After a long break, Big Little Lies has returned to television for a second season, and it’s better than ever. Everything you loved about the first season, from Celeste’s therapist to Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline Martha MacKenzie have returned. Only this time, there’s added Meryl Streep.
Before we begin, I feel I need to confess just how much I pored over the first season Big Little Lies. I watched it, then re-watched it. Unable to let it go, I read the book. I encouraged my friends to read the book. I then sat on a multi-way Skype call and read aloud from the “discussion questions” at the back.
Glasses perched on my nose, peering into a webcam, I quoted the things like: “Jane remembers, ‘she hadn’t told anyone. She’d swallowed it whole and pretended it meant nothing, and therefore it had come to mean everything.’ Do you think it’s a universal truth that the more you keep something secret, the more power it takes on?” My friends didn’t just indulge me in this, they were as into it as I was, and that, reader, says something about what Big Little Lies did to women.
Last season’s finale left us with the murder we’d been promised from episode one. Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) - Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) husband - is killed at a rather ridiculous gala at Otter Bay Public School, where the women are dressed as Audrey Hepburn and the men as Elvis. Perry is wearing high-collared, v-neck shirt and stuck on sideburns when he is pushed down the stairs by Bonnie (who we learn has a history of domestic violence and was, to put it mildly, triggered by him lurching at Celeste – the wife he’s been abusing).
The women are in a mix of fake pearls and dainty tiaras as their eyes travel from one to the other in anxious disbelief. It’s a moment that finely weaves together the absurdity of their showy, privileged lives and the uglier emotions that dog them.
This season, the show opens with the theatrical politics of a school run. Renata (Laura Dern) is busy establishing her importance: she tells a new teacher about her daughter’s troubles (“My Amabella was bullied! Bitten!”) and her high IQ (“genius level”) in the same breath.
Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) is at battle with Principal Warren (“I just love to shove it down,” she says, taking a red velvet cup cake from a fellow mom, “why don’t you give one to Warren so he can shove it too”). Poor Celeste is trying to go unnoticed, looking weary and tired. Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) skulks moodily, while Jane (Shailene Woodley) seems, as always, secondary in the Power Moms scenario. The new school year has officially begun; here are three things to ruminate over.
You do not want Meryl Streep as a mother-in-law
Perry’s mother, played by Meryl Streep, has come to live with Celeste. She has a shiny, silver bob and wears silk scarves and round, frameless glasses. Her name is Mary Louise (fun fact: this is Meryl Streep’s real name and was put in the script by Liane Moriarty as a way to tempt her to come onboard).
She is not as sweet as she seems. When Madeline introduces herself pleasantly, Mary Louise proceeds to tell her just how much she distrusts short people like Madeline. “You’ve always seemed like such a wanter,” she smiles.
It’s not long before we realise the depths to which she idolised Perry. She talks about her friend’s “middle management sons” and how unfair it is that a “great man” like Perry is dead, insinuating that if someone had to die then, surely, it should have been a less-impressive guy. Middle management, surely! She is a snob with a capital S. At one point, she screams at the top of her lungs at family dinner while Celeste fixes her big, liquid eyes on her in horror. “I’m sorry”, she says, “I’m just so angry”.
When Celeste wakes up from a nightmare (she’s having them regularly) screaming about killing someone (Perry), Mary Louise takes her into her arms in a kind, motherly way: stroking her hair, cooing, before she gets to the point. “So,” she asks, “who is it you were trying to kill?”
She is out for blood and it is delicious.
Madeline Martha MacKenzie is the show’s glue
Madeleine still likes to introduce herself as “Madeline Martha MacKenzie” in that prim, girlish way that rolls off her tongue – and I love her for it. This season, she has a job. A real one! She’s working as an estate agent, showing glassy, beach front properties while she gossips on the phone and ignores her clients. She’s angry that her daughter doesn’t want to go to college (the girl, god forbid, wants to work for a non-profit. “I don’t care about homeless people!” Madeline yells at her, face turning red at the mere thought).
She’s also worried about Bonnie, who’s become a bit of a recluse and radiating don’t-talk-to-me energy. When Madeline knocks on her door one evening to ask her how she is, she reminds her of the guilt she’s holding onto. “I killed someone, remember?” she says, “It’s heavy.” It looks like Bonnie, who has much bigger back story in the book, is in for the meatier storyline she deserves.
The best therapist on television is back
Didn’t you love the therapist last season? Her quiet authority. The intense eye contact. The way she’d gently tease Celeste’s real feelings out of her. And then, just as she’d uncrossed her arms, relaxed her brows, she’d swoop in with the real question: “when are you going to leave him?”
Celeste is back in therapy because of the dreams; dreams where she is often the monster attacking Perry. She doesn’t know what to do with this feeling when she wakes up. “Do you think of yourself as a monster?”, the therapist asks her this time. This scene sets up Celeste’s battle for the season. And with it, Big Little Lies is back to doing what it does best: guiding us breezily through the land of female rage, self destruction and sickeningly beautiful sunsets.
Season two of Big Little Lies airs in the US on HBO on Sundays and in the UK on Sky and NowTV on Monday mornings and again in the evenings.