For its first five episodes, the music on Big Little Lies has been like another character, with its own distinctive personality helping to imbue each and every scene with the proper atmosphere. Each of our trio of protagonists essentially has her own recurring song — Madeline's mournful but hopeful "That Feeling," Celeste's painful love song "Straight From The Heart," and Jane's furious anthem "Bloody Mother F*cking Asshole" — and the show itself has made "Cold Little Heart" its main theme. So it's a bit surprising that, as Big Little Lies approaches its finale, the music has actually taken a bit of a back seat. This Sunday's penultimate episode, "Burning Love," is perhaps the quietest yet. Most of the songs in Big Little Lies Episode 6 occur diegetically within the events of the episode itself; in fact, in the whole hour, there's only one song that plays outside the organic world of the show.
Otherwise, "Burning Love" exists in long stretches where the only sounds are the natural noises of Monterey: the crashing of the waves, the clinking of silverware, and (of course) the scathing dialogue of its inhabitants. Perhaps it's appropriate that the show chose this moment to quiet down; with the climactic — and murderous — events of the Big Little Lies finale just around the corner next week, "Burning Love" was the calm before the storm. With fewer songs than normal to play with, it was important that each one nail its intended mood… and these tunes did exactly that.
1. "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" by The Temptations
This single from the 1972 album All Directions, one of the most famous songs ever recorded by the classic Motown group The Temptations, was heavily employed throughout the show's promotional campaign — but this is the first time it's actually popped up on the show itself. Used over both the episode's opening and closing montages, the restlessness of the song's titular drifter also speaks to the restless nature of our protagonist's souls.
2. "For Now" from Avenue Q
The next music we hear doesn't come until the long-awaited (and much-challenged) premiere of Madeline's production of Avenue Q. They could have chosen to highlight any number from the popular musical, but the choice of the closing number — which speaks to how everything in life is temporary and fleeting — is a particularly savvy one.
3. "Burning Love" by Elvis Presley
Why do the men of Big Little Lies keep choosing Elvis songs with such sinister undertones? Two weeks after we watched Ed rehearse "One Night With You" (albeit not with its original, more suggestive lyrics), we're now treated to Nathan's own rehearsal of "Burning Love" — the song that also gives the episode its title — about a love so powerful that it's destructive, literally burning everything to the ground.
4. "Call On Me" by Big Brother And The Holding Company
We already know that little Chloe Mackenzie has taste in music well beyond her six years of age, so it's no surprise that she picked this song — from the self-titled 1967 debut album of Janis Joplin's band — as the soundtrack to her playdate with Ziggy Chapman. Given the birds-and-bees talk that Jane had with Ziggy in this episode, the song's frank discussion of relationships feels appropriate: "A man and a woman have each other, baby, to find their way in this world." It's a nice sentiment… even if it's not always the way real life works out, as Jane well knows.
5. "Cherish The Day" by Sade
"Is this Adele?" Madeline asks about the song Bonnie is playing when the two women and their husbands finally have their much-discussed dinner date. Not quite; it's actually Nigerian-born R&B singer Sade Adu. (Has any single moment more concisely summed up the difference between Nathan's ex-wife and his current partner?) Madeline might not be familiar with Sade, but I think she'd be surprised by how applicable this single — from the singer's 1992 album Love Deluxe — is to her own life: "I cherish the day I won't go astray," Sade croons in an episode in which Madeline finally confronts her own infidelity.
Even with fewer songs to play with than usual, Big Little Lies still managed to make perfect selections for every moment. I can't wait to see what they come up with for next week's explosive finale.