Big Little Lies season 2 episode 3 review: What's the deal with Meryl Streep's character, Mary Louise?

Episode 3 of Big Little Lies should have been the make or break episode, giving us more insight into Meryl Streep's character, Mary Louise.

Swetha Ramakrishnan June 24, 2019 17:18:17 IST
Big Little Lies season 2 episode 3 review: What's the deal with Meryl Streep's character, Mary Louise?

(Read the review of episode one and two here.)

There's no dearth of powerful women in Big Little Lies. This is established right in the first season. But the second season has (so far) been about deconstructing where that power comes from and the impact it has on these women's personal lives.

By and large, deconstruction seems to be an apt word to use to describe what's going on in the second season. Everything we think we know about the Monterey Five and their children, and Mary Louise (the fantastic Meryl Streep), is up for debate. In episode three, “The End of the World”, there are meltdowns, there is personal confrontation; while some characters let their guard down, others refuse to give in to the truth. Episode 3 marks the middle of this season, and yet it seems like we're nursing a hangover from the events of the first one.

The only character driving the plot of season 2 is Mary Louise, and there has been no deconstruction of her yet. So, what is it about the women of Big Little Lies that draw us back into their lives every week?

Unlike Game of Thrones (also HBO), Big Little Lies doesn't care for cliffhangers or sensational climaxes. Well, trauma isn't sensational and Big Little Lies knows how to space their themes out. Even though this six-episode season is following the same pattern as Game of Thrones, we aren't being manipulated to return to the BLL universe every Monday morning.

So where is this show headed? Before we get there, let's recap what happened in this episode.

Big Little Lies season 2 episode 3 review Whats the deal with Meryl Streeps character Mary Louise

Meryl Streep as Mary Louise, in Big Little Lies season 2.

The title is a reference to Renata's daughter, Amabella having a panic attack at school on being told about climate change and the fact that the world was coming to an end. Later, their therapist tells the Kleins that her anxiety has to do with her father's tryst with jail, and an instinct that something is not right with her mother. Renata has a moment of introspection (could her daughter be catching on to what happened on the ill-fated night of Perry's "accident"?), but decides this is all the school's fault, and gets into a screaming match with the Principal Nippal, who calls her the “Medusa of Monterey”. While it's always fun to watch Laura Dern blow her lid as the extremely sassy Renata, this episode shows us how she may be at a risk of becoming a caricature, because every time she gets angry, the tone of the scene changes to a lighter comical tone.

Meanwhile, Madeline and Ed seek marriage counselling, and we make some headway into Madeline's character (unlike Renata, whose high-strung behaviour isn't given a real deconstruction). As the therapist asks her tough questions, the emotional distance between Ed and Madeline gets bigger. This results in Madeline having a full blown meltdown later in a school conference; sobs and all.

Celeste can't seem to let go of the "good moments" involving Perry. This is typical Stockholm Syndrome, but the show takes it a step further. As Celeste watches old videos of Perry, she pleasures herself. Perry is her drug, and she's an addict (her therapist's words). What's unnatural however, is how Mary Louise's delusions about her son play out. Yes, she's a mother desperate to prove that her son was as "gentle and sweet" as she remembers him to be. She even confronts Jane in a highly uncomfortable scene, and asks her to take a paternity test (Jane refuses). But in a show that is so committed to unraveling every character's motivations and vulnerabilities, we are told nothing about Mary Louise. The only explanation we are given is that she's an older American woman, far removed from today's feminism. This is simply not good enough. Where are Mary Louise's flashbacks? Where are her vulnerable character flaws? Why is the writing holding back when it comes to Mary Lousie, who is the one new thing about this season?

Big Little Lies season 2 episode 3 review Whats the deal with Meryl Streeps character Mary Louise

Celeste with her twins. HBO Image.

While everyone focuses their anger and love in the wrong places, Jane is living what would widely be called a "normal" life — she finally goes on a date, her body language is more relaxed, her laughter is natural and frequent. It is refreshing to see her turnaround. Of course, trauma looms above her, especially in the moment when her date tries to kiss her and she immediately pushes him away. When she tells Bonnie about this incident later, Bonnie asks her to be truthful and open about her past. Then she says, “I'm such a hypocrite; Nathan knows nothing about me.”

Hypocrisy, lies, deceit, delusion, meltdowns and sass are all a part of Big Little Lies. The ability to the scratch beneath the surface of not one but five women, and the people around them, is what kept us coming back, episode-after-episode. There's always more than meetS the eye, and Big Little Lies has perfected this formula. But the show seems to be stewing for far too long in the soup they've cooked.

Big Little Lies season 2 episode 3 review Whats the deal with Meryl Streeps character Mary Louise

Reese Witherspoon plays Madeline Mackenzie in Big Little Lies. HBO Image.

What next? Episode 3 should have been the make or break episode. Is Mary Louise going to take matters into her own hands and learn the truth about Perry? Are the five women going to come together again to protect their children from the several truths that threaten to expose their normalcy? What about Perry's family, and where did his abusive streak come from? Too many questions, and only three episodes left.

For now, one can make peace with the brilliant pairing of Renata and Madeline, who started out as frenemies in season one, and are now practically a power couple (or could be; is anybody listening?)

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