Back when season two started, I wondered why the episodes in season two were always so short, and why the editing was even more abrupt and frantic compared to last season. As it turns out, writer David E. Kelley and season one director Jean-Marc Vallée, who were originally executive producers on the series, hired a new team of editors to recut director Andrea Arnold’s work and forcefully order re-shoots, all so the style and aesthetic of the first season could be envisioned again for the second season. Well, Rachel Bloom (star and co-creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) said it best: “If you wanted her to replicate a directing style, just…tell her. If you don’t like the dailies coming in, just…tell her. Open your flesh mouths and communicate.”
Directors can employ distinct film-making aesthetics and techniques, helping to distinguish their fashion while also possibly supplying a novel perspective. Having a familiar flow is certainly comforting, but it can also be enticing to experience a new direction — and even if the fresh direction doesn’t succeed or reach the value of the previous season, at least we got something a bit different. Unfortunately, Andrea Arnold’s vision was infiltrated, unknowingly, by producers who covertly decided to overpower Arnold’s helm as director.
But back to the actual show, ‘The Bad Mother’ opens on the Perry incident, but this time, the incident is unfolding through Renata’s perspective. Agreeing to the cover-up, Renata screams for an ambulance. A sudden shift to the modern-day confines viewers to a close-up shot of Renata’s face, emitting a sense of fear or uncertainty of how Celeste’s custody battle will untangle in court. Renata has always been one of the stronger characters, but as the bankruptcy hiccup continues to overwhelm Renata, it’s revealed Gordon cheated on her with their nanny. It’s fair to say Gordon’s (Nordling) recent betrayal with their nanny may push Renata toward divorce. This prompts Renata to release her immeasurable anger in the car, with a foolish Gordon by her side, once again. Another episode, another moment where Dern steals the show. After all, Laura Dern’s f-bombs are the best f-bombs.
Celeste’s custody battle forces the Monterey Five out of hiding, and gives Detective Adrienne Quinlan (Merrin Dungey) a chance to probe the truth out of at least one of them: all she needs is one of them to crack. Even Madeline (Witherspoon), the one who embraced the lie, is feeling a bit anxious about it — gradually, the lie is suffocating her and continuing to be a strain on her marriage. As for Ed, he agrees to meet with Tori (Sarah Sokolovic), the theater director’s wife, but despite the allure of Tori and revenge, Ed doesn’t want to do anything sexual. Tori, on the other hand, is desperately trying to ensnare him in her grasp. There’s been awkward chemistry throughout this second season. Whether it be Madeline and Mary, or Ed and Nathan, this second season relies heavily on the cast and the dialogue. Adam Scott is always a pleasure to watch, and the writers gave him more to do this season than to just have him passively react to Madeline’s fathomless verve and numerous opinions about the most piddling things. Witherspoon continues her character’s descent into penitence quite convincingly, radiating her anxiety through silence and stellar face acting.
Corey (Smith) may not be a cop, but the cops did partially get to him. He basically passes along Detective Adrienne Quinlan message willingly, and brazenly tries to sway Jane (Woodley) to be the first one to speak the truth so she’ll get a “break.” Jane doesn’t necessarily break-up with him because of this, she’s just not prepared for a relationship. “It’s gonna take me a long time to let someone in again” is how she describes her distance with Corey, who is rather relentless in his futile attempts to gratify Jane’s shattered heart. Woodley’s acting throughout the second season has been quietly powerful. Woodley’s trauma is heartbreaking, and the fashion in which she tries to deal with has always held weight and empathy.
Meanwhile, Bonnie is still contemplating on telling the truth, visualizing what it would be like if she screamed it in the courtroom. Despite appearing a bit contrived, Bonnie’s past is more keenly felt in ‘The Bad Mother’, as she confesses to Perry’s murder to her semiconscious mother. But in this startling confession, Bonnie broadcasts the grating verity of why she pushed Perry down the stairs. No, it wasn’t just instinct or because Perry was being viciously violent, but it also had to do with the years spent being her daughter. “When I lunged at him, I was pushing you.” Bonnie’s distress becomes more complicated and concerning in ‘The Bad Mother’, specifically when she visualized her mother in Perry’s place and demise. But she did confess to somebody, and that person just so happened to be the reason for all of her hardship, so maybe Bonnie will be able to keep the lie concealed.
In the courtroom, the Monterey Five witness the unexpected as something disastrous appears on their radar, and it all starts with Mary Louise. Coming in with a few sly and icky tricks up her sleeve, Mary Louise manages to push her implacable lawyer to convince the judge and the jury that Celeste is not only tempted by Ambien and other drugs, but she’s also a sex addict. Evidently, Mary hired a PI to follow Celeste on multiple carnal escapades. Mary’s lawyer is so persuasive and forceful in presentation, it’s hard to realize his arguments are simply well-articulated snippets of slut-shaming.
Not only does Mary’s lawyer scrutinize Celeste’s relationship with Perry (“Did the physical violence ever lead to sex,” is something Mary’s lawyer asks and utilizes to see if Celeste perhaps hurts herself), but he casually sprinkles in a rigorous simulation of Perry’s death and firmly states, “The physics say…that for him to have landed there, he must have been pushed.” The Monterey Five were all shaking at this point, as was I. Employing immersive reaction/close-up shots to depict the gravity of what’s occurring in the courtroom, the tension is robust throughout. In some instances, I was angry. Mary is sneaky and frightfully calm, and her lawyer is far too good at his job.
Mary wants the kids and the truth, even though deep down, she mostly knows it all. Mary even knows Jane has a gun, and she correctly theorizes that Jane came to Monterey to track down her rapist. She can’t be stopped…unless Celeste, who in the final moments, asks the judge if she can bring Mary Louise to the stand. And because Celeste is a lawyer, she wants to question Mary herself. This latest act of confidence could very well allude to an optimistic future, where Celeste corners Mary, but anything can happen. There are any number of possible outcomes to this trial, and the anticipation is raised even higher in ‘The Bad Mother’ because the Monterey Five are all on edge.
Catch up on our previous Big Little Lies reviews here.
Next week is the finale, and episode six effectively builds anticipation and a vigorous aura of uncertainty. Mary Louise has been a brewing storm for quite some time, and this episode unleashed some Mary-oriented damage, but the aftershock may be far worse.