Warning: This contains spoilers for the end of Big Little Lies Season 2. Not caught up? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episodes here.
When photos were leaked of Reese Witherspoon throwing a cone of ice cream at Meryl Streep while filming the second season of Big Little Lies, the internet erupted in unadulterated glee. Memes were made, anticipation was high. But, while the fifth episode featured Witherspoon’s character Madeleine eating that same ice cream while looking daggers at Streep’s Mary Louise, no frozen dairy product was launched. The scene had been cut, and viewers felt cheated. It’s something of a metaphor for the season as a whole: while promising so much, it ultimately failed to deliver.
It’s bitterly disappointing – not least because it’s so easy to see how the season could have been better. The source material – taken from a follow-up novella by Liane Moriarty – was more scarce, which could partly explain the underwritten plots and characters, compared to the first season’s depth and nuance. Its first three episodes were promising, but as the season went on, it became almost soporific in its repetition.
The school and the children were sidelined for the latter part of the season, as were as Celeste’s fascinating and deeply uncomfortable therapy sessions. Instead, we were ‘treated’ to interminable scenes of Zoë Kravitz’s Bonnie sitting next to her mother’s hospital bed, barely interacting with the rest of the cast, and Shailene Woodley’s Jane standing on the beach watching as her son got surfing lessons from her romantic interest Corey (Douglas Smith). Madeleine was stuck in a loop of asking for forgiveness from her husband, and even the many indignities doled out to Renata, leading to her fabulous rages, got boring after a while. Although it’s always a joy to watch Laura Dern in meltdown mode, it just reeked of a script lacking in any new ideas for her character. Even most of Celeste’s story was kept from us, information the viewer wasn’t privy to until it was revealed by lawyers. Her Ambien-induced amnesia, resulting in casual hook-ups with various random guys, was great fodder for drama, but was never dissected. Ultimately, her storyline degenerated into a courtroom custody battle for her children, the presence of Meryl Streep calling to mind an altogether more twisted version of Kramer vs. Kramer.
The viewer, meanwhile, was forced to overlook much that didn’t really make sense. That the police were bafflingly obsessed with Perry’s death was one thing. That the ‘Monterey Five’ weren’t shielded by any high-powered lawyers was quite another. With no possibility of any new evidence emerging, save from an all-out confession, the women scuttled about looking guilty. Suspension of disbelief was high, reaching fever pitch with Celeste’s decision to represent herself in court. Although it gave us a long-awaited confrontation between Kidman and Streep, it was one deus ex machina too far. Despite nothing much happening for the final few episodes, the ending still felt rushed. And from a first season that looked at the ways women dealt with abusers, this season seemed to lay the blame for abuse firmly at the feet of women, specifically mothers.
Having said all that, there was still much to love about Big Little Lies 2. It goes almost without saying that the acting, across the board, was superb. There were frequent nods to the Real Housewives franchise, and the costume party gave us Reese in 70s disco-bunny sequins and Kidman as a flower-power hippy. Streep as Mary Louise was magnificent in her unfiltered bitchiness, undermining the rest of the cast in interesting ways, until she was casually dispatched back to San Francisco.
According to reports, we can’t put the unfocussed final few episodes purely down to a lack of source material. There have been rumours that series director Andrea Arnold was sidelined in the editing process, which would explain much. An account in IndieWire detailed that David E Kelley, wanting to maintain a continuity of look and tone, brought in the director of the first season, Jean-Marc Vallée, to reedit the material, who then requested 17 days of extra filming. Certainly, the rhythm of the scenes seemed choppy and lacking in flow. It’s been suggested that the prospect of a third season will rely on being able to schedule the same high-profile cast, which seems unlikely. The showrunner would also have to better establish what’s going on behind the camera. Until that happens, there can be no happy conclusion to a show that started with a bang but ended with a whimper.
Big Little Lies Season 2 is available on Sky until 19th August 2019, with Season 1 also available on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it legally on NOW TV, for £7.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.