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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Little Fires Everywhere amps up the stakes in tumultuous fourth episode

Illustration for article titled Little Fires Everywhere amps up the stakes in tumultuous fourth episode
Photo: Hulu

The initial slow pace of Little Fires Everywhere becomes a distant memory in the fourth episode. “The Spider Web” is a potent hour of television, brimming with heartbreak, heavy confrontations, and lots of drama to unpack. It really starts to put the four women at its center—Elena Richardson, Mia Warren, Bebe Chow, Linda McCollough—through the wringer while adding to the suspense of the story. This week’s episode scrutinizes why each of them makes the decisions they do, especially when it comes to the May Ling/Mirabelle adoption issue.


“The Spider Web” maintains the pattern of starting with a flashback, this time to a hospital room in May 1992. It looks like Linda has suffered another miscarriage while her husband Mark consoles her. In the present day, she is now understandably paranoid after Bebe stormed into Mirabelle’s birthday party days earlier and is certain that she will return to stake her claim on the baby. No amount of advice from her friend Elena can comfort her right now, and much against her wishes, Elena and Bill take the police report from the incident with Bebe. Later that night, Elena reads it and realizes that Bebe likely used Mia’s blue Chevy hatchback van—with the Mover & Shaker bumper sticker she gave her—to get to the party. She still doesn’t know how the two know each other, though.

Mia is working in her studio at home and Izzy is helping her out by cutting some twine, although she doesn’t know why they’re cutting so much of it. Well, by the end of the episode, we learn the fiery reason behind this.

For now, their session is interrupted when Mia gets a panicked call from Bebe, who was almost fired for stealing money from the register at Lucky Palace, the Chinese restaurant where they work. Mia manages to save Bebe’s job before learning that she needs a hefty sum of $30,000 to get a good lawyer to make her case against the McCulloughs for her child’s custody. Mia even goes the extra mile and asks her friend and gallerist Anita (Sarita Choudhary) to help sell more of her art pieces to rake in the cash Bebe needs. Anita pushes Mia to sell the one painting she knows would bring that amount but Mia vehemently refuses. Hmm.

The next day, which happens to be Halloween, Elena and Mia get caught up in a tense face-off at the Richardson mansion, where the latter is finishing up her daily duties. It starts out with a simple question Elena poses to her tenant after she tries to sell her a painting: Are the two women friends? Mia clearly wants to avoid being cross-examined, so she tries to talk to Elena about Linda instead. It doesn’t work out. The two have danced around each other with minced words and limited deference for weeks now, but all the bets are slowly coming off. Things escalate once Elena figures out that Mia and Bebe both work at Lucky Palace, confirming her suspicions that they worked in cahoots to some degree.

After conspiring with Linda, who is afraid to go to court, Elena shows up at Bebe’s house. She offers her money to start a good life and an immigration attorney to help legalize her status in the country. She talks to Bebe rationally and coolly but there is no denying that she looks down upon her, as if she is lesser than, because her tiny apartment barely has any furniture and is not well-kept. Little Fires Everywhere has made Elena’s white privilege a subtle trait that she doesn’t fully realize she possesses. It’s not coincidental then that Elena and Linda, two very entitled white women, choose to ignore the plight of Mia and Bebe, two women of color with lesser means than them. They just assume that their wealth gives them the upper hand in this situation.


Elena is so charged up from her visit with Bebe that when she comes home to find Mia working there, the gloves between the two are finally off. Witherspoon twitches her face just right with every dialogue delivery to express aversion for the choices Mia has made not only to help Bebe, but also as a bad mother to Pearl by moving around from place to place. Mia tries to shut her up by boldly retorting, “You didn’t make good choices, you had good choices, options that being rich and white and entitled gave you.” It’s such a true and loaded statement but it still doesn’t get through to Elena, who claims she would never make this about race.

It’s as if Elena still cannot see how pulling May Ling away from Bebe takes her away from her birth mother and culture; she still cannot fathom the difficulties that Mia, as a single Black woman, must have faced. As an audience, we are barely starting to get privy to Mia’s specific predicaments ourselves. She urges Bebe to fight for her kid and promises she’ll find a way to get the money for her. We then see Mia remove an image—perhaps the same one her gallerist was alluding to earlier—and sob at the sight of it. It’s a huge photo of her in a bathtub when she was extremely pregnant.


Mia is carrying enormous trauma related to her pregnancy, which is indicated by her possessiveness of Pearl. Does she not want anyone, or a specific someone, to know she was pregnant and is that why she never sold this image? Who took this photo of her in the first place? This raises even more intriguing questions about Mia’s identity. Since we are at the midpoint of season one, some answers are well due. Maybe there’s a clue in Mia’s nightmare from this episode. In it, her fingers are wrapped in twine and she can’t open up the window of her apartment, she can only look down and yell as she sees Pearl get into Linda’s car. Mia is clearly afraid of losing Pearl and it’s not just to the lavishness of Shaker Heights.

Pearl goes through quite the wringer in this episode herself. She is shattered when Mia prohibits her from going to the Richardson mansion again. This news adds to an already upsetting day she had with Trip, whom she finally kissed and went to bed with, but it does not end well at all. Pearl lets her teenage hormones guide her as opposed to common sense and shows up to Elena’s to seek motherly comfort. Elena is happy to provide for her and to let her know that she is nothing like Mia. She tucks her into Lexie’s bed for the night as an annoyed Izzy secretly looks on. Meanwhile, Mia uses all that twine to hang up a large photo of Elena that’s cut into strips and sets it on fire to capture it via camera. Is this just an art project or a sign of what’s to come?


“The Spider Web” ends with a confirmation that there will be a custody battle between the McCulloughs and Bebe. She appears on a news report, with her newly acquired lawyer, explaining why and how she had to give up May Ling, and why she deserves to have her daughter back. She’s ready for a fight and to prove that Linda and Elena can’t win just because they can financially afford to. I hope you’re geared up for an emotional courtroom showdown.

Stray observations

  • Lexi Underwood has really embraced the change in Pearl’s persona as she becomes more and more like her affluent friends, whether it’s her lingo, tone of speaking, or even the fashion choices.
  • It’s not just Elena who is embroiled in her privilege. During dinner, Bill refers to Bebe as “that Chinese...person.” It’s this whole town, y’all.
  • I loved the scene wherein Izzy walks around Mia’s apartment, enamored by her creativity, and the way it mimics how Pearl was awestruck by the Richardson wealth in the first episode.
  • Speaking of Izzy, her sexuality is a distinct change from the book but even then, it continues to be somewhat of an afterthought. I hope they’ve added this plot to explore it beyond Elena leaving a Lilith Fair poster on her pillow.
  • Huang Lu is the underrated MVP of this episode as Bebe Chow, evidenced in the way she asks Elena how much she would sell her children for.

Staff Writer (TV)