Have you missed ruminating over petty dramas while gazing upon a tranquil Pacific-coast sunset with a glass of merlot? Do you also need some Meryl Streep in your life?
Fret no more: Big Little Lies returns to our (comparatively) dull little lives this Sunday.
The A-list talent and superb drama of BLL’s first season made it one of 2017’s most discussed shows. So it shouldn’t have been a huge shock that despite a relatively tidy final episode — not to mention its categorization as a limited series — HBO picked up the show for a second season.
It’s now been two years since we delved into the lives of the so-called Monterey Five, so before we jump into the seven-episode second season, let's refresh ourselves on the highs of season one.
Where we left Madeline, Celeste, Renata and the rest
Most of the first season revolved around two central plotlines: the terrible abuse Celeste (Nicole Kidman) suffered from her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard), and the mystery of who raped Jane (Shailene Woodley) and fathered her son Ziggy. Despite Jane not being from the area, it wasn’t a huge surprise to learn that Ziggy’s father and Celeste’s husband were one and the same.
Whether or not that revelation proved shocking, the journey to that point was worthy of its starpower and platform. Woodley and especially Kidman bring nuance and care to the struggles of Jane and Celeste. Both women find themselves grappling with their traumas while trying to put on strong, nurturing faces for their sons.
They're both supported by the fierce Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), who doesn’t hesitate to go to bat for Jane and Celeste as needed but repeatedly fumbles with her own family. The main target of her ire there is Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), the not-quite-hippie stepmother to her oldest daughter.
Then there’s Renata (Laura Dern), whose determination for daughter Amabella to have the perfect first-grade year is only matched by the fury she gives anyone who gets in her way. When Jane’s Ziggy is briefly accused of biting Amabella, Renata tangles frequently with Jane and Madeline. She also gifts us with this beautiful "thank you" moment:
The mothers’ storylines come to a head at a school fundraiser. In perhaps the best scene of the series, the women wordlessly put together that Perry is an abuser and that he assaulted Jane, and they all come together to fight off the monster. The fact that Bonnie shoved Perry down the stairs to his death is buried under a lie, but the season ends with the ladies united by the incident and (seemingly) in the clear.
Time for Bigger Little Lies
Of course that couldn’t stay the case, right? In the first three episodes of the new season, the cracks in season one’s facade of resolution begin to come into focus. As big lies tend to do, the women’s version of Perry’s death threatens to spiral out of control thanks to external and internal forces, and viewers are in for another wild ride.
Kravitz finally has the opportunity to give her character some real depth, as Bonnie seems to be having the hardest time coping with her role that night. Indeed, all the women find themselves dealing with the repercussions of their actions in one way or another, giving each actor ample time to flex their chops.
Woodley and Witherspoon both continue to excel, but Kidman is once again an incredible standout in these early episodes. Her attention to detail in showing how one moves on — or doesn’t — after the death of an abusive spouse solidifies her position as the heart of BLL. Dern also particularly shines this season, unleashing Renata's fury and irreverence in ways endearing and hilarious.
Then there's Meryl Streep. With almost any other actor, Streep’s desperate Mary Louise would come across as just another crazy mother as she searches for the truth of Perry’s life and death. But Meryl came to play: She chews through her scenes — and the Monterey Five — with such ruthless peculiarity that you may both cringe and squeal each time she comes on screen. If by the end of this season she hasn’t slowly emerged from behind at least one shrub, it’ll be a travesty.
The only real concern from the first three episodes is that, like the women’s web of lies, the storylines too will run amuck. Each of the Monterey Five isn’t just grappling with the shared consequences of the killing, but also with familial conflicts of varying importance. They’re all given similar weight, though, and one can only hope they’ll tie together rather than spiral away.
But such isn’t too dissimilar from the first season, and happily enough these first few episodes are just as engrossing as those that came before. Scenes rapidly fluctuate from concerning to hilarious, but keeping up with the pace is no problem: This emotional roller coaster is far too fun.
Big Little Lies returns Sunday at 8 p.m. on HBO.