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Big Little Lies: The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Blake Hodges
July 15, 2019

Most of this episode covers the custody battle (I remain convinced Mary Louise will score at least a partial victory). However, this episode laid the groundwork for how the season will most likely end: The Prisoner’s Dilemma. 

The show deserves praise for sneaking in the scene at the beginning of the episode where “The Monterey Five” are arguing on the eve of Celeste’s trial. Rather than comfort her--as they should before she goes to battle with Mary Louise--the group breaks out into an argument right after two key things: 

1.    We see Celeste’s footage of her giving testimony that isn’t as buttoned up as it should be to stay safe. 

2.    We hear Madeline say “We are not going to break. We are going to keep our poise and keep calm.” 

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Reese Witherspoon as Madeline in 'Big Little Lies', season 2 is now airing on HBO

Right after Madeline utters the marching orders that’ll keep them all safe, the group immediately breaks out into an argument. The group immediately loses its poise. This group is no longer a “Ride or Die” kind of clan. 

In walks The Prisoner’s Dilemma. defines the Prisoner’s Dilemma as such: 

A scenario in which the outcome of one person’s decision is determined by the simultaneous decisions of the other participants, resulting in a bad outcome for all of them if they all act in their own self-interest. 

How does this play out? Here is an example of the potential deals/outcomes: 

1.    The entire group stays strong. Everyone holds to the story. This results in the police having zero evidence and the entire group makes it out! Hooray! 

2.    One member of the group is fearful of the others turning them in. They decide they can’t trust the others and take the bargain of only five years in prison instead of thirty. The police now have the testimony they need to prosecute the others and one gets out with less jail time. 

3.    What if multiple people fess up? By my understanding, no one would get a deal and they are all going to jail for a long time.

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Nicole Kidman as Celeste in 'Big Little Lies'

So which scenario is more likely? Probably the second one. We go from Celeste giving testimony, to Madeline saying they will stick together. They then immediately prove both declarations wrong. This group doesn’t have the trust or faith in one another to keep up this lie. Someone will crack and turn on the others, or turn themselves in.

I’ve made my fair share of predictions in life and been wrong. However, I trust this hunch that the Prisoner’s Dilemma will come up and potentially be the way this season wraps.

What do you think will happen? Will they stand by their story, or turn on each other? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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