5 takeaways from the finale of "Big Little Lies" season two
HBO's "Big Little Lies" may have wrapped up season two on Sunday night, but it sure doesn't feel finished. But let's talk about the biggest revelations and takeaways from the finale – and the entire second season as a whole – from courtroom fireworks to batting practice and an ending that sure doesn't feel like an ending.
1. Champagne TV goes flat
What a weird, wild trip it's been – not for the Monterey Five, but for us the viewers.
We began "Bigger Littler Lies" concerned that a second season wasn't necessary and would only sully the excellent original mini-series. Then, by the second episode, between Meryl Streep's Mary Louise eviscerating everyone on screen and Laura Dern's Renata being a regular mood, I was totally convinced season two had validated its existence. But unfortunately, as the back end of the season stumbled to a conclusion and the end credits rolled on "I Want to Know," I had to admit to myself that, while season two was fun, it was also everything audiences feared: a purposeless epilogue that spun its wheels for most of the run and barely had enough story to spread across seven alarmingly short episodes.
If season one was Champagne Television, light and effervescent yet rich and impeccably crafted, then season two was sparkling juice – and I'll certainly drink the heck out of sparkling juice, but that's a steep drop-off from bubbly.
Above all, the pace of this season felt off, treading water for most of the season's back end only for the finale to cram in all of the resolutions as quickly as possible – hitting the plot bulletpoints, earned or no. Jane and Aquarium Boyfriend got back together, in a subplot the show seemed to clearly not care about save for as a dramatic red herring. Bonnie started the season threatening to go to the cops about The Lie; seven episodes later, she finally did – and in a single episode, her mom went from healing to deceased.
Ed and Madeline are back together; Renata and Gordon are very much not, with the his train set the only thing more broken than their marriage. The only real overarching story with stakes that effectively built over the season was Celeste fighting off Mary Louise for her kids, but even that spent much of the middle part of the season taking its time getting to its final destination.
Overall, none of these subplots feel like they came together as a coherent, cohesive story. Some of these woes can be attributed to director Andrea Arnold losing creative control of the show, with a dozen editors per episode each taking a hack at the story she was assembling. I'd be interested what she was planning with these plot threads and what connective tissue all ended up on the cutting room floor. But the real struggles came from the writing, which never came together and concocted a decent unifying purpose for season two.
Round one's threads wove together beautifully for a story about female friendship, strength and the cycle of abuse; season two was scattered and inessential stories about disconnected characters not sure if they should tell the truth about a lie that didn't need to exist in the first place. We've come a long way to go not that far from where we started.
Listen: You could do far worse than "Big Little Lies" season two. Just ask HBO's other big hit show that called it quits this summer. But they've also done far better. In short, Mary Louise may have said it best:
2. Celeste vs. Mary Louise: Dawn of Justice
It seems all too clear that "Big Little Lies" season two had only one story it was particularly interested in: Celeste versus Perry's mother. After all, most of the characters spend the finale silently watching a trial, with maybe one scene outside the courthouse to quick wrap up their own inconsequential-feeling dramas.
But hey, at least it was a compelling trial!
Thankfully, Celeste versus Mary Louise on the stand was a worthy final standoff, with Celeste effectively grilling her mother-in-law on her assumptions on violence in the house, not to mention her own failings as a mother in the past – mistakes that led to one dead son and emotionally bombarding the other son enough that he became an abusive rapist. And, as a final dagger in Mary Louise's heart, Celeste even found a video – recorded by her boys – of one of Perry's awful violent outbursts, proving what Mary Louise refused to believe all season long.
Was it cheap to reveal that footage existed just minutes before the courtroom scene? Probably. Did this entire trial go comically off the rails, with personal attacks and bonus speeches coming out of the woodwork with the judge shrugging them all off? Oh, most definitely. Was it deeply cathartic as hell to watch Mary Louise have to finally face her son's sins, as well as her own, with no snippy comebacks in tow? You friggin' bet!
In the end, Celeste got to keep her boys, a defeated Mary Louise drove back home and Celeste's lawyer should probably reconsider her life choices because she was somehow the third best lawyer in that courtroom at most.
3. Laura Dern: Meme machine
It would've been great if "Big Little Lies" gave Laura Dern more to do than just create memes. The first few were a real treat, but by her final Renata rage in the finale – just about the only scene dedicated to her subplot – it felt a little less natural and fresh, and a little more synthetically created for maximum Twitter fuel. It's a credit to Dern as an actress that Renata registers as an actual character and not just kooky outbursts made sentient and dressed in exquisite clothes.
But hey, who's REALLY going to complain about Renata going all Christian Yelich on a crappier-than-usual Gordon and his increasingly less valuable model trains.
4. Not Nathan's favorite episode
Mary Louise wasn't the only big loser in the season finale, as Nathan got essentially dumped. Finally emotionally freed from her past anger at her mother, Bonnie continued her quest for cleaning off her deck of lies by telling Nathan in her mother's newly emptied hospital room that she doesn't love him and maybe hasn't ever really loved him.
To make matters worse, Ed's at home working on his MMA skills and punching his marital frustrations out on a boxing bag, meaning I'm pretty concerned about Nathan's chances if and when their Rumble in the Suburban Jungle finally rings its bell. He took an emotional gut punch this finale – and I'm very concerned he'll take a real one come season three. And speaking of which!
5. So ... season three?
For some reason, it felt like we all assumed "Bigger Little Lies" would be the obvious finale for the show – but considering what a massive hit its become for HBO (and considering HBO could probably use as many concrete blockbusters as possible since it already lost one in 2019), it shouldn't have come as a shock that the conclusion would be more of an ellipsis than a true ending: The Monterey Five meet up at the police station, walking in ready to rid themselves of The Lie before cutting to the credits. I guess all that work Detective Quinlan put in staring and smirking at our protagonists finally paid off!
Now, part of me would love to spend more time with these exquisite performers. But going off-book did not go kindly for this second season – on the screen and off – and I'm not sure how much dramatic meat there is left on the bones. Sure, maybe we'd love to see the lie officially come off the books and bring whatever fallout it may, but is there really that much more to do after that? And if there is, do you really trust series writer David E. Kelley to find it after this seven-episode stumble in quality?
We already have evidence now that they couldn't stretch the fallout coherently once. Plus, the show is called "Big Little Lies," and Sunday's finale was all about characters saying no more lies – whether it's a marriage or a manslaughter in self-defense. That seems like an attempt at thematic closure.
Sometimes, it's good to leave good enough alone. But I'm sure HBO thinks it's even better to keep a hit show on air – so bring on "Biggest Littlest Lies," I guess.
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