Big Little Lies season 2 review: Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep save this finale too eager for a happy ending
Now that we're at the end of season 2 of Big Little Lies, it is important to question if we needed a second season in the first place
When we discovered HBO's Big Little Lies in 2017, it was a revelation. To have Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz and Shailene Woodley (who we would soon discover to be an amazing performer) in a seven-part series — about trauma, abuse, parenting and female friendships — was like a gift to a keen, ever-evolving audience, looking for the next "best" show to binge.
And then the show was renewed for a second season, with the addition of Meryl Streep. I'm only human; the prospect of this cast and the themes of the show can make anybody feel excited. New episodes came with the promise of taking the brilliance of the first season to another level, with the promise of filling the Game of Thrones-sized void in our lives (every Monday morning). And not once did we question it. What a cast! What complexity and pacing in treating issues such as toxic relationships, domestic abuse and the morality of crime! Hope prevailed. And with each haphazardly constructed episode, always leaving you at the brink of something more, we kept on hoping that the next one would bring clarity, would give us more to chew on and would explain the missing pieces in each characters' arc this season.
The finale episode starts with the courtroom scene, where Celeste has taken it upon herself to fight for custody of her twins. Watching both Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep play out two ends of the spectrum (an individualist woman fighting for her rights, and old school woman stuck with her traditional beliefs) was rewarding. But something about having the blame shifted between the two women was discomforting, as if to say that Perry was never to blame for his evils.
Eventually, the episode seemed eager to wrap-up with a "happy ending", and does so with a predictable "twist" and a wedding on a beach. Yawn. Laura Dern had to come to the rescue, with a scene worthy of her sass, as she bid goodbye to an inspiring character like Renata Klein. I only wish there was more of her this season.
But now that we're at the end of season 2 of Big Little Lies, it is important to question if we needed a second season in the first place. Season one offered no happy ending, and while many would feel it ended on a cliffhanger, that is the kind of resolution I was expecting from a show of this nature. One that slowly built up themes, and characters, with nuance and hints rather than dramatic scenes and dialogues. It started small and slow, focused on characters instead of pace, and ended with a bang — the death of Perry — in turn uniting the Monterey Five. As Celeste says in episode 6 of season 2, "the lie is the friendship".
Season 2 began with two triggers: PTSD and Mary Louise. And it worked on paper. How were these five women going to go back to their seemingly normal lives after a death that they were trying to pass off as an accident? With bankruptcy and infidelity (for Renata and Madeline) and a backstory of abuse (for Bonnie) the season trailed along, never really giving us anything concrete. The accident was reduced to the trauma the women faced, and there were only sparks of how the police were following up on it.
The first five episodes slowly built a world post Perry's death. As an addict would suffer withdrawal, Celeste found it hard to let go of Perry's memories. It didn't help having Mary Louise around. With a big burden off her shoulders (the death of her rapist), Jane also struggled to start dating again, but she seemed naturally calmer. Bonnie, Madeline and Renata struggled, too: with their combined secret, and their unraveling lives. Unfortunately, this season relegated Bonnie and Renata to the back-bench, teasing us with glimpses but no dedicated scenes to their personal stories. Bonnie's race is only given the interest of one dialogue (where her mother asks if she understands what it feels like to be the only black woman in an overwhelmingly large white community) — and no more.
Mary Louise is used as a catalyst, instead of a legit character. But what's more disappointing is for a show that attempts to humanise every character's flaw (including Perry's), it did no such thing for Mary Louise. Some of the most brutally villainous scenes were given to Mary Louise, and one that stood out for me was when Jane went to see her right before the hearing, in episode 5. Mary Louise stops her at the door, and questions her about her rape claims, saying that she could have been mistaken. When Jane loses her temper and starts screaming about her experience, Mary Louise shuts the door on her face, and increases the music to drown her voice out. This is a carefully constructed scene, meant to make you hate Mary Louise, but it was also really heart-breaking.
Why further a story that had an abrupt but weirdly perfect ending? In doing so, Big Little Lies ends up falling short of giving enough time to its characters and arcs. If not for the memorable performances by each character, and the exquisite world-building done by the previous season, this season would have been a dud.
On the flip side, in a post-Kabir Singh world, Big Little Lies is like watching therapy play out, because it gives issues like trauma, violence and abuse the necessary nuance needed. There's no blame-game, there's no glorification, but there's no sugar-coating either. I just hope there isn't going to be a third season.
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