The halfway point of Big Little Lies‘ second season seems to hinge upon everyone becoming unhinged. It’s hardly surprising that the already frayed seams of Monterrey are rapidly unraveling. Season one was a murder mystery and a study about the violence of toxic masculinity. Season two has departed the mystery as a central focus, opting instead to understand how fear, grief, and uncertainty can steadily and furiously break any semblance of a calm stasis. It’s breaking and while not all of the cracks are appearing in the right places, the tension is definitely tightening and it makes the denouement of the season (series?) that much more exciting.
There are two particular places where this otherwise solid instalment of Big Little Lies cracked in the wrong places. The first is when Detective Quinlan (Merrin Dungey) appears before Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and Renata (Laura Dern) at the coffee shop. They exchange a couple of tense words but the overall point of that scene serves to remind the audience what we already know: that Detective Quinlan is suspicious and doesn’t buy their accident story. While Big Little Lies is heightened by incredible performances and a technical prowess, the series has a tendency to slip into tawdry drama and this was a prime example.
The second is where Bonnie’s (Zoë Kravitz) mother Elizabeth (Crystal Fox) collapses at Renata’s house. That Elizabeth would sense an odd energy in Renata’s house makes sense – the faux pageantry of it all is hard to miss. That she would have a premonition of Bonnie’s death is melodrama at best – that that would be the closing shot of the episode is the first time I can recall audibly groaning at the series. Elizabeth’s concern about her daughter’s well-being is entirely rational, especially considering that it is so obvious that Bonnie’s going through something significant and dark. That it’s framed in a way that feels disconnected from the show’s internal reality doesn’t help – nor does the series’s potentially problematic handling of Elizabeth (which in part depends on what happens the rest of this season).
The rest of the episode is crackling as usual. The centrepiece is the lavish disco party Renata throws for Amabella (Ivy George). There’s an irrationality to the act because she simply doesn’t have the proper resources to do something of that scale in the first place. But Renata has an emotional rationality to her behaviour. While I raised my eyebrows at her describing herself as “self made,” I sympathized with at least the anger she experienced because she had lost her life’s work due to her husband’s incompetency. Renata wants to provide Amabella with all of the opportunities she was denied due to her childhood poverty and having all of crumble around her is appropriately devastating.
Celeste (Nicole Kidman) is facing a major devastation of her own. Mary Louise (Meryl Streep), who continues to exude a disgusting amount of internalized misogyny, is in active denial of any reality about who her son really was. She seems to have been living in an exceedingly toxic world where as long as everything works out in a way where she can see the silver lining, then the destruction left in the process of getting to that silver lining is worth it. It doesn’t matter to her that her grandchildren might despise her, that she might permanently damage Celeste in the process, or that she herself may not be the best parent considering that she continues to defend her abusive rapist of a son. But that is irrelevant to Mary Louise. After all, as far as she’s concerned, she’s doing the right thing and any devastation she may leave behind is thus irrelevant.
Big Little Moments
- Renata having to put down her ring was a devastating moment
- Laura Dern’s reading of “We are meant to be happy here! This is about happiness!” Is perfect
- Ed (Adam Scott) and Nathan (James Tupper) are just a tiresome combination at this point
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