Seven minutes into "Pieces of Her," a mother and a daughter go out for a 30th birthday lunch at a seaside restaurant in their idyllic Georgia town. What happens next in the "Pieces of Her" opening scene is a nightmare scenario — and the catalyst for the rest of the Netflix thriller, based on a novel by Karin Slaughter.
Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the first episode of "Pieces of Her."
What happens in the 'Pieces of Her' opening scene?
As Laura (Toni Collette) and her Andy (Bella Heathcote) catch up with another mother-daughter duo, a young man enters the restaurant wielding a handgun. Before restaurant-goers — or audience members — can process what's happening, he shoots and kills Laura and Andy's acquaintances. Then, he proceeds to hold the remaining diners hostage.
Headed into filming, the stars of "Pieces of Her" were mindful of scene’s terrifying timeliness. Set in a country that saw nearly 700 mass shootings (defined as more than four people shot) in 2021, the show’s act of gun violence seemed ripped-from-the-headlines.
“We were nervous in approaching it as the days grew nearer. It's so big and intense. This thing happens in the world and there needs to be an element of truth to it,” Collette said during a Q&A for journalists and fans the week of the premiere.
The sequence also changes Andy and Laura's lives in unexpected ways. Andy, who is a 911 hotline operator, is still in in her police uniform. The man approaches Andy with the intention to die by police intervention. After discovering Andy isn't armed, he turns his ire on yet another mother and daughter pair.
Using what what appears to otherworldly bravery, Laura stands up and explains the situation to the erratic man. "She's not a cop," Laura says, the only voice in a quiet room. "Shoot me."
Reflecting on the scene, Collette believed only one line was going through her character's head: "For Laura it is, 'Save my daughter, save my daughter.'"
Spoiler: Laura does save her daughter, though she sheds blood to do so. Executive producer Minkie Spiro said she could have made the scene even more gruesome, but instead decided to focus on the dynamic between Laura and Andy, since that would propel the rest of the show.
"(The scene) could have been done with all sorts of blood and gore. But actually, that is not what the story is about. If we couldn't grab the audience at the end of that diner and grab them for this crazy journey, then we'd lost our audience," Spiro said.
The scene's tense silence is shattered when Laura reaches for the man's gun, and slams it onto a table to give Andy time to run away. The man recovers the gun, then finds it's out of bullets. He takes out a knife and stabs it through Laura's hand (the squeamish among us may want to avert their eyes).
Then comes the moment that changes Laura's life. With the knife literally sticking through her palm, she has the wherewithal to use the blade and cut the man's throat. In doing so, Laura saves everyone in the room.
Laura’s bravery renders her an internet hero, but being a public figure puts Laura and Andy in danger for reasons the rest of "Pieces of Her" explains. As it turns out, Laura’s past is full of bombshell mysteries — including how she learned to slit a man’s throat with a knife.
Collette said, “The act is from something from Laura’s own past, and has been living her system for a while. That’s what gets her into trouble. Everything that she’s been hiding now comes to the fore."
The maternal bonds in 'Pieces of Her'
This harrowing scene sets the tone for the rest of “Pieces of Her.” A mother and daughter in peril, fueled by adrenaline and fast decision-making — and strong bonds, which are hinted at in one tender gesture in what is otherwise an awful scene.
As the man stands over Laura and Andy, Laura puts her hand over her daughters eyes to shield her. "I felt that I would do that, having my own kids. I wouldn't want them to have those images to remember," Collette said.
Were she in a similarly unthinkable position, Collette said she would try to channel Laura and defend her own two children.
“As a mom, I can’t imagine being in that situation. But I’d do that — I’d do anything for them, to make their world as grounded, safe, secure as possible,” Collette said.
Though the series is not based on a true story, the maternal bonds are real. A year after the “Pieces of Her” sequence was filmed, Collette still feels responsible for Heathcote, her fictional daughter.
She said, “I look at Bella and I get all protective."