Season two of Big Little Lies hasn’t been smooth sailing, especially when the pesky thought of its very existence is perpetually thought up after each episode. There wasn’t any need, but spotlighting a superb cast — featuring the irresistible ardor of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz, Adam Scott and now Meryl Streep — season two managed to carry great weight and hold dire ramifications, and ‘I Want To Know’ is no exception.
Throughout the season, Madeline’s been trying to earn back Ed’s trust after foolishly cheating on him. Renata has weathered bankruptcy and her husband’s financial recklessness (sprinkle some infidelity in as well). Meanwhile, Celeste’s had a serious mother-in-law problem now that the husband problem is officially gone. Jane’s tried to move on from the trauma of rape by undergoing a normal relationship with a guy named Corey. Bonnie struggled with memories of her childhood abuse, and how she feels about her mother. Nathan’s still heartily oblivious, and Ed’s been seeking a reason to stay with Madeline, if they can’t really trust each other.
In one way or another, this season extends the story in an authentic manner. After everything Jane has gone through, her perseverance, or the very return to everyday life, is going to take time. With soft-spoken power, Shailene Woodley is able to emanate the fears of getting involved with somebody new, after experiencing something so vile and degrading. Woodley’s apprehension is conveyed through stellar face acting and conscious hesitation, and the scene in which she tells her son what exactly happened to her is utterly heartbreaking. Madeline’s affair with the theater director never needed to come out — in some cases, the affairs are kept secret, while other times, one doesn’t want to believe in such things so the marriage is built on lies and perfidy, sturdy enough to gratify the kids. But for the sake of giving Madeline something to deal with through the second season, the truth had to come out.
Renata’s financial distress most certainly did not have to come about, but I’m so immensely glad it did, because now we can relish the iconic Laura Dern moments delivered to us in season two. Bonnie supplies the details of her childhood abuse and ultimately explains why she decided to push Perry to his death (seen in a monologue that should earn Zoë Kravitz an Emmy). Celeste’s relationship with her mother-in-law alludes to several issues. Not only does Mary Louise suspect Celeste pushed her son down the stairs, but she views Celeste as ill, which prompts Mary Louise to fight for custody of Max and Josh.
There’s no murder this season, only the big lie the Monterey Five try to keep concealed. But there is a trepidatious custody battle that forces the Monterey Five in the spotlight, along with a flustered and bitter Celeste. Last week’s episode, Celeste was made out to be a sex addict, struggling with Ambien and indulging herself with violence and aggression to satisfy her sex drive. Mary Louise’s lawyer packaged a cogent case of slut-shaming, which paints Celeste as a bad mother. The outcome looked bleak, but a newly confident Celeste ended last week’s episode by asking the judge if she can bring Mary Louise to the stand, and because she’s originally a lawyer, she wants to question her herself.
Like the entirety of the season, even the season finale appears rushed. Seven episodes are hardly enough to conclude everything organically, and Madeline, Ed and Bonnie fall victim to the hurried and quite frenetic construction of this season. The editing is almost too chaotic: the scene transitions don’t inherit the technical finesse or embedded motive of the first season. The aesthetic is vaguely alike, but more visibly disorienting, largely because director Andrea Arnold originally had a disparate vision.
The seventh episode, titled I Want To Know, opens to the Perry incident seen through Celeste’s perspective. In the modern-day, Celeste is preparing for court, in which she’ll probe Mary Louise and determine her well-being. Celeste’s lawyer doesn’t believe Celeste questioning her is such a great idea: “With you questioning her, she can come at you directly. She can bait you, provoke you…” But Celeste sees past her lawyer’s rejection and sees a window for opportunity. “I know her. And she knows that I know her,” is what Celeste replies with such certainty, convinced the odds are in her favor.
Mary Louise’s lawyer, on the other hand, is juggling the peculiarity and bluntness of Mary, trying to ensure she only answers the questions Celeste asks. “And all the questions she’s asking you, what she’ll really be doing is showing the judge, ‘Look at how stable I am, look at how reasonable, how smart’.” For whatever reason, Mary Louise refers back to the time Perry described Celeste as Sleeping Beauty. These random bursts of words come out from Mary all the time, who reckons she can’t help herself. Throughout the season, Streep delivers a grippingly meticulous performance that helps encompass the eccentricity of her character. Streep plays a dowdy monster capable of causing a storm by subtly scouting the truth, and simply exuding a genteel presence that just angers you.
Before driving to the courthouse, an already frustrated Renata runs into a strangely urbane and subtly rancorous Mary Louise (so the Mary Louise we all know) at a Starbucks. Charging in with a casual question, Louise is all kinds of trouble. “How are we today?” Taking a moment before releasing her discontent, “We…are wrought, Mary Louise. “We” are worried about a wonderful mother…who’s being put through an onerous, if not despicably cruel, court procedure to, what? Get to be with her own kids? We’re wrought.” And this escalating conversation leaves Renata even more vexed, as Mary Louise once again disdains Renata’s decision to be a working mother.
An unruffled and fierce Celeste charges right in to question Mary Louise, scrutinizing her own faculty to take care of kids by referring back to the incident with her son Raymond, who died in a car accident. Luckily, Celeste remembers a few things Perry told her about the car accident, and how Mary Louise essentially blamed poor, young Perry for the car accident and his brother’s death. “Look what you made me do,” is what Celeste emphasizes to seek the grating verity of Mary Louise’s harmful behavior when it came to dealing with young Perry, who did not deserve the blame for the crash. Celeste defeats Mary Louise in court, morally speaking.
Since the start of the season, Mary Louise has persuaded herself Perry is not a rapist or overly abusive, but that (mostly) changes in this episode. After shamelessly saying “He’s the victim here,” depravedly mentioning her son Perry and declaring how he’s not here to defend himself, Mary Louise is given the indubitable truth. A bold and fearless Celeste decides to show the court, the jury, Mary Louise and her friends a video of herself being brutally abused by Perry. Mary Louise is sickened, but she ultimately comes out saying Celeste was part of the problem because the violence would then lead to aggressive sex, which she enjoyed. “You had no…no idea. And that is the problem,” is how Celeste responds to Mary Louise’s belief that she had a hand in the violence.
Even after watching the video, Mary Louise goes out of her way to condemn Celeste for being the survivor. She has no right, and she has no idea about the suffering Celeste endured. This painted Mary Louise as the Devil, hiding behind frumpy clothing and a calm and imperious attitude. Celeste has her issues, and I don’t think she should deal with Perry’s unnatural allure alone, but kids regularly keep parents grounded and motivated to persevere.
Celeste shouldn’t lose her kids, and she doesn’t lose them (she actually wins custody), predominantly because she kept them safe. You could say she stayed with Perry because he’s their father, but she could have never known how he would react if she ever left him. In the last few minutes, Celeste is erasing Perry from her hard drive, literally and metaphorically. She wants to be a mother, not an emotionally scathed survivor, mired in Perry’s beguiling touch that renders her exposed to nightmares of his maltreatment.
Madeline and Ed’s future was undetermined last week because Ed went to see Tori, the theater director’s wife, in a possible attempt to commit adultery as well. Thankfully, and against the desperate claws of Tori, Ed did not become ensnared in such craziness. More endearingly, in this episode, Ed tells Madeline they should renew their vows. Ed knows Madeline’s changed, but he’s also changed as well, so renewing their vows is imperative in acknowledging how they’ve evolved and what they are doing to keep their marriage intact.
Witherspoon and Scott have wonderful chemistry, brimming with more hostility this season, but the finale unmasks the wobbly nature of marriage — not all cheaters are as genuinely remorseful as Madeline, and I do believe she loves him. Ed and Madeline’s marriage is stronger now that all secrets are being uncloaked (even the big lie). Marriage is simply two people declaring their love for one another, but to think no obstacle will emerge in the upcoming years is naive. If marital hardship scares you, don’t get married. After all, we’re only human.
Last week, Bonnie confessed to her unconscious mother that she killed Perry because, in her head, she was pushing her mother down the stairs. In this episode, Bonnie finally comes clean with her cruel mother and unveils how she really does love her. But that’s not the only thing she confesses this episode, Bonnie also tells Nathan how she doesn’t love him — in fact, Bonnie believes she has never been in love with him. James Tupper has always played the role of Nathan convincingly, capturing the character’s clueless and nonchalant manner, and expertly making him the perfect character to mock. Bonnie has been a more difficult character to like ever since the first ever episode. She always came across as the free-spirited and zany character, solely meant to anger Madeline. But the trauma of killing Perry and facing her heartless mother again has given Zoë Kravitz more room to develop the character, and realistically radiate the penitence of having killed a person.
Shailene Woodley gives a quiet and vulnerable performance in season two. The truth of Ziggy’s father is made public, and that forces Jane to tell Ziggy the truth of what happened to her. Season two wrestles with how the Monterey Five are dealing with the cover-up, but Jane’s distress is more steered by the divulgence that Perry was her rapist. Jane begins dating a guy named Corey, but she’s acutely struggling to be a normal relationship after being a victim to rape. Corey’s not a cop and he’s isn’t a jerk, he’s actually a good guy. The finale offers a snippet of optimism for Jane as she finally embraces Corey (one shot near an aquarium, in particular, captures a kiss between them, as shades of blue and darkness interact to delineate a memorable kiss, almost ethereal yet technically deft).
The Monterey Five aren’t the only ones juggling the numerous truths being revealed, the kids are facing the implications as well. Ziggy is being bullied and branded a mistake, Max and Josh are sons of a rapist, and Amabella is having panic attacks because of Renata and Gordon’s financial uproar. The children’s stress is more apparent but just as strong as the adults. The depiction of how children do know more than the parents initially thought, works remarkably well this season. Whether it be Chloe knowing Ziggy is Perry’s son, Max and Josh knowing about Perry’s abuse and videotaping it, or Amabella acknowledging how money is tight, your kids may very well know what’s going on — and that kind of stress can propel them to react impulsively, or even bottle up the stress until being overwhelmed by panic. The finale highlights a tacitly tense Max and Josh, who want to stay with their mother, but there can be many outcomes to the trial. Fortunately, Celeste wins the custody battle.
Renata has been the scene-stealer all season. “I declare bankruptcy”, is something Renata would never do. She’s determined to rise up in the world again, but the finale has an even more fuming and resentful Renata, as Gordon gets to keep his toys (well, collectibles), while Renata was forced to give away all of her stuff during the process of bankruptcy. “You lost all our money. You have plunged us into bankruptcy. We are selling our home! Our daughter’s home! And all the while, you’ve been fucking the nanny?” It was a long time coming, but Renata will most likely leave Gordon and all of his bullshit behind. Laura Dern has been catty and incensed the majority of the season, but the way she screams and swings a bat should be lauded.
The season two finale isn’t as earth-shattering as season one’s, but I wasn’t expecting it to be. Instead, season two wraps up the custody battle, Madeline and Ed’s marital issues, Bonnie’s guilt about Perry and frustration with her mother, Renata’s crumbling opulence, Jane’s trauma and the grand lie that kept them close, in a delicate and reasonably complete fashion. The final shot follows the Monterey Five as they walk into the police station, about to tell the truth of Perry’s demise, further adopting the hackneyed saying, “The truth will set you free.” Whether or not a third season is happening has yet to be established, but the writers have certainly widened the possibility.
Catch up on our previous Big Little Lies reviews here.
Season two of Big Little Lies is, in many ways, inferior to season one, but the splendid cast know how to reel viewers in with infectious chemistry, while the cover-up of Perry’s death magnifies the characters’ distress, culminating in a finale that’s subdued and quite unpredictable.