Big Little Lies didn’t have much of a reason to return for Season 2 and despite being inherently watchable, it never really came up with one by the end of these seven episodes. Unless the addition of Meryl Streep counts as reason enough, and for some people it may well be.
She certainly added some campy, enjoyable bitchiness to a show that was always kind of an upper class, prestige version of Desperate Housewives. After the “accidental” death of Alexander Skarsgard’s abusive rapist Perry last year, the women are back and are now being dubbed the “Monterey Five,” as suspicious detective Merrin Dungey keeps an eye on them. The heavy secret takes its toll, especially on Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), who at first glance seems to have more to do this season, but by the end of it, has probably spent the majority of the last four episodes sitting in a hospital chair, staring at her comatose mother (Crystal Fox).
Celeste (Nicole Kidman) meanwhile, is having nightmares and flashbacks to her life with Perry, suffering under the weight of his loss, as she seeks out the comfort of pills and anonymous sexual encounters with men. She’s also dealing with the arrival of Mary Louise (Streep) as Perry’s mother, who shows up to psychologically terrorize all the women with her passive aggressive commentary and suspicion over her son’s death. Streep is pretty fantastic, obviously having a great time as this mother from hell, lording her authority all over the place under the guise of a deceptive churchlady haircut and a necklace she can’t stop fiddling with (got to love those Streepian mannerisms!). David E. Kelley writes her sparring scenes with not just Kidman but Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley, so that Mary Louise becomes the driving villain of the season (even if it kind of amounts to nothing much but those antagonistic back and forths).
Witherspoon’s storyline this season is a drag, as Madeline deals with the fallout of revealing her infidelity to Ed (Adam Scott), a repetitive plot that gets hammered to death as we wait to see if he’ll get over it, but Woodley’s is even worse, as Jane gets a boyfriend who looks about twelve (Douglas Smith) and is duller than dishwater to spend time with. Laura Dern fares better, as Renata’s worthless lout of a husband (Jeffrey Nordling) gets arrested for insider trading which forces her into bankruptcy, giving Dern the chance to rival Streep for onscreen hysterics- she’s actually pretty funny as Renata acts out her frustrations in the most wildly exaggerated fashion, episode by episode. She’s the most entertaining thing onscreen this season by far.
Each episode moves quickly and is juicily addictive, melodramatic and performed with command and ease by the actors, but the last couple of episodes don’t exactly wrap up the plot threads in a satisfying manner and kind of make you wonder what the point of it all was. If it’s just about the acting, and the in the moment soap opera, Big Little Lies still delivers (it probably always will). You like it while you’re watching it, but by the end you wonder if it meant anything.