For a show with the most mournful-stares-at-the-ocean-per-minute on television, it’s fitting that Big Little Lies moves in ebbs and flows.
Though each of the five leads have their own stories going on, the show always manages to make them overlap and coalesce, restating the theme that everyone in Monterey is all up in each others business. This was particularly true of season 2 episode 3, ‘The End of the World’, in which Madeleine and Celeste shared their blunt but perceptive shrink and Ed got back at Madeleine by flirting with the woman who enchanted her last husband.
Big Little Lies loves to poke fun at the paradoxy in Monterey’s very capitalist brand of wokeness, this week seeing the local elementary school go to such great lengths to inform students about climate change that it led to a mass spectre of apocalypse-induced anxiety epidemic. “Sustainability!” the kids cheerfully yelled in unison when pressed for the allegory hidden in Charlotte’s Web, the class learning that the world might end in their lifetime and, worse, they’re going to have to spend the remainder of it virtue signalling in order to be successful.
An assembly addressing the level of mortal peril in the curriculum later gave rise to the episode’s best moment: Madeleine’s speech. The show cleverly played on Reese Witherspoon’s history of rousing, eleventh-hour cinematic speeches, here placing one where it didn’t belong, the parents in the audience looking mildly perplexed as she gushed and metaphorised like a coach in a college football movie.
The speech didn’t have the desired effect on Ed (shout out to that smart ‘audience of one’ empty hall shot). He seems to be relishing his position on the moral high ground, and I could see this being probed by the couple’s therapist going forward: maybe they’re fighting as a means of escaping boredom.
Elsewhere in the episode, Celeste continued to find herself dwelling on the positives in her marriage with Perry rather than the toxic negatives, and Jane started to let awkward but disarming colleague Corey in. I get it, she was robbed of her adolescence, but these scenes of her claiming it back are starting to feel a little saccharine.
Meryl Streep’s Mary-Louise meanwhile remained on the side of her late son, though there are signs of her cracking and accepting he wasn’t the man she thought he was. Right now, it’s looking like she’ll come to this realisation only after she’s caused the case on his death to be reopened, setting up a dramatic climax for the season as the Monterey Five decide whether to double down on their story or come clean.
This was a zippier episode than the previous two, and the funniest so far this season, but the show still feels as though in a bit of a holding pattern right now.
Big Little Lies is shown on HBO in the US and simulcast in the UK on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV.