Families Come Together and Fall Apart in ‘Big Little Lies’ Episode 2 (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Big Little Lies Season 2 Episode 2, “Tell-Tale Hearts.”]
Knowledge is power, as the adage goes, and in a show like Big Little Lies, it’s the audience who has the most information. As viewers, we know all the secrets and lies, both big and small, that are floating around the city of Monterey. That can make for potent storytelling; it creates a sense of tension knowing we know more than they know. But sometimes all you want to do is share your secret. You want these characters to understand what is going on just to see how they would react.
“Tell-Tale Hearts” is impressive in the way it’s so open with its secrets — and how those revelations impact the show’s relationships. There is only so much mileage you can get out of having your characters lie and dodge questions at every turn. After a while, it becomes frustrating to watch. This episode is refreshing in that it doesn’t allow these people to avoid the hard questions anymore. Characters are confronted with the grisly truth, and in some cases, the reality tears the family unit apart, and in others, it brings them closer together.
The stand-out scene of the episode sees Jane (Shailene Woodley) telling her son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) the truth about his father. The rumor that the recently deceased Perry is Ziggy’s dad had been spreading around school thanks to Madeline’s daughter, Chloe (Darby Camp), who overheard her mother talking about it on the phone. “Chloe said he salted you?” says Ziggy with that sort of confused childhood innocence. Rather than denying it or making up a story, a tearful Jane crawls into bed beside her little boy and explains everything. “I think the word Chloe heard was ‘assault’…” she says as the scene fades out. We don’t need to see her describing the gory details; it’s powerful enough as it is.
Celeste (Nicole Kidman) deals with the news a little differently. She’s so used to living a lie and covering up secrets that facing the truth is extremely painful. “A family should be open and honest,” she tells her boys, Max (Nicholas Crovetti) and Josh (Cameron Crovetti), in what sounds like nothing more than an empty platitude. “I don’t think we’re that kind of family,” Max replies. And he’s right. He lived in that house, where behind closed doors his parents would fight and then come downstairs for family dinner and pretend everything was fine.
But now, with Jane revealing the truth to her son, Celeste is forced to be open with her boys, and she is, to an extent. She tells them that Perry fathered another child and that Ziggy is their half-brother, but she’s unable to admit that their dad was a monster. “Your father was a beautiful, wonderful man,” she says when the boys ask if he was a bad person. “He could be weak, and he made mistakes, but he was a wonderful, beautiful man.” In a way, you could say Celeste is protecting her children, but she’s also protecting herself. She still blames herself for what happened, for staying with Perry for so long, and so it’s easier to remember him as a good man because that justifies her marriage. It’s hard for her to realize she isn’t to blame, that the cycle of abuse is not an easy thing to escape.
Celeste is also profoundly conflicted over Perry’s death; despite the years of violence and abuse, she still misses him. Only when her therapist forces her to revisit her trauma, or when she sees her boys acting violently, does her rage and anger rush to the surface. When Max tells her to “f**k off” and punches her in the arm, her instinctive defense mechanism kicks in, and she shoves him to the ground. “No! You won’t be like him!!” she screams, her mind suddenly transported back to all those times Perry had her cornered and frightened. This is a woman still dealing with deep-seated pain and trauma – right now, half-truths are all she can handle.
However, the unmasked truth brings new hope, particularly in the growing friendship between Jane and Celeste. While the pair had promised not to tell their children the truth until they were older, Celeste, while initially shocked, isn’t offended that Jane broke the agreement. She never blames Jane or holds resentment towards her. In a moment of tenderness, Celeste reaches across the table and gently clasps Jane’s hand. Through their shared anguish, they’ve found comfort in each other and their new family unit. There are smiles and laughter when Celeste brings Max & Josh over to play with Ziggy and a sign that, through all the brutality and suffering, there is still promise of a brighter future.
For Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), the future of her family is in turmoil. Firstly, Ed (Adam Scott) is annoyed that she never told him about Perry assaulting Jane and being Ziggy’s father. “What, are we people who keep secrets from each other now?” he asks. Little does he know an even bigger secret is about to crush his world. Having already had one daughter expose a huge secret, it’s fitting that Madeline’s other daughter, Abigail (Kathryn Newton), who is now living back home, accidentally unveils the other.
“What’s this about f**king a theater director?” inquires Ed, who overhears Abigail giving her mother crap about her affair with Joseph (Santiago Cabrera). Oops. Madeline tries to convince Ed that the affair was never about it him. That she still loves him and maybe they should try therapy. “It’s about me,” she repeatedly tells him, as if that’s somehow reassuring. That’s the issue with Madeline. Even when she thinks she is doing the right thing, she is deeply selfish. It’s one of the many reasons why Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) can’t stomach her. Sooner or later, her lies were going to catch up with her. This one finally did, and it’s destroyed her family. “I think we’re done,” Ed says, ending the conversation and their marriage.
Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) is also dealing with troubling family matters. Nathan (James Tupper), in a state of concern for his wife, invites her mother, Elizabeth (Crystal Fox), to the house to try and get through to her. It’s not the greatest decision Nathan’s ever had, either for him or Bonnie. Elizabeth belittles her son-in-law, referring to him as a “dolt,” and complaining that he’s too inept to realize what is wrong with his wife. Not wholly inaccurate. Elizabeth also realizes that Bonnie hasn’t been right since Perry’s death at the fundraiser, surmising that her daughter has PTSD. She’s on the money, other than she doesn’t realize Bonnie was the one responsible for Perry’s demise.
It’s easy for Bonnie to brush her mother off, especially when she starts pushing her new age magic and talk of prophetic visions, but Elizabeth isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions. What is Bonnie running from? Why is she even married to Nathan and living in this city full of white people (“I haven’t seen one other black person since I got here.”)? Is she trying to run away from herself? Pretending to be someone else? These are all interesting questions that suggest depth and backstory to Bonnie beyond her current troubles surrounding the Perry murder. Whether the show will delve deeper into Bonnie’s life before Monterey remains to be seen.
In a way, Nathan bringing Bonnie’s mother into town does help, because it ultimately drives Bonnie back into his arms. “Get rid of [Elizabeth],” she tells him. It’s the first moment of affection we’ve seen between Bonnie and Nathan this season, and their daughter, Skye (Chloe Coleman), watching them cuddle is kind of sweet. Although, it’s difficult not to feel like this is just Bonnie finding a way to keep her lies hidden. Her mother will continue to ask questions, whereas she can at least control Nathan. While other secrets around town are coming to light, Bonnie can’t talk about hers, unless it’s with Madeline, and that isn’t exactly helpful. “Be patient,” she tells Nathan. For now, some secrets have to remain that way.
As for Renata (a gloriously rage-filled Laura Dern), her family unit is also crumbling apart thanks to secrets her husband, Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling), has been keeping. Gordon’s shady business dealings have gone belly-up, and he’s now in trouble with the FBI. He’s dragged away in handcuffs, taken to court, and charged with security and wire fraud. This is a nightmare scenario for Renata. She could lose all her money, and money represents success and power, and without that, Renata sees herself as nothing. “I’m not NOT going to be rich,” she yells at her prison-jumpsuit-wearing husband.
With secrets spilling out so effortlessly, it’s only a matter of time before the biggest secret of all is exposed — the Monterey 5’s murder of Perry. Mary Louise, who continues her delightful sniping sessions with Madeline, is hot on the trail. Her suspicious nature and unwillingness to hear a bad word said against her son make for a deadly combination. When she finds out about Perry assaulting Jane, she remains incredulous at the thought. Even when calling it a lie, she can’t bring herself to use the word “assault,” instead referring to it as an “affair.” As far as Mary Louise is concerned, Jane is either making it up and mistaking Perry for someone else.
When Celeste tells her mother-in-law that Perry used to beat her, she scoffs, refusing to believe that too. “Why wouldn’t you go to the police?” Mary Louise states, echoing the infuriating argument that has been made throughout history against victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. However, Mary Louise, while wrong about Perry, starts to connect the dots. She knows that Celeste had bought an apartment and was planning to leave Perry on the night he died. And now she knows that Celeste found out about Jane just 10 seconds before Perry “fell” to his death. “You left that out,” Mary Louise snarls, as if she’s just uncovered a game-changing clue, and the worrying part is, maybe she has?
-The side-plot with “Cory the Aquarium worker” and his awkward flirting with Jane isn’t quite grabbing me yet. Though I suspect it’s going to take on more relevance as the season progresses.
-“I used to like to sit on your face too; you think that’ll happen again?” Renata has a way with words.
-There were some particularly juicy insults thrown back and forth between Mary Louise and Madeline this week (“On your awesome days, I suspect you are a godsend, but on your bad days, decidedly less so.”), but my favorite part of their whole exchange is when they were walking away. “Weirdo,” Madeline mutters under her breath… “What?” Mary Louise responds, followed by silence and death glares. It’s that look Reese Witherspoon gives that tops it off. A look of confused disdain.
Big Little Lies, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO