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TV Review: Big Little Lies Season Two

Anne Evans Anne Evans TV Review: Big Little Lies Season TwoThe women of HBO's Big Little Lies. Photo via HBO.
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Big Little Lies returned over the summer, continuing the story from the book it was based on. The second season is based off a novella that author Liane Moriarty wrote after the series was renewed for the second season by HBO.

The central driver of season two is how each woman of ‘The Monterey Five’ is dealing with the impact and the fallout of that fatal night at the party from season one’s finale and it seems most of their lives have gotten turned upside down.

The group appears to have grown closer due to the incident surrounding Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård), Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) abusive husband, yet they also still keep secrets from each other.

It’s strange that most of the women’s partners (all male) are unable to pinpoint when their wives’ behavior changed other than, ‘you’ve been acting kinda weird for awhile’. 

Bonnie’s husband Nathan (James Tupper) gets concerned about her, although it is pointed out by Bonnie’s mother (Crystal Fox) that he finally acts on that concern six months or so later when he asks her mother to come and visit to see if she can help.

Bonnie is pretty cold and brusque with her parents and it takes a little time to find out why. It seems Nathan is not aware of the complicated history of verbal abuse and anger issues Bonnie has suffered at the hands of her mother; issues Bonnie has never fully dealt with.

Introducing that history into Bonnie’s character brings a new meaning to her reaction to seeing Perry beating Celeste, and dealing with that reaction (being the one to push him down the stairs to his death) is weighing heavily on her.

A new somewhat-villain is introduced, Mary Louise Wright (Meryl Streep), Celeste’s mother-in-law. She appears helpful, but is also sly and incredibly judgmental, delivering sharp jabs with a smile. Celeste’s friends don’t know at first how to respond to Mary Louise; maybe out of manners, or maybe out of respect for her position as Celeste’s mother-in-law, since Mary Louise is supposedly there to help her daughter-in-law in her extreme time of distress and need.

Mary Louise is also distraught and grieving at the death of her son and looking for answers to explain his death. This was a son who she knew to be kind, handsome, loving, as well as a wonderful husband and doting father.

Streep is wonderful in this role. Her interactions with Celeste appear genuine, but also at times feel strange. It seems that Celeste is craving someone else to talk to about her feelings (other than her therapist, and friends), and this openness from her mother-in-law looks like an invitation to confide things she probably should not have.

It’s a delicate balance knowing what things to keep personal and what things to share with others. The first season of the show built a lot of facades around each woman’s life and the second season gets a little more into what’s really going on behind closed doors and who you should trust.

The other women also have trying personal issues to deal with this season. Madeline Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) and her husband Ed (Adam Scott) are dealing with his discovery of Madeline’s affair; Renata Klein (Laura Dern) has to deal with her husband’s financial and legal issues which deeply affect her professionally and emotionally, and Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) has a new love that she does not know how to handle emotionally, and they all have their kids and every day life to handle.

It’s refreshing to see the women take a stronger turn on sharing what is on their mind. Mary Louise meets Madeline and is immediately suspicious and rude, suspecting Madeline of being cunning and a bully, and makes a weird comment about her height being a reason to not like her. 

When they run into each other again, Madeline tells Mary Louise that what she said to her was incredibly rude and that she didn’t deserve it and Mary Louise explains herself. Stepping up for yourself and honestly discussing real feelings are things that many people struggle with and it’s good to watch these women be able to handle their feelings that way. Honest discussions are difficult and having the tools to discuss your feelings rationally and without anger are important skills in today’s world.

As the show continues, it is hard to discern if Mary Louise is truly a villain, or if she does have her grandsons’ best interests at heart and desires for her daughter-in-law to heal, but by the final couple of episodes, you know. The show brings to light how invasive court proceedings can be, and especially how nasty they can get. Both Nicole and Meryl offer performances that seem to compartmentalize the nastiness brought to light on both of their characters: a private investigator’s findings on Celeste’s personal encounters with men, and the revelation of the circumstance behind the death of Mary Louise’s young son (and Perry’s brother) Raymond. I’m not sure people actually going through such awful realizations about themselves while on the stand would handle them with such grace. 

Big Little Lies deals with complicated issues in our society, spousal abuse, child abuse, prompting questions like ‘What kind of home is truly best for children?’ ‘Should a parent’s private life affect their ability to parent’, ‘What kinds of rights should a grandparent have?’ ‘When and how should a court make that decision?’ ‘How can a spouse’s crimes affect the other person?’ ‘Can a person who abuses their family also be a good person?’ ‘Is it fair to consider past history of someone’s actions when considering circumstances on the death of if they were an abuser?’

The scenery continues to be beautiful, the surf is used to convey moods, and the music choices add to the dreamy feel of the show. Sometimes while watching, you wonder if such things can really be happening? And then they are and it’s really more of a nightmare for these characters. 

With the season written as if it were the series finale, hopefully the nightmare is finally over for these women and they move forward as stronger individuals and better friends to those who matter to them.

Grade: A

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