Recap: Season Two of ‘Big Little Lies’ Wraps With Finale ‘I Want to Know,’ a Little Deus Ex Machina and Some Beyoncé-Inspired Violence
“Love is a really big word, you know?” Jane tells her son Ziggy in last night’s Big Little Lies season two finale, “I Want to Know.” As we’ve progressed through the preceding six episodes of this season, the Monterey Five’s understanding of love is always in question. Love for their husbands, love for their children, love for themselves. Some of that won out last night in “I Want to Know,” and some of it didn’t, but ultimately this season ended with these women knowing themselves. Was that enough?
Kind of, I guess. Honestly, I am increasingly loathe to praise this second season of Big Little Lies too much, and that’s because I am convinced we are not getting the complete picture of this season, or at least not of what director Andrea Arnold intended. We just can’t be! This finale alone relies on a variety of deus ex machina moments to justify its narrative plotting, and although these are reveals the show has hinted around this past season, these are big jumps forward! Suddenly Celeste knows all about how Perry’s brother Raymond died when Perry was 5 years old, and knows that it was at the hands of Mary Louise, and knows that Mary Louise raised Perry in an emotionally abusive household. That just comes out of nowhere! And then there is the other little tidbit that helps Celeste put Mary Louise, and any doubters of Perry’s abuse of her, away for good: a recording of her late husband beating her, taken by the very sons she is fighting with Mary Louise about.
Did that work for you? Look, seeing Nicole Kidman rip into Meryl Streep was deeply satisfying, and I cannot lie to you that I smirked every time Streep’s Mary Louise tried to spin another lie to get herself away from Celeste’s questioning. I might have even typed into my notes, “This bitch!” and that could have applied to either woman! Kidman, for getting so calculated and so vicious in her questioning, and for reminding us that she isn’t just Perry’s victim but a successful professional in her own right. And Streep, too, for adding additional layers to her performance of Mary Louise, a woman I mockingly nicknamed Boomer Grandma but whose worst qualities—her obliviousness, her hatred of other women, her idolatry of her son, how fucking convinced she is that she is always right—were absolutely engineered to encourage our hatred. She is a woman who was grieving, and who manipulated her own grief to hurt another person. If there was any doubt, her continued insistence that she should get Max and Josh despite seeing the evidence of who her son was cemented that. And so we were meant to cheer when she lost her case, and I did, but again, I ask: This worked emotionally, but did it work logically?
I can give some more leeway to Bonnie’s narrative arc, which wrapped last night in the only way it could: We’ve seen Bonnie’s frustration with the lie this entire season, the stress of lying to her husband and to her daughter, and that’s only been exacerbated by her mother’s illness. But Bonnie made her peace with her mother in last week’s episode after confessing to Elizabeth her resentment and her unhappiness, and of course Bonnie smothering her mother was a fake-out, and instead we see her sleeping beside her mother, feeding her, and grieving her after she has another stroke and dies. That part of Bonnie, the one who was defined by her anger with her mother, is gone—and so Bonnie can come clean to Nathan about not being in love with him, can tell both Nathan and her father the circumstances of Perry’s death, and can walk into the Carmel by the Sea police station to confess. The other members of the Monterey Five are at her side, and I suppose that is mean to be a triumphant, reassuring moment—that although Celeste told Madeline “The lie is the friendship,” the women (finally) see Bonnie’s pain and walk in with her. Do I kind of wish any of these women had been more supportive of Bonnie in the preceding months? Do I still think it’s weird that we never got a Bonnie and Celeste standalone scene? Is it fair that Bonnie’s life is, arguably, the most blown-up at this point? Does her confession jeopardize Celeste’s custody of her children—would it call into question whether Celeste lied during the hearing about knowing how Perry died?
In the book by Liane Moriarty, Bonnie’s motivations are explained after the fact, and the effect of the lie has repercussions for Nathan and Bonnie, but for Madeline and Ed, too. This season took a backward approach to that—presenting the push and then working to fill in Bonnie’s childhood with her mother and why she would react to abuse in such a way—but I am disappointed that ultimately it really was only Bonnie who truly suffered for the lie. Should I feel sympathetic to Madeline, once she finally realizes that the lie was a bad idea? Once she finally acknowledges to Celeste that she feels guilt over it? Eh, I suppose, and of course Reese Witherspoon perfectly balances between knowing she did something awful and still attempting to spin blame away from herself. But all of a sudden, the intuitive knowledge that Ed had that Madeline was hiding something from him means nothing! She doesn’t come clean before their vow-renewal ceremony! And that is the element of Moriarty’s book that I wanted incorporated here, the moment when Type-A-as-fuck Madeline realizes that she has to be honest with Ed if she expects their renewed commitment to their marriage to be successful. Was this actually a self-aware choice by David E. Kelley, to suggest that not even when Ed is willing to offer her an olive branch, Madeline can’t really meet him halfway? I don’t think so! I think Madeline’s pretty beachside vow renewal with her Midsommar flower crown is supposed to be one of the episode’s happy endings, and there is something a little unfulfilling about that.
Also unfulfilling: That Jane and Corey do get together, which, I get it, Jane needs to move on. But for Ziggy to come up here and claim that he thinks his mother is in love with this coworker! With whom she has only been on like, two dates! Slow your roll, Ziggy. Anyone else think that this scene was solely to justify Iain Armitage’s bump to the main credits of Big Little Lies this year? Young Sheldon may be a genius over at CBS, but I did not find his pressuring of his mother to continue her relationship with a guy she was unsure about that helpful. But again: This was a happy ending for Jane, I suppose, as was the removal of Mary Louise from her life. That little nod from Woodley, as she confirmed with Kidman’s Celeste that she could bring up Perry’s rape of her during the custody hearing, was a solid moment, though. I have been impressed by Woodley’s acting this season, even if I think Jane’s storyline wrapped up in a bunk way.
And finally, if we’re talking about impressive acting, yes, I think we need to talk about Laura Dern. Because although it’s been clear that the writing for Dern’s Renata has been the most over the top this season, it’s also been the most consistent joy, and it culminates quite well in her Beyoncé/”Hold Up”-inspired destruction of Gordon’s toys. Man, fuck you, Gordon! Let us experience it all again, in gif form:
Look, hitting your spouse is actually very bad! But what does it say that the memories I will cherish most of this season of Big Little Lies are Dern’s freak-outs, her explosions of emotion, her volcanic torrents of rage? I suppose it’s a reflection of this second season overall, of its tendency toward soapiness, of its embrace of the melodramatic and the vitriolic. I enjoyed parts of it, and a lot of it wasn’t quite right, and I don’t think we need a third season at all. No more bullshit. Let this be the ending of Big Little Lies.
ODDS AND ENDS
+ Pour one out for the characters we don’t see during this finale at all: No Tori (I am guessing Ed channeled all that sexual frustration into the boxing bag?), no therapist (perhaps that one of those “conditions and compliances” from the family court judge was that Celeste keep seeing her?), no Detective Quinlan (we couldn’t even have her meet the Monterey Five at the police station?), and none of the teachers or administrators from the children’s school (I am still very curious about whether they changed their approach to teaching about climate change). AND WHAT HAPPENED TO COFFESHOP TOM? We will never know.
+ Although I’m still a little Really, tho? about Celeste finding the footage of her beating at Perry’s hands, the reactions of all the women when the clip played in court was excellent.
+ In terms of consistency, I like again that some of Madeline’s and Celeste’s most honest moments with each other after the custody hearing took place in a car. A good acknowledgment of their heart-to-hearts in season one, and of Madeline’s more-recent conversation with Ed when they returned from that highly truncated couples’ retreat.
+ Loved Celeste dressing heavily in blue this episode, from her suit to her pussy-bow blouse. It brought out Kidman’s eyes, yes, but blue is also a color of peace and trust, and I appreciated that subtle nod to how Celeste now wants to present herself: stability for her children, especially in contrast to the reveals she shares about Mary Louise.
+ Was the flashback to Mary Louise’s badgering of Perry immediately after the car accident that caused Raymond’s death necessary? I guess, to provide validity to the story Celeste told. But we’ve only ever seen flashbacks and memories from primary characters, and seeing one from the now-dead Perry was a little jarring.
+ “How are ‘WE’? We are WROUGHT, Mary Louise!” Oh, Laura Dern, you magical treasure.
+ Mary Louise said “jammies”! In court! Oh my god. If there was one thing I despised most about Mary Louise, it was her constant infantilization of other adults, and how she used that to buoy her own maternal credentials (ugh at her smug “In those days, we were less inclined to outsource our children’s pain”). And when it unraveled, she reacted in a way that Perry used to—with begging and then with self-hatred. Remember her hitting herself outside of Celeste’s house when she showed up after the custody hearing? Not very hard to imagine her then hitting Perry, is it?
+ “He’s the victim here, not you” was of course a line from Mary Louise, and it was obviously written to piss us all off, and reader, IT DID.
+ Celeste needs to get Josh and Max in therapy, immediately. When one of them asks her whether she “beat up” Mary Louise, that’s bad! And her letting them already play violent video games at their age, that’s bad! I do agree with some commenters around here that Celeste really has work to do on herself and with the kids, and I kind of wish we had heard what the judge’s conditions were, but oh well, this episode wasn’t particularly interested in details.
+ Chloe’s “I have connections” when Madeline asked how she got her hands on the sugary chocolate cereal she was eating—I cannot deal with this kid’s endless precociousness. But it was a clever touch to have her watching Ed and Madeline kiss, as another reminder that these children see way more than their parents expect or anticipate.
+ “It’s one thing to be asked to turn your children over. It’s quite another to be asked to give them to you”—live reaction shot of me after that line:
WHEW, WAS IT GREAT.
+ And finally, a few songs I really liked from last night’s episode: Leon Bridges’ “That Was Yesterday” and Willie Nelson and his daughter Paula’s cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”
So, what are your thoughts? Did this season work for you overall? Did you have any predictions that did or did not come true? Celeste getting custody? Bonnie confessing? Madeline and Ed staying together? Meet me in the comments!
Header Image Source: HBO Media Relations