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Big Little Lies 2: a recap of everything that happened in season 1

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Season one of Big Little Lies was an award-winning smash hit. But it also aired a very long two years ago. Never fear, we’re here to catch you up on everything that happened in that first season before season two airs this month. 

April 2017. Were we ever so young?

Bob Dylan was receiving his Nobel Prize, Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad was making headlines and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was storming into cinemas. And on television the first season of Big Little Lies was coming to its shocking, thrilling close.

The series premiered in February to rapturous critical acclaim, a show that managed to walk a fine line between the emotionally draining material of its domestic abuse and infidelity storylines alongside the fizziness of its dialogue and inherent melodrama. It was smart, it was sexy and it was full of women. It felt like nothing that was on television at the time.

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The show went on to dominate awards season, with awards going to Nicole Kidman for her performance as Celeste, Alexander Skarsgaard as her husband Perry and show producers Kidman and Witherspoon for bringing the series to screen. 

And then the announcement – a second season was imminent. Now, two years after that blistering finale first aired, the new episodes are here. And like The Handmaid’s Tale before it, this new season will be off-book, having plundered the original source material by Liane Moriarty for the first season already.

Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies 2
Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies 2

Are you excited? We certainly are. Only thing is… April 2017 was a really long time ago. And we’ve sort of forgotten everything that happened in the first season. (Can you blame us? It’s been a long two years, and we’ve been busy watching Game of Thrones and The Crown in the interim.)

If you’re in the same position as we are, we’ve taken the liberty of recapping every major plot detail that happened in the first season so that you’re up to speed when season two airs. 

What happened in the first season of Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies tells the story of a tight-knit group of parents whose children all attend the same school in the moneyed, seaside community of Monterey in Northern California. There’s beautiful, enigmatic Celeste (Nicole Kidman), confident Madeleine (Reese Witherspoon), newcomer Jane (Shailene Woodley), difficult, overbearing Renata (Laura Dern) and free spirit Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz). 
Jane, Celeste and Madeleine in season one of Big Little Lies
Jane, Celeste and Madeleine in season one

On the surface, all of them have perfect lives. They live in beautiful houses in a beautiful town. Everything appears rosy. But all is most definitely not what it seems. As we met each character, the episodes were spliced through with footage of a murder mystery. Someone was dead. And the police think that the Monterey Five – Celeste, Madeleine, Jane, Bonnie and Renata – did it.

As the first season of Big Little Lies unfolded, viewers began to understand that Celeste’s quiet nature belied the horrific domestic abuse she was suffering at the hands of her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard). Madeleine was cheating on her husband Ed (Adam Scott) while losing touch with her daughter Abigail (Kathryn Newton). Renata was desperately trying to save her marriage and her family. And both Jane and Bonnie were racked by the trauma of being victims of sexual and domestic assault.

In the series finale, which aired all the way back in April 2017, everything became clear. Perry, who terrorised Celeste and her children, was the same man who raped Jane all those years ago when she was a university student. 

Celeste and Perry in Big Little Lies
Celeste and Perry in season one

Things all came to a head at the school’s Elvis and Audrey Hepburn-themed fundraising night. Spurred on by her therapist, Celeste realises that she has to leave Perry and move herself and her children to a new house. But Perry finds out from a property manager, and has a violent outburst at the party, launching himself at Celeste. At the time, the five women are gathered around a staircase. And when Perry heads for Celeste, Bonnie pushes him to his death.

Fans of Moriarty’s books know that Bonnie had an abusive father and seeing Perry’s violent behaviour triggered a powerful response in her. This element of Bonnie’s backstory will be explored further in season two. Moriarty fans also know that producers Kidman and Witherspoon personally lobbied the author to pen a novella upon which season two was based. It was she who came up with the idea of introduced the ominious Mary-Louise (Meryl Streep), Perry’s perceptive and unsettling mother-in-law. 

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So what is going to happen in season two? The police investigation into Perry’s death continues, and every one of our beloved main characters is a suspect. Mary-Louise arrives in Monterery hell-bent on finding justice for her boy. Jane embarks on a new relationship. Madeleine tries to save her marriage. And Bonnie is wracked with guilt over what she has done.

All that, and the kids are going into another year of school. Ah, Big Little Lies, how we missed you. 

Season two of Big Little Lies airs in the US on HBO from 9 June and in the UK on Sky and NowTV from 10 June. 

Images: HBO

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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