By Piya Sinha-Roy
May 23, 2019 at 10:30 AM EDT
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Got a secret, can you keep it? That’s the challenge facing Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), and Renata (Laura Dern) as the second season of HBO’s Big Little Lies arrives, bringing with it new lies, guilt, and Meryl Streep.

“We left off with a lie, so it would have been disingenuous not to mine that lie for all its malignancy,” says writer and showrunner David E. Kelley. “It’s going to result in more skewed fractures and fissures in the friendships between the women, some of the marriages, and some of the individual psyches.”

Big Little Lies, based on Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name, was initially a limited series in 2017, but after its success —  the ratings, the memes, and the eight Emmy trophies — HBO quickly got the star-studded band back together, this time with Streep in tow. Kelley returned to pen the script, with help from an unpublished novella that Moriarty wrote and American Honey filmmaker Andrea Arnold directed all seven episodes.

“Liane had done a novella with ideas of where she thought the characters would go, some brilliant ideas including the idea to bring back Perry’s mother, so I think going forward from year 2, it’s all fresh material,” Kelley said. The exception is with Bonnie, whose backstory will be parsed out more this season as she comes into the spotlight.

In the first episode of the new season of Big Little Lies, we return to the idyllic California coastal town of Monterey a few months after the climactic costume party in last season’s finale, at which the ladies intervened in an altercation between Celeste and her abusive husband, Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), resulting in Bonnie pushing him down a flight of stairs to his death. That moment freed Celeste, but now traps her in a bond with the women as they vow to protect Bonnie as the police investigation into Perry’s death intensifies.

“There’s a cord and a core of stress that’s pulsating through each of the women, some fueled and complicated by the lie, and some dependent on the lie,” Kelley explains.

Jennifer Clasen/HBO

The stress manifests in different forms for the women. Celeste has nightmares as she juggles being a single mom to her twin boys whilst protecting them from the truth about their father’s dark side. She’s also grappling with her own guilt and withstanding the sharp, discerning gaze of her mother-in-law, Mary Louise (Streep), who seeks the truth about her son’s death. “The one thing that [Nicole and I] were really adamant about was being truthful to the recovery of abuse because it’s very complicated,” Kelley says. “It’s not as simple as ‘okay, the abuser is dead so life goes on.’ Not only do the scars of abuse continue to live on but the gravitational pull towards the abuser is not extinguished either.”

Meanwhile, Bonnie has emotionally shut down and isolated herself from her husband Nathan as she tries to come to terms with her role in Perry’s death. “She was never part of the franchise of friends that you know in year 1, she was kind of off in her own lane and … seen more through the eyes of Madeline than anyone else,” Kelley says. “This season, we obviously go much, much deeper into who she is, where she came from, and exploring the consequences of her actions in year 1 and also maybe unearthing a little bit of who that person was that came to push Perry down the stairs, and why.”

Things don’t get much easier for Madeline Martha MacKenzie either, although her first scenes in the new season show her savagely taking down the headmaster of her kid’s school while devouring a cupcake. Madeline’s marriage to Ed (Adam Scott) will start to unravel in season 2 (the threads of which were fraying already last season), and she also has to deal with her teenage daughter Abigail’s (Kathryn Newton) choice to not go to college. “In Reese’s hands, we get to realize the potential of the character, one that’ll make you laugh, make you cry, be a bully in one scene, be a caretaker in another … it’s quite a whirlwind,” Kelley says.

With Perry’s death, Jane now attempts to put a positive spin on her life moving forward with her son, even finding new romance with a colleague, but not everything is smooth sailing. “She needs to heal and she needs to rebuild, she’s been through a great personal trauma and she’s got an internal fortitude,” Kelley says. “She wants to plow through it — maybe plow through it too much without getting therapeutical help that would make her course easier — but she definitely is forward-thinking and [has] foot-forward positivity.”

And then there’s Renata, the “Medusa of Monterey,” who has her personal life rocked by the events in episode 2.

Will Streep be able to crack The Monterey Five? All will be revealed — or will it? — as our favorite powerhouse ladies take over this summer.

For more Summer TV scoop, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy your choice of two different Game of Thrones covers — Daenerys or the Starks — now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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