More than two years after the season one finale left us wanting for more, Big Little Lies’ second season, which concluded on 21 July, carried the undeniable expectation of living up to previously set standards of storytelling. With the cast consisting of six powerful leading women and a premise that explored relationships with not just tact, but also respect, Big Little Lies is best described as an experience.
However, there’s no shying away from the fact that the second season blossomed in the shadow of the first. And even after seven individually exceptional episodes, the season, in its entirety, failed to achieve much.
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The Lie, Lost?
In the finale of season 2, Celeste (Nicole Kidman) tells Medeline (Reese Witherspoon), “The lie is the friendship,” referring to the truth about Perry’s death. And she’s not wrong. This ‘lie’ has inadvertently brought the women closer to each other and the makers ensure that we’re constantly reminded of it.
Perry’s death is merely a lingering force from the past that hangs like an albatross around Bonnie’s (Zoe Kravitz) neck.
Almost all seven episodes begin with flashbacks of the night of Perry’s death. And yet, the tension fizzles away way too quickly. As we’re sucked into the vortex of the Monterey Five’s complicated lives, Perry’s death is merely a lingering force from the past that hangs like an albatross around Bonnie’s (Zoe Kravitz) neck.
With a few short scenes, we’re made to believe that the local police department remains unconvinced about how Perry died. But that too is forgotten, until the very last episode. In the dark of the night, the Monterey Five step out of their fancy suburban vehicles and collectively walk into the local police headquarters. A conclusion that lacks not just closure, but also the mysterious urgency of what might happen next.
Women’s Lives on Public Display
If anything, Big Little Lies season 2 is memorable for its nuanced courtroom drama scenes and how it deals with the whole Celeste-Mary Louise ordeal. As both Celeste and Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) fight each other in court, with Celeste putting on her power-suit and literally fighting her own battle, both the women’s lives are put on public display. They’re both ambushed ruthlessly, and their vulnerability taking centre stage is equal parts heartbreaking and empowering. In a gut-wrenching scene, Celeste is forced to publicly showcase a video clip in which Perry is beating her.
Add to this Madeline’s full-blown breakdown on the school stage and Renata’s (Laura Dern) humiliation when she finds out that her husband was having an affair with the nanny.
Intentional or not, Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep’s performances form the majority of season 2. While Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz still appear in every episode, their stories play out like separate, disjointed chapters in a book. Big Little Lies season 2, unfortunately, deprives us of Reese Witherspoon’s onscreen brilliance.
Relationships Come of Age, Not the People
As Shailene Woodley’s character Jane (and her hard-to-miss bangs) step out in a post-Perry world, we witness her take charge of her trauma and reclaim herself in unimaginable ways. She comes clean to her son Ziggy about who his father really was, discovers an unusual friendship in Celeste and her sons’ company, and attempts to navigate uncharted territory during her brief romance with fellow school teacher Corey.
For the first half of the season, Bonnie’s presence is ineffective. It’s not until her mother has a stroke, that Bonnie steps up and addresses the gnawing guilt inside. Within the four walls of a hospital room, Bonnie confesses ‘the lie’, breaks off her marriage, and comes face-to-face with how she truly feels about her mother.
After season one’s adulterous adventures, Madeline’s entire life now is about getting her husband Ed (Adam Scott) to forgive her. And after punishing her for six long episodes, he finally does come around and their happy ever after is an intimate beach wedding where they renew their vows.
Of them all, Renata’s character arc is perhaps the most disappointing. Apart from her crumbling marriage and bankruptcy, there really isn’t much.
While each episode of Big Little Lies season 2 is quite enjoyable, the season in its entirety is disappointing. The narrative is not as layered as season one and the finale is as uninviting as it can get. Moreover, the finale puts Meryl Streep’s character in an undefined space. Having been forced to accept her son’s monstrosity, is there any reason for her to return?
On 12 July, entertainment website Indiewire published a detailed piece on how the directorial responsibility of Big Little Lies season 2 had shifted unexpectedly during the post-production process. The creative control of the show had been snatched away from filmmaker Andrea Arnold midway and given back to Season 1 director Jean-Marc Vallée. Whether or not this is the reason behind season 2 falling short, one can’t say for sure. But, for a viewer, it does betray Big Little Lies’ identity as a show that tells women’s stories.
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