Big Little Lies premiere recap: Let second grade (and Meryl Streep's Emmy campaign) begin!
Welcome back to Monterey! It’s been more than two years since we left Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Bonnie, and Renata on that beach, doing their best to come together, be there for each other, and move on with their lives. Many thought we should have left the story of Big Little Lies there, considering that the mystery had been resolved and Liane Moriarty’s book exhausted. And that is totally fair in this era of running things into the ground and milking successes for everything they’re worth. But I’ve always been pro-season-2, relishing the chance to continue watching these five characters and the powerful performances from Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz, and Laura Dern. Now let’s get into it before Madeline Martha Mackenzie shoves us.
The Andrea Arnold-directed season (she takes the reins from Jean-Marc Vallée) begins with the the women having flashbacks to last season, whether it be pushing Perry to his death or sleeping with a theater director. Some are handling it better than others. For example, Bonnie is walking deep into the ocean, while Celeste is having a nightmare. She’s awakened by her mother-in-law, Mary Louise, played by newcomer Meryl Streep. Casting Meryl Streep is how you easily justify a season 2. Mary Louise asks what the nightmare was about, as she heard Celeste say something about rape. Meanwhile, Detective Quinlan, who seems to have been watching the ladies from afar at the beach, probably has some questions of her own considering she’s watching video of Celeste’s interview from the night of Perry’s death.
But we don’t have time for things like murder investigations when it’s the first day of second grade! Otter Bay Elementary is back open for business — and business is booming. The ladies all share hugs upon being reunited, while the rest of the school shares judgy glances at them. Principal Nippal even dares to get feisty with Madeline, referencing the deadly events at the fundraiser. “It’s a classy crop of moms, these ones,” he cracks. To which I say, THEY ARE CLASSY QUEENS. We catch up on their summer activities, which included Madeline becoming a real estate agent and Bonnie and Nathan going to Tahoe. Unfortunately, the gorgeous scenery wasn’t enough to stop Bonnie from becoming “shut-down and withdrawn.”
Bonnie’s state greatly concerns Madeline, who vents about it to Celeste on the way to their new coffee place, where they can maybe also get some weed too. When Celeste goes to the bathroom, Madeline spots Mary Louise and goes to say hello. Mary Louise is doing well, you know, besides the whole dead son thing. “You’re very short,” she bluntly observes of Madeline. “I don’t mean it in a negative way… maybe I do. I find little people to be untrustworthy.” Shots fired! And the jabs continue with Mary Louise calling Madeline a “wanter.” But Mary Louise insists she’s also a wanter; she wants her son back, wants to know what happened that night. “I’m very tempted to ask you, but I doubt that I would get the truth, would I?” she says. Madeline sticks to the company line that Perry fell.
The “beyond disturbing” but “exhilarating” nightmare has brought Celeste back to therapy. She feels responsible for the accident, insisting she could have prevented it if she had just left Perry sooner. Dr. Reisman (Robin Weigert, showing off her range between this and Deadwood: The Movie) believes Celeste needs to get out and move on. That seems unlikely to happen any time soon since Celeste later continues to think about Perry, both the fighting and the resulting sex.
Let’s check in with the rest of our favorite moms: Jane is working at an aquarium and seems intrigued by a co-worker named Corey, Bonnie is trying to outrun her memories of pushing Perry and tells Nathan she needs some space, and Renata is the subject of a magazine shoot as her husband, Gordon, gets drunk and plays with his model train (that is not a euphemism).
Speaking of husbands, Ed is doing some grocery shopping when he accidentally bumps carts (again, not a euphemism) with Tori, who he didn’t recognize. She says it’s because she got her breasts done, which was understandably because she felt subconscious about her nose. “Now no one notices it so much,” she says. As she walks away, Tori holds a look on Ed as he seems very confused. Yeah, she’s definitely going to pursue him. And Ed’s next encounter is just as confusing to him. Nathan spots Ed out and confides his concerns about Bonnie. So Nathan has a simple request: Take Bonnie out to lunch and get her to open up. Ed points out that asking the husband of his ex-wife for help with his new wife is a curious choice. Nathan is subsequently offended by the “snide f—.”
Nathan’s troubles with the McKenzies continue when he, Madeline, and Abigail meet with a college counselor and Abigail reveals that she doesn’t want to go to college because the planet is dying! Checks out. Madeline tries to blame Nathan, and even gives him a little shove. Returning to the office, Madeline is on the phone venting to her current husband about the situation when she spots Mary Louise, who is looking for a place locally so she can help Celeste out. Madeline confronts her about their earlier interaction, asserting that she didn’t deserve to be talked to like that. Mary Louise apologizes, saying it’s just that Madeline reminds her of a treacherous friend from boarding school who was also short. Weird apology.
Like Bonnie, Jane is getting some running in, but unlike Bonnie, she seems to be doing well — that is, until her beach dance-run is interrupted by Corey. “You’re one of the Monterey Five, right?” he asks. Damn right she is, so pay her the proper respect, sir! This prompts the ladies to convene for a secret meeting in Madeline’s car. While Renata has an inside source that says the case is basically closed, they all still have “scarlet letters” on their backs.
Missing from this rendezvous is Bonnie, who Madeline goes to check on. “I killed someone, remember?” Bonnie says upon being asked if she’s all right. “It’s heavy.” Bonnie is angry with herself for not telling the truth and blames Madeline for coming up with the ol’ “he slipped” story. Madeline says they’re all here for her, but Bonnie doesn’t think it feels like that. “You’ve been in Tahoe, it’s not like you can put that sh— on Gmail,” Madeline counters, maing a great point. When Nathan interrupts, Bonnie retreats inside and Madeline apologizes to him for the earlier shove. She then goes to talk to Abigail, who plans to work for a startup that builds housing for the homeless. “I don’t care about f—ing homeless people,” declares Madeline, who wants it be known that she does actually care about homeless people. Abigail points out that her mom never even went to college, which prompts Madeline to respond, “That’s exactly why you’re going, because you will have no life!” Burn on your daughter… and you.
Things are much less confrontational when Celeste and Jane meet for a drink. Jane, who we later see drawing what looks to be Perry and snakes, hasn’t been cashing the “rape money” checks Celeste has been sending her. And the circumstances of Perry and Jane’s encounter is exactly why Celeste doesn’t hate her for sleeping with him, despite how much Jane seems to be pushing for that to be the case. After spending the drive home remembering some of the good times with Perry, Celeste has dinner with Mary Louise and the boys. With Josh admitting to missing his dad, Mary Louise dismisses Celeste’s assertion that they’re “in recovery.” Mary Louise shares a story of her recently hanging with friends when she became angry that their sons were still alive and hers wasn’t. She wanted to scream — and so she did. And she does it again here, demonstrating her loud, terrifying shriek. When Celeste demands that she stop, Mary Louise retorts, “My grief is too loud for you, Celeste?” She apologizes, admitting how alone she feels. At least we know Streep won’t be alone on Emmy night, because it’s episode 1 and she already locked up that trophy.
The episode began with Bonnie struggling with her role in Perry’s death and Celeste having a nightmare about her late husband, and that is also where we end. With the secret continuing to weigh on her, Bonnie stops in front of the police station, unsure of whether to go in. If she had entered, she would have interrupted Detective Quinlan’s viewing of Madeline’s interview from that fateful night. We then see the women, still all dressed in their Audrey Hepburn costumes, come in for a lineup. Who is the witness? It’s Perry, leading Celeste to run at the glass, screaming, “I’ll f—ing kill you!” Celeste wakes up as Mary Louise runs in to check on her. As they embrace, Mary Louise asks, “So who are we planning to kill?” Well, about that…
And that’s the first episode of Big Little Lies season 2. I think it was a great re-entry into this world, so I’m looking forward to what’s to come (which is hopefully more Renata). But let’s get to the awards portion of the recap.
Biggest Lie of the Week: Perry falling to his death is still going strong.
Monterey Bae of the Week: Madeline Martha Mackenzie, whose spunk can’t be measured in inches!
Emmy Submission Moment of the Week: Meryl screaming, and it’s not even close.
Big Little Lies