The “Big Little Lies” Therapist is the Delphine Oracle of Monterey

Published July 8, 2019

Dr. Reisman, delivering some closed-mouth therapeutic acumen.

Like thousands of viewers, I was enchanted by Big Little Lies and the tales of the Monterey Five when it debuted on HBO in early 2017. Like millions of other viewers, I was delighted when it was announced the show would be returning for a second season, casting off its limited series status for that of a full-fledged drama. The fact that, each week, a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep gossips, comforts, schemes, and screams together in anything that isn’t one of my more elaborate fever dreams is something truly remarkable. I adore each of the lead actresses for their grace and resolve (and their sweaters), though there’s one character in particular who always manages to steal my breath: Dr. Amanda Reisman. Portrayed by Robin Weigert, Dr. Reisman is the therapist sought out by the bedeviled members of the Monterey Five–Celeste in season one (both with and without Perry), and Madeline and Ed in season two. The melodrama of Big Little Lies appears most often in the form of pumpkin-carving parties gone awry and mid-commute kerfuffles, all of which have resonated me on a deeply personal level. But I find that the most compulsory, impassioned scenes in each episode are the ones with Dr. Reisman, as she dutifully listens to her patient’s complaints and awaits her chance to serve them a freshly toasted slice of reality.

Her attire is simple–in each appearance, we find her coiled in neutral-toned sweaters and statement necklaces, a West Elm chair come to life. She is the human embodiment of the zen tidal wave that washes over me after I do one guided meditation, or after I burn a list of my hopes, dreams, and fears in my kitchen sink before lighting a candle and staring out into the tenebrous, unknowable night sky. Her normcore turtlenecks and low, gentle parlance enwrap her patients in a velvety cloak of tranquility and comfort. That, dear reader, is when she strikes–verbally julienning the Monterey women with a shocking level of confrontation for neglecting their needs, their wants, their very lives. Her voice becomes sharp and steely, as surprisingly biting as the Pacific breeze that rolls into the bay windows of Madeline’s beachfront house—and twice as chilling. Her soft-spoken yet blistering interrogations–”How did you get that bruise on your arm?” or “Are you an addict, Celeste? Is Perry your drug?”–are as resplendent as the hazy golden hour light that seems to permanently drench her office. They’re posed more as statements than actual questions, as if she already knows the answer and is just waiting for the self-defensive lie. She shows no mercy to those who enter her domain, as Ed discovered upon his (foolish!) attempt avoid her quiet ire: “We’ll turn to your betrayal in a minute,” she says. “Adultery is one form of infidelity. Indifference is another.” It is with this iron fist (tucked inside a plush emerald glove) that she forces her patients to confront their narcissism, neglect, and innermost fears. In a coastal community beset by lies both big and little, she steers them, like a salted, worldweary sea-captain, towards the truth.

Who is this woman? Where did she come from? Does she have a direct connection to someone at Everlane, and if so, can she hook me up with some beige cashmere basics? If she were my own therapist, what kind of deep-seated, psychological issues would she uncover? If I had to guess: an obsession with fictional, upper-middle class women who, beset by circumstances outside of their control, yearn for power and control in their lives, and staying in to sympathize with their destructive narratives as a substitute for knotty human interaction (but who knows for sure). Dr. Reisman acts as a foil to these women and their Machiavellian antics, directly addressing that which they would sooner forget. She functions as a reality check, not only for the characters themselves, but for the audience as well; just when we’ve been seduced into the extravagance of a disco-themed birthday party, Dr. Reisman redirects the focus back to their unsteady marriages and dubious Ambien use. As close to the edge of therapeutic malpractice she may skirt, I whisper a silent prayer in the hope that she may one day receive her own spinoff in the BLLCU (Big Little Lies Cinematic Universe), and I eagerly await her presence each Sunday evening.