And the Tenderness I Feel Will Send the Dark Underneath: Big Little Lies, ‘What Have They Done?’

***Spoiler Warning:  Spoilers for Big Little Lies through Season 2 Episode 1 follow. Spoilers***

Boosted by a snappy soundtrack and the one-two character punch of Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline Martha Mackenzie and Laura Dern’s Renata Klein, Big Little Lies blew back into town so smoothly we almost forgot it had been gone. On the strength of their performances and very translatable real-life camaraderie, the group of women now known as the “Monterey 5” (Celeste, Madeline, Jane, Bonnie, Renata) quickly and magnetically pulled viewers right into the start of the new school year as they attempt settling into familiar routines to steady themselves after Perry Wright’s untimely demise.

Though author Liane Moriarty’s addictive book ostensibly dictated a single season adaptation, the series’ success soundly shook off that notion. Enter Meryl Streep’s perfect, passive-aggressive Mary Louise, aka Perry’s suspicious and supremely angry (see witness that scream heard ’round the world) mother who’s ready to get to the bottom of this particular murder mystery. And by the old and the new gods, did they ever get this casting coup exactly right. With a barely perceptible twinkle in her discerning eye, Mama Meryl/Mary Louise Wright breezes in to drop brilliant line (“I can’t complain … Actually, I can. My son is dead.”) after brilliant line (“I don’t mean it in a negative way. Maybe I do.”), roundly insulting Madeline so quickly  that Mrs. Mackenzie almost doesn’t catch it — until she very amusingly does, and the usually ninety-mile-an-hour-ten-steps-ahead overachiever has to slow down just to register her own shock.

Outside the whirlwind of her recovering, somewhat functioning friends — Celeste, simultaneously under her mother-in-law’s watchful eye and Madeline’s protective wing; Renata, high on her daughter’s IQ ["152, genius!”] and a glossy photoshoot; Jane teaching, still unable to escape her own trauma; Madeline Madeline-ing — Bonnie silently suffers and disconnects in worrisome ways (lordy, if Mary Louise gets a second with her …). Each of these women on her own could at any moment become the weakest link, a fact most of them seem keenly aware of.

In between nightmares and under Mary Louise’s tenacious thumb Celeste revisits therapy, but without the freedom to be completely honest, she can hardly banish demons — her husband, or (m)others. Grieving, even as she feels relieved (“You glad that he’s dead?” “It’s complicated.”), the good memories of Perry are as pervasive … as influential and confusing as when he lived. Though his specter looms and the realistic quandary of an abusive relationship drew us in as addictively as the Wrights to each other, it is these incredible women (actresses and characters, alike) who have and will keep us coming back.

Thoughts:

Despite being a reader who wondered what they would do to extend Liane Moriarty’s tale, it took all of two seconds to realize what a great idea this second season is. I missed these characters, especially Witherspoon’s alternately delightful and cringeworthy Madeline and Dern’s over-the-top Renata, and it was so easy to step back into their friendships and their world. The gorgeous scenery doesn’t hurt, either.

All hail the Streep and WOW, what a fantastic performance! From Mary Louise’s controlled, deceptively demure coif (was she also abused?) to that incredible scream, methinks Meryl has already assured herself an Emmy nomination. The writers, Moriarty and David E. Kelly, are having a field day with her dialogue; “I find little people to be untrustworthy.”

The duality of fear and the loving memories that haunt Celeste are a great touch that allows viewers to continue a journey of understanding the hows and whys of an abusive relationship. I also love that the writers don’t shy away from the mix of feelings Shailene Woodley’s Jane is experiencing, and the way Jane and Celeste are trying to connect despite their individual turmoil. I do wonder if they’ll eventually explode on each other.

Hoping we’ll get more on Bonnie’s (Zoë Kravitz) backstory …

I loved the comic relief of Adam Scott’s Ed and James Tupper’s Nathan in asides and together.

Madeline’s outrage at Abby wanting to opt out of college because she herself hadn’t gone is another nice touch/dose of reality.

I enjoyed the momentary chemistry between Jane and Douglas Smith’s Corey Brockfield … until that beach scene when he brought up the Monterey 5.

Songs This Hour:

The Spinners, I’ll Be Around

Joan Jett, Bad Reputation

Jimmy Ruffin, What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted

Diana Ross, It’s My House

Portishead, The Rip

Cassandra Wilson, Harvest Moon

Phoebe Killdeer and the Short Straws, The Fadeout Line

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over nine years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

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