In the second episode of its second season, Big Little Lies continues to play on family dynamics as it takes its story in a different, more human direction. Just when we thought we were in for a who-done-it style snoop fest led by the incomparable Meryl Streep in her brilliant turn as Mary Louise, the show began to lead us down a different path. A path more about the real-life effects this tragedy has had on the people involved and what it means for each of them.
While a sense of tension and doom still lingers in every frame of a strong, yet somewhat lacking second episode, the main focus is on the unique familial structures created through both Perry’s terror and ultimate demise. You would need two hands to count the number of times a character utters some derivative of the phrase “because that’s what families do.” Celeste tells it to her boys in the opening car ride, and Madeline tells it to her daughter after she spills the beans on Ziggy’s father. Both of these instances are important because both of these character’s perceptions of their family, and who is in it, change drastically by the end of the episode. Quite possibly the most telling line in the entire forty-five minutes comes from one of Celeste’s sons (if you say you can tell them apart, you are lying) when he is told Ziggy is his brother. “We’re already friends, what difference does it make?” he asks an equally confused Celeste. That is the question episode two asks us over and over again. What does it mean to be a family? Is it trusting one another? Not according to Ed or Renata who both find themselves severely lacking in that department (for a good reason). Is it loyalty to one another? By episode’s end, Madeline, Mary Louise, and Nathan have all done and said enough to prove they do not entirely uphold that virtue in the eyes of their families. At the heart of all of these instances are the lies these characters tell themselves and each other. Some are warranted, others are not, but the point this episode drives home is that they all have consequences.
The informative and at times subliminal editing we have come to expect from Big Little Lies continues in this episode, as well. Instances such as cutting to a shot of Celeste when Madeline says “that women is not well” rather than cutting to Bonnie (aka the person she is talking about) exist to set up the idea that Madeline makes it her point to be up on everyone else’s business yet can’t see the deterioration in her best friend (even with the insane eye makeup doused on Kidman to make her look more like a B-Movie Zombie than a woman driving on Ambien). Another unique choice that is not as intuitive is how long the camera stays on Celeste when Mary Louise tells her the boys know Ziggy is their brother. It sounds obvious that we would want an extended reaction shot but with the interrogative and almost aggressive way Streep delivers her lines, it almost feels unnatural not to see her. Maybe it serves to make the point that no one is concerned enough about how this is all affecting Celeste, not even the audience.
While my review last week had nothing negative to even hint at, my review this week will not be as kind. There were certain instances in this episode that felt forced and unnecessary. They surprisingly all involved a usually perfect Nicole Kidman. While most of them were not her fault and more accredited to the writing, they still all came with her on screen. The first was her scream in the therapy office. It just was not needed. It felt like something they should have let Kidman portray non-verbally. The “no!” when imagining Madeline as the new victim of Perry’s violence just felt too on the nose. The second was a follow up to that scene, where Celeste she pushes one of her sons (again, you don’t know which one is which either) to the ground. The message is evident here. She is terrified of her boys having any of their father’s penchant for rage and all-around awfulness. We get this, which makes it even more insulting that they needed her to scream “you will not be like him” when she pushes him. Big Little Lies has always been a smart show that asks it’s viewers to come up to its level. I hope that it will stay that way going forward. Of course, this is nitpicking of an overall strong and engaging episode 2.
Big Little Lies Stray observations:
- Ironic that in a show about what we pass down to our children, we see both of Madeline’s children spill major secrets through careless gossip.
- When I first saw it, I thought the splice of underwater imagery in Bonnie and her mother’s backyard scene was some sort of subliminal message I wasn’t privy too yet. Then Bonnie’s mom talks about drowning…
- Mary Louise’s teardown of Celeste for “not calling the cops” and calling a rape, rape is like a vile internet comment section adapted for the screen.
- Ed on his stepdaughter Abigail: “My daughter–and yes I do consider her my daughter.” Just another in a long line of hints that family may be about something more than blood.