering how we’d all react had Ed shoved a ball of paper into Madeline’s mouth and hit her in the ribs with a baseball bat after finding out about her infidelity.” The user isn’t wrong: By and large, Renata’s behavior has been called iconic by fans, particularly when she turns violent.

It’s a question worth asking: If we had seen Ed (the other character to find out he’d been cheated on) take any semblance of the violent action against Madeline that we’ve seen Renata take against Gordon, it’s highly unlikely the audience would have celebrated it. Obviously, Madeline’s remorse is a far cry from Gordon’s disgusting “now that the nanny’s gone I need something to play with” comment. But short of someone’s life being endangered, provocation doesn’t typically absolve someone for their violent behavior. So, why are fans — particularly fans of a show that grapples so overtly with themes of abuse — celebrating this moment?

The first explanation has to do with Renata’s character itself. Prone to rage and hysteria, every reaction she’s had all season has been out of proportion to what’s going on around her. All season, Renata has been treated almost like comedic relief, despite the very serious circumstances she’s facing. This puts her actions in a less realistic context, and sets Renata up as a character one enjoys for the spectacle; not one we were ever necessarily looking to as a model of good behavior.

Then, there’s the flipped gender dynamic. In 2017, the Huffington Post reported that 85 percent of domestic violence victims in the U.S. were female; only 15 percent were male. The report further reveals that a shocking one-third of all women murdered in the U.S. are killed by male partners. Given the epidemic of male-on-female violence, some Reddit users were offended by the suggestion that Renata (accidentally) striking Gordon with a bat should be considered domestic abuse on the same scale. “Renata Klein hitting her husband with a baseball bat is NOT the same as violence against women, a systemic issue that traumatizes and kills so many women in this country,” one Reddit user writes. “This is a novel case of a woman hitting her husband and a pathetic attempt at pushing an anti-women, anti-feminist narrative.”

But is it? Big Little Lies was never just about the isolated effects of Perry’s attacks on Celeste; it never sought to only address the effects of violence in terms of how women become victimized by men. If nothing else, Mary Louise’s cross-examination should have proved just that. Celeste more or less claims outright that Mary Louise’s potential violence during Perry’s childhood played a role in him becoming an abuser. And while Celeste’s own violent tendencies are not the fear-provoking signs of instability Mary Louise made them out to be, they’re certainly not shown as a positive influence on either her own mental state or her children’s lives. Finally, there’s Bonnie’s mother, who clearly had violent tendencies in Bonnie’s youth — and inflicted severe mental damage on her young daughter because of it.

It’s difficult to argue that Renata gets a pass because BLL isn’t interested in complex portrayals of violent women — so, did the show go against its own ideals with this revenge sequence? Or are audiences simply misinterpreting the moment?

According to some Reddit users, the answer is “yes” on both counts. BLL shouldn’t have portrayed Renata’s violence as triumphant. But at the same time, it’s only because society still views violence with male victims as funny or frivolous that a scene like this could exist and be received the way it was. “I loved the train smashing scene, but the fact they could write it with Gordon getting hit shows how much work our culture has to do,” a Reddit user comments. “We’re not hypocrites for loving that scene, which was more about smashing the trains, getting revenge, and announcing that their relationship was over than it was about Gordon getting hurt…But can’t we all agree that violence against men isn’t funny? That violence against anyone isn’t okay?”

Especially after the heartbreaking moment in which we realize how much of Perry’s abuse his children witnessed, we can and should agree that violence like this is not OK. What if Amabella had witnessed her mother’s unbridled rage? What if Renata had seriously injured Gordon? What if Renata continues to have “outbursts” like this for years, psychologically terrorizing Gordon into submission? BLL was never a show about female empowerment at the cost of men’s safety. It was a show about female empowerment through the healing of trauma and the creation of safe spaces. This scene should have stopped being funny the second Renata’s bat touched Gordon (and possibly before). But if it didn’t, the jury’s still out on whether that’s a failure of the show or of our own imagination.

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