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The Ending Of Little Fires Everywhere Explained

Contains spoilers for Little Fires Everywhere

When it debuted on the streamer on March 18, 2020, Hulu's adaptation of Celeste Ng's novel Little Fires Everywhere quickly caught on with viewers — largely due to its A-list leads and its story that offers a heated but emotionally evocative look at motherhood, womanhood, and race and class disparities in the suburban midwest. 

Produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, the eight-episode, '90s-set miniseries centers on the intertwining lives of two families living in Shaker Heights, Ohio — a place founded on the principles of the Utopian religious community that once occupied it: a communal lifestyle and models of equality. When black artist Mia Warren (Washington) and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) arrive in the picturesque Ohio suburb, the Richardsons — a white, upper-middle-class family, led by matriarch Elena (Witherspoon) — open their doors to the newcomers. Little Fires Everywhere follows the path of its novel counterpart with a few noticeable liberties, exploring how the families co-exist despite having dramatically disparate experiences. As secrets, lies, and manipulations all bubble up, by the finale of Little Fires Everywhere, both Mia and Elena must reckon with how their fighting has engulfed what they love in flames. 

In a piece she wrote for Glamour, executive producer and showrunner Liz Tigelaar revealed that "And then, somehow, the house burns down..." was a phrase regularly uttered "episode after episode" in the writers' room of Little Fires Everywhere, already considered one of 2020's best TV shows. It's a reference to one of the book and show's final moments — a dramatic culmination that, until the last episode aired, was an understood ending. Ng's book told us a house would burn down and later revealed who was behind it, but the show's finale offered viewers something radically different than what's in the pages of the best-selling novel.  

Here's the ending of Hulu's Little Fires Everywhere explained.

On Little Fires Everywhere, secrets boil over at the Richardsons' house

In the Richardson household, everything is on the verge of going up in a fiery blaze. Elena's husband, lawyer Bill Richardson (Joshua Jackson), is still furious at her for not only turning to an ex to investigate Mia's background, but also forcing the rest of the family to get involved in the drama around the identity of Pearl's father. The two get into a heated spat, with both parents ultimately turning their emotions on their youngest, Izzy (Megan Stott), the "black sheep of the family." 

True to Elena's character, her "conversation" is venomous, and she she screams at Izzy over shoes she forced the teen to wear for a family holiday photo. The picture is one Elena cut her daughter out of, and Izzy shows she knows this with a biting retort: "That's what we do in this house, right? Throw away the things we don't like."

Temporarily defeated, Elena turns her sights back on Mia for helping Bebe Chow (Huang Lu), an undocumented Chinese immigrant who left her baby at a fire station after being unable to feed her. To help her friend Linda (Rosemarie DeWitt), a white woman who adopted Bebe's child, in a custody trial, Elena visits another a doctor friend at  Planned Parenthood in hopes of digging up dirt on Bebe. But the doctor won't share any patient's private information, so Elena tries to steal it. In the process, she comes across a file for Mia's daughter, Pearl. 

Elena believes she now has more ammo to use against Mia, but the file ultimately explodes the household. Its existence reveals that the Richardsons' eldest, Trip (Jordan Elsass), is dating Pearl; this comes as a shock, as Moody Richardson (Gavin Lewis) had been pining after Mia's daughter from episode 1. 

In the meantime, Izzy makes the realization that the file isn't actually Pearl's, but her older sibling Lexie's (Jade Pettyjohn). 

Mia and Pearl work to rebuild their trust

Life isn't much better for the Warrens. After Elena revealed that Pearl's biological father did actually want her and that Mia had lied and told him she had a miscarriage, Pearl is angry. The young girl is convinced Elena told her about her father because she cares, but Mia says it was to get payback for helping Bebe in the custody battle. Eventually, their fight sees Pearl force Mia's hand by threatening to ask Elena to put her in touch with her biological father. Out of fear, Mia agrees to call him up herself. But once she hears the sound of his wife's voice, Mia quickly hangs up.  

Things take another turn for Mia after she learns that Elena's friend Linda won the custody battle for Bebe's child. Bebe is devastated, and Mia is comforting her when Izzy shows up. After Bebe cries herself to sleep, the youngest Richardson and her mentor talk about Mia's past and the emotional destruction that comes with losing a child. Recounting a drive through the country after her parents disowned her while she was pregnant with Pearl, Mia tells Izzy that after seeing a prairie fire, she realized that "sometimes you have to scorch everything to start over."

Later, Elena arrives to gloat about her friend's custody battle win and knowledge of "Pearl's" abortion. Mia reveals it was Lexie's procedure, and upon hearing the truth, Elena demands the Warrens leave her rental home that night. Pearl arrives home, but the once-doting Elena hardly has time for her, and the young Warren understands her mother was right all along. The two pack their things, but Mia leaves behind her final project: a model of Shaker Heights depicting the town's history of racism and segregation.

On Hulu's Little Fires Everywhere, Izzy isn't the Richardson who starts the fire

With all the ugly secrets of Mia and Elena's lives now out in the open, Elena returns home. Later that night, Izzy sees the Warrens drop the house key in the mailbox and drive off. Pearl has come to understand her mother's decision to keep her hidden from her father, but Izzy has now grown more upset at her own situation. Hysterical, she puts the Keds and the clothes she hates in a pile and douses them with gasoline. Lexie runs into her bedroom and stops her, followed by the rest of her siblings and Elena. As Izzy and Elena fight once again, the Richardson matriarch shouts, "Do you think I wanted a daughter like you? I never wanted you in the first place." 

The declaration ripples through the room and marks Izzy's breaking point. She grabs her bag, ignoring her siblings' pleas to stay, and marches off into the night. The rest of the Richardson children, however, are unable to let go of their mother's confession and decide to finish what Izzy started by setting the house on fire. And in the most surprising move, Elena takes the fall for her children's arson. 

Some TV shows ignore the books they're based on, but Hulu's Little Fires Everywhere remains pretty faithful to the source material. That said, though, the decision to have the other Richardsons — and not Izzy — start the fire is a distinct deviation from the novel. In Celeste Ng's book, Izzy is never interrupted in her bedroom, and Little Fires Everywhere showrunner Liz Tigelaar noted in her Glamour essay that Ng's development makes sense because Izzy's an impulsive and suffering teen. But the writers of the Hulu series changed the ending, giving Izzy's siblings the chance to find a fresh start. Swapping who starts the fire was something Tigelaar thought about from the beginning. "Everyone who had read the book would think they knew what was coming — I wondered if we could somehow manage to surprise them while still maintaining the spirit of the ending they so loved," Tigelaar said.

Izzy's siblings "scorch everything to start over" at the end of Little Fires Everywhere

Ahead of the Little Fires Everywhere finale, Tigelaar and the writers debated what it would take for other characters like Elena, Mia, Pearl, Bebe, Linda, or even Elena's husband, Bill, to strike the match. For the most, but especially with Elena, it just didn't seem true to the character, Tigelaar explained in her Glamour piece.

But Tigelaar had thought about Moody, Lexie, and Trip being the fire-starters ever since Hulu picked up the show in 2018, and so the writers worked to make it possible throughout the scripts. Tigelaar said she and the writers tweaked Izzy's siblings to more closely align them with Elena by having them ignore her blindspots or act in similarly entitled ways. Years of them siding with their mother then exploded in Izzy's bedroom, where the children saw their mother utter a "raw and ruthless" truth. At that moment, they were finally able to see Elena through Izzy's eyes for the first time. 

"In their silence and complicity, they see who they, themselves, have become in this house, sculpted by Elena's views," Tigelaar wrote for Glamour. "It's a shameful realization and one that pushes them to finish what their sister has started. To want to burn down this house and all of its trappings. This cage that's molded and mutated them." 

For Tigelaar and the Little Fires Everywhere writers, the Richardson siblings started little fires all around the house in hopes of burning down who Elena made them. By doing this, they can not only grow into something better, but also send a "smoke signal" to Izzy, letting her know she's now safe with them.