The Case Is Closed in a Somewhat Lackluster ‘Big Little Lies’ Finale (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Big Little Lies Season 2 Episode 7, “I Want You To Know.”]
The second season of Big Little Lies comes to a close in a mixed bag of a finale. An episode that is, at times, amazingly gratifying, and yet by the end, it all feels rather predictable and anticlimactic. It’s a finale that very much sums up the second season as a whole: moments of brilliance intertwined with half-formed, repetitive side-stories.
Starting with the good: the conclusion of the custody case, while foreseeable, is ultimately satisfying. Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) do battle one last time, as Celeste finally turns the tables on the manipulative grandmother. Mary Louise now faces questions about her parenting, including the death of Perry’s brother, Raymond, who died in a car accident caused by a short-tempered Mary Louise. “Did you ever blame Perry for his brother’s death?” Celeste asks. “Did you ever hit him? Kick him? Most abusers are likely to have been abused themselves.”
It’s hard to tell what is real and what is just theatrics when it comes to Mary Louise, but she certainly seems caught off guard by Celeste’s questioning. She denies ever blaming or hurting Perry, and once again, she waves off any claims that her son was a rapist or an abuser, referring to him as the “real victim.” Then comes the video evidence, secretly filmed by the boys on their iPad — Perry’s horrific violent abuse there for the whole world to see. It’s undeniable proof, of both Perry’s violence and the fact that Max and Josh knew more about what was going on in their home than Celeste ever imagined.
Kidman and Streep are on top of their games throughout the courtroom showdown. Streep wheels through a range of emotions as Mary Louise is confronted with the truth, at times defiant, the next moment frightened. Kidman, meanwhile, conveys a sturdy authority, as Celeste is in charge for the first time this season. The widowed mother has been on the backfoot the majority of the season, often confused and unsure of herself. Here she finally gets to take control of the situation and doesn’t hold back. The judge’s verdict to grant full custody to Celeste was always the expected outcome, but satisfying nonetheless.
The rest of the episode, unfortunately, goes out with little more than a whimper. Actually, that’s unfair. Renata (Laura Dern) going full Beyonce with the baseball bat on Gordon’s (Jeffrey Nordling) games room is excellent. It’s about time Gordon felt some ramifications for his actions. But even here, Renata doesn’t leave her adulterous husband, not yet anyway. She is still living in that big, empty house, comforting her daughter as her man-child husband plays downstairs. As she said a couple of episodes back, “they cheat, we stay.”
Jane (Shailene Woodley) moves past her pain by getting back with Corey (Douglas Smith) and finally having sex. The chemistry between these two characters has never been convincing, and you can’t help but feel that Woodley has been hard done by this season. Even the Jane and Ziggy (Iain Armitage) scene, which are usually some of the show’s strongest, feels strangely off in this episode. “I want you to be with [Corey], and I think you want to be with him too,” says Ziggy, sounding nothing at all like a second-grader.
Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and Ed (Adam Scott) recommit to each other by renewing their wedding vows. No bells and whistles or big, elaborate party. Just the two of them and the kids. Family. The thing that Madeline once said is the most important. Ed tells Madeline that “this isn’t some ‘put a tiny ribbon on it, let bygones be bygones ending.’.” But that kind of feels like what this is. It’s a neat wrap-up to a storyline that was never fully explored, even if Scott and Witherspoon did a superb job with the material they were given.
While Madeline and Ed fix their marriage, Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) ends hers with Nathan (James Tupper), finally admitting that she doesn’t love him, and never has. “I can’t lie anymore,” she says. The revelation comes after her mother’s death. Elizabeth (Crystal Fox) suffers another stroke and this time doesn’t make it. It’s another shrug of an ending. The second season was a chance to put Bonnie in the spotlight after her character was side-lined in season one. While she certainly got more focus, most of that time was spent confined to a hospital room or standing on the beach staring at waves or dreaming about waves.
Kravitz delivered that fantastic monologue last week, where Bonnie confessed to Perry’s murder and unloaded on her mother for the abuse she’d suffered as a child. It showed us the long-term damage of abuse and how the trauma affects a person’s psyche and their relationships with others long into adulthood. But it was so brief. Rather than examining the topic in-depth throughout the season, we had to read between the silence and the weird drowning premonitions. And in the end, there wasn’t much to read.
Bonnie’s “not wanting to lie anymore” is a feeling shared by the Monterey Five. Secrets and lies have been exposed throughout the season, and every time a character tries to cover them up, it only makes the situation worse. Madeline says keeping the secret about Perry’s death is “eroding us” and “unraveling friendships.” Celeste initially says that “the lie is the friendship,” at least when it comes to their connection with Bonnie and Renata. It’s a cynical take which appears to change by the episode’s end, as all five women walk into the police station together.
And that’s where we end things. The women turning themselves in. It makes sense, sort of, especially the five of them deciding to do this as a unit. But it isn’t exactly a “wow” moment to finish what is possibly the conclusion to the entire series. It’s more of an “okay, that happened,” and that’s a shame because these characters deserve more than that.
I came into this second season highly skeptical. The first season was so perfect that it didn’t feel like we needed another go around. However, after the first three episodes, I was on board. The way the series dug its heels into the mud and didn’t let its characters brush off the consequences of their actions was the right choice. I appreciated the show not trying to pull off another murder-mystery plot.
Sadly, a lot of the stories never got out of second gear. Streep was an excellent addition to the cast, and her storyline with Celeste was a cracker, but it came at the expense of everyone else. It seemed like showrunner David E Kelley put so much focus on this plot that he neglected the rest of the characters.
The best scenes (outside of raging Renata and Celeste vs. Mary Louise) were often the quieter, understated moments of friendship. The conversations in the car between Madeline and Celeste. The family bonding with Jane, Celeste, and their boys. Unfortunately, these moments were few and far between. The group bond formed at the end of season one had so much potential. And yet, for the most part, the second season once again separated the characters into various side-plots, some more successful than others.
The characters talked a lot this episode about the idea of being perfect. How marriage, relationships, life itself, none of it is ever perfect. Or “far from f**king perfect” in Renata’s words. That’s kind of how I feel about this season of Big Little Lies. It wasn’t perfect, sometimes far from it, but it still had its charm and appeal despite its flaws. But this is surely it? While the finale certainly left the door open for a third season, I’m not sure we need another seven episodes of life in Monterey. That said, I didn’t think we needed a second season either.