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Big Little Lies wraps up with courtroom fireworks but a fizzled-out ending

Photo: Merie W. Wallace (HBO)
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Big Little Lies, a show with five (six) female leads in the same slow-knit community, offered the opportunity to say a lot about a lot of things. About motherhood, about marriage, about privilege. The second season wasn’t as successful as the first in doing so mainly because it was bogged down by the “lie,” as it kept being referred to all season. So the main conclusions this finale reaches were predictable: Celeste gets to keep her kids, and the “Monterey Five” turn themselves in at the end. Both reached these closures with considerable amounts of relief, but with such little surprise as to come across as practically anticlimactic.

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That’s not to say that this episode didn’t have its valuable moments. The Celeste versus Mary Louise showdown on the stand was extraordinary, two actresses capable of being paralleled only by each other. As much as Mary Louise has been dishing it out all season, it was exceedingly gratifying to have Celeste turn the tables on her, and bring up Raymond’s death. The multitude of emotions that flooded Meryl Streep’s face just in a matter of moments proved just why she is the greatest actor of our age. The horrific iPad video was a nice twist, painful proof that the boys were only too aware of what was going on in their home. And the “did you beat her up?” comment means that Celeste still has a lot of work to do. But even the judge was quickly matter-of-fact about her verdict, as if to say, what other one could she possibly have reached?

Because as Celeste herself put it, “this case is about mothering.” Celeste is the mother saw suffer the most, and subsequently, the one that grew the most, as Madeline points out. We got to see Jane overcome her pain from Perry by moving ahead with Corey. These successful developments just make it more obvious how much the show didn’t really know what to do with the character of Bonnie, sticking her in a nearly silent hospital room for half the season. Bonnie’s story was another abuse story, with unreached potential to show the long-term ramifications and how much it can affect adult relationships. What’s worse is that Crystal Fox added a needed dynamic presence to the show, then made her pretty much unconscious since the disco party. All the weird mysticism was an unnecessary distraction, and Bonnie wound up the season in the exact same place she was at the end of the first episode. Zoe Kravitz did get a great confessional scene last week, but for the most part, that whole plotline was a waste.

Better this episode was getting to see Renata go full Renata on Gordon’s adulterous ass, smashing the man cave to bits. It’s an appropriate response for Renata to have, a metaphor for men getting away with everything and not losing anything (not even their dopey train cars!), while women are rarely so fortunate. Hoping against hope that her finality at the end of that fight would lead to her divorcing her worthless husband; if Renata is going to rise up again, she’ll be able to do it much better without all that dead weight (and why isn’t he in prison?).

Conversely, Madeline and Ed’s story was meant to signify the importance of marriage, that the best thing a parent can do for their kids is love their partner. Adam Scott helps sell Ed as about the nicest, most understanding husband in the world, ready to let Madeline off with a simple vow renewal. But the two were a reminder of the solid foundation the family can be built on, even if by the end of the season, they were the only married couple left standing.

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Celeste says that “the lie is the friendship,” a line I didn’t really get. Does that mean that it’s only the lie that binds them? That’s a bit cynical, and at the end of the episode, it no longer appears to be true. But it is interesting how having that lie hover around the surface made all these other truths emerge as well. Every lie and coverup is hurtful, in different degrees: Bonnie can no longer live with a man she doesn’t love. Mary Louise refuses to admit what kind of person Perry really was. Renata finds out that her whole life was a sham, and needs to start all over (and is such a powerhouse that we have no doubt that she’ll succeed). For all the pain she’s gone through, Celeste is in a much better position now that all of her worst secrets are out in the open, so that the true healing can begin.

So even though it seemed like the Monterey Five were going to get away with the lie (for all of her omnipresence this season, Detective Quinlan was nowhere in sight. Wouldn’t she have been at the court hearing?), the season, maybe series, ends with the five turning themselves in, unable to live with the untruth no longer. Plotwise, it makes sense, but it’s also annoying, because it’s something they could have done at any point, making the entire season unnecessary. It’s like ending the whole story with a giant shrug.

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That said, will there be a season three? This finale surprisingly left enough plot holes open that there could conceivably be enough to fill seven more 40-minutes-ish episodes. But HBO president Casey Bloys has already stated that a third season is “not realistic,” due to the considerably packed schedule of the actresses in question (Nicole Kidman has already signed up for an adaptation of BLL author Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers for Hulu). And frankly, with all the controversy swirling around this season, I don’t think they need it. But y’know, nobody thought there was going to be a second season either.

That said, I didn’t think we needed a second season, before these last seven episodes aired. I’d classify season 2 as a solid B compared to season 1’s A high bar. It got to do some valuable things: flesh out the character of Ed, show the ramifications of life after abuse with Celeste and the boys, give us many more Renata memes. It’s a beautiful series, with a killer soundtrack and acting that manages to wring the most even out of familiar domestic situations. I was glad to see these characters come back, and Meryl Streep’s Mary Louise performance was an absolute gift. But I think the final look at these five women walking into the police department to face their fate is as good a way as any to wrap things up forever.

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Stray observations

  • Unanswered Big Little Lies season two questions: Will Abigail go to college? Why were Nathan and Ed fighting all the time? What were all those dumb watery visions about? Did Celeste ever go back to her therapist? Why did the judge let Mary Louise and Celeste both give closing statements that were basically rehashes of everything they’d already said? Did Mary Louise bring Renata her Starbucks order?
  • I mentioned on Twitter that this review is a little later than usual because I didn’t have a screener, so please forgive any typos.
  • Spot-on almost at the end of the episode quote: “10 more minutes, then all the killing stops.”
  • I am not going to miss Shailene Woodley’s gray stocking cap.
  • And that’s a wrap on Big Little Lies, everyone. Thanks so much for reading. What do you think: Season three or no?
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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.