Warning: Spoilers ahead for Little Fires Everywhere's “The Spider Web.”
Last week, we gave Little Fires Everywhere fans a place to center their focus: the custody crisis over baby May Ling/Mirabelle, an infant caught between her working class biological mom (Lu Huang) and the wealthy Shaker residents now parenting her. Viewers likely needed that advice since Fires, an adaptation of Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel of the same name, has a lot of spinning plates. There’s the increasingly explosive war between Mia Warren (Kerry Washington) and Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon), the mystery of Mia’s past, and multiple high school squabbles.
Wednesday’s new episode, “The Spider Web,” brought one of those angsty YA storylines to the forefront by pushing Pearl’s (Lexi Underwood) crush on eldest Richardson son Trip (Jordan Elsass) way past the one-sided yearning stage. By the end of “Spider,” Pearl and Trip have sex. But Pearl and Trip’s first hookup isn’t what fans of Fires' source material were likely expecting — and it likely means big changes are ahead for the series.
Viewers are keyed into Pearl’s crush on Trip from the very beginning of the series. While Pearl becomes fast friends with Trip’s younger brother Moody (Gavin Lewis) — the artistic nerd to Trip’s dreamy Big Man on Campus — she never really looks at Moody. On the other hand, Pearl stares at Trip with boundless youthful desire. It’s even suggested that one of the reasons Pearl is so motivated to transfer into algebra II in second episode “Seeds and All” is to have one class with Trip. She succeeds by the end of the installment.
“Spider Web” sees the fruit of Pearl's persistence. After Trip nearly fails a practice test, Pearl offers to help him study. Alone in the Warren home, the teens share innocuous chatter about math and the difference between V05 and V8. Despite the ridiculous conversation, their interest in each other is impossible to ignore. Finally, Pearl kisses Trip and, when things get intense, asks him if he has “like, you know.” The suggestion of the words “a condom” hangs between them. Trip does, in fact, have a “you know” and the pair heads to Pearl’s bedroom.
Pearl and Trip’s first hookup unfolds in a similar — but not identical — manner in Ng’s book. There, Pearl winds up entering the Richardson home alone one day in mid-February. Trip is the only person in the house, and Pearl decides to approach him after harboring a longtime crush. He asks her to help him with his math homework and, during their tutoring session, realizes his attraction to her. After some math talk, Trip kisses Pearl and eventually she takes Trip to his room for sex.
These two versions of Pearl’s first sexual experience truly diverge after Pearl and Trip make it into a bedroom. In the book, Pearl and Trip have a fast, passionate, and completed experience, leaving Pearl thrilled and Trip besotted. The pair begin surreptitiously sleeping together regularly as part of their growing, mutual infatuation with each other. Trip usually brings Pearl to the basement of his friend Tim Michaels for sex and keeps Pearl's identity a secret out of respect for her privacy (nosy brains are increasingly curious about ladies man Trip’s mystery girl). These rendezvous become a private oasis for the pair, with Pearl saying at one point, “I don’t mind being a secret.” During this period, Pearl continues to hang out with Moody, who she knows has feelings for her.
Hulu’s version of Little Fires takes the Pearl-Trip storyline in a completely different direction. In “Spider,” we check back in on the teens after Pearl confirms Trip had a condom. They are now in her room, but the situation has gone from fumblingly flirty to heartbreaking. We see Trip putting his clothing back on in a hostile rush as Pearl, still in her tank tap and laying under a sheet, asks, “Did I do something? What happened?” Viewers are meant to quickly figure out that Trip lost his erection. All Pearl can ask is whether or not she and Trip were really “doing it.”
“Yeah, we were doing it,” Trip says, his words dripping with agitation. “This has never happened to me before. Ever! And my brother, he fucking likes you. And you go and you kiss me? … I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but it’s really fucked up.”
With that insult, Trip storms out of the Warrens’ home, leaving Pearl near tears. The next time Pearl sees Trip in class, he avoids her and chooses a seat as far as possible from her. Pearl is devastated by the rejection. The happy moments in Tim Michaels’ basement from Little Fires the book couldn’t seem more far away.
Right now, it’s unclear why Little Fires the series’ creator Liz Tigelaar decided to stray away from Pearl and Trip’s initially happy romance. But it’s likely the Hulu drama wanted to ramp up tension between the Warrens and the Richardsons as quickly as possible. We see evidence of this narrative decision elsewhere in the “Spider” when we look at the fissures in Moody and Pearl’s friendship and Mia and Elena’s working relationship. Both connections are far more fraught by “Spider” than their analogous chapters in Ng’s novel.
Little Fires the book was a slow burn. The Hulu show is a blaze — and you should expect to see so many more relationships catch flame before it’s over.