Big Little Lies Season 2

The Monterey Five deal with the aftermath of Perry Wright’s death. Photosource: HBO

Season two of Big Little Lies is just the latest example of why we can’t have nice things.
When Big Little Lies erupted onto the scene in 2017, it was a runaway hit that changed the game. Suddenly we were plunged back into the pre-Netflix era where we had to wait a full week before seeing how the story continued, and shockingly we didn’t even mind.
The show lured viewers in with what seemed like a grown-up version of a caddy teenage high-school drama and went on to shatter our assumptions about these women, one after another until we were forced to face ugly realities that we would prefer to never think about beneath these picture-perfect facades. That having kids isn’t enough to fill a woman’s entire identity, that working moms are shamed for practically everything, and that even the most crazy-in-love couple can be in an abusive situation. It triggered these insightful conversations about feminism, sexual assault, and domestic abuse, and taught us not to judge each other by our surface impressions. It was a modern-day masterpiece.
Cut to season two. Expectations were high. Actually, now that they had secured the legendary Meryl Streep to play Perry Wright’s mother, Mary Louise, expectations were through the roof. But this was a star-studded series on HBO, arguably the most major television network right now, and there was no excuse for this new season not deliver.
Yet, even with all those advantages, season two just did not work. It was like watching a toddler trying to shove a square block into a circle hole, but for multiple hours. We were not blown away by the end of it we were just tired.
The second season focuses on the aftermath of Perry’s death a year later. We see Celeste struggle with the complicated grief of a domestic abuse survivor as she mourns for losing the man she loves and the father of her children, even when she knows it’s good that he’s gone. Thankfully, her mother-in-law, Mary Louise is by her side to lean on and pick up the slack with the children.
However, between her forthright criticisms and bizarre interactions, Mary Louise is really there to poke around her son’s untimely death. No one from this out of town grandma, to detective Quinlan, to even the brand new guy Jane works with, Corey, believes that Perry slipped and fell to his death. It is pretty clear to the Otter Bay community that the Monterey five were clearly hiding something. Perry’s murder is meant to be the big lie of the season, but since it’s apparent to practically everyone the sense of mystery and suspense that made the first season is totally absent here.
Our disappointment carried on to the main plot. Trying to mimic their original blueprint for success, rather than a death this time the second season climax revolves around Celeste Wright in a courtroom showdown with her mother-in-law over guardianship of the Wright twins. It sounds endearing, after all, part of the reason Celeste stayed in her abusive marriage was the thought that if she left Perry that he would definitely work to take her children away from her, and now Mary Louise came along to take Perry’s place, almost as if he was haunting her from the grave.
But the ultimate face-off fell flat as viewers were expected to pretty much just dismiss our basic sense of logic and reality. It started with Mary Louise’s strategy of dramatizing Celeste’s barely alive drinking and drug use and revealing to the court that she has been having anonymous sex with new men, at which point her lawyer and the judge collectively slut-shamed her for it and claim that it was proof she was an unfit mother. Family court may get ugly but we would hope it would take more than these pretty empty accusations for someone to lose custody of their children.
The second act was more lively but even more ridiculous. Celeste, acting as her own lawyer because her chosen lawyer was basically useless, came back at her by accusing Mary Louise of killing Perry’s brother, Raymond, in a car accident decades ago, which might be an effective strategy but was a seriously low blow from our main heroine. It got even harder to watch when she showed the court an undiscovered video her son took on his tablet of Perry savagely beating her. Meanwhile, we are supposed to believe that no one had ever seen that video before, that the twins had never mentioned it to anyone, and that an actual judge, who presumably studied law at some point, just sat around allowing all of this free styling to happen in her court. Now most of us are not actual lawyers, but to absolutely anyone, this whole scene felt like the setting of an outdated soap opera, not a serious court case at all.
Meanwhile, despite taking time to rally around Celeste, our other leading ladies pretty much got short-changed with their story lines as well. After Abigail accidentally reveals Madeline’s affair to Ed, she spends the season pining over him, trying to find a way to make it up to him. Likewise, Jane has a new job and an awkward boyfriend she’s not sure she can trust. Bonnie’s mother drops in to comment on all her daughter’s life choices just before she suffers a stroke. The stress of which leads Bonnie to the realization that she never loved Nathan. All of these character plots are just a pattern wherein the show brushes against these serious personal issues but just introduces them without ever fully engaging or explaining them.
But perhaps the greatest betrayal of all this season was to Renata Klein. After her dopey husband loses all their money, read all, as in the money he came from and all the money she built for herself, they must file for bankruptcy and sell all their things and home. At which point it comes to light that slimy Gordon has been cheating on her with the nanny as well. Honestly, with Gordon being such a traitor we almost hoped that he would be the husband that they killed this season. Unfortunately, like many other points, this came to no real resolution, just an enraged Renata taking a baseball bat to his toy collection, which is really nothing more than a slap on the wrist for this man. Renata deserved more, we all did.
That being said, the second season is not unwatchable. These are still some of the most talented and professional actresses in the business and they certainly do the best they can with the material they are given.
To a certain extent, we do get a taste of what was missing in the first season. Namely, that all five of these unstoppable women look after and support each other. It was cathartic for us all to see Madeleine apologizing to Celeste for not seeing the abuse sooner, Bonnie trying to ease Jane into opening up to her new partner, and the girls trying to calm Renata through her crises. The series culminated with all five women meeting at the police station to tell the truth about Perry’s death, together. They were on the same team this season and that was worth seeing.
It was just such a shame that they chose to continue a series that had a perfectly happy ending, and by doing so undid a lot of what the first season accomplished. Whether this was a cash grab or an Emmy grab decision, it put fans through the emotional ringer and did so for no satisfying ending. There was no more intrigue, no more real lies left to expose, and ergo no purpose for Big Little Lies to even have a second season.