There’s awkward, and then there’s your already suspicious mother-in-law walking in on you, dazed and confused in a kitchen, while your shirtless one night stand waders into the room. As Big Little Lies fans know, that is exactly what happens to Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) in Sunday night’s “She Knows.” It’s a shock for all involved, including fans at home watching the cringeworthy events unfold. However, what if we’re all wrong about one thing? What if Celeste’s hookup — named Joe and played by Mira Sorvino’s husband Christopher Bakus, according to the credits — isn’t a one night stand at all?
Big Little Lies has been dropping hints about Celeste’s off-screen sex life for weeks. You just have to be following the sexy, poorly-lit breadcrumbs to notice.
Celeste memorably opens up season 2’s second episode “Tell-Tale Heart” in an Ambien fog, driving through the hills of Northern California. It’s such an unnerving sight — with such a jarring fender-bender ending — it’s easy to miss the smaller details of the cold open. But, as Celeste blinks into the morning sunlight, she flashes back to a steamy sex scene in a car. She is wearing black lingerie and straddles a man whose face we can’t see.
When Celeste drives into a guard rail and the airbags deploy, she slumps into the driver’s seat and remembers a different moment from the car hookup. This time, the guy is on top of her. We can see his massive back tattoo, since the camera takes in the sex scene from behind the mystery man.
It’s worth noting Celeste’s clothing in this morning scene and the sexy flashbacks are not the same. So, the timing of the hookup is undefined.
At first glance, I assumed these were mere recollections of the late Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård). So much of Big Little Lies season 2 is about Celeste’s reconciliation between her intense sexual chemistry with Perry, the traumatizing abuse of their marriage, and the way those two forces bled into each other. But, then Refinery29’s trusty BLL recapper Morgan Baila pointed out this guy definitely isn’t Perry. This man looks brunette. Perry’s sorta-dark locks have an unmistakeable blonde sheen. This man has that giant back tattoo. From what we’ve seen of Perry in Celeste’s memories this season — including a few of her husband in just his underwear — Perry did not.
So, we’re left wondering if this mystery hookup is either from the past or the present. The greatest case for the car sex to be recent comes in a conversation Celeste has with her therapist Amanda Reisman (Robin Weigert). During season 2’s third episode “The End of the World,” Celeste lets a very large bruise on her right arm peak out from beneath her long-sleeve shirt. Amanda asks if she self-inflicts her bruises. Celeste says no. It’s possible the mark is from her scuffle with the twins (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti), but it’s appears too big to be caused by a couple of 7-year-olds.
Instead, it’s likely Celeste got her bruise during rough sex with her car hookup. If she “misses the war” of Perry, as Dr. Amanda says, it makes sense she would find it in another man. And that man could very easily be Joe the Bartender. He has similar hair to the man from Celeste’s memories and is covered in tattoos which are a very similar style to the ones Car Man has (linger on his “She Knows” scenes as I have, and you’ll see the truth). And, considering Celeste’s perpetual nighttime Ambien fog, it’s entirely possible she has no idea she has struck up this brand-new, ongoing sexual relationship.
Now that Mary Louise Wright (Meryl Streep) has decided to go to war with Celeste over the twins, it’s likely we’ll get more clarity on Celeste's sex life. It’s possible Mary Louise will hire a private investigator to get to the bottom of her daughter-in-law’s late-night activities. Or, if Celeste really does go to court over her sons, she’ll be forced to dig into her own memories. Considering Big Little Lies’ title, Celeste may not tell the whole truth on the stand — but flashbacks on this series don’t lie.
Either way, plan to see a lot more of Joe.