Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere "Seeds and All" Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon

‘Little Fires Everywhere’ Offers a Sharp Look Into a Toxic Family

The Hulu show examines the dark side of the perfect suburban existence.
June 2, 2020
12 mins read

Now, I’ve binge watched a lot of shows in my day, but I honestly think Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere” is among the best.

Hulu released the miniseries back in March. The show is actually based on the novel “Little Fires Everywhere” written by Celeste Ng. I couldn’t bear the agony of waiting each week for the episodes to air so I waited and waited until the finale. I binged watched the eight-episode season, staying up until four in the morning, but I am not complaining.

I hated each character for specific reasons and that goes to show these actors/actresses really put their whole heart into it. For example, Reese Witherspoons’ character, Elena Richardson, irritated me the entire season. She wants everyone to believe she and her family are so perfect, that she will go to any lengths to make anyone else look bad.

As “Little Fires Everywhere” went on, I realized that little Miss Nancy Drew isn’t so perfect after all. She met her ex Jamie in college and they were in love. Except Jamie didn’t want to live the life everyone had in Shaker, their hometown. He wanted something new and didn’t want to live asking “what if.” So, Elena leaves him, meets Bill, gets married and has kids. When Elena finds out she is pregnant for the fourth time she can’t handle it. The baby cries all day and Elena leaves, calls Jamie and meets him at a bar in Rochester. They go to a hotel room, but Elena can’t follow through even though she already cheated the moment she called him.

Elena comes off as this loving mother, but in reality, she gave up her life for her children — which is why she lives vicariously through them. Izzy, of course, is the exception, who is treated even worse; she is the child she didn’t want, and Elena makes sure that she knows. Things take a turn, however, when Mia and Pearl come into town.


Mia Warren is an artist on the run from her past. She and her daughter live out of their car, which wasn’t an issue until Elena calls the police. Afterward, Mia finds a house that is coincidentally owned by Elena. Elena rents her the apartment and even offers her a job — as her maid. Mia accepts the offer only to keep her daughter safe. Closer to the finale, I saw why Mia is so worried for Pearl, but Pearl doesn’t see it that way.

Mia’s daughter, Pearl Warren, is the one character other than Elena that I despised the entire season. As soon as she starts hanging out with Moody, Elena’s youngest son, her personality goes downhill. She disrespects her mother, and as a black daughter living with my single mother, I can’t help but laugh. I wasn’t allowed to do anything Pearl did, let alone yell at her to get out of my room. She would’ve snatched the door off the hinges. However, maybe Mia doesn’t react the way I thought she would because she doesn’t want to lose Pearl, and maybe Pearl takes advantage of that.

Pearl becomes obsessed with the Richardsons’ life, not realizing just how bad and suffocating it can be. She believes Elena and her family are perfect when in fact they are nowhere near it. She wants the life of a Richardson daughter, which explains why she starts having sex with Elena’s son Trip. She mimics everything Elena’s daughter Lexie does as well, so once Lexie tells her she is having sex with her boyfriend, Brian, Pearl joins the club.

The only character I really enjoyed was Izzy Richardson, the black sheep of the Richardson family. No one bothers to listen to her. She cries for help the entire season yet her family views it as simple attention seeking — misguided because clearly there’s something bothering your daughter if she lights half her head on fire. I was waiting for her to explode the entire season. I knew whatever she chose to do was going to be big and had to involve fire.

Moody Richardson is annoying and needy. He feels as if Pearl belongs to him because he met her first. Why they can’t just be friends, I don’t know, but I will say his actions are somewhat justified because Pearl crushes on Trip, who doesn’t even notice until after Homecoming. Trip and Pearl start seeing each other behind his back, meeting up in the same spot Moody showed Pearl when they first started hanging out, which is on a whole different level of disrespect.

Lexie Richardson is a lot to handle. She is a liar and manipulative. She steals Pearl’s story about how the guidance counselor wouldn’t let Pearl take more advanced classes and uses it to get into Yale. What really sent me over the edge was when Lexie goes to the clinic for an abortion and is too much of a coward to use her own name. Whose name does she use? Lexie Warren. She feels if her name finds its way into the system, her family would be destroyed. However, what about Pearl’s family? Not only does she use Pearl’s name, but she calls Pearl to the clinic and begs her to take her to Pearl’s house in fear of her mother finding out. Lexie lives off Pearl the entire season.

In some ways I understand where Lexie was coming from. The pressures some parents put on their children can be overbearing. There’s this obsession to be perfect and the fear of ever disappointing them. It’s like she’s scared to make a mistake. She has already been accepted into Yale and sees how proud her mom is. Like any human, she slipped up. Something fell through the cracks. She got pregnant and was lost.

Trip Richardson is your typical athlete who comes from a rich family. All the girls love and want him, especially Pearl. Trip doesn’t even acknowledge Pearl’s existence until the Halloween party. He then manipulates Moody into thinking that ignoring Pearl would make her want him more, when in reality it doesn’t make a difference. Pearl never liked Moody and even if she did, his chances of being with her vanishes the day she meets Trip.

A custody battle plays a prominent role in this season of “Little Fires Everywhere”: Unbeknownst to Pearl, she was, in reality, intended for a wealthy couple — the Ryans — with Mia as the surrogate mother; however, Mia told the family that she she suffered a miscarriage, and ran off.

During the ensuing, heart-breaking custody battle, Elena drives to New York and Pennsylvania to find out the truth about Mia’s past and tells Pearl. This is way out of line. She turns Pearl against her own mother, not even realizing the wedge she drives between her and her actual daughter, Izzy.

Everything unravels in the finale. Pearl’s love triangle between the Richardson brothers blows up, Mia and Pearl have to leave, and Elena is left with a household of people who hate her.

The opening scene of the season features Elena sitting in the back of an ambulance, frozen over the ashes of what was once her house. The police question her regarding Izzy’s whereabouts, considering that she is the only child missing from the bunch, but no one knows where she is.

In the final moments of the season, I see my assumptions were wrong. The whole time I thought Izzy started the fire because of her mom, but the perfect children Elena thought she had started three little fires of their own.

When asked who started the fires, Elena takes the blame, which is true in a way. She brought this upon herself. She makes her husband lose trust in her due to her infidelities. Her children despise her because of her toxic obsession to be perfect. She not only tells Izzy that it is hard being her mom, but that she never wanted her in the first place. That alone explains why she and Izzy have the relationship that they do. Izzy ends up leaving and no one knows where.

“Little Fires Everywhere” touches on a little bit of everything. Even though I despise the characters, my heart aches for all of them except Elena. The only actor I couldn’t look at the same was Michael Ealy in “For Colored Girls,” but Witherspoon sparked something new.    

Kayla Johnson, Bradley University

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Kayla Johnson

Bradley University

I am currently a junior majoring in journalism with a minor in sociology. I want to be a published author and a sports photographer one day.

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