Big Little Lies Season 2 Recap: Episode 4 – Burn That Grandmother Down
Those lies have got to be reaching capacity soon?
We’re just past the halfway point in Big Little Lies season two, which means — just like in season one — we’re starting to properly creep towards the earth-shattering revelations to come.
Given how eventfully season one ended, it’s easy to forget how narratively cagey it was, and this latest instalment proves no exception.
The series remains focused on exploring these characters first and foremost, and by ‘exploring these characters’ I obviously mean ‘having Nicole Kidman slap the ever-loving fuck out of Meryl Streep’.
This week’s episode, “She Knows”, makes serious moves on a couple of fronts, which digging a little further into other simmering tensions. It also, customarily, affords the show’s costume department an opportunity to put the cast in a series of absurd outfits, a la the fundraiser that formed the centrepiece of the first season finale.
The lies are growing ever more difficult to conceal, like one too many discarded bags of Maccas shoved under the seat of your Nanna’s hand-me-down 1972 Mazda.
Let’s pull them out and see what horrors lay inside as we recap Big Little Lies!
Kramer vs. Kramer 2: Wrighting the Wrongs
Celeste has spent most of this season tiptoeing around Mary Louise, being mightily accommodating her mother-in-law in the aftermath of Perry’s death.
Mary Louise, however, has been wearing emotional combat boots and stomping all over Celeste’s face, so it was gratifying to see her exact some revenge. After showing up uninvited to a pumpkin-carving party where Chloe suggested to one of the twins that there might be gang members in Monterey, Mary Louise fully over-stepped her welcome.
Rocking up with a bundt cake and insisting she’s not there to impose (she is), Mary Louise goes into full helicopter grandmother mode.
The way she has glommed onto Ziggy, barely knowing him or Jane, while simultaneously sneaking around trying to undermine Jane’s account of being raped by Perry is…well, it’s terrifying, really.
While all this is happening, Madeline’s smoking (Renata: “Nobody smokes anymore!”, Renata’s drinking rosé in a jaguar jumper I simply must own, and Jane is also present.
Mary Louise announces that she’s moving into Jane’s building, which is a very normal thing to do, and Celeste finally calls her out for her nosiness, saying her behaviour is becoming “perverse”. Mary Louise proceeds to insinuate Perry raped Jane to seek “refuge” from Celeste, that Jane is lying, and that there could be any number of other women like her — all with a look of passive-aggressive glee on her soon to be non-bespectacled face.
The portrait that’s emerging of Mary Louise is of a quiet sociopath, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s going to mutate into overt monstrosity over the final episodes, as is custom on her side of the family.
When Celeste later meets her for a coffee, we get a hint at the mystery surrounded Perry’s brother. Perry’s father apparently left Mary Louise as a result, blaming her for what happened, and Mary Louise says she deserves the blame and to be left. It could be that her suspicion of Celeste is a projection based on her own failures — or crimes — as a mother.
That said, if it is all a conscious ruse, she plays the part well. It may even explain the largeness of Streep’s performance, which can teeter on the precipice at times.
There’s such artifice to how she acts around Max and Josh, as in this week’s scene where she takes them for pizza and once again uncomfortably deifies Perry. Many have noted the more out-and-out soapiness of this season of the show, so I won’t be shocked if Mary Louise snatches her wig in the season finale and takes her three grandchildren to the Grand High Witch.
Celeste, of course, gets caught out a little bit, with her skeezy-hot bartender hook-up still hanging around when Mary Louise returns with the boys. Spaced out on a cocktail of Ambien and booze, Celeste forgets he’s even there, playing further into Mary Louise’s hands.
In fairness, whomst among us hasn’t had a regrettable hook-up encounter in front of someone they live with, whilst concealing the manslaughter of their abusive ex-husband? I mean, if I had a dollar.
Anyway, Mary Louise shoos away Madeline and plops down opposite Celeste, with a look of triumph on her face, revealing that she has grave fears for the boys’ safety and that she’s ultimately taking Celeste to court to take over their guardianship.
Celeste, naturally, is horrified.
Honestly, something is up with this woman. Just look at how she licks an envelope to seal it! Bone-chilling.
Your Disco Needs You, Amabella
Amabella’s non-birthday birthday party, disco-themed of course, makes up the bulk of the episode.
Renata’s bouncing back from a bankruptcy court hearing, in which she has to give away her wedding ring and own up to botox (kind of hard to buy this, since Dern’s face is so naturally elastic, but it does suit the character).
But she’s trying to remain strong for her daughter’s sake, and no one plays forced happiness quite like Laura Dern.
To save some time, let us first run through some of the outfits before getting to the events:
As for what goes down at the party, it’s mostly a series of hushed conversations, a tussle born of fragile masculinity, and a tragic collapse.
Gordon wants to know if Renata can ever forgive him, and the answer more or less seems to be no. She wanted to give Amabella everything she never had as a child, and just because she chose the wrong man — and it’s inferred her mother likely did too — she may not be able to.
And then, in true Renata fashion, she plasters a smile back on her face and plays consummate host.
Ed and Nathan, finally come to what I guess approximates blows. Really, Nathan just tries to yank Ed’s wig, Ed tries to slap him back, and Nathan goes to put him in a headlock. All that macho posturing and no one even so much as bitchslaps the other?
Drown to Funkytown
The party ends, and as the guests leave, Bonnie’s mum Elizabeth collapses after having another of her visions.
Bonnie is in the background for a lot of this episode — Mary Louise gives her a probing glare at the pumpkin party, and we see her flash back to the end of season one, rubbing her neck in a nod to the backstory of abuse I imagine we’ll find out more about next week.
At the hospital Bonnie runs into Detective Quinlan, who’s there for another case, and believes she’s there to see her. Not suss at all! Her dad then essentially accuses her of causing her mother’s stroke, which is, suffice to say, not cool, but it gives us this tremendous moment of Acting from Zoe Kravitz, who just keeps crushing it this season.
Madeline, meanwhile, is a quiet presence this week, attempting to change tack with Ed.
She gets called out for not using her go-getter energy to fix their marriage, after suggesting a couples retreat and later trying to ease him into late-night sex. It’s the least comedic episode of the season so far for her absence, although we do get a great reaction from her when the ever-oblivious Chloe shows her a school project that labels her the opposite of a door “because it’s hinged”.
Two significant images toward the end of the episode point toward the next episode as Elizabeth finally wakes up, still — or perhaps permanently — suffering paralysis as a result of the stroke.
First, Bonnie flashes back to her youth again, this time seeing her mum grabbing her by the arms and shaking her.
Then, we see the clearest image yet from Elizabeth’s visions: Bonnie, submerged in water — perhaps the prevailing image from this season that has yet to be fully explained. The synopsis for episode five suggests we’ll finally find out what happened to Bonnie in the past, and what it might mean for her future.
Also on the horizon next week: Ed possibly flirting with another woman; the custody battle begins; Ziggy is worried about growing up to be like Perry, and might be being bullied over rumours about his parentage. Plus a night time group meeting in a parking lot that definitely wouldn’t arouse any suspicions.
How do they find the time in their busy schedules to have these meetings?
How big can these lies actually get?! Only three more episodes ‘til we find out once and for all.
This Week’s Biggest Little Liar
I am convinced, at this point, that nothing Mary Louise has said or done has been truthful at all and that we could very well see her unmasked Scooby Doo style before the season ends.
Monterey Death Pool
I think Mary Louise is going to kidnap Max, Josh and Ziggy, and it’s going to go badly for somebody involved.
Notes On A Scandal
- Celeste finally calls her therapist out on her shit, but only on the rare occasion where she’s the advice she’s being given isn’t quietly lacerating.
- This is such a good episode for Laura Dern, who may have her second Emmy for playing Renata sewn up. But given the relative parity in screen time between her, Witherspoon, Streep and Kidman, those categories are going to be a bloodbath.
- Jane finally reveals to Corey a.k.a. The Artist Formerly Known As Aquarium Guy that her hesitance around intimacy is a result of being raped, which is also how Ziggy came into her life. It really feels unclear if Corey is or isn’t a little shady, but I really hope not. Just let Jane be happy and boring!
- Would watch an hour-long show that’s just Renata hosting a party every week. Her telling a guest who wanted to borrow her dress “Uh, no, you own it!” gave me all kinds of life.
- The band at Amabella’s party is actually The Trammps, who originally had a megahit with “Disco Inferno”. Burn, baby, burn.
Big Little Lies is currently streaming on Foxtel Now.
Laurence Barber is a freelance writer, editor and award-winning film and television critic based in Sydney. He is on Twitter @bortlb.