Warning! Spoilers for Big Little Lies below.
The story so far: Mary Louise and Celeste battle in court for custody of the twins. Just as the judge is about the make her decision, a surprise witness is called. Bonnie admits to her mother she is the one who killed Perry. She also makes it clear she did so for herself and not in defense of her friend. Renata learns another devastating secret about her husband. Madeline and Ed seem to be trying to salvage their relationship. The police seem to be closer to discovering the truth.
The second season of Big Little Lies has become stranger with each episode. The acting in the show has been consistently great. Of course when you have a cast that includes Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, this does not come as much of a surprise. The storyline involving Celeste and Mary Louise has been just as engaging as anything done in the first season.
But as the season has progressed, the writing has become exposed. Flaws and holes have started to stand out and strong storytelling has been replaced by over-the-top melodramatics. BLL has tried to pad out its one interesting story with typical soap opera shenanigans it didn’t have to rely on before. Instead of being oddly entertaining, it has been laughably bad at times.
The acting in the final episode of the season (and the entire series) remains incredibly strong. It would not be a stretch to say that BLL has the best acting of any television show today. The episode starts hot with a confrontation between Mary Louise and Renata. In the all-too-brief scene, both women put on amazing performances that may be the highlight of the season. This continues throughout the show, as both Dern and Streep are tremendous in the episode.
Initially, the court case that seemed to be heading in a ridiculous direction is well done. Nicole Kidman does an amazing job questioning Mary Louise, who she has put on the witness stand. Watching the performances in a vacuum is quite a sight. Even when the writing starts to make no sense, the strong acting makes the scene engrossing. (Hearsay is a thing in custody cases, right?) Once Celeste introduces surprise evidence it becomes a little too much. The whole moment comes off as parody.
If that was all that happened during the custody battle, it may be forgivable. Deus ex machinas are very common in poorly written courtroom dramas, after all. Things become unbearable, though, when the judge attempts to read her verdict. Mary Louise interrupts and delivers a long monologue that is part plea to the court and part attack against Celeste. Keep in mind, this is the second time the judge has been cut off while reading who will have custody of the two young children.
Not to be outdone, Celeste rebuttals with her own lengthy speech. Again, this consists of explaining to the court why she should keep the kids while destroying their grandmother’s character. Not only does the judge do nothing, both lawyers also just sit there as their clients are making and taking attacks against them. It is one of the oddest courtroom scenes ever seen on a television show.
The ending is also very odd. All of the Monterey Five are essentially starting over and forging a new trail. On the surface, it looks like strong writing — it’s almost as if fortunes have been reversed since audiences first met with women. It also shows no matter how traumatic the past may have been, it’s not impossible to remember the good times. Unfortunately, the last shot shows these supposed themes were most likely unintentional.
The end of BLL makes the entire second season meaningless. Not only that, it opens up even more questions. What is going to happen to the twins now that it will be discovered that Celeste has lied to the police and the court? Why does Madeline get a happy ending when she has done nothing to deserve it? Why is Celeste willing to let her sons live idolizing their abusive father? Why do they love him after what they saw? It seems like the conclusion is supposed to make viewers cheer, but it makes no sense. (Plus, Celeste literally states, “the lie is the friendship.”)
Big Little Lies could have went down as one of the greatest miniseries of all time. Instead, it will always live as an also-ran. People will always say, “Big Little Lies is great as long as you don’t watch the second season.” The acting is phenomenal and watching the story involving Celeste and Mary Louise is great. Unfortunately, BLL lost its way and will forever be a example of what should have been.