(Warning: The following story contains MAJOR spoilers through the sixth episode of Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere”)
Wednesday’s “Little Fires Everywhere” told the backstory for both Mia (Kerry Washington) and Elena (Reese Witherspoon), the latter of which is something that was completely absent from Celeste Ng’s celebrated 2017 novel.
In fact, that has been one of the biggest themes of the Hulu series under showrunner Liz Tigelaar. In the book, readers find out how Mia Warren (back when she was Mia Wright) agreed to be a surrogate for a wealthy New York couple, only to end up running away with that baby. But there is virtually nothing, outside of a brief mention of a one-time former flame, that tells Elena’s backstory.
“The fact that we had eight hours in which we could tell the story, I think it just gave us a lot of opportunities to really think about how we could explore some other things inside of it all,” Lauren Neustadter, an executive producer on the series, told TheWrap. Neustadter is head of TV and film at Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. “What an amazing opportunity to say, ‘OK, this is the thing that you don’t know about Mia, and this is what informs her experience of being a mother, but also, here’s the thing you don’t know about Elena, and this is what informs her experience of being a mother. This is what makes these women who they are and how they are.'”
AnnaSophia Robb plays the younger Elena in the episode, where we find out that she had a budding journalism career but adhered strictly to her “plan” of settling down in Shaker Heights, Ohio (where the story takes place). But that plan did not include having a fourth child, Izzy (Megan Stott), and the episode goes a long way in explaining the divide between Elena and her youngest daughter.
And that brings us to one of the other major changes from Ng’s novel: Izzy is a lesbian (ditto for Mia).
“What if it was something that she was grappling with but in the book she didn’t have the words to say it out loud, but in the show she did?” Neustadter said, adding that the late-1990s time period the story is set in only heightened the importance of that story. “It’s another facet of the story that we could explore and the moment in time that this all took place was not the same as it is now. People didn’t have language to have a lot of the conversations. To be able to sort of look at what is it like for Izzy to walk through the world in this moment in time. For those of us who grew up in the ’90s, it sure does feel like something that we can connect to. I think all of us wanted to make sure that it feels very authentic.”
Neustadter said Ng was involved and signed off on all the diversions of her story, and even appears in the series in a meta-style nod — during a book club gathering at the Richardson’s residence. “She was really in lockstep,” Neustadter continued. “She came to the writers’ room and actually she visited the writers’ room as we were breaking episode six.”