Photo: Jennifer Clasen (HBO)
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Last week, IndieWire released an article called Big Little Lies Season 2 Turmoil: Inside Andrea Arnold’s Loss Of Creative Control.” The article states that Jean-Marc Vallée took over post-production of BLL season two from director Andrea Arnold, which explains a lot of things. Why this season looks so much like season one. Why some of these episodes are so short, as Vallée apparently cut out some of Arnold’s scenes. Why there are so many flashbacks to season one. Why there are so many editors listed in the credits. Possibly why we didn’t get to see Madeline throw that ice cream cone at Mary Louise. (HBO released a statement in response, saying, “As with any television project, the executive producers work collaboratively on the series and we think the final product speaks for itself.”)

Which all leads back to the big question: Why make a season two of Big Little Lies in the first place? (Other than the fact that it was a big hit and award-getter for HBO.) All the women starring in it are amazing, and Meryl Streep’s treacherous grandma has been a fascinating addition. But narratively, it’s been a struggle. Is there really no other crime in Monterey that Detective Quinlan can spend all her time on? Granted, I have no sense of proper legality (or decency, probably), but the death of a man who almost killed his wife several times would not keep me up nights even as an officer of the law.

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Bonnie’s mother’s mystical storyline has amounted to her being in a hospital bed for the last few weeks, hardly a tension-grabber. Still, Zoe Kravitz did impressive work this episode with her confession, which likely means that Elizabeth is going to start improving any second now.

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Renata’s bankruptcy case now adds insult to injury with the reveal that Gordon’s been sleeping with the nanny, just adding to the “let’s kick her when she’s down” theme of this penultimate episode.

But even Renata’s latest car tantrum isn’t as difficult to watch as Celeste’s courtroom appearance. The truth about her new bruises has been hinted at, but is now revealed, as it turns out the bartender wasn’t a one-off: Celeste has been having random anonymous sex in an effort to wrest her sex life away from Perry’s memory. After all we’ve seen her go through, it’s exceedingly painful to see her get called out for those choices on the stand. Although she weakly tries to protest that “this has nothing to do with my capacity to parent my children,” she essentially gets bulldozed over in court. I have no doubt that worse accusations than even these get called up in custody battles, but it was still extraordinarily painful to witness, a character that we watched getting beaten up over and over again in season one, now being made to seem like the guilty one on the witness stand. (Couldn’t her therapist have testified?)

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Celeste manages to turn it around at the end, getting sympathy from a judge who doesn’t seem to want to take her boys away from the only home they’ve ever known in the first place. So, is she jumping the gun by demanding to put Mary Louise on the stand? Possibly, but we’ve seen Celeste in such dire straits for so long, it’s an actual relief to see her stand up and fight for her boys. And her last-ditch effort at least sets up some impressive fireworks for next week. Similarly, there’s a bit of catharsis when Jane goes after Mary Louise this episode (guess that’s the end of all those Ziggy playdates).

But, will those fireworks be enough of a payoff for what we can all admit has been a fairly slow-moving season? Season one had the heightened tension of the mystery murder juxtaposed against the hilarity of the Otter Bay Greek chorus. The other mystery of who was bullying Amabella, which folded into the larger one. The Madeline versus Renata war. Celeste and Perry’s painful yet vital story about abuse. And an overarching look at motherhood and friendship and how difficult it is to have it all (who can forget Madeline and Celeste in the car, screaming, “I want more!”) This season, as every episode-opening flashback painfully reminds us, is basically just a reaction to the (perfect) first one. Madeline and Bonnie are even repeating conversations about “the lie” and how it affects all of them. But that lie is getting stretched pretty damn thin, even as it extends into Celeste’s custody case. Meanwhile, the friendships are devolving into women turning on each other (like Madeline and Bonnie) and even a powerhouse like Renata is as low as we’ve ever seen her.

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To have these six women appearing in a series together is an absolute gift, and the series still looks beautiful, with Monterey’s volatile waves reflecting the inner lives of our conflicted cast of characters. But at this point, even Mary Louise’s incessant needling is getting old, as she’s gone after every one of these women in turn. The best moments this season involved the friends interacting with each other, like Madeline finally opening up to Celeste about her affair, and all of the women supporting Celeste tonight after her disastrous turn on the stand. (Also, disco party.) But Big Little Lies season two needed more than this one secret to bind these women together; the season’s almost over and we’re not that far away from where we started in the first place.

Stray observations

  • Love how Renata always gets dinged by the metal detector.
  • Who was taking all those pictures after the accident?
  • As tough as it was to watch, Nicole Kidman still killed it in that courtroom scene.
  • Ed will not be cheating on Madeline, in a surprise to no one.
  • Best Renata outfit: Oh, just wearing a back sequin halter top and a full flouncy skirt to hang out on the steps of her beautiful, huge, empty house.
  • So curious to see what Andrea Arnold’s cut of this show would have looked like. Especially the ice cream throw.
  • Next week: I predict that Celeste will use Mary Louise’s time on the stand to point out that her child died in her care, and the truth about the death of Perry’s brother will finally come out. Ed and Madeline will continue to move closer together. Renata will miraculously rise up in some fashion. Maybe Bonnie will confess, and get a minor sentence. Jane will relent and go on another date with Corey. But what will happen to Mary-Louise? With her tireless tenacity, I can’t picture her rolling away in (I’m guessing) defeat. Although at this point I can’t imagine that they’re attempting to set up a season three.

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