Your regular Big Little Lies recapper is away for a couple of weeks — probably she is staring pensively at the ocean, letting her history of mascara-smeared trauma come back to her in waves, much like … the ocean — and I am honored to be filling in. I bring to this formidable task my years of Pretty Little Power Ranking expertise and the intel I just gleaned from this fantastic story about “mumfers” (mom surfers/influencers) in a seaside town in Australia who give their kids names like “Juniper” and “Banjo.” Everybody just sit back, allow glimpses from your past return to you, as if in a dream, and let’s do this.
I never thought I’d say this, but the men are really a highlight of this season for me. As their wives are mired in the whole haunted-by-the-homicide situation they kiiiind of created for themselves, the men have the space to go full petty. Nathan wants to apologize to Ed for their hilarious and pathetic scuffle at an elaborate disco-themed children’s birthday party. (God bless HBO and its ridiculous budget, finally put to worthy use.) Ed spurns this gentlemanly offer, and what follows is a gift from the GIF gods: “Why do you have to be such a fuck?” Nathan asks. “Well, I don’t have to be. I choose to be.” This is the best use of Adam Scott’s attitude since Party Down.
Over in the “actual problem” department, Celeste is battling Mary Louise and her overbite for custody of her children. Mary Louise is being all pious and “this is about what’s best for the boys,” but I do sort of wonder what her endgame is here (besides contributing to the Unsubtle Theme Of The Week: parents protecting their children.) Does she think Celeste is the murderer? Is she in total denial about who her son must have been? Celeste is furious that her lawyer didn’t speak up more in this meeting, but the lawyer says this family-court judge is a smart cookie who won’t be impressed by a performance. Celeste has to prove that she is “not unhinged.” Someone tell Chloe to update that opposites poster.
Celeste seeks guidance on this matter from Renata, a paragon of good judgment and restraint. Renata’s brilliant idea is to “take a crack” at Mary Louise herself, to see if she can convince her to call the whole thing off. This is so obviously not going to work and it’s not really clear that Celeste cosigns it, but Renata pushes ahead anyway, as is her standard practice. She also is shocked to learn that she has been cut from that powerful-women issue in “San Francisco Women’s Magazine.” Like, what happened to women supporting women? Renata demands to know. “They’re backstabbing sluts!”
I’m not sure why Renata thought the power move would be to host this Mary Louise meeting in her empty, cavernous home; of course Mary Louise’s first move is to point out that the space is conspicuously devoid of furniture. (How perfect was Laura Dern scooching herself over in that rolling desk chair?) As we’ve seen her do before, Mary Louise susses out Renata’s insecurities in no time, pressing down on the bruises of her bankrupt, crumbling life. “So many moments lost, and for what?” Mary Louise knows how to weaponize the social awkwardness that the typical Monterey woman will do almost anything to gloss over or avoid.
Over at tranquil Otter Bay Elementary, Ziggy is being bullied by a boy who tells him he was “a mistake” and, when the twins come to his defense, said bully helpfully tells them that their dad is a rapist. Wow, kids these days, so precocious. This turns into a whole tussle and the bully winds up in the hospital getting his lip stitched back together. Ziggy and the twins are suspended. I have to say that in the first season, I did not find Shailene Woodley to be a super-convincing mom — she gave off, in my opinion, real babysitter energy, like she was always waiting for Ziggy’s actual mom to show up and relieve her. But this season that relationship feels more real and lived-in.
Celeste interrogates her sons over the bullying incident, and one of them snaps and yells at her to “stop being such a bitch.” Whoooo boy. Celeste tells them about the custody battle, rattling their already fragile sense of security — they don’t want to live with their grandma. Mary Louise’s opening offer is joint custody: weekdays with mom, weekends with her, and addiction treatment for Celeste. But Celeste is not about it. Sure, let’s take this to trial! What could Celeste possibly be asked that would put her in a position to perjure herself?
Madeline tells Ed to be “open-minded” about 10,000 times as she drives him to this couples’ therapy retreat that turns out to be like that commune from the Mad Men finale. They are told to walk in circles and just give out hugs whenever it feels right. I recall quite vividly that Madeline did not even like to have her hips adjusted by a yoga instructor last season (“I don’t want to be touched”), so I can see this exercise is going to be torturous for all involved parties. They peel out of there and she admits it was awful, and they have what is probably their first honest conversation in years. Ed knows he was a “stable” choice for a woman who had married for “lust” only to be abandoned by her first husband, someone who treated her search for a new partner more like an HR manager filling the open position of “father.” It’s so satisfying to see this dynamic gender-flipped for once. How many TV shows have you seen where the husband is giving his wife the run-around, and she is the one who is left to choose between, as Ed puts it, walking out with her dignity or staying with someone she can’t trust, to preserve whatever family it is they have now? Madeline is as vulnerable as she’s been in ages. Promising fidelity is off the table, though flaws and failures are not: “All my future mistakes will be brand new ones.”
Approximately 80 percent of Bonnie’s day is spent going on runs and seeing a Lorde-style super-cut of “trivia night” (… there was no trivia). The rest of it is spent snuggling with her extremely adorable child and remembering that, when she was an adorable child, her mom was abusive: grabbing her, screaming at her, it’s all a bit blurry, but we eventually learn that her dad knew about it and did not adequately protect Bonnie. His ability to “get involved” now does not go unnoticed by her. In a brief moment of lucidity, Bonnie’s mom begs her daughter to kill her. Oof, two homicides in two seasons? That’d be something.
It wouldn’t be an episode of BLL without casual beach time with the girls! The Monterey Five convene to chat about how they’re all on the witness list for Celeste’s guardianship hearing. Probably nothing to worry about!
Poor Amabella, who had a panic attack over climate change (extreme Logic voice: Who can relate?), is now getting a spontaneous mother-daughter day for extremely suspicious reasons. “Sweetie, everything isn’t about money,” Renata says. “Well, it is. But it isn’t.” Very excited for the mash-up of all the best Renata-isms about money to make the YouTube rounds when this season is over.
Madeline and Abigail run into Mary Louise and I type OMG THE ICE-CREAM CONE but then nothing happens! Was the photo from the set a teaser for a scene that will never materialize? I am crushed. In other heartbreaking news, Jane and Corey are doing okay and making out and finally our girl is experiencing intimacy and joy … but then her trauma comes back to her and she just collapses into sobs.
We leave this episode with a quick-cut montage of people on the precipice of making some very interesting decisions. Ed is being hit on by Tori, the theater director’s wife. Might his conversation with Nathan be a preview of “choosing to be a fuck” decisions to come? Meanwhile, Bonnie’s at the police station, pondering whether to enter — when who should walk out but Corey, who seems to spot her as we cut to black. Uh oh.