Big Little Lies season 2 episode 2 review: As major secrets start to unravel, the Monterey Five are in for a ride
With so much already out of the bag by episode 2 of Big Little Lies, the next few episodes will probably get more meaty.
(For a recap and review of Episode 1 of Big Littles Lies season 2, click here.)
If there was tension simmering between Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and her mother-in-law Mary Lousie (Meryl Streep) in the first episode of Big Little Lies season 2, it explodes in the second episode. In a scene, Celeste defends Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), as Mary Louise says she doesn't like or trust her, by revealing that Madeline once saved Max from drowning. Mary Louise thinks for a second, and then says, "where were you?"
The drama in episode 2 may not be at the intensity that you would expect (it is only the second episode) but there is confrontation; secrets erupt; conflicts heighten and the big little lie, that the women — Celeste, Madeline, Jane, Renata and Bonnie — are fighting so hard to keep within themselves, is right at the corner - waiting to be exposed. Episode 2, "Tell-tale Hearts," meanders but still keeps you on the edge of your couch.
All the five women have a breakdown in this episode, as major secrets start to unravel.
Celeste still misses Perry and can't seem to shake off the good memories. When she visits her therapist, she is told to put her best friend in her shoes, and when she imagines Madeline being abused by Perry, she starts to scream, "No!" several times. Later in the episode, when her twin boys are fighting and Max starts to hit Josh, she screams again, saying, "you will not be like him!"
Meanwhile, Madeline's youngest daughter Chloe overhears her mother on the phone telling someone that Max and Josh have a brother in Ziggy (Jane's son; from the night Perry raped her). She tells the twins and Ziggy about it. This results in Jane having to have a hard conversation with her son. How do you tell a 10-year-old about assault and rape? It is a tough conversation to have, but an important one. Ziggy is so clueless about the concept, he asks his mother if Perry "salted" her. This is when Jane has a breakdown, reliving the most traumatic night of her life.
Later, Celeste has to tell Mary Lousie the truth about Perry. She tells her about Jane, the assault and Ziggy being Max and Josh's half-brother. Mary Louise's first impulse is to question Jane. "She could be lying or had multiple partners. Aren't you desperate for her to be wrong? Aren't you desperate to know that he wasn't capable of doing the things she said he did?"she asks. In that moment, the only desperation that is being felt is by the viewer. We forget Mary Louise is Perry's mother and also the portrait of traditional, internalised misogyny. Her son could do no wrong and she won't just believe what others tell her about him. Even when Celeste reveals that Perry used to hit her and that they had a "violence problem," she says, "I don't believe you. Why didn't you go to the police?"
It is surreal for us as viewers to see the Meryl Streep play a character like this. She has seen how Perry's issues have manifested in his sons. She has seen Celeste go through the trauma of a fractured marriage, losing her husband and being conflicted about what to feel. And yet, as a mother and an older white woman, she is oblivious to the impact her son's actions have had on others. She only cares about her son. This character — as jarring as it makes us feel — is important. There are so many Mary Louises out there in the world and Big Little Lies does a great job in merging her into a pool of complex female characters. She shakes things up and makes you see that patriarchy is so much more entrenched than meets the eye.
Things are not great in the MacKenzie household, either. Ed is anyway upset with Madeline for keeping the secret about Ziggy and the twins from him (she tries to explain to him that she was protecting Jane's privacy, but he doesn't buy it). Later he finds out that Madeline cheated on him last year and walks out on her. We see the breakdown of Madeline as an upright mother and family-oriented person. All her life she has played these parts well but nobody seems to have told her she can live for herself, and be selfish sometimes. As a result, she thinks of it as a vice and it tumbles out as self-destructive behaviour like infidelity.
Bonnie is living with the trauma of the night of Perry's death everyday, and it only intensifies when her mother comes visiting (on Nathan's request). Elizabeth (Crystal Fox) is a no-nonsense woman who calls a spade, a spade. This breaks the facade that both Nathan and Bonnie live with — that these feelings are temporary and everything will be okay soon. Bonnie has an understated breakdown; there are no tears or drama but she understands that this isn't a problem that can be solved by constant confrontation. She must send her mother away if she has any chance of moving on. Having a common "enemy" (someone who breaks their self-made bliss) in Elizabeth brings Nathan and Bonnie closer.
Renata has perhaps the biggest meltdown (to a point of almost being comical): her husband Gordon gets arrested by the FBI for financial fraud, and it is revealed that she may be broke by the end of the year. "I will not not be rich!" she screams at him. She has worked very hard to be where she is, and a mistake that her husband made will not take everything away. She fights with all her might: physical and mental.
All their children go to the same school and so, these five women have wildly overlapping lives. Monterey is a small town and suspicion is mounting. They live with their secrets everyday. Each of the actors do a phenomenal job of portraying this constant pressure. With so much already out of the bag by episode 2, the next few episodes will probably get more meaty.
A recurring theme in Big Little Lies is cutaway shots of the ocean with humongous waves; it usually appears after a dramatic scene. On the surface, it may seem like a gimmick to calm the viewer down but it is actually a metaphor for the five women bound by one secret (and subsequently many others). Every dramatic wave is followed by the stillness of the sea, but only for a few seconds. It's a cycle of up and down, big and small, right and wrong, and the women live between these extremes. The next big wave is coming. Gear up, ladies.
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