A satisfying, cathartic end
Well, it’s been a curious second season of Big Little Lies, which often felt more like an epilogue than a sequel. Events sometimes felt like they were spread out over too many episodes, and the argument could be made that the show would have remained a stronger body of work if it had remained a one-season.
Nevertheless, the season 2 finale was a satisfying and cathartic end to this exploration of the aftermath of abuses emotional and physical. Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep certainly delivered the goods, Celeste’s cross-examination of Mary-Louise being expertly crafted, Celeste trapping her silver-tongued mother-in-law in yes/no answers and exposing her own toxic relationship with her son Perry.
Mary-Louise was a clever idea for a Monterey villain, a representative of a generation that often frowns upon the modern style of parenting. “In those days we were less inclined to outsource our children’s pain,” she said during a thrilling flurry of exchanges with her suddenly prosecutorial daughter-in-law. She kind of has a point, but Mary-Louise was just too old school, too unappreciative of the complexity of being a working mother, and it showed in the courtroom.
Celeste ultimately retained custody of her boys, sending Mary-Louise packing back to San Francisco (bye, Meryl, it was fun!). There were happy endings elsewhere too, with Jane finally allowing herself to be vulnerable and to trust Corey, and Ed and Madeline renewing their vows. This was only “the beginning” on the road to redemption, Ed pointed out, but you root for the couple, and for their particular big little lie to be a surmountable one.
Renata, unfortunately abandoned a little this season, closed it out by smashing Gordon’s train set with a baseball bat after he sold the set but managed to retain day-to-day ownership. “You get to keep your toys?!” she screamed, incredulous and giving him a thump with the bat for good measure. If this is the end of the show (more on that shortly) I think we’re to assume that this scene was Renata’s version of renewing vows, and she’ll now stay with Gordon. Still, long-term, the couple reek of divorce.
That just leaves Bonnie, who made peace with her mother by her deathbed, though I kind of liked where their story was left last week: a refreshing spin on the coma TV trope that used it as a chance for the revelation of anger rather than fondness. Bonnie said goodbye to her fading mother before leaving Nathan (it seems she didn’t buy their marriage any more than we did). She had one more unhappy duty, however, meeting up with the rest of the Monterey Five and entering the police station before the credits rolled.
There’s a reading of this ending in which the gang were simply compelled back to the station for further questioning into Perry’s death, but the clear and winning interpretation is that this was them finally coming clean. The show has so much been about deciding when to persist and when to quit in life, and this ending spoke to both: the women abandoned their lie, but remained a united, bonded force.
As for a potential season 3: “I think that it’s one and two, and we like where our closure is at the end of season two, so that will probably be it,” showrunner David E. Kelley said at the Television Critics Association press tour in February. “That’s what you said last time,” a nearby Kidman chimed in, with Reese Witherspoon adding: “That is. You sat here and said that last time, David.”
Does a third season make sense? One where the Monterey Five are doing community service after admitting their cover-up? It does present the opportunity to push their narratives forward, whereas season 2 was all about paying off the events of season 1. But in all likelihood this is probably it, and maybe that’s for the best.
Big Little Lies was an extremely fun show that explored relationships and their wars of attrition, but never felt it was too good – too HBO – to indulge elements of soap opera.
How did fans find the finale? See how they reacted to the end of Big Little Lies season 2 here.