Turns Out Season 2 of Big Little Lies Wasn’t A Mistake
When Big Little Lies premiered way back in February 2017, it was regarded by many as one of the great achievements in HBO’s recent. David E. Kelley’s adaptation of Lianne Moriarty’s novel from New Zealand to Monterey was so exquisitely done, it was almost impossible to imagine in the small town. Featuring four of Hollywood greatest actresses — Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern — as mother dealing with traumas big and small involving their first grade children, centered around a messy mystery that led to a suspicious death, it was so superbly done that even those who’d read the novel were astonished by it. It was visualized as a limited series — one and done. It won eight Emmys, and swept the awards just about everywhere it competed in 2017. And then, even though it told a complete story, HBO ordered a second season.
I will fully admit that I was as appalled as all the other nay-sayers. I loved the cast and the writing (it was number three on my top ten list that year), but I couldn’t see a reasonable purpose going forward. The ending may have been a little more open than the novel, but there was still a conclusion. Why mess with perfection? HBO had done just that with True Detective.
Well, I’ve seen the first two episodes of Season 2, and I have to admit, so far, its more than worth seeing. It helps a great deal that Kelley isn’t flying blind — after the second season was put forth, he went to Moriarty and she provided him with an outline of what she thought might have happened with the characters had the novel continued. And it helps even more that the series is willing to go to even darker places that the show wasn’t will to explore even then. All of the characters are dealing with the fallout of Perry’s murder. (Alexander Skarsgaard continues to appear, in flashbacks and dreams.) As you’d expect, the one who is feeling the most darkness is Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) the woman who pushed him at the climax. She isn’t talking to her husband, she refuses to interact with the other women, and she keeps taking long walks which keep leading her to the police station.
But the others are all dealing with their own fallout. It doesn’t help matters that they seem to have been christened ‘The Monterey Five’, and that Jane (Woodley) thinks they’re all walking around with an A on their chest. Understandably, Celeste is in the worst place. If you thought Nicole Kidman was brilliant before, you’ll be even more stunned now, as she reaches the levels that a battered woman you wouldn’t believe. Even in her conversations with her therapist (Robin Weigert) she still mentions that she misses him and that there were parts of him that weren’t “that bad”. And when she talks about him to her sons, she keeps saying “he was a beautiful, wonderful man”, and we have a sinking feeling that there’s a part of her that isn’t just saying to keep her sons in the dark.
It is impossible to have any conversation about Big Little Lies, and not mention Meryl Streep. Just when you think everything that can possibly be said about the greatest living actress, she’ll do this and prove you wrong. She plays Mary Louise, Perry’s mother, and it becomes very clear that when it comes to her son, the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree. Every nice thing she says to Celeste seems layered with a hidden meaning, she delivers little stabbing wounds to Madeline with every dialogue they share. And when she learns the horrors of her son, she openly denies it. There is darkness in the White family that keeps being unearthed.
Everyone else seems to feeling their own form of aftershocks. Jane, who actually seemed to be dealing with this, learned last episode that Ziggy now knows that her son is the half-brother of Celeste’s children. (The scene between her and Ziggy, played by Iain Armitage of Young Sheldon was absolutely devastating). Madeline (Witherspoon) is dealing with assaults from all fronts. She learned that her daughter Chloe told Ziggy — and that she learned it from Madeline. She’s also dealing with Abigail refusing to go to college — and when she took her home out of concern for what was going on with Bonnie, her daughter revealed her tryst with the theater director. When her husband (Adam Scott) learned of both deceptions within twenty-four hours, he told her angrily that they were done. Renata (the always delightful Laura Dern) has been trying to stay on top of this from a more detached view — until her husband was indicted for securities fraud. And she learned that she might soon be bankrupt. I pity the Emmy judges who have to choose between them next year.
Kelley has always been one of the great writers for women, and given the opportunity to work with six great actresses (Kravitz has begun to demonstrate this season that she can play at any of their levels) he is at the top of its game. This is a dark, angry, and yet scathingly funny series. The clearest model for any show like this is The Leftovers, which covered the original book in the first season, and for the next two delivered some of the most surreal and brilliant television this decade. They’ve actually managed to do something I never thought I’d say when this was announced — hope that there might be a Season 3. Just don’t get ideas, HBO executives — we don’t need another season of Sharp Objects.
My Score: 4.5 stars.