Big Little Lies season two episode three continues to deliver a gripping narrative, incredible performances, and some of the best writing you are bound to see on the small screen as it logs another close to perfect hour of television.
If this episode serves as an example of anything, it is the power of a scene partner. Shailene Woodley has been consistently strong throughout the run of the show but her true potential was untapped this week in one of the most gripping scenes in the show’s history. In her first extended scene with Meryl Streep’s Mary Louise, Woodley’s Jane is doing her best to stay composed as she tries hard to hold down an immense array of emotions. Woodley and Streep play an adept game of emotional tennis as they knock back and forth subtle moments of pain, hope, and anger. It is a masterclass of push and pull acting and Streep being the one to bring this out of Woodley comes as no surprise. Comparing this moment alongside one a few scenes later in which Woodley and Zoe Kravitz share the screen in a much duller effort, it becomes incredibly obvious the amount of work Streep is doing in elevating the show this season.
As far as the writing goes, this episode revels in the layered storytelling and subtle hints and clues that Big Little Lies does so well. Things like Bonnie’s mother’s monologue to a young Bonnie about drowning and the need to prepare one’s children for pain to learn how to survive it are followed up on perfectly by later instances like Madeline’s speech at the after school assembly about how we harm our children by only telling them stories with happy endings. As a side note, a tearful Witherspoon delivers maybe one of her best moments here in a show chock full of them. The therapy sessions have become somewhat of a narrative device in the show’s second season. Having Madeline and Ed attend them as a couple serves to subconsciously link and compare them to Perry and Celeste. While the actual comparisons between the two couples seem few and far between right now, past clues like Celeste imagining Madeline being beaten, Madeline questioning what she would do in a relationship such as that, and then Madeline and Ed’s debut on the couch all lend themselves towards the show wanting us to make some sort of a connection between the two. Logic tells us Ed is not going to turn into a violent, Perry-esque sociopath, but a vengeful hookup leading to a relationship predicated upon mutual pain seems not totally out of the question.
In the same vein as the writing, this week’s direction also lends itself towards the more subliminal story telling this show has become known for. Madeline and Celeste discussing their friendship and how they could have helped each other more is shot entirely from the backseat. In a show that uses cars as a motif, there is rarely ever a conversation or scene in one that does not hold some sort of a higher meaning. Putting the audience in the backseat, a place reserved solely for the children of the main cast, makes us feel a bit helpless. We are left looking on and feeling removed as we wait for a resolution we know won’t come. Another one of the more intense arcs of this episode is Jane’s new found relationship with the overly bizarre Corey (Douglas Smith). It too is fleshed out through interesting directing choices. Up angles on Corey in certain moments (such as the painfully awkward attempted kiss) serve to make him seem menacing. Whether this is done as foreshadowing or in an attempt to put the audience in the shoes of Jane, who, for good reason, probably sees most men this way, is a question left up to the audience’s interpretation. The single long take on their good-night-hug-turned-impromptu-dance-session also lends itself towards the type of suspense that should otherwise not be present in such a simple and harmless moment. The viewer always feels a sense of dread when Jane is on screen and that is due in no small part to the picture perfect direction of the show. With all the trademark aspects back and working on all levels, episode three is an enthralling addition to a show that is quietly making its case as the next great American television show.
- Renata and Gordon are legitimately the worst parents and couple of all time.
- Steady Eddy following up his date with Bonnie by sarcastically asking Celeste out for coffee is our first proof that he has any sort of a backbone.
- P. J. Byrne as Principal Nippal does not get enough love. He really makes the most out of his limited screen time.
- While Meryl Streep has been great, it may be time to give the writer’s some credit as well. Every time we think Mary Louise is going to turn into the full blown antagonist of the season, they do something to push her slightly back into the realm of being able to be sympathized with.