By Derek Lawrence
July 14, 2019 at 10:00 PM EDT
Jennifer Clasen/HBO
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Before diving into the recap for the penultimate installment of Big Little Lies season 2, we should address the recent report about the power struggle that seems to have greatly impacted these seven episodes. On Friday, IndieWire posted a sourced story saying that season 2 director Andrea Arnold essentially had control taken away from her after initial filming wrapped. Season 1 director Jean-Marc Vallée, who was busy with HBO’s Sharp Objects, was then brought back in to turn Arnold’s footage into his signature style from the previous season. This troubling behind-the-scenes drama explains a lot about season 2, which could only coast so long on the charm and talents of the six leading ladies. And this report’s timing didn’t help Sunday’s “The Bad Mother,” the weakest installment of this short run.

Last week ended with Bonnie spotting Corey coming out of the police station, so after our ritual of starting each season 2 episode with a flashback to post-Perry’s death, “The Bad Mother” jumps to Jane rushing recklessly through the streets of Monterey to confront her boyfriend. He promises that this is not a 21 Jump Aquarium situation and that he was just called in for questioning. Quinlan was asking about Perry and knows that he raped her and is Ziggy’s dad. With five witnesses, the detective is sure that one will crack. “The first one who does gets a break, the other four are f—ed,” according to Corey. It looks like they all could be f—ed as Quinlan and Mary Louise are watching Celeste’s police interviews, which aren’t exactly lining up.

Jane’s conversation with Corey leads to an emergency beach meeting where Madeline insists they won’t break. But then they kind of immediately break as Bonnie and Madeline get into it, with Madeline reminding Bonnie that she’s the one who pushed Perry. And you’re the one who told everyone to lie, so what are we saying here, Maddy?! “Nobody f—ing pushed anyone, he slipped,” declares Jane, who is starting to become the glue that holds this crew together.

After seeing Corey, Bonnie clearly didn’t walk into the police station, but that isn’t stopping her from picturing herself confessing. At the hospital by her mother’s side, she’s writing out her admission in a notebook, all as she has glimpses of water (any sense of subtlety with her future drowning has been thrown into the ocean). Bonnie’s dreams continue with her suffocating Elizabeth, which later leads to her asking the doctor if they can just kill her. “You’d do it for a dog,” she argues upon push back from her dad and the doctor.

Meanwhile, Madeline is recounting to Ed how she told Bonnie to “f— off.” The one problem here is that she can’t tell him the truth of why, which he clearly sees. This sends Madeline to talk to Renata, telling her that she wants to come clean with Ed. “It’s a f—ing pact,” declares Renata, dropping approximately the tenth f— of the episode already. Renata says Ed is all into honesty and he could really screw them (she said they’d be f—ed but I can only use that word so many times on a family website!). And Renata has enough problems right now considering her and Gordon have to let get of their faithful au pair Juliette. Renata insists this is not goodbye as they will “rise up” again and hire her back, but they still share an emotional embrace.

He might be no cop but Corey is also getting no emotional embrace from Jane, who has been ignoring his calls and texts. When he tries to talk to her at work, she says she just “can’t do this right now.” So clearly taking it as she literally can’t talk right at that moment, he shows up while Jane and Ziggy are surfing. Ziggy is excited to see his mom’s friend, but Jane tells her son to get lost and go build a sand castle. “It’s going to take me a long time to let someone in again,” admits Jane, to which Corey replies, “I’m not walking away.” You know what, I’m officially in on Corey, so he better not be lying about being a cop, because as we all know, if someone asks if you’re a cop then you have to tell them the truth!

This ends up being a big Celeste episode, so let’s check in with her. In our first significant time with her this week, we find her sitting out on her deck as the boys come out because they can’t sleep. It’s only a quick shot but we see a man throwing rocks into the water down below, and that means nothing to us at the moment but it sure will soon. The next day before the court proceedings begin, Mary Louise walks over and attempts to apologize to her daughter-in-law, insisting they’re still family, an assertion that Celeste wants to hear none of. The judge isn’t satisfied with the psychiatric reports, and while she doesn’t want to remove the boys, she does have concerns, so Celeste will take the stand tomorrow. Outside, Celeste is crying, once again saying she won’t settle. Katie warns her that Mary Louise’s lawyer Ira will try to make her look “erratic” on the stand and that Celeste can’t appear to need protection.

Well, why delay the proceedings, so let’s jump right to the next day. Madeline, Bonnie, and Renata arrive at the same time, and Madeline apologizes to Bonnie as Renata hilariously beeps again when walking through the metal detector, which is now my favorite running bit on TV. “It’s getting to you isn’t it?” Bonnie says to Madeline, noticing her sudden guilt.

It’s now time for Celeste to testify and Ira is getting his shot first, opening with questions about her abusive relationship with Perry. “My relationship with my husband was very complicated,” she admits. “It was not healthy.” Things then take a bad turn for Celeste when Ira shows a picture of Joe the bartender, who Celeste struggles to identify (I didn’t even sleep with him and I remember!). “Are you really over your sickness?” Ira asks, showing pictures of more men, causing Celeste to have flashes of sexual encounters with them in everything from bathroom stalls to cars. The rest of the Monterey Five looks on concerned.

Celeste argues that her sexual activities have nothing do with her abilities as a mom, but then Ira reveals that Josh told Mary Louise that he once tried to get into bed with Celeste but there was a stranger there, and when Josh couldn’t wake her up, the man told him to go back to bed. Okay, that’s definitely not a great look. Celeste admits to engaging in “self-destructive” behavior, telling the judge, “I’m not going to look you in the eye and say that I’m healed, but I will say this, I am in the process of healing. And through it all, I’ve always been a good mother.” It continues to get worse, though, as Ira brings up Celeste getting physical with both the boys and Mary Louise. He then goes even one step further, asking if she pushed Perry down that flight of stairs. “How dare you?” she fires back, denying the accusation. As Quinlan sits in the audience and watches the other women’s reactions, Ira plays a computer simulation of Perry’s fall, arguing that with a natural fall he would have landed in a different spot. Again denying the claim, she begins to violently twist her wrists.

Thankfully, that’s finally over, and the ladies rush to comfort Celeste. “That was rougher than we thought,” opines Katie, to which Madeline says exactly what I was thinking, “You think?” Despite Celeste’s objections, Katie insists they need to put her back on the stand. “You can’t leave it like that,” proclaims Madeline to her friend. “You have to fight for those boys.” As this is going on, Bonnie is imagining herself jumping up during court and confessing. To be honest, maybe just do it already since you seem to be so keen on it. But maybe she should wait it out because Quinlan is looking at photos of the ladies from that night and she appears to be most interested in Madeline.

That’s only one of Madeline’s unknown issues because her husband is currently meeting with the wife of the man she cheated on Ed with and that woman happens to want to have sex with him (did you get all that?). Ed and Tori are having coffee and he says he has no intention of doing anything, even if a part of him wants to. But, he also smartly realizes that he kind of already has done it just by entertaining the thought. Tori shares that her therapist (who doesn’t see a shrink in Monterey?) told her it’s not about payback but not being the “wimpy ass victim.” She then reveals that she keeps a masturbation diary and a sex bucket list and Ed made both. Congrats, man! “I want you,” she says. “Don’t overthink it. We have sex, we’ll probably love it. If we don’t, we move on. Of course, if we do love it, we do it again…and again.” Honestly, I have nothing but respect for Tori.

Ed has a lot to think about, because, at home, Madeline tells him that she hopes to earn his trust back, which he wants more than anything. And yet, “I can’t just wave wand; neither can you,” he says. Well, she soon waves something. Later, Ed, Chloe, and Abigail return with dinner and Ed finds Madeline having a possibly drunken breakdown in their room. She’s dancing in her wedding dress, which definitely doesn’t fit — but we aren’t talking about that. She was cleaning out the closet and found the dress, reminding her of a time when she thought she’d be a Julianna Margulies, a.k.a. “a good wife.”  Madeline sits on the bed, out of breath, with Ed joining her. “Like I said, you can’t just wave a wand, but that was pretty f—ing close,” he declares with a smile. Wow, I thought it would take a bigger wand.

Speaking of needing something bigger, Celeste is going to need a bigger glass, because, after she tucks the boys in, she has a glass or two of vodka. But then thoughts of Perry and her other recent conquests have her crying and drinking straight from the bottle. The next day, she’s back on stand with Katie questioning her this time. Celeste contends that she doesn’t have a sexual addiction, that she just wanted to be free of Perry. “I just always thought that he would get better; he didn’t,” she says when asked why she stayed with him. “I stayed to survive. I stayed for my boys.”

Celeste isn’t the only one in court — Renata and Gordon are back for bankruptcy proceedings. Juliette is looking to collect her severance, which includes $60,000 for “stress management.” She’d like to leave it at that, but both us and a horrified Renata know what that means. Afterwards, Gordon says he still loves Renata. Her epic response: “Shut the f— up for the rest of your f—ed up, f—ing life. I don’t want to hear one f—ing word from your f—ed up little twerp mouth on why you f—ed up, no matter what f—ed up excuse you come up with, you f—ing s–t.” If that wasn’t enough, she hammers the point home by shoving tissues in his mouth. Personally, I find this story choice to be just piling on. Gordon and Renata’s marriage is the one I have believed in the most on this show, and adding this on the heels of his criminal activity is unnecessary.

Unfortunately for Mary Louise, she’s about to hear a lot from Jane, who stops by her neighbor’s place for a not-so-friendly chat. Jane demands that Mary Louise call this case off, saying of Celeste, “What I see is a woman who is struggling. Who isn’t?!” Mary Louise quickly counters, “Are you struggling, Jane? With your conscience, perhaps?” Apparently, Ziggy told Mary Louise that Jane purchased a gun, which Mary Louise believes she planned to use on Perry. And I believe that these kids are major narcs, running and telling their grandma way too much — especially Ziggy who just met this lady!

Continuing to struggle with her mom’s condition and their history, Bonnie tells her comatose mother that she needs to confess to her. She resents Elizabeth for the childhood abuse, which led to her having sex at 13 just to feel loved and eventually settling for a man who she doesn’t live (she can’t bring herself to finish that part). “But mainly, I resent you for killing a man,” says Bonnie, admitting to killing Perry. “When I lunged at him, I was pushing you. And that push was a long time coming.” I know Elizabeth is supposed to be completely out but I feel like she heard that!

While Bonnie has been having thoughts of standing up in court to confess, Celeste pops up before the judge can announce her custody decision, asking for Mary Louise to be called as a witness. “I was fair game, so is she,” argues Celeste, who, as a lawyer, would like to do the questioning herself. The judge doesn’t think that’s a good idea but will allow it. I will now spend the next week envisioning an A Few Good Men-type finale with Meryl Streep doing her best Jack Nicholson impression. And, if we’re being honest, I’m not sure Celeste can handle the truth.

The Biggest Lie of the Week: That Joe the bartender could ever be mistaken for a Jeff.

The Monterey Bae of the Week: For two weeks in a row it has to be Ed. I mean, I don’t know of anyone else who made both Tori’s masturbation diary and bucket list!

The Emmy Submission Moment of the Week: I was originally going to pick Celeste’s first time on the stand, but I could watch 10 more nonstop minutes of Laura Dern dropping f-bombs.

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