It’s funny how similar Big Little Lies‘ second season is to The Lion King remake. Both are very entertaining to watch… and completely unnecessary.
The HBO drama’s debut season was a powerhouse story that blended insightful storytelling with jawdropping performances. It also ended in a pretty satisfying manner with the ladies crafting that big “lie” and protecting one another. Sure we all wanted more, but did we really need it? After watching season two, I can safely say that I don’t think we did.
It really pains me to say this but this season fails on numerous fronts. First, it fails with regards to the mystery (and do skip down to the conclusion if you have yet to finish the season). There’s absolutely no momentum to the narrative – instead we get endlessly repetitive flashbacks that dilute the show’s stylish aesthetic (which could have to do with this scandal). The season’s final moment with the ladies all following Bonnie to turn themselves in at the police station is a memorable showcase of solidarity and unity, but it’s too little too late and far too abrupt. Even the manner in which Celeste triumphs over Mary Louise (by using the iPad video) just comes off as far too convenient. Yes it’s satisfying to have proof of the abuse, but surely the writers could have hinted at the evidence earlier in the season. Ugh.
The show also completely fails when it comes to Bonnie this season. We were promised a fascinating backstory after watching her push Perry in last year’s finale, but all that amounted to was watching Zoe Kravitz sit around a hospital room for half a season while bizarre drowning visuals looped on for what seemed like an eternity. What of her mother’s mysticism? What was the purpose of that in relation to the abuse? Why were so many plot points just randomly dropped?
The year’s biggest achievement is its enlightening exploration of the aftermath of abuse. Watching Celeste navigate the intricate complexities of a life without Perry (who was often quite loving and affectionate) is harrowing to watch. Just because her abuser is gone, doesn’t mean the healing is done (look no further than Celeste masturbating to that Perry video in one the the season’s most shocking moments). Even her kids are still traumatized, and it’s heartbreaking to watch them be violent with one another (as well as their mother). Little moments like her twins asking if she “beat up” Mary Luise skillfully convey that Celeste’s work is far from over. It’s harrowing, realistic, and so very powerful.
The rest of the women never faltered in their performances either. Shailene Woodley was saddled with a dull storyline, but it’s at least gratifying to see her get intimate once more. Laura Dern is the show’s MVPs but I can’t help feeling that her numerous outbursts this year (because let’s face it, Gordon deserved them) were basically designed to elicit endless Twitter GIFs. Of course Meryl Streep is tremendous as the eccentric Mary Louise. Her mannerisms, her vocal inflections – everything is carefully calculated and oh so strange. The show wisely has her face off with not just Celeste, but the rest of the women which added a healthy dose of variety to the skirmishes.
Strangely enough, Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline is toothless this season. The character was a standout last year, but she’s basically relegated to moping around after Ed for seven episodes. And then it all amounts to them renewing their vows? And why did Chloe receive only five seconds of screentime the entire year? Alright then…
And hey if you needed any more proof that this season was weaker than the first: I reviewed every single episode of season one, but lost interest after this season’s third episode. How sad is that?
Big Little Lies is still gorgeous to look at and filled with exceptional performances, but there’s no denying that season two is a major downgrade after that perfect debut season.