WARNING: some light spoilers for Big Little Lies series 2 episode 1 below. Still catching up? Take a first look at the new season here.
Liane Moriaty’s novel Big Little Lies was first published in hardback in 2014, with a paperback version hitting shelves a year later. A smash hit and number one bestseller, it didn’t take long for the wily folk at the US cable network HBO to snap up the rights to the book, correctly sensing that – in the right hands – they could add another hit to their already quite impressive pile (one that includes the likes of The Wire, Oz, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Sex and the City, Veep, Boardwalk Empire, Girls and Sharp Objects).
It was excellent news for both fans of quality TV and Moriarty’s work as the series did end up in the right hands. In fact, the eight-part debut run of Big Little Lies was HBO’s biggest award winner yet. Series 1 picked up an almost incalculable number of Emmys, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Screen Actors Guild awards, Satellite awards, Writers Guild awards, AFIs, you name it.
A follow-up series was inevitable. The critics and awards types made that pretty clear. Plus there’s now a legion of Big Little Lies fans across the world. And a TV network with a stone cold hit on their hands. The only trouble was – the 460-odd pages of material had been adapted.
So what to do…?
Well, everyone involved in making the show got their heads together and made a very smart decision indeed. Instead of rushing a second novel out or attempting to come up with a second storyline themselves, they wisely decided to let the powerful plot of the book and first series continue to propel the characters here through another series. After all, five women uniting and conspiring to cover up the ‘accidental’ death of one of their abusive husbands is hardly inconsequential and likely to be fallout-free, is it?
If this opening hour of series 2 is anything to go by, it appears as though we’re all in for performances over plotting here. And why not? When you’ve got the likes of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Zoë Kravitz to hand, it kind of makes sense to play to their strengths.
That’s not it, though. There’s more. Someone pulled a true masterstroke of casting genius here. Joining the cast for (at least) the seven episodes of series 2 is The World’s Greatest Living Actress™, the one and only Meryl Streep…
The Out of Africa and Sophie’s Choice thesp plays Mary Louise, the ostensibly helpful mother of Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) chronically abusive late husband Perry (The Little Drummer Girl‘s Alexander Skarsgård, seen here only in flashbacks). She’s in town to assist her daughter-in-law and look after her two grandchildren. All while poking gently (at first) at the official story of what happened to him.
She’s grieving, angry and more than a little suspicious. Think Miss Marple, only a good deal more passive aggressive – and quite possibly more dangerous – than her. This first episode is never better than when Streep’s Mary Louise and Witherspoon’s Madeline are trading barbs, hinting at some explosive moments between the two down the line, no doubt.
Meryl Streep’s introduction apart, it’s very much business as usual here for Big Little Lies. That’s not to accuse it of repetition or complacency, though. The similarities between the beginning of this series and the opening of the last are firmly intentional. It’s a new school year, the faces are the same… Yet there’s a major difference. Our five main characters are no longer just five separate women. They’re five women connected by a lie. A big little lie, no less.
Are ‘The Monterrey Five’ strong enough to hold out against three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep’s powerhouse of a character, Mary Louise? We wouldn’t bet on it.
What did you make of Big Little Lies series 2 episode 1? Let us know in the comments below!
WARNING: contains spoilers. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
Last week’s return of HBO’s critically and publicly acclaimed drama series Big Little Lies saw ‘The Monterey Five’ desperately trying to keep their big little lies under wraps. With some degree of success too. Yet the remaining six episodes look likely to see the threads of those lies slowly pulled on until there’s nothing but the truth on display. For better or worse, for all concerned.
This week’s instalment, called ‘Tell-Tale Hearts’, really gets the ball rolling. There’s quite a lot of harsh truth for the five central characters to face up to and it’s revelation after revelation here…
In reality, there’s no other way. With the source material having ended alongside the final episode of series 1, what we’re seeing here doesn’t come from Liane Moriarty’s book. It was a novel that ended on the idea of a group of women holding a secret together, conspiring to obfuscate the truth for the greater good. The commissioning of this follow-up run simply had to see that truth emerge.
After all, 7 hours of Celeste, Madeline, Jane, Bonnie and Renata successfully lying wouldn’t make for particularly great drama, would it?
Here, in no particular order, are some of the secrets that were uncovered in episode 2:
● Celeste revealed to Mary Louise the truth about Perry
● Bonnie’s mum Elizabeth (Crystal Fox – the absolute highlight of episode 2…) told the family how her daughter is likely suffering from PTSD and trauma from Perry’s death
● Jeremy was arrested by the FBI for insider trading, effectively bankrupting Renata
● Jane explained to Ziggy who his father was and the violent circumstances of his conception
● Ed found out about Madeline’s affair from last summer with theatre director Joseph
For a drama about lies, we were drowning in truths here. It was an hour full of confessions, admissions and revelations. The importance of honesty within families and friendships was a key theme, whether it be between Ed and Madeline, Celeste and her twins (and then mother-in-law) or Jane and Ziggy.
Is honesty always the best policy? Is telling the truth always cathartic? Well, it depends on the circumstances. Reese Witherspoon’s character Madeline might not say yes to either of those posers after her explanation of her affair led to Ed (the impressive Adam Scott) leaving her. That said, it was as much her lies as the affair that drove him to tell her how they were ‘done’.
As for the central crime that drives the series, Mary Louise (Meryl Streep, as excellent as you’d expect) now seems to be seriously suspicious of Celeste and her pals after hearing the news that Perry was abusive. Although Bonnie seems to have calmed down a little. Apparently there’s nothing quite like a visit from an overbearing and intense parent to remind you how much you love your partner and kids.
We’ve got a fair few weeks before the biggest little lie of all is – probably – exposed, presumably by the dogged Mary Louise. Until then, there are more than enough engaging, involving and gripping subplots and threads to keep us tuning in to what is, two hours in, a series every bit as good as its predecessor.
What did you think of Big Little Lies series 2 episode 2? Let us know in the comments below!
WARNING: contains some minor spoilers. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
The third part of Big Little Lies’ triumphant return to our screens, we’re informed after the opening titles, is called ‘The End of the World’. It’s coming, after all. When? We don’t know. But according to the climate change-obsessed teaching staff at Monterrey’s Otter Bay Elementary School, it’s not all that far away. So, according to them, the children there better act soon and be a part of the solution before the planet goes kaput and we all die horrible deaths.
It’s pretty heavy stuff for a kid to take on board. So it’s no great surprise when one of the pupils has an anxiety attack over it all. That kid being Amabella Klein, the daughter of highly-strung Renata. Overwhelming fear overcomes her, makes her pass out in a cupboard and require a trip to the hospital. She’s fine, but Renata is anything but. The fallout is weighty – an emergency meeting called by parents convinced that their children don’t need to be worried onto unconsciousness over the possibility of future water shortages.
The idea of seven-year-olds with existential dread is a wonderfully absurd, amusing and yet eminently plausible scenario and pure middle class farce. These moments are some of the very best in Big Little Lies. The crime and murder and lies and deception all drive the series, of course. But the satire on privileged rich white people keeps things light, while still packing a punch. Watching a child therapist dressed as Bo Peep extracting information from a child’s psyche – for presumably hundreds of dollars an hour – is hilariously bizarre and yet entirely believable.
Okay, so a child needing hospitalisation might not sound light and breezy, but as respite from the idea of the erosion of humanity and personality from lying about a not so accidental accident/murder, it’s welcome relief.
Speaking of which, Meryl Streep’s Mary Louise is still on the prowl, of course, looking to clear her son’s name and get to the ‘truth’. She’s heard the actual truth several times now, but won’t stop until she’s manipulated it into far more palatable one. The kind of truth that doesn’t include her son Perry as a wife-beating rapist.
This week she visits Jane to try and get her to – somehow – reassess her sexual assault. Mary Louise must be CORGI-registered, given all the expert gas-lighting she’s doing. First it was to Celeste over her son’s abuse. Now it’s Jane that’s feeling her heat. She ends a relatively cordial discussion about the possibility of being a grandmother to Ziggy with a grilling where she practically accuses Jane of coming on to Perry and leading him on.
“I can’t surrender to this notion that he was evil,” Mary Louise confesses. “I just do so want to believe that there was good in him.”
Meanwhile, Ed is enjoying torturing Madeline because of her affair. Madeline, however, is enjoying it less. A breakdown during a rambling speech at the school meeting demonstrates that.
And Celeste is seriously losing her grip, falling deeper back in love with her violent dead husband – or, more specifically, the memory of the nicer side of him. Nicole Kidman plays Celeste with such soul that it’s easy to understand how her motivations, even if it is all so totally heartbreaking.
Big Little Lies series 2 episode 3 took on a gentler pace than last week’s instalment and the first week’s hour. That’s no great critique, though. There are multiple plot threads to explore and enjoy here and more than enough going on to justify laying off the gas a little. Plus this was easily the funniest episode to date.
You could argue that this follow-up series lacks the impact of the first somewhat, given that it can’t rely on the ‘who killed who?’ device that the maiden season had. So far it’s not perhaps been as impactful as 2017’s Big Little Lies, but all the wit, intrigue and incredible performances are still there. And that’s more than enough for us.
What did you think of Big Little Lies series 2 episode 3? Let us know in the comments below!
WARNING: contains some minor spoilers for Big Little Lies series 2 episode 4. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
Nicole Kidman slapping Meryl Streep so hard that her rimless specs come flying off her face.
Until fairly recently, that’s the kind of high drama you’d only be able to imagine in a film nominated for some nine-odd Oscars. But not anymore. Not since television overtook cinema as the number form of quality entertainment and the likes of Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep were only too pleased to appear on the small screen.
To the slap we mention and, well, it’s been coming. Celeste’s stress, grief and increasing willingness to dip into her medicine cabinet is making her easier and easier to manipulate. Her now-dead abusive husband Perry may have been able to pull Celeste’s strings, but he’s proven to be a rank amateur in comparison to his mother. Mary Louise can control her daughter-in-law like a true puppet master. The whack was goaded. Mary Louise wanted it (“What should we call that? ‘Foreplay’?”).
The episode is entitled ‘She Knows’ and while ‘she’ may well know something, she’s not letting on quite yet. Meryl Streep’s character is, undoubtedly, collecting evidence about Perry’s death. Her immediate concern, however, is collecting up her grandchildren. She’s hired one of the best attorneys in Monterrey for a custody battle with Celeste and moving into Jane’s apartment complex to be near Grandkid #3, Ziggy. Much to Jane’s obvious and understandable concern.
As ever, biting jokes and organically laugh out loud moments are never all that far away here. As Madeline and Ed bicker about the ragged state of their marriage, daughter Chloe strolls over with her homework – a pictorial assignment about pairing up opposites. On the left? A large painting of a door. On the right? A doodle of Madeline. Why? “The door is hinged…”
The reality is that very few of the lead characters have too many working hinges left. Madeline’s failing marriage is taking its toll, Celeste faces the prospect of losing her children, Renata’s looming bankruptcy is eating away at her, Jane is struggling to embrace a new relationship because of the past, Bonnie is being consumed by guilt and now has a hospitalised mother to worry about…
Something’s got to give.
With just three remaining episodes left, we’re guessing it’s got to give soon too. The noose seems to be tightening on the Monterey Five. Each has their own issues, but let’s not forget that whole manslaughter/murder/conspiracy thing that the entire show is built upon.
While we’re looking forward to the conclusion of the main plot, it’s no longer the focus of Big Little Lies. This second series seems to be more focused on motherhood. Celeste and the twins, Mary Louise and Perry, Bonnie and her mother Elizabeth, Madeline and her two daughters, Jane and Ziggy, Renata and Amabella… It’s about the lengths a mother will go to protect and care for her kids, but also about how stressful it can be, how terribly wrong it can go and the toll it can take on everyone concerned.
Parenting isn’t easy. Especially when you’re trying to cover up a murder.
What did you think of Big Little Lies series 2 episode 4? Let us know in the comments below!
WARNING: contains some minor spoilers for Big Little Lies series 2 episode 5. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 4 here.
This second series of Big Little Lies has had an almost dream-like quality to it so far, both literally and figuratively. It seems as if every third scene depicts either a dream, daydream or flashback and there are plenty of ethereal cuts of the Monterey Five and their family going about their lives that have something of the surreal and illusory about them.
Yet while things may appear dream-like, the reality is much darker. For most of the main players here, things have turned really quite nightmarish indeed.
Celeste is now fully enmeshed in a custody battle with the manipulative and cunning Mary Louise (not to mention her expensive attorney). Settle out of court and she loses weekends with her boys. Take it to court and she risks Perry’s death being a topic of conversation in front of a judge. With all the perjury and potential murder/manslaughter charges that all that may entail.
Renata is continuing to watch her empire crumble beneath her as her family’s bankruptcy sees her lose her big magazine deal, while Madeline’s attempts to salvage her failing marriage fall flatter than abs of the yoga teacher she cheated on her husband with.
Now getting regular flashbacks to her mother’s abuse, Bonnie is struggling to square caring for her hospitalised and stroke-addled parent with memories of her less than ideal upbringing. Making things all the trickier, Elizabeth finally says something to her… ‘kill me.’
Perhaps the overriding theme of this week’s episode – and one of the entire series – is the ongoing effect of abuse. Whether it be Bonnie with her mother or Jane and Celeste with the Jekyll and Hyde violence of Percy, trauma stays with you.
Big Little Lies does well handling so many stories and effectively sharing screen time between so many characters. It’s a fine line, though. Spinning plates isn’t easy and there’s a fair chance that we may start to shrug our shoulders a little with some of the plot-lines that are coming at us (Bonnie’s mum, we’re looking at you). So far, though? So good.
One story we’re teased towards the end of the episode concerns Ed and a possible hook-up with his ex-girlfriend Tori. And Joseph Bachman. Yep. A three-way with your ex and the dude your spouse cheated on you with? Surely not, Ed. C’mon, man!
The story we’re left really thinking about as this week’s fifth episode came to a close though is poor Jane’s. She’s seemingly thrown all in for Corey, trying to get physical with him and having him spend even more time with Ziggy. Just as she’s falling for him, though… The dream turns to another – potential – nightmare.
Jane doesn’t see it – Bonnie does – but Corey sneaked out of the police station late at night, looking more than a little shifty. He couldn’t be secretly working undercover in an attempt to get information on the Monterey Five, could he? A honey trap would be a pretty lousy thing to do to a vulnerable woman, a victim of rape. But Californian police have done worse, right?
Will they all live happily ever after…? Dream on.
What did you think of Big Little Lies series 2 episode 5? Let us know in the comments below!
WARNING: contains some minor spoilers for Big Little Lies series 2 episode 6. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 5 here.
This week, HBO president Casey Bloys all but confirmed that Big Little Lies won’t be returning for a third series. Not because of poor reviews or ratings or anything like that. If anything, the show seems to have fallen victim to its own success. With a cast that includes the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep, it’s next to impossible to align everyone’s schedules, making a third outing almost impossible.
‘The reality is that they are some of the busiest actresses working in Hollywood,’ says Bloys. ‘Look, if they all came to me and said, “We worked out all of our schedules!” – then sure. But I just don’t think it’s realistic.’
So if you’re a fan of this beautifully crafted David E Kelley show (and you should be), you’d best make peace with the fact that the story of the Monterey Five is coming to an end next week. Unless you can somehow work out the highly complicated logistics and calendars of a bunch of big Hollywood stars, that is.
Nope. We didn’t think so.
So, then. Episode 6 – ‘The Bad Mother’ – is very likely to be the penultimate hour in the Big Little Lies universe. And it set up quite the final instalment…
The ‘will they/won’t they get away with Perry’s death?’ story-line continues to play out here, but as with the series so far, it works more as a crutch to hold up the rest of the events we see. Big Little Lies hasn’t abandoned the ‘crime’ of the Monterey Five, but nor has it got too bogged down in it, either. The nature of Perry’s timely demise is raised here, but only alongside what has become the major plot point of the series: Celeste vs. Mary-Louise.
The custody battle between Nicole Kidman’s doting but emotionally vulnerable mother and her shrewish Machiavellian mother-in-law hits the courthouse this week, with explosive results.
One of the fantastic things about this show is that, over the two series, it’s been a true ensemble piece. A real team effort. Every now and again though, someone really stands out and shines. Meryl Streep and Laura Dern have stolen lots of moments in this season. This week’s episode, however, only has one owner… Nicole Kidman.
As she’s cross-examined by Mary-Louise’s expert counsel (American Horror Story’s excellent Denis O’Hare), she sits, she squirms and she stutters. Asked a brutal series of extremely personal questions, she’s put through a veritable ordeal on the stand, all to determine her capacity as a mother. And you can feel every accusation, every slight and every word. Kidman is showboating here. At a Harlem Globetrotters level.
The ‘Bad Mother’ of the title mostly describes Meryl Streep’s characters assessment of Celeste – but it also refers to Bonnie’s mum. Still close to death after her severe stroke, her pleas for euthanasia dismissed, her mothering skills are taken to task when Bonnie decides to finally release her pent-up resentment, ranting at her bed-bound mother in a scene that’s pure cathartic emotion.
Other story-lines get some attention here too, of course – though most seem a little trivial compared to the custody battle and the potential for the truth to out about Perry in court. Madeline and Ed appear to be close to a reconciliation. And – very nearly stealing the show again – Laura Dern’s Renata discovers that husband Gordon used to indulge in a little ‘stress management’ with the family’s beloved young nanny. Cue a sweary car rant spat at Gordo that could’ve come straight from a Tarantino script.
Back to the superbly tense and engaging courtroom action and we’re set up perfectly for next week’s final episode of Big Little Lies. Having survived her grilling in court, Celeste convinces the judge to allow her to quiz her children’s grandmother to test her ability as a guardian for the twins…
We can think of no better way for this brilliant series to reach a climax than by putting two of the world’s finest actresses in the ring together. It’s Nicole Kidman vs. Meryl Streep and it’s going to be a knockout.
What did you think of Big Little Lies series 2 episode 6? Let us know in the comments below!
WARNING: contains some minor spoilers for Big Little Lies series 2 episode 7. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 6 here.
You know that feeling you get when you’ve eaten a really beautiful meal somewhere fancy? A real treat, you lean back in your chair, pat your belly and give out a sigh. It’s pure satisfaction… You could die happy.
And then the desserts menu somehow ends up in your hands.
Do you need a dessert? Of course not. You’re full. But the main course was so delicious, it would almost seem like a shame not have dessert. So, of course, you order one.
This second course of Big Little Lies – while quite delicious – has felt a little like that kind of dessert at times… ever so slightly unnecessary. It looks great, it’s perfectly formed and tastes really quite nice indeed too. Yet the meal wasn’t really made all the better for its presence.
Don’t get us wrong, we’ve enjoyed these past seven weeks in Monterey and this second series was very effective at probing into the concepts of motherhood and of trauma and the aftermath of bad events. Be it abuse, sexual assault, infidelity, financial ruin or childhood neglect.
This follow-up run was never funnier than when it allowed Laura Dern to let rip and never better than when Hollywood heavyweights Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman sparred with each other. As such, some other plot threads did have the tendency to feel a little lightweight in comparison – bantamweight, almost. After all, how many times can we be shown Bonnie mooning at her hospitalised mother…?
Luckily for everyone, this seventh and final episode was mostly Celeste vs. Mary Louise, with Nicole Kidman’s attorney character in full Clarence Darrow mode here, tearing her mother-in-law to pieces in the dock in scenes that come as a great catharsis to viewers sick of Mary Louise’s BS.
Given it’s the Big Finale, we won’t spoil any of the plot, suffice to say that each story is resolved satisfactorily. All that is except, really, the ‘main’ one. The lie. Perhaps we’re just to leave the Monterey Five as having ‘gotten away with it’. The crime that was never really a crime.
Wrapped up, albeit perhaps without a bow, we’re sure there will be some viewers who found this final episode – perhaps even the entire series – to be a little throwaway. It does end on something of an anticlimax, especially if you consider just how explosive the maiden series was. But then it was never likely to be quite as dramatic, was it?
According to the latest news, there is to be no third season of Big Little Lies, which – if true – is both a shame and a relief. All story-lines have been resolved and Liane Moriarty’s story, at least, has been told. And told well. It’s time to leave the restaurant now. This was a fine meal. And no one ever really wants petits fours, anyway.
What did you think of Big Little Lies series 2 episode 7? Let us know in the comments below!