Big Little Lies is a show about a group of women with different backgrounds and motivations working together to hide the evidence of a justified homicide. It is also a show about rich people staring into the ocean and driving Buicks, often at the same time. And it is increasingly becoming a show about Meryl Streep playing Detective Mother-in-Law about it all, doing wild things with her performance that somehow work just fine.
But don’t forget about the husbands. Doofuses, almost all of them, to be sure, but still important. Kind of. They’re kind of important. They’re all flawed and confused and some of them are awful. Some of them are trying to be less of those things. One of them is dead. It’s a whole thing. Below, please find a ranking of these Doofus Husbands from worst to best, along with tangents about beards and trains and eyeglasses. These are all subject to change as the season progresses. Consider this a snapshot. It might help if you set the Doofus Husband mood first. Pour yourself a glass (or another glass) of very expensive whiskey, put on your headphones, sigh deeply, and enjoy.
5. Perry Wright
This is obvious but still must be said in order to make these rankings comprehensive: Perry Wright was the worst husband on Big Little Lies. “Doofus” doesn’t really cover his flaws. He was a serial abuser and a rapist and the world is better in almost every way without him in it. You could make an argument that he’s still actively being the worst husband on the show because of all the undead tentacles from his life that are slithering out from beyond the grave. Specifically, his mom, played by Meryl Streep, who is doing a whole Insensitive Columbo routine as she tries to solve the mystery surrounding his death while wearing a trench coat and the most restrictive set of blinders you’ve ever seen. I would love to see Mary Louise investigate the Kennedy Assassination next.
And it’s not like the show is done with him anyway. He keeps popping up in flashbacks and dream-type sequences to remind us he exists, and three of the show’s children share his DNA. Perry was a bum and a buster and he still is, even today, even in the ground.
4. Gordon Klein
Gordon is a pompous alcoholic who plays with trains and bankrupted his family with a fraudulent investment he got involved in because he wanted to buy a Gulfstream. He sulks around a mansion all day when he’s not sulking in his office and the only times we see him not at home or at work he is threatening innocent single mothers and/or slamming drinks at a school fundraiser. He’s out on bail after being charged with a slew of financial crimes, which makes sense because he has always been the most “out on bail after being charged with a slew of financial crimes” character on the show, even before he committed the first of the financial crimes he would inevitably be charged with. It’s impressive, kind of, if only because he committed all the crimes one-handed with a full glass of scotch that costs more than your refrigerator in the other.
And yet… do I like him? Do I like him a little? I am sad to report that I’m starting to. I think it’s the trains. There’s something profoundly hilarious to me about a grown-up millionaire screwing off and playing with trains while the world he set on fire burns down around him. He was a total zero before all of this, a nothing, a blank slate with a five o’clock shadow and a BAC that hovers between .06 and .20 throughout the day, but now he’s finally bringing something to the table. Yes, again, that thing is his family’s financial ruin which he set in motion because of his desire to no longer rent private planes like some sort of peasant, but still, something. He’s such a putz. It’s almost endearing in a backwards way.
Also, I’m fascinated by the thing he does where he rests his glasses on his forehead, like he’s doing in the picture above. They’re not on top of his head. They’re not balancing on his nose. They’re not supported by anything as far as I can tell. How are they staying up there?! I’ve tried to do it five times this morning and my glasses clonked down into my nose immediately each time. What kind of sorcery is he doing here? It’s at least as interesting to me as the murder investigation. I reserve the right to shoot him up these rankings if this situation continues. No apologies.
3. Nathan Carlson
Nathan has the most I Played College Baseball And Could Have Gone Pro If I Hadn’t Hurt My Shoulder Junior Year energy of any character on this show and maybe of any character on television. He gets points for trying to rise above that, I think, mostly, but it’s still always there bubbling away just below his epidermis. You see it boil over every single time he talks to or about Ed, which is a reliably funny wrench the show keeps in its toolbox just in case. It just steams him up so bad that this… nerd — this nerd! — is talking to him like that. Look at his eyes. All he ever wants to do is shove Ed in a locker and walk away with his hand stuffed into a pretty girl’s back pocket. He knows he can’t do that, though, partially because he’s a grown-up now and partially because he knows his current and former wives will be very mad at him. Nathan does not want his wives to be mad at him. It’s his primary motivation in life every single day.
And so, the trying. He really is trying most of the time. He just has bad instincts. Trying to initiate a friendship between his Queen Bee WASP-y ex and his younger, Bohemian, yoga-instructing new lover? Not recommended. Calling in Bonnie’s mom to try to get Bonnie out of her funk without giving anyone a heads-up first? Amateur hour. It’s just… he recognizes that the way he behaved in most of his life up until this point was not correct. He wants to be better. A better husband, a better father, a better whatever Not Whomping On Ed counts as. He’ll still slip now and then. I’m sure he stares out into the ocean every once in a while and dreams about playing center field for the Dodgers. There was another life somewhere out there he thought he’d have. He’s making an effort, though. Has to count for something.
2. Martin Howard
Martin Howard has appeared on-screen for all of about 90 seconds and yet — and yet! — he has vaulted into the top two on this list. How did he do it? An excellent question. The first key was the competition, which… [gestures in the general direction of various drunks, criminals, and meatheads]. It was also that scene at the dinner, though. The one with his wife and Bonnie and Nathan. Go back and watch it again but, this time, focus on his face. Watch how utterly defeated this man is. Just, like, in general. He just wants to have a normal, nice dinner, like a family. He even says that, out loud, as Bonnie is storming off and his wife is overruling him between sips of wine and Nathan is all sorts of confused as he watches another “good” idea of his circle its way down the crapper.
He strikes me as a guy who watches a lot of golf. A guy who spends a lot of time on his lawn. A guy whose idea of a nice night is a book and maybe a strong cup of tea. He’s also a guy who likes strong women and has two of them in his life and — despite his protests about having a nice dinner just once, please — absolutely loves it. He lives for this stuff. I bet he goes to the driving range right before it closes, when it’s mostly empty, buys a large bucket of balls, and just hammers drivers out into the trees beyond the 250-yard marker until his hands bleed. I bet he tells everyone his favorite Beatles song is “Let It Be” but it’s secretly “Helter Skelter.” I bet he plays it really loud in his car and screams the lyrics but with the windows tightly shut. There’s a wild man in there. I know it.
1. Ed Mackenzie
There’s a non-zero chance that this season ends with Ed snapping and beating an anonymous surfer to death with his own board. He didn’t use to be this person. Ed was a very nice man with a very impressive beard. He sat around the house with his headphones on and loved his wife and daughters and sometimes dressed up like Elvis. He was a good dude. But then Nathan started poking at him, and Madeline started doing Everything Madeline Does, and then he found out about the theater director. Now, he’s maybe one or two more grievances away from poisoning the Monterey water supply like a total supervillain. I want to throw him into the trunk of my car and drive him far away from all of these people. He can still be saved. We have to do it soon, though. You saw his eyes when he was talking to Madeline after his lunch with Bonnie. There used to be kindness in them, now there’s only fire. I’m only barely kidding about the surfer thing.
Also, and this is admittedly unrelated to anything of value but still worth mentioning, is Ed Mackenzie the first television character ever to become more evil after shaving his beard? Usually growing a beard is a sign you’re breaking bad, as best evidenced by Walter White as he broke bad in Breaking Bad. This is also fascinating to me. Not quite as fascinating as Gordon’s hovering glasses, but fascinating nonetheless.