The season two premiere of Big Little Lies showcased the Monterey Five — Madeline (Witherspoon), Celeste (Kidman), Jane (Woodley), Bonnie (Kravitz) and Renata (Dern) — as they deal with the murder of Perry in distinct ways. Madeline is still her wonderfully obtrusive self, while Jane feels a foreboding sense that the law will catch up to them. Bonnie is witnessing intense trauma elicited by the fact that she was the one who pushed Perry down the stairs, tumbling to his bloody demise.
Celeste’s physical abuse has ended, but her emotional state is wobbly, envisaging images of Perry’s ineffable abuse and the turbulent sex they would have. Renata is obsessing over her wealth and public image, not letting the lie bring her down. Perry’s self-assertive mother, Mary Louise (Streep), implies an unflagging ambition to unmask the truth of her son’s death. And like I said before, the mystery is over, but the lies (most of them, anyway) are becoming unveiled in ‘Tell-Tale Hearts’, the second episode of season two.
The opening shot of ‘Tell-Tale Hearts’ sketches a distorted array of trees, positioning the camera to look out the car window and shining an ill-defined light on the several trees surrounding the source. Soon enough, a lifeless and bushed Celeste comes within the frame, looking confounded and unsure of where she’s going. A flashback of her and Perry having wild sex causes her to crash the car into a railing. She isn’t drunk, but she’s on Ambien, and a concerned Madeline comes to take Celeste home.
On the way home, Madeline comes across a wandering and noticeably despondent Bonnie, who’s hiking on the side of the highway. Letting her continue her unusual hike, Madeline immediately says, “Do you see what I’m saying? I have to get Abigail (Kathryn Newton) out of her house. That woman’s not well.” Again bringing out the fervid face acting, Zoe Kravitz emits this perceptible pain of having killed a man (her character is a fascinating enigma). It’s unclear what the future will hold for Bonnie, but her character has a lot more to work with in this season than simply being the free-spirited step-mom.
When Madeline pulls up to Celeste’s house, an awkward and suspicious Mary stands there, probing for answers of Celeste’s whereabouts. A quick-witted Madeline tailors a lie, “You know what, it’s my fault. I had a bit of an emergency this morning and Celeste came to my rescue.” Celeste piles on the lie by explaining how her car broke down. When Mary asks, “What kind of an emergency?”, an annoyed and jaundiced Madeline comically says “The kind short people have.” Mary then goes on to tell another story: “You know, when I was very young, my family just moved, and we – I was going to a brand-new school, so I was especially scared, and my father gave me the best advice. He said, ‘Mary Louise, you just seek out the bully…and make friends with her’.” Madeline is clearly the bully in this scenario. Mary concludes her end of the conversation by saying, “On your awesome days, I suspect you are a godsend. But on your bad days…decidedly less so.” Madeline bluntly murmurs “Fucking weirdo” under her breath, and hastily walks away.
This entire scene unfolds in a highly comedic fashion, outlining a rollicking feud between Mary and Madeline that’ll probably lead to unsavory ramifications. Both of them insinuate to violent velleities, but they’re not susceptible enough to act on anything just yet, so they converse through sneering comments. Witherspoon and Streep have irresistible chemistry, laced in disgust and enmity for one another. ‘Tell-Tale Hearts’ puts them at each other’s throats for a bigger, and potentially more lethal reason.
Mary and Madeline’s rivalry will amplify how Streep’s character goes about to divulge the truth of Perry’s death and what she’ll do with the knowledge. Does Mary want criminal justice, or does she crave a different kind of justice — justice spun in anger, blackmail or scathing blame? In ‘Tell-Tale Hearts’, Mary discovers that Celeste was planning to leave Perry the night he died, that Perry allegedly raped Jane nine years ago and is the father to Ziggy, and that Celeste didn’t know about Perry being Jane’s rapist until the night of the school fundraiser, leading to an even more mistrustful Mary. Streep is sprinkling more eccentricity and apprehension in every scene she’s in, ensuring the viewer has a puzzle to solve. Although the plot threads are coming a bit too effortlessly, Mary is the real enigma this season.
Celeste is still weathering the convoluted feelings of Perry’s death. “I don’t think it’s ever gonna stop,” is what Celeste proclaims to her therapist (Robin Weigert). Some emotional scars don’t heal, but there are ways to cope with them. And Celeste’s therapist utilizes the one aspect of being human that makes us cognize our own emotional trappings: envisioned empathy.
Her therapist implores Celeste to put Madeline in her shoes, during the night of the Christmas party when Perry brutally beat Celeste, leaving her lying on the floor, unable to move or fight back. The harrowing flashback of Celeste’s abusive incident replaces Celeste with Madeline, and this entire scene plays out in a hushed, febrile and grating fashion. It’s not the first time the sound is muted and the editing is brisk, but the technique remains potent.
There’s also Renata and her husband, Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling), who find their relationship — once laced in avarice and tempestuous love-making — coming to a halt once Gordon is arrested by the FBI for fraud, losing all of their money. Laura Dern steals the show as the vexed and clamorous Renata, who, after discovering Gordon lost all of their money, she says these six words that’ll inevitably become a gif or meme, “I will not not be rich.” Dern is a fabulous presence, exuding contagious verve and rage regarding her husband’s financial negligence. This plot fragment will plunge Renata to become more fruitful with her money – how scary that must be.
It’s not as if I needed another reason not to have kids, but for Madeline, her two daughters ruined her life. Madeline’s younger daughter, Chloe (Darby Camp), revealed to Josh and Max (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti) and to Ziggy, that they’re half-brothers. While Madeline’s older daughter, Abigail (Kathryn Newton), spilled the beans on Madeline’s old affair with a theater director to Ed (a stellar Adam Scott). Madeline’s marriage is now collapsing. Even her ebullient personality can’t lighten up this ominous cloak now drooping over their relationship. Poor Ed, always skulking around, mocking Nathan with snarky comments, but never truly knowing what’s going on around him.
Nathan (Tupper) is even more doubtful than Ed, speaking as he’s the one who called Bonnie’s kooky mother (Crystal Fox) to see if she can get through to Bonnie. I’m sure he regrets doing such a madcap thing, especially since Bonnie’s mother basically says to Nathan, “I’m here because you’re ill-equipped to deal with your wife.” Fox’s character comes out of nowhere, but she magnifies the mystery behind Bonnie, alluding to a possible crime or incident Bonnie implemented in the past that would slightly influence her hasty decision to push Perry down the stairs. Bonnie is continuously getting more appealing.
With the secret of Perry being Ziggy’s father out in the open, ‘Tell-Tale Hearts’ sees Jane forced to somehow articulate the humiliation and agony of the sexual assault to her young son. However, in an episode where dirty little secrets are publically declared, the end of the episode has Jane and Ziggy meeting Celeste and her two sons like a true family. It’s a gentle and empathetic moment — the meshing of two strong, independent women, vanquishing the horrendous past and seeking the lustrous light at the end of the tunnel, and this may be it.
The last shot of ‘Tell-Tale Hearts’ offers a close-up shot of Madeline, who’s acutely enduring self-condemnation and melancholy evoked by Ed’s awareness of her past affair. Madeline is wounded by her actions, but Celeste seems more willing to recognize she never deserved that type of relationship with Perry. Jane feels relief that Ziggy finally knows the truth about his father (and his depraved assault), while Renata is juggling with the fact her money has vanished. Bonnie and Nathan struggle to keep their relationship afloat, but something tells me there are more secrets to Bonnie than merely masking Perry’s murder.
“It’s gonna get us. It’s gonna get us all. The Lie.” Whether or not the Monterey Five get away with Perry’s cover-up, legally unscathed, these mothers are no saints. We don’t want them to be, because we love their lies.
Despite kindling a rhythm perpetually disrupted by plotting that moves at an alarming rate, the performances and tempting blend of hilarity and heightened drama between contemptuous parents (more specifically, Ed and Nathan, Mary and Madeline), the second episode of season two is still very much addictive. I know I said the mystery is gone, but the characters are cryptic riddles in themselves, and they warrant a further interrogation. Tell-Tale Hearts manifests more potential.