‘Big Little Lies’ Season 2 Is a Meryl Streep Show All the Way

(Note: This is a review of the first two episodes of Big Little Lies season 2.)

In 2017, when HBO’s Big Little Lies premiered for the first time, it was lauded for its nuanced, women-centric storytelling. Featuring an ensemble cast with popular faces like Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies was powerful and unabashedly so. Now, with its second season finally here (after over two years), it seems to have only got better. Especially with the legendary Meryl Streep, playing Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgard) mother, on board.

A poster for Big Little Lies.

Life Goes on for the Monterey Five

The Monterey Five after Perry’s accident in season 1.

The first episode of the second season of Big Little Lies is a painful reminder of everything that went down in the first. Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) abusive husband, Perry, is dead after he was pushed down a flight of stairs by Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz). In an attempt to protect Bonnie, Celeste, Renata (Laura Dern), Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and Jane (Shailene Woodley) lie to the police that Perry lost balance and fell. The police seem to have bought into their story all too well, but the guilt and trauma from the night continues to live in the minds of the Monterey Five. Celeste struggles with her Stockholm syndrome. She routinely has nightmares and lashes out at her children. Bonnie, on the other hand, is drowning in guilt and resorts to isolating herself from everyone around her.

Monterey’s New Guest

Meryl Streep plays Mary Louise, the mother of Perry Wright.

It’s the beginning of a new academic year, but Monterey has a new guest – Mary Louise, Perry’s mother.

Mary Louise’s intention is clear from the very first episode – she has her suspicions about her son’s death and she isn’t one to be quiet. She’s shrewd, judgmental and struck by grief. Her character is both endearing as well as infuriating. After a couple of serendipitous face-offs with Madeline, it’s clear that Mary Louise doesn’t believe the backstory of Perry’s death.

However, it’s during the second episode of the season that Mary Louise’s character, after lingering at the periphery, takes centre stage. After finding out that Perry has fathered a child through rape and physically abused Celeste, the apologist in Mary Louise comes forth and questions Celeste, “But why didn’t you go to the police?” Determined to get her own answers, she storms off to the police station.

Madeline’s Crumbling Marriage & More

Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon as Mary Louise and Madeline in Big Little Lies.

Madeline’s boisterous persona is perhaps the only sense of familiarity Big Little Lies fans can hold on to. As a new school year begins, she is determined to maintain status quo without letting the events of the previous year affect her. However, not all is well in her personal life. We watch as her daughter Abigail is convinced she wants to drop out and refuses to go to college.

Bonnie’s aloofness too worries Madeline and despite reaching out, she is unable to fathom the complexity of Bonnie’s guilt.

But it isn’t until the last fifteen minutes of the second episode that Madeline’s life truly collapses. After a phone call with Celeste, she finds out that her daughter Chloe accidentally overheard Madeline and told Josh and Max (Celeste’s sons) that Ziggy (Jane’s son) is their stepbrother. Moreover, Abigail, in front of Ed (Adam Scott), accidentally lets out that Madeline had cheated on him with a theatre director.

Jane & Celeste’s Complicated Connection

Jane Chapman played by Shailene Woodley. 

Big Little Lies’ treatment of sexual assault is brilliantly nuanced. Throughout both the episodes we see Celeste and Jane struggling with their own complex experiences. Jane, apart from living with sexual abuse trauma, finds herself feeling guilty about sleeping with a (now) friend’s husband (Perry).

Nicole Kidman’s character finds herself tight-roping between relief and heartbreak. While she is relieved that Perry can no longer hurt anyone, she also misses him terribly. Celeste opening up to her therapist about these complicated feelings is perhaps the most striking scene of the series until now.

In a surprising turn of events, after Ziggy finds out that Perry is his father, Jane finds herself in a difficult situation as she tries to explain the violent power dynamic of what happened between her and Perry. While we’re not made privy to this conversation, and rightly so, it’s a scene brimming with sensitivity and tenderness.

Renata and Bonnie Are Trapped in Their Own Mess

Zoe Kravitz plays the character of Bonnie.

After season 1, it’s obvious that Renata and Bonnie are characters that are slowly getting more attention. In the second episode, Renata finds herself in a fix after her husband is arrested by the FBI for security fraud. Her wealth and status might just be at stake.

Meanwhile Bonnie is faced with other dilemmas. She can’t open up to her family about what she is going through and that seems to be harming not just her mental health but her family relationships as well.

In a heartwarming scene at the end of episode 2, we watch as Celeste and her boys show up at Jane’s house. The five of them, connected by an awful tragedy, now try to bond afresh.

Big Little Lies season 2 is currently streaming on Hotstar for Indian viewers.

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