‘Big Little Lies’ is a bestselling novel written by Liane Moriarty and has been adapted into an award-winning series by HBO. At first, the story was supposed to wrap up in just one season. But the immense success received by the show made the case for continuing the story. Set in the town of Monterey, it has five women at its centre who, at first, find themselves in conflict with each other, but are later brought together by a murder. The second season saw the additional of Meryl Streep to the cast, with Andrea Arnold taking charge of the direction. If you haven’t yet seen it, catch both seasons of the series on HBO.
Synopsis of the Plot
The events of the second season of ‘Big Little Lies’ pick up with the first day of school. Some time has passed since Perry’s death and even though Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Madeleine (Reese Witherspoon), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Renata (Laura Dern) and Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), now called The Monterey Five, have not been accused of anything, the detective on the case hasn’t let go of her suspicion. The finale of the first season closed with the women and their children enjoying leisure time at the beach while being watched from a distance. This was the indication that the danger hasn’t disappeared for the group, and as the events kickstart in the second season, this fact becomes even clearer.
Even though they are bound by the pact of not ever letting out the secret, each of them suffers from the trauma in one way or another. While Celeste is visited by Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) in her nightmares, it is Bonnie who can’t let go of her guilt, and its hold on her is becoming more discernible to others with every passing day. The Five might believe that they have gotten away with murder, but people of the town are talking about them. The cops are waiting for them to crack. It only takes one, doesn’t it? To add to the stress, Perry’s mother, Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) enters their lives. Just like everyone else, she isn’t entirely satisfied with the explanation that she received for her son’s death and doesn’t hesitate from poking around and stirring up trouble in the process.
While the first season engaged us with a mystery, a murder in waiting, the second season deals with its aftermath. The ladies are trying to move on with their lives, but feel a continuous tug on the rope that anchors them to the event that changed their lives. A lot of secrets piled up in the first season, and now it is the turn to bring them all tumbling down. The children aren’t untouched by these changes either. The revelation of some secrets tests their relationships with their parents.
The Monterey Five
The reason for the success and acclaim received by ‘Big Little Lies’ is majorly attributed to its portrayal of complex relationships. Every character in this story has their own issues to deal with, and all five mothers are the representations of the various sets on the relationship spectrum. Jane is a young, single mother, and even if you exclude her traumatic past as the victim of rape, she is a character that a lot of women can relate to.
Renata is the embodiment of ambitious, career-driven women who have worked hard their whole lives to earn the position they have elevated themselves to, and have learnt not to compromise or bow down to anyone. Her confidence and vigour often make people, including her husband, intimated of her, and she has to face the judgement of other mothers who believe that she doesn’t have her priorities right.
Bonnie is another complicated character, that was actually not explored enough, if at all, in the first season. Glad to say, the second season makes up for that. She is the cool, young woman who married an older guy, and is often gossip material for the townspeople because she is considered too eccentric or even exotic! In Madeleine, we meet a vibrant and social woman who never hesitates to voice her opinions or call out others on their wrongdoings. She is an obvious leader and is often the first one you’d call in case of any emergency, no matter how major or minor. And, never the one to disappoint, she is always ready with a solution. But, sometimes, she stirs up trouble too. And the qualities that draw people towards her, are also the ones that threaten to drive them away. As Mary Louise describes her: on a good day, she is a godsend; but on her bad days, not so much.
And then there is Celeste. Call it Nicole Kidman’s superb acting or the excellent sketching of her character by the writers, ‘Big Little Lies’ is, in most parts, her story. She is a talented lawyer, she is a great mother, a reliable friend, a kind and compassionate person. She is also a very good wife and prioritizes nothing about her children and husband. Not even herself. And that, right there, is the problem. She is in a horrifically abusive marriage with Perry. He not only attacks her physically but also leaves her in an emotional turmoil that he then uses for his own purpose, to make her stay.
People know Perry is a loving and considerate husband, the sweetest man they could ever meet, one who is irrevocably dedicated to his wife. But Celeste’s bruised body tells a different story, her cabinet full of meds that help her through the pain paint a different picture. And this makes the audience question: why is she still with him? We see him literally beat the shit out of her. Watching these scenes is a chilling experience and there is nothing but hatred in our hearts for him. How exactly is Celeste still in love with him, then?
The question has been around for a long time. How do people stay in an abusive relationship? Why do they not leave it when the first signs of abuse appear? Why do they stay even when the abuse has been going on for the most part of their relationship? In the form of Celeste, ‘Big Little Lies’ gives us a peek into the psyche of a victim of domestic violence; not to make us sympathise with her condition, but to help us understand. So that the next time a victim shares their story, you don’t fire back and ask questions like, “Why didn’t you call the police?”, “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”, “Why did you stay?”.
The Aftereffects of a Toxic Relationship
There is no doubt that Perry is a monster. His mistreatment of Celeste has given us all the reasons in the world to hate him; which is why, when he dies in the final episode, it somehow seems justifiable. Of course, the answer to domestic violence, or any other crime for that matter, is never violence. You can’t simply kill people. Justice must flow through proper channels. And yet, there was a satisfaction in watching Perry fall to his death!
One must think that with his death, Celeste is now free. He won’t hit her anymore; she won’t have to be afraid again. While he was great with children, they had seen his abhorrent behaviour and were actually learning from it. This bad influence is also out of the picture now. She is free of this relationship. If that’s what you think then you haven’t really met a person who has been through this thing before. You haven’t grasped the idea that the relationship hasn’t ended yet, even though the abuse might have. The effect lingers on and it’ll take some time to pass.
While the first season was about action, the second is all about reaction. Celeste’s life should be more stable now that the toxic factor is gone. Instead, we find her more unhinged than she ever was when her husband was alive. She admits that she was a better mother when he was around. But now, everything seems to be falling apart. She chases a string of meaningless sexual encounters to get some physical experience, a way to feel something. She repeatedly says that she misses him, and describes the evil in Perry as his “weakness” to their sons. Shouldn’t she hate him for what he did to her? Shouldn’t she be relieved, thankful even, that he is gone? No, she is still caught up in the same toxic marriage. She is angry, sad, resentful and heartbroken, all at the same time.
One of the things with the victims of domestic violence is that after suffering a long-term abuse, they form a bond with their trauma. They even surrender themselves to the idea that they are responsible for all the bad that is happening to them, a psychological game that the inflictor plays with them. Even now, Celeste blames herself for his death, wondering if he would still be alive had she chosen a different day to leave him. Moreover, she misses the vigorous intimacy that she shared with her husband. Obviously, the beating to a pulp part is not included in this, but they did share intimate moments in the aftermath of the fits of rage. As the therapist says, Celeste “misses her wound”, she “misses the war”.
There is no doubt that she loved Perry, and still does. She also hates him for raping Jane and making her life hell. But she was in the relationship for so long that it seems rather unnatural if she suddenly let go of it all. She holds on to the good moments, the parts of their marriage that actually meant something, the parts that made her stay. She wants Perry out of her system, but she is also holding on to him. In her waking moments, she misses the good times with him, but she can’t sleep because of his nightmares.
The Ghosts of Childhood Past
Another theme that becomes prominent, by showing up in the backgrounds of other main characters, is the things that impact us in childhood. From the children of the Five to the Medusa of Monterey herself, childhood motivations play an important role in shaping their lives. Bonnie, whose character receives another dimension, seems to have a trauma of her own, rooted in her childhood. Turns out, her mother, who seems overly protective at first, had resorted to physical and emotional abuse while bringing up Bonnie. Not only is she angry that her mother ruined things like love and self-worth for her, but she is also resentful that her father did nothing to protect her. This backstory adds another layer to the reasoning behind why she pushed Perry. She saw herself in Celeste at that moment and did what she wished she had done all those years ago.
Even Madeleine’s motivation to indulge in an affair also receives an explanation. When she was little, she had caught her father in the act of cheating on her mother but was told to not tell anyone. Even though she hadn’t understood what it meant at that moment, the event made a mark on her mind that affected both her marriages. The season even gives a minor hint behind Perry’s want for violence. When he was five, his brother died in a car accident that his mother was responsible for. He not only had to go through the grief in such a young age, but he also had to bear the brunt of his mother’s inability to accept her responsibility in the matter, leading her to blame him for the accident. She didn’t get counselling or any other form of help for him then. The wound festered and, with time, it became a part of Perry’s personality.
After a rocky ride for the Monterey Five, where each of them goes through a defining moment in their lives, the season ends on a high note. Bonnie had been itching to share the burden of her guilt with someone through the entire season. She finally confides it in her comatose mother, after whose death she tells Nathan that love never existed in their marriage. Renata, or rather, her husband loses all their money, sending her life’s work down a drain. She supports him through the bankruptcy and through the affair with their nanny. But in the end, she realises that he is a useless man who doesn’t care about her and will continue to be ruinous for her. This is when she decides to leave him. Jane, who seems to be doing better than others, makes an effort to break down her walls and allows Corey to come into her life.
However, the trauma of rape still lingers in the back of her mind and she struggles to make a physical connection. By the end of the season, she has worked through some stuff, and even though isn’t completely free of it, succeeds in taking a step further. After Madeleine’s affair comes to life, Ed goes through a difficult journey of processing his feelings and exploring various scenarios regarding his marriage. In the end, however, they find a middle ground where they agree to forgive past regressions and start anew. Celeste engages in a heated battle with Mary Louise for the custody of her sons, and for a while, it seems like her mistakes will make her pay dearly. But then she strikes back at her mother-in-law, digging up the death of Raymond, and questioning her ability to raise a child, let alone two.
It all looks like butterflies and rainbows for the Five. But then we see Bonnie making her way to the police station. One by one, the rest of the group joins her, and together, they head inside. What this means is that they have all made their peace with Trivia Night. In the heat of the moment, the survival instinct kicked in and they told a lie. But it started getting to them. Starting from Bonnie to Celeste to Jane, and finally, to Madeleine, they have resolved all other issues of their lives, and it is time they put this demon to rest too.
Big Little Lies Season 3: What to Expect?
‘Big Little Lies’ was supposed to be a one-time thing. Had it remained so, it would have retained the crown of being one of the perfect miniseries of recent times. However, something made HBO and the showrunners believe that they needed to do more with it, and to an extent, it worked. But midway through the season, the flaws started to show and it begins to lose the touch. It seemed too stretched for its own good and clearly lacks the vigour and mysterious charm of the first season. We could have done without a second, but now that it is over with, let’s see what its ending means for the future of the series.
Will we have another season of ‘Big Little Lies’? Time will tell. The finale of the second season shows the Monterey Five on their way to confess to the police. What does that mean for them? The third season could pick up the events after this and show how they fight to keep themselves out of jail. Technically, it was Bonnie who pushed Perry, the rest were just complicit in the cover-up. While we expect Bonnie to own her responsibility, we don’t think the others will allow her to bear all the blame. A confession doesn’t mean they won’t fight for their lives. They could very well leave the series here, just as they could have left it at the end of the first season. But then, if HBO does renew it, the third season will mostly consist of the legal battle of the Five to save their skins.