This Big Little Lies review contains spoilers.
Big Little Lies Season 2, Episode 3
Heading into the second season of Big Little Lies, much attention was given to the addition of Meryl Streep to the already star-studded and incredibly talented cast. The hype has been proven much warranted, as Streep’s Mary Louise is the most fascinating of characters in the continuation of this story: passive aggressive, griefstricken, and dangerous, she represents the question of what to do with the love we have for someone when we find out they were not all we hoped for them to be.
I wish we got a bit more one-on-one time with Mary Louise. Instead, we almost always see her from the point-of-view of one of the Monterey Five. This week, she is found stalking both Jane and Ziggy, rifling through Celeste’s prescription stash, and identifying Renata as one of the people there when Perry died. The closest the show gets to giving Mary Lousie the POV here is in a scene that sees her going to see Detective Quinlan, who seems sympathetic to Mary Louise’s plight, but is a professional and therefore unwilling to let Mary Louise know how the investigation into her son’s death is going.
Why is Mary Louise so engaging? Sure, it is partially because she is a new character to explore and partially because she is played by master of her craft Streep, but it is also because, if this season is especially about these characters learning to confront the lies they’ve all been living with, then Mary Louise’s lie is the kind I’ve seen least represented in on-screen stories before. Her lie is that her son was a good person and, as the season progresses, she is forced to face the reality that he was not, as everyone from Jane to Celeste explains that he hurt them.
If 2019 is a year of attempting to better hold men accountable for their harmful actions in a society built on misogyny, amongst other dangerous systems, then it inevitably follows that it is also a year of women learning how to more publicly contextualize how to love the men in their lives while also holding them accountable for their actions. What does love look like when someone you love is responsible for hurting multiple people, for using their power in terrible ways? I don’t know the answer to that question, and I’d like to see Big Little Lies delve even further into it.read more: Big Little Lies Season 1 Ending Explained
Meanwhile, Otter Bay School is thrown into the center of another controversy when Renata’s daughter, Amabella, has a panic attack during a lesson about climate change. Rather than focusing on the elements at home, both from Renata and Gordon, that might be leading to Amabella’s stress, she focuses all of her criticism on Principal Nippal, criticizing the integration of climate change into the second grade curriculum.
Renata’s complaints lead to a school community assembly on the subject in which a emotionally-fried Madeline, who is dealing with the possibility that Ed may leave her, gets up in front of the crowd and makes a speech about the rarity of happy ending, and how the way we lie to ourselves is echoed in the way we lie to our children.
It’s a moment of embarrassment, perhaps, but it’s a moment of great emotional honesty and strength. In a story that is so thematically interested in exploring the destructive power of secrets and lies, there is no greater shock, catharsis, or bravery than telling the truth, even and especially when it means being emotionally-raw, as the truth-telling so often demands.
Madeline’s emotional speech is made further emotionally-raw by the fact that Ed, who is standing in the audience listening, doesn’t go up on stage to support his wife in some way. He’s still too pissed. She betrayed him and now he is lashing out, which is simultaneously understandable and not a good look. Madeline and Ed may ostensibly be working on their relationship by visiting Celeste’s therapist (who must be very busy), but both seem hesitant to open up—a fracture in their relationship their therapist makes sure to qualify as not solely Madeline’s problem.
The therapist sees Madeline’s infidelity as a symptom of her diminished self-worth, in turn derived from the fact she didn’t go to college. Meanwhile, she wonders aloud if Ed’s own inability to be emotionally-present in his relationship with Madeline may have led Madeline to take attention-seeking measures, like having an affair. Madeline’s distress may not be leading to much headway in her relationship with Ed, but it has solidified her bonds with both Abigaila and Celeste, which is touching to see.
It’s also been nice to see Jane’s relatively positive progression this season (especially given how increasingly interogative Mary Louise has been of her life and character), as she not only gets a job she seems to like, but moves forward dating Corey, the sweet surfer guy from the aquarium. Jane hasn’t been intimate with anyone in any way, it seems, since Perry raped her, and it’s difficult for her to vulnerable in that way.
Though Jane hasn’t told Corey about her identity as a sexual assault survivor, she has made it clear what her boundaries are. When he tries to kiss her, she rejects him and asks him to take it slow. He respects that boundary, asking for a hug at the end of their second date which leads to them dancing sweetly outside of Jane’s house. A tear rolls down Jane’s face as Corey rocks her back and forth—perhaps out of sadness for the pain that was inflicted upon her, but perhaps also one of healing, as Jane begins to open herself up to this kind of intimacy again. Or perhaps it comes from a reminder that, no matter how close Corey gets, Jane may never be able to be honest with him about Perry’s death, a lie that continues to keep the Monterey Five from connecting with the ones they care about.
This may be the most true of Bonnie, who seems to be doing a bit better this episode, but is far from OK. Remembering her mother dunking her under water as a child, she stares into the ocean again and again, immersed in the feeling of drowning she can’t escape.
We all need to be touched: the theme of “The End of the World”‘s closing montage, which sees Jane in Corey’s arms, Celeste masturbating to the frozen image of Perry on her computer screen, Bonnie recalling what it was like to be carried by her mother as a child, and Madeline remembering sex with Ed. These are the experiences of comfort and pleasure that are unavailable to these characters, to some extent, because of Perry and the secret of his death. How much longer can the Monterey Five continue down this path of isolation before they break?
It’s interesting to see that Gordon has noticed a change in Renata’s behavior post-Perry’s death. I don’t think of Gordon as very insightful, nor of Renata’s character as having changed much, but I will go with Big Little Lies on this path.
Raymond was Perry’s brother: confirmed! He looked like Ziggy and died mysteriously when he and Perry were young. Did this lead Perry to become angry and violent, or could Raymond’s death has been a result of Perry’s anger and violence?
Celeste asks Mary Louise to move out of the house once and for all when she sees her going through Celeste’s drug
Celeste and Madeline’s friendship continues to be one of the healthiest and most supportive on the show.