‘Big Little Lies’ Season 2 Recap: Episode 1… And Meryl Streep’s False Teeth
Let's discuss how blessed we are by Meryl Streep.
There’s not much that’s hugely different about the premiere episode of Big Little Lies’ second season. There’s one notable change behind the camera, with Andrea Arnold taking over the full season directorial duties from Jean-Marc Vallée, and a major one in front: Meryl goddamn Streep.
Not only has Meryl Streep joined the cast as Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgard) mother, but her character’s name is Mary Louise — Meryl’s real name. She’s also doing trademark pinched vocal work and, entirely of her own volition, wearing false teeth, which are really having a moment in the wake of Bohemian Rhapsody (the same guy who did those prosthetic chompers made these ones, too).
I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I close my eyes I see a vision of the cast of Big Little Lies going around the circle trying on Meryl’s grill and doing impressions of her.
It’s so soothing.
Let’s recap Big Little Liars! Those liars… just keep lying.
My Bonnie Looks Over the Ocean
The opening shot of the episode is of one woman in particular: Zoe Kravitz’s Bonnie, as she walks along the beach in the half-light. We also see her, calling back to the closing images of season one, sitting with the other women on the beach — but distant from them.
Later, we see her disappearing into the waves. My gay, gay heart cannot take all these The Hours allusions.
This appears to be Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) nightmare, as she’s startled awake by Mary Louise after talking about a “rape” in her sleep.
Let’s talk about Meryl’s look here, for a second. The business-y striped blouse, the smart but drab cardigan, the slacks — WASPy grandmother realness for days — are incredible. But it’s the wig and the glasses that truly sell it. The helmet-like greying bob and thick lenses give her just enough of a patrician edge, with her specs amplifying the precise, searching movements of her eyes.
The women — who we later learn have been dubbed ‘The Monterey Five’ — reunite for orientation on the first day of the new school year.
Everyone else has managed to fall back into their old ways — Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) complains of the double standards applied to mothers, and tells the school principal to shove it while stuffing a red velvet cupcake (baked by Melissa, a.k.a Australia’s own Gia Carides) into her mouth.
Renata (Laura Dern) enters bouncily, before aggressively informing the (extremely hot) new teacher that her precious Amabella has an IQ of 152, which is “genius level”, and thus the (extremely hot) teacher should pay Amabella special attention. She also breezily notes that Amabella was choked and bitten at school last year, before getting tangled in a marching band. Never change, Renata.
Also, Jane has bangs now! I assume that this will be her character arc for the season:
Madeline talks to Celeste and Jane about Bonnie, who spent the break away in Tahoe.
Madeline very uncharitably bitches about Bonnie’s demeanour, seemingly surprised that someone who pushed a man down a flight of stairs to his death might not be like, her normally chill self. Given that I typically require three full days to mentally recuperate from even the briefest of social interactions, I’m on #TeamBonnie here.
One very valid criticism of season one, as noted by Angelica Jade Bastien in this excellent piece, was that Bonnie was mostly defined in relation to the other women, rather than on her own terms. Bonnie is the most at risk and most unable to move on from the “accident”, as Madeline calls it, and so it’s high time the show allowed Bonnie some interiority.
She’s frustrated that the other women seem to have consolidated sisterhood amongst themselves, excluding her. There’s something off about their behaviour in doing that but I can’t qwhite put my finger on it.
Later in the episode, Bonnie lingers outside the police station, but hesitates and turns away instead of going in. Part of me wishes she would just confess and the rest of the season could just be dramatic courtroom scenes where they all turn against each other.
Witherspoon vs. Streep: An Actress Showdown
That is, in part, because she meets her match in Mary Louise Wright at a coffee shop. Turns out Mary Louise is ready to read a bitch to filth, and the library is open. Some of Meryl’s dialogue in this episode is truly cuckoo bananas, but somehow…every bit of it works?
The way she responds, “I can’t complain…actually I can, my son is dead,” in between sips of coffee is pure art.
“You’re very short. I don’t mean it in a negative way…maybe I do. I find little people to be unnnnntrustworthy.” I had to add the extra ‘n’s for emphasis, because I swear Meryl is making her dialogue sound improvised. It’s like she walked in from a Christopher Guest movie, and it’s beautiful.
(Sidebar: who do I have to push down a flight of stairs to get Parker Posey on this show? Maybe as Madeline’s sister? Call me, David E. Kelley.)
Madeline is practically gurning in this episode with the kinds of faces she pulls. She’s so unused to being outwitted.
Madeline encounters Mary Louise again later, in another of episode’s best scenes. Madeline demands an apology for being called untrustworthy, and Mary Louise says Madeline reminds her of a former friend who was an “itty bitty little thing with a big bubbly personality that was designed to hide that she was utterly vapid inside”.
Streep makes the delicious choice to end Mary Louise’s apology by briskly sucking in air, like she’s inhaling her contrition so it doesn’t linger. If Perry Wright was defined by anger, Mary Louise is a master of passive aggression.
Sorry mum if you’re reading this but it’s…extremely All Of Our Mums.
Trouble also seems to be brewing in the Klein household, where Renata looks resplendent in red for a Women in Power photoshoot.
But her husband Gordon is going full Reverend Lovejoy and staring sadly at model trains while drinking a lot.
As one of Gay Twitter’s foremost Laura Dern worshippers, I need more Renata than this, BLL writers!
Things may be looking up for Jane though.
Replete with her new bangs, she dances on the sand to…the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack? Big Little Lies remains committed to giving us easily memeable moments. Sure, at some point someone will set the clip of Jane dancing to “Baby Shark” or some shit and run it into the ground, but it’ll be fun while it lasts (I give it three days).
Everyone but Bonnie meets to discuss news of gossip about them, where Renata suggests that the police investigation is essentially closed — even though we see flashes of Detective Quinlan’s investigation all ep.
Renata notes that she heard this from Susie from IBM, who is a “really good friend” of Quinlan while gesturing at her crotch, and whatever could that mean!! Please let us meet IBM Power Lesbian Susie — get Parker Posey on the horn, it’s not too late.
The episode culminates with the already historic Meryl scream.
Season one gave us Renata’s “I SAID THANK YOUUU!” and season two has already bequeathed us with Mary Louise’s horrific shriek of anger at the dinner table.
Really, the best part of this scene is how Nicole plays Celeste’s reaction. What a joy this show is.
The episode ends with another of Celeste’s nightmares. This time, they are being brought into a police line-up, still wearing their truly iconique Audrey Hepburn costumes. On the other side of the glass, Perry steps forward. Celeste sees him and runs towards the glass, then wakes up screaming, “Fucking kill you!”
Mary Louise rushes in to comfort Celeste, brushing her hair with her hand and pulling her into a hug.
“So,” she says. “Who are we planning to kill?”
At 39 minutes excluding catch-ups and credits, it’s a very short episode that nevertheless packs in a lot of re-establishing detail about the lay of the land. The promo for the rest of the season previews a wild range of things: paranoid Renata! Disco costumes! Amabella(?) on a stretcher?!
Bring. It. On.
This week’s Biggest Little Liar:
Madeline takes the crown for a constant cycle of lying to herself, even if it does easily make her the show’s funniest character.
Monterey Death Pool:
I’m worried about Gordon, y’all!
Notes On A Scandal:
- It’s so great to see Celeste’s therapy scenes continue in the new season, even if they are the ones in which Nicole’s accent wanders the most. It becomes clear that Celeste is managing to blame herself for Perry’s death. “Even in death, his message lives on,” Dr. Reisman observes.
- Madeline’s husband Ed runs into Tori at the supermarket. Their respective spouses boned each other last season, and now Tori’s gotten her boobs done. Good for you, sis! But maybe a bad sign for Madeline’s marriage.
- Nathan goes to Ed to seek advice over Bonnie’s distantness, leading Ed to question why Nathan would look to his ex-wife’s new husband for advice communicating with his new wife. Nathan, subsequently, calls Ed a “snide fuck”. Both parties are correct.
- Abigail — who famously wanted to sell her virginity last season — is refusing to go to college. Madeline, who didn’t go herself, is not pleased or impressed by people with no fixed address.
- Jane isn’t cashing cheques for Ziggy from Perry’s estate despite Celeste’s insistence. She asks Celeste if she’s glad Perry is dead; she says it’s “complicated”. Keep going to therapy, hon, this Julie Chen-Moonves realness isn’t cute.
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.