‘Big Little Lies’: Adam Scott’s Ed Sends a Vital Message to Hollywood Depictions of Masculinity

In a film age monopolized by the franchise — and catering to a face, voice, and disposition akin to a comic book superheroBig Little Lies presents the male savior Hollywood too often denies existence.

Adam Scott of 'Big Little Lies'
Adam Scott of ‘Big Little Lies’

Eschewing heteronormative tropes, Adam Scott’s Ed Mackenzie embodies characteristics that are relentlessly queer-coded in film. He’s sassy. He can be petty. He holds a grudge. And, most importantly, he uses his words — not his fists — to assert superiority or win a confrontation (as witnessed during his run-ins with Nathan). Such traits — often associated with fierce heroines (or gay males) — are integral to the illustration of this perfect patriarch. 

Ed is written with such attention to detail — kudos to Liane Moriarty and David E. Kelley — that he seamlessly defies antiquated norms without sacrificing his position as a protector or a provider. Those behind the script allow Ed to be a different kind of male —  the straight male that is not as rare as Hollywood would like you to believe.

Men on TV do not retain the capacity for spite; they seek glorious revenge. Men in films are not petty; they are permitted to be narrow-minded. Sassy is estrogen. Clever is testosterone. Snappy is feminine. Hot-tempered is masculine. 

In an attempt to safeguard the male box, men are rarely provided access to so-called “feminine traits” without taking on an LGBTQ+ character. However, Adam Scott’s Ed is an exception to the rule. Better yet, he is a reminder that the rule is a falsehood. A reminder that an adjective in and of itself does not belong to a gender. Ed does not have a feminine side, for such a descriptor implies he is feminine by attribute. Ed is a sassy, petty, and often quite thoughtful, man. And a straight one at that. 

We need more characters like Ed Mackenzie from ‘Big Little Lies’ 

Ed should serve to represent the body of opportunities at one’s disposal, should they relinquish the idea that certain traits are inherently gendered. By gendering characterizations, options remain limited, creativity remains stifled, and progress remains stinted — narratively and socially.

Why must straight men hold onto an invisible thread connecting them to their neanderthalic ways? Why must gay men be opera enthusiasts and artistic dilettantes? Next up, how about a gay male with a really short fuse who tends towards physical confrontation? 

When we learn to drop certain restrictions on men and relinquish certain representations from the shackles they have been confined to since the early days of Hollywood, we will enter a more interesting filmic landscape. Characterizations will grow more diverse, personalities will become more wide-reaching, and we will witness a world of new and unique depictions on-screen.

This is not to say we have not come far. However, we need more Eds. We need more characters showing other filmmakers how it can be done. One or two exceptions to the rule remain divergences from the norm; several exceptions become a standard.