As a bold teenage daughter of the Black urban nomad that was her mother, it could seem likely that Pearl was the one to get pregnant on Little Fires Everywhere.
Except, this show is all about breaking stereotypes of every kind! So you may want to rethink that assumption there. No, Pearl was not the one knocked up in her teens even though the show may have given us many reasons to believe that she was.
In fact, the whole set up of making it seem like the daughter of a vagabond single mother was the one stuck with teenage pregnancy, is just part of a bigger plan of the show’s writers to keep questioning our perception biases (Something we all seem to be having an abundance of these days!).
Set in the 1990s, Amazon Prime’s latest prestige series Little Fires Everywhere follows Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon) and Mia Warren (Kerry Washington), two mothers as far apart in their ways as the north and south poles.
Their families are intertwined after Elena rents a house to Mia and her daughter, Pearl (Lexi Underwood), who are new to the former’s quaint American suburb of Shaker Heights.
From the very first episode, it is made clear that both Mia and Elena’s motherhoods were pitched against each other.
Even more so for Elena considering she had forgone her career for sake of the settled but sad life she was current living and saw in Mia – a woman artist who lived and raised a daughter in her car – a glimpse of what her future could have been.
Which is why the question of Pearl’s teen pregnancy becomes crucial to how Elena feels about her choices in life. The truth turns out to be a flame too hot for Elena’s privilege-puffed heart (and house).
1. If Not Pearl, Then Who?
Pearl sure has her share of controversial relationships during her stay in Shaker heights.
Soon after Mia and Pearl move to the quiet Ohio town and on the premises of the Richardson house, Pearl and the younger Richardson, Moody (Gavin Lewis), become fast friends and he soon develops a crush on her.
In episode two, Moody and Pearl are seen baked from Mia’s secret weed stash, laying in bed holding hands, and even discussing sex.
They are later caught in Moody’s secret hideout at the junkyard where he recites broody poetry out loud to Pearl.
However, things between Pearl and Moody remain more of a one-sided affair and are soon unsettled when Pearl begins to secretly date his older brother, Trip (Jordan Elsass).
While this dynamic adds to the already growing tensions between the Richardsons and the Warrens, it does not pan out into anything too big.
Things between Pearl and Trip are messed up from the start. The duo try their luck at coitus but fail miserably because Trip is unable to “get it up”.
In an act of egoistic self-defense, the boy goes on to blame Pearl for “not doing things right” and coming of as a jerk in the process.
2. Why did We Think It Was Pearl?
Pearl’s failed relationship with Trip should have been enough reason to not have the knee-jerk reaction that we did in episode 5, when we first see Pearl standing with a freshly positive pregnancy test.
It should have been obvious that it was not hers. But this is where the show’s writers deserve credit for playing with our emotions so much we fail to think logically.
Credit is also due to the cinematographers too for maintaining the suspense throughout the washroom scene.
Pearl is in fact holding the pregnancy test, which she also purchases for, Elena’s “perfect” daughter Lexie (Jade Pettyjohn).
In the season finale, Elena is going through the client files at her friend’s maternity clinic for Chow/McCullough case, when she finds an appointment in the name of Pearl Warren.
She is visibly disappointed in Pearl, whom she tried to protect from the very start. But this incident also sets off the time bomb which eventually brings down Elena’s and her children’s lives.
By the end of that episode, and right before her whole life comes burning down before her eyes, she faces the horrifying truth that her perfect child Lexie not only got pregnant and had an abortion, but used Pearl as a “surrogate” for her name and shame.
3. But Why All The Lies?
As the eldest of the Richardson children, Lexie is the most like her mother. She is smart, sensitive and a “girl’s girl” whose dreams alternate between escaping to Yale and remaining in Shaker Heights to raise a family.
Her comfortable and protected life doesn’t allow for enough courage to get out of Shaker Heights and pursue a career at Yale.
Lexie even fails to muster up a story about any hardships faced for the application essay to the Ivy League.
On a telling note, she ends up copying Pearl’s essay by literally replacing terms related to racial discrimination with gender discrimination.
When her Black boyfriend finds out, he expresses his disapproval and soon after they break up.
This pattern repeats itself when she is filling out the Planned Parenthood forms and she gives the name Pearl Warren instead of Lexie Richardson.
Why? Because she panicked. Because her mother’s friend works at the PP office. As a child of a respected household of the community, her name could not be related to an abortion so she gives Pearl’s name.
Now, even though Lexie writes Pearl’s name on the PP slip without asking for her permission to do so, Pearl decides to stick around and help her friend.
Lexie had chickened out in telling even her boyfriend as well her best friend, and had only confided about her pregnancy in Pearl. It was Pearl who was charged with buying the pregnancy test, and it was Pearl who held it as it came back positive.
4. A “Perfect” Ending
But although Pearl chooses to ignore Lexie’s hypocrisy and selfishness while continuing to care for her, Mia does not follow suit.
She immediately understands what went on at the clinic, supports and provides for Lexie but also reprimands her for not identifying the sheer privilege that allowed her to use Pearl’s name so easily, sans consent.
Mia turns on Lexie
“Pearl may love to give and give to you, but I do not. I’m done.”Mia
A heartbroken Lexie heads home with a deep sense of loss – a motherly figure in Mia, her best friend Pearl, her boyfriend and her unborn child – she loses them all.
So much so that when her baby sister Izzy runs away from their home after being constantly rejected by their mother, Lexie comes clean to Elena.
Lexie is shouting at the top of her lungs in that final scene,
“You think Izzy’s the f*ck-up in this family, but she’s not. I am. I used Pearl. I stole her story to get into Yale, I wrote her name down at the clinic.
Mom, I got pregnant. I got the abortion, not her. And, I mean, I tried — I really tried to tell you everything. There’s all of this pressure to be all of these things, to be f*cking perfect, but I’m not. I’m not f*cking perfect.”Lexie
5. About Little Fires Everywhere
Set in the 1990s, Hulu’s latest prestige series Little Fires Everywhere follows Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon) and Mia Warren (Kerry Washington), two mothers as far apart in their ways as the north and south poles.
Elena is privilege personified, a mother of four who gave up her career as a scribe to pursue a settled life back home. Alternately, Mia is a vagabond artist who lives out of a car and goes wherever her work takes her while raising her daughter Pearl in the passenger seat.
Their families are intertwined after Elena rents a house to Mia and her daughter, Pearl (Lexi Underwood), who are new to Shaker Heights and living in a car. This unlikely intermingling ends in a disaster with the Richardson house set ablaze by little fires everywhere.