'Little Fires Everywhere' Episode 2: Elena’s approach to Pearl and Izzy exposes suburbia’s class, race divide
'Little Fires Everywhere' Episode 2 continues to portray the many differences between Mia's (Kerry Washington) family and the Richardsons. Mia and Elena (Reese Witherspoon) have, since the beginning, had a tenuous relationship where Elena is perturbed by Mia's blunt responses. Mia is offended at the thought that Elena is offering her help out of pity and also feels that the kind of help that Elena offers Mia and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) is rooted in racism.
The show is set in the 90s and so Mia's worry for her daughter, when she is brought home by men of the neighborhood watch in the first episode, is understandable. Pearl will not get the same pass that Elena's kids would get for obvious reasons and Mia tries to nail in the absence of such privilege in Pearl's life to ensure that her daughter doesn't fall into the trap of believing she is the same as her friend Moody (Gavin Lewis), who is White and belongs to the upper class.
For a single black woman to bring up a daughter in a town such as Shaker Heights is not easy and this episode clues audiences a little bit about why Mia worries as she does. It is clear that she is on the run and especially from the authorities. It is also clear that she doesn't really see eye to eye with Elena on quite a few things, and that includes Elena's habit of organizing everything to the last tiny detail.
Mia has decided that she will give in to her daughter's wishes this one time though because she sees reason in Pearl's outburst in the first episode. She lets Pearl paint more than one wall the way she wants. This is a big deal for Pearl who has always moved with her mother and has been affected because of constant change. She also gets a bicycle, which shows how Mia trusts Pearl. On the other hand, we have Elena and a conflicted relationship with her youngest daughter, Izzy (Megan Stott). Izzy is being bullied at school and this results in her continued rebellion at home.
She is so unused to have someone listen to her troubles that when Mia does offer an ear, she doesn't welcome it. Then, she opens up just a little bit and Mia teaches Izzy an important lesson. Something that she herself had learned after going through judgment and pressure from society about her vocation, among other things. Mia tells Izzy that if she doesn't stand up for herself than there is no one else who would stand up for her and that sparks something in Izzy. While she usually tries to accept all the bullying and internalizes everything, this school year, Izzy has changed.
She stands up to her music teacher, who constantly picks on one student every class just to point out all the flaws. Izzy stands up for her classmate, but instead of being praised for her effort, Elena ends up disciplining her. She tells her daughter that there are certain rules in society that one has to follow, and only people who follow the rules set by the society they live in, will be successful in life. However, if Pearl were to follow this mandate, she wouldn't be able to lead a life that allows her to be her true self or let her use her potential the way she deems fit.
Incidentally, Elena doesn't believe the same rules apply to Pearl. When Pearl receives notice that she cannot take Algebra 2, because the guidance counselor believes that she is from Connecticut and cannot take courses that are of a higher difficulty level, Pearl is told to advocate for herself, put her point across as strongly as possible and use every mean within reason to get what she wants. To Pearl, it seems as if her mother cares less about her, but Mia is trying to make her daughter independent and capable of fending for herself.
When Pearl sees Elena who micromanages her kids' life, she is intrigued and even mistakes this level of involvement for caring. So when she goes up to Elena to help her with a letter she wrote to the counselor about allowing her to switch from basic Maths to Algebra, Elena applauds Pearl for standing up for herself. This contradiction of how she treats the two girls -- both of them standing up for themselves -- calls attention to the intersectionality struggle portrayed smartly.
'Little Fires Everywhere' new episodes drop of Wednesdays on Hulu.