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Big Little Lies Recap: We Are Family

Big Little Lies

Tell-Tale Hearts
Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****

Big Little Lies

Tell-Tale Hearts
Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: HBO

Women on this show can’t seem to stop screaming, and I get it, I get it. We’ve all been letting out a lot of shrieks over the last few years, yes? Last episode it was Mary Louise, breaking out in a wolfish grief howl, keening for her dead son at the dinner table. This week, while literal fortunes tilted and shifted, it was Renata with the forever-memeable “I will not not be rich!” and Celeste’s mid-therapy breakdown bellow of “No no nooo.” (Never forget last season’s front-seat scream-off between Celeste and Madeline.) So why all the guttural yelps into the void? As expected, now that we’re into the swing of its second season, Big Little Lies is anteing up the drama and digging deeper into the pasts of its five — wait, make it six now, thanks to Meryl — leading ladies.

Another mother has shown up in town (apparently the fathers of Monterey don’t have the green light when their children are in crisis) and this time it’s Bonnie’s mom, Elizabeth (Crystal Fox), a no-nonsense mystic who is really, really making things worse for Bonnie instead of better. Bonnie’s guilt and grief are spilling over into every aspect of daily life. Skye, already a sensitive little soul, is inquiring from the back seat if her parents are getting divorced. Madeline and Celeste catch her on a very early-morning “hike” on the side of a highway. Her clothes are still more boho-fabulous than the Coachella collection in a Free People catalog, but her face is wan and drawn. She murdered a man, people, and nobody is willing to just give her a little space!

All this quality time with Bonnie — by far the most neglected member of the pack in terms of screen time — raises a lot of questions about her upbringing with this hurricane of a woman and mealy-mouthed father. Bonnie, her mother claims, just loves to put up walls, which is maternal shorthand for “you don’t tell me your innermost thoughts and darkest secrets.” And apparently Elizabeth thinks she can just barrage Bonnie with questions and snide comments until she breaks down into a heaving mass of openness.

But Elizabeth, too, is harboring some, ahem, issues. There’s the “occasional” glass of wine that Bonnie makes a big deal over and the wicked mommy-in-law zingers she tosses at Nathan, who is a bit of a dud in the brains department but honestly probably a pretty okay guy (unlike that snide fuck Ed). Also, Elizabeth seems to think her daughter’s clinical depression can be cured with a feather, a crystal, and what looks to be a chicken bone. And while I get that Bonnie’s chi is very clean and she probably burns sage instead of logs in her fireplace, she is clearly not a practitioner of whatever her mom is into — and this does not seem like a super rational way to deal with murder guilt.

Women on Big Little Lies are always having flashbacks and visions, but Elizabeth’s seem to come from another place. She doesn’t see Perry going over a ledge or Bonnie shoving him. She sees water — someone drowning, maybe. Whether it’s in the past or the future is unclear. But her “What have you done, this time?” comment leaves us wondering what else Bonnie is capable of.

Celeste, too, is still dwelling on the past (of course). At therapy she explains that she can’t stop missing Perry, a pretty reasonable response from a widow, even one whose husband was capable of surprising depths of cruelty. Her therapist, however, wants to snap her out of that mindset, and asks Celeste to imagine one of the worst encounters she had with Perry over the years. Then, she suggests, imagine a good friend like Madeline in her place. It’s a reasonable tactic, but really not meant to work in an instant. But for Celeste the vision is so visceral that it pushes her to scream.

Celeste is the kind of woman who evokes the loathsome adjective “effortless” (I imagine she smells like cashmere, pearl dust, and rare green tea), but she’s slowly careening out of control. Her little predawn joyride is part of that, but even more troubling are the raccoon eyeliner (Celeste is a slim cat-eye, not a smoky lid) and the brief visions of a tattooed gent laying into her on the leather interiors. Was that a memory or a vision? Did she really take an Ambien and zone out?

Regardless, the twins are still feeling the effects of their father’s death and unable to really let it out. (Guess their grandmother’s lesson in screaming through your feelings didn’t have the impact it should have.) Like any normal brothers, they occasionally half-nelson each other, but for Celeste, who is right in the thick of defending Madeline from Mary Louise, watching them tussle on the deck is a good deal too familiar. It doesn’t help that when she intervenes Max screams at her to fuck off. (Reminder: The twins are in second grade.) Her reply — “No. You will not be like him” and a push — also means that Celeste now owes Mary Louise an explanation. Actually, make that two. Chloe overheard Madeline on the phone and reported to the twins that they actually share a daddy with Ziggy. Secrets don’t last long in this town, even among the under-tween set.

Something about Celeste’s big reveal to Mary Louise didn’t quite work, even though it ought to have, with two of the best actresses of our lifetime tackling such a meaty subject. Mary Louise’s insistence to Celeste that it just isn’t possible that Perry could have hurt her went on so long and so rigorously that it started to feel like Mary Louise was having a psychotic break. And while no woman owes the details of her trauma to another person, a few clarifying details really could have helped Celeste send the message loud and clear. Instead, Mary Louise declares “I don’t believe you” — cruel words from a woman who earlier speechified about the problems of bullies to Madeline — and vows to go to the police.

Despite her top billing, Madeline’s own storyline has never had as much oomph as the rest of the crew’s, but this episode changes that. Last year’s affair with the theater director is over, but in a moment so painful it made me instinctively curl up into a ball, Ed overhears Abigail mentioning it to Madeline. Madeline says everything your wisest friend would coach you to tell your spouse — that it was only about her, that it’s long over, that she’ll go to therapy to save their marriage. If it were only the affair, Ed might have lingered to at least talk it out. But Madeline has treated him as extraneous since day one. He’s kind and loving and obviously the breadwinner, but he’s always functioned more like staff than a life partner. It’s no surprise when he walks out.

Another marriage may be on its way out, too. Renata is doing a literal dance of joy over the crowning achievement of her public persona thus far: She’s secured the cover of “the number-one women’s magazine” in the U.S. (Please allow me a moment to nitpick. Is this the number-one magazine circulation-wise? In reputation only? Does this mean Renata is on the cover of Good Housekeeping? Or Vogue? Because neither of these things would ever, ever, ever happen.) Then the freaking feds literally leap onto her husband, start yelling out that he’s being arrested for securities fraud, and drag him off to get booked, leaving Renata to flail and yell like the fool it’s turned out she is.

Unlike Mary Louise, Renata is very willing to believe the worst of her husband, and he makes it easy by readily confessing (doesn’t he know better?!?). But wait, there’s more! He hasn’t just committed several white-collar crimes. Gordon (whose name, à la Gekko, now makes a little more sense) has bankrupted them both, wiping out every last hard-won dollar Renata brought into that relationship.

Laura Dern’s portrayal of rabid mania is perfection. Every irritated bout with the metal detector, her wide, disbelieving eyes, and that glorious “Gordon, I’m not gonna not be rich!” Her painted-on black leather skirt and netted fire-engine red suit are the exact clothes a multi-multi-multimillionaire like Renata wears when she wants to power-dress as a form of intimidation. But it’s all a front. Money and success have now become Renata’s raison d’être. Gordon hasn’t just lost several million dollars — he’s lost at least several hundred million dollars, turned her reputation to dust, and cast them out of the wild world they’d created for themselves. All for a Gulfstream. “Will you give a woman a minute,” indeed!

Even more startling, the FBI has seized her computer and her iPad. Madeline pointed out last week that murder isn’t exactly something you Gchat about, but it’s possible that some stray texts could lead investigators to connect Perry’s fall with the Monterey Five. After all, it isn’t likely that Detective Quinlan just happened to cruise by at the exact moment the feds were cuffing a Klein.

Big Little Lies Recap: We Are Family