“Big Little Lies” Season 2: Meryl Streep’s Flawed Truth-Seeker Mary Louise Unravels “Monterey Five” [SPOILER REVIEW]

HBO‘s award-winning series Big Little Lies returned with stirring sophomore season premiere episodes full of brilliant performances and unnerving teasers of the twists that await the “Monterey Five.” I’ll admit to having some reservations about extending the series. The first season was pretty near perfect and that jaw-dropping finale was one of the finest hours of television that I have ever seen. All of my fears were eased with Meryl Streep’s casting. After watching “What Have They Done?” and “Tell-Tale Hearts” I have no doubt this will be another award-worthy season.

After overcoming a series of conflicts, accusations, public shaming, and unwarranted bitchiness – this tribe of Monterey women band together in a single, revealing and life-altering moment. Throughout Season 1 we wondered who Jane’s (Shailene Woodley) rapist was and we squirmed every time Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) assaulted Celeste (Nicole Kidman). All it took was one look – the horror in Jane’s eyes as Perry approached. When he started pounding on Celeste, we learned something new about Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) as well. She impulsively rushed onto the scene and shoved Perry off of the ledge.

Bonnie didn’t mean to kill him. It truly was an act of self-defense. There is proof of the beating Celeste endured. The facts are stacked in their favor, yet Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) sets the tone for the group by being the first to lie. She says he slipped and the rest follows suit. They need to stick together. So this lie and this traumatic experience unites them. Unfortunately, Detective Quinlan (Merrin Dungey) never bought their story and she’s still watching them – waiting for someone to slip up.

Now, the start of a new school year has all eyes on this fierce tribe of strong women who have been rattled to their core. Everyone is handling Perry’s “accident” differently. Three of the ladies are haunted by the past and struggle getting through each day without a jarring reminder of what they’ve endured and done. Whereas two of them remain focused on the future and persistently power through – refusing to let this scandal bring them down.

Celeste feels conflicted. She misses her abuser. Although she planned on leaving Perry, she never wanted him dead. Despite all the pain he caused, she loved him. Of course, having his mourning mother around doesn’t help either. Mary Louise (Streep) has come to help care for her grandsons and to ruffle feathers.

Let’s just give Streep all the awards already. She’s going to sweep the season, so start placing your bets accordingly. With an eerily calm demeanor Mary Louise delivers biting insults and makes outrageous accusations – straight to people’s faces. Maddie better watch her back because ML is not playing.

She is a grieving and angry mother who seems to have no idea that she raised a monster. Perfect Perry was the apple of her eye. Other losers should have died in his stead. Harsh. Would she feel differently if she knew the truth? Even worse, did she always know the truth and enable his brutal behavior?

Her guttural grief scream at the dinner table would rattle anyone, but it was especially frightening for the twins. I jumped in my seat and then applauded Streep – she is a queen in all mediums. Meryl’s Scream has since taken on an identity of its own, for good reason.

It gets even more interesting when she repeatedly hear’s Celeste’s screams. It’s one thing to have nightmares, it is quite another to shout unsettling sentences  in your sleep. Crying “Nooooo!” is vague, but “Rape” raises questions – and Mary Louise has no hesitation asking the tough questions. That cliffhanger is one helluva way to end the premiere! Consider me shook.

Big Little Lies doesn’t waste any time and dives into explosive revelations. The first two episodes throw a few unexpected curveballs, which unearth dark secrets and challenge central relationships.

Bonnie wants to come clean. She never intended to lie and feels everything would be better if she just told the cops the truth. She’s withdrawn from her children, her husband, and her community. Bonnie carries a heavy burden and she blames Maddie for it. If she didn’t lie, everything would be different now. She is taking it the hardest because she’s the one with blood on her hands. In the end, Bonnie technically killed Perry – even if it was manslaughter.

It would be disturbing if she wasn’t struggling with all of this. It isn’t something that can be easily discussed either. Meanwhile, Nathan (James Tupper) is having his own issues with Bonnie, so everything else in his life pales in comparison. He isn’t handling any of this well and still acts like a total douche. Come on dude, don’t reach out to your ex’s new husband, Ed (Adam Scott), for advice and then insult him for being honest.

Eventually, Nathan calls in reinforcements – Bonnie’s parents (Martin Donovan and Jeryl Prescott). Cecilia quickly connects the dots and chastises Nathan for not recognizing the obvious cause of Bonnie’s distress. Her withdrawal began after Perry’s death and she’s clearly struggling with PTSD. Although she’s right, Bonnie’s mom oversteps. She even brings her mystical superstitions into their home. Bonnie dealt with spirits as a child and has some sort of sixth sense. She’s trying to keep that nonsense away from her family, but I’m dying to learn more about it.

What’s the deal with Bonnie’s “magical” maternal line? Are they intuitives/psychics/mediums? Does this mysterious past tie to the abuse she clearly suffered? Does her dad know about it? Is Bonnie being haunted by Perry’s ghost? I’m just waiting for this all to take a surprisingly supernatural turn!

big little lies
HBO

Nathan may be a douche, but his plan still worked. Cecilia’s presence nudges Bonnie out of her rut. She starts warming up to Nathan again and the sight of them cuddling makes their little girl more optimistic about their family’s future.

While Nathan’s new family is coming together, his ex-wife’s life is falling apart. Maddie reaches out to Bonnie and says the group is there for her whenever she wants to talk about it…blah, blah, blah…But Maddie is the last person to give Bonnie an ethics lesson.

Maddie’s world comes crashing down when the many secrets she harbours begin to be revealed. Chloe (Darby Camp) overhears her mother’s whispered conversations and tells Ziggy (Iain Armitage) and Celeste’s twins (Cameron Crovetti, Nicholas Crovetti) that they’re related. Gulp! I can’t even blame the kid. Maddie should be more careful instead of blabbing all over the place. Plus, I’m totally on Team Ed – she should’ve told him what was happening. He has a right to feel hurt. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of his pain.

Nathan and Maddie’s daughter, Abigail (Kathryn Newton) drops a truth bomb during their parent-teacher conference. She’s not going to college. As mother and daughter verbally joust over the future, Ed overhears about Maddie’s affair.

*Sigh* Poor Ed! He’s gutted and livid. I’m glad he’s standing up for himself. Maddie’s apology was crap too. It’s about her and them, but not him. Come on. He deserves better than this crap. Hmmm…Is he going to have an affair with boob-job lady? He might want to even the score after learning the truth. Then again, does it count as an affair if he claims they’re “done”?

Mary Louise’s instincts about Maddie are right. When ML pushes all of her buttons – she’s a short, untrustworthy wanter – Maddie bites back. They don’t like or trust each other, all for good reason. Oooh it is going to be fun watching these ladies snap back and forth.

Maddie is lucky her big mouth didn’t get her into trouble with her friends…yet. Jane tells Ziggy the truth about his half brothers and the assault that caused his conception. Celeste hopes he won’t slip that confidential fact to the twins. Right now she’s focused on keeping the peace between them, remembering Perry in a positive light and convincing Mary Louise of the truth.

Celeste still misses Perry and her therapist finds a clever way to put things in perspective. She grew accustomed to taking his beatings, but what if a friend was in her place. No one deserves that kind of abuse. Celeste is having a helluva time learning how to live without him and their twisted behavioral pattern.

One of the most stirring moments is when Celeste breaks up a physical fight between the twins. She shoves one boy off of the other, crying out, “No! You will not be like him.” This sight, along with the revelation of Perry’s “love child” leads to an uncomfortable conversation between Celeste and ML.

Mary Louise is a tough woman to reason with. She accuses Jane of lying about the assault. Then she downplays Celeste’s abuse. If it was that bad, she would’ve gone to the cops. Seriously, ML? She seems open to hearing it all, but shuts each fact down as Celeste presents them. Let’s face it, if it wasn’t Streep, we’d probably hate Marie Louise.

Lastly, an earth-shattering bombshell drops on Renata (Laura Dern) when he husband Conrad (Jeffrey Nordling) is taken into federal custody for fraud. We see this stoic powerhouse on the cusp of achieving everything she’s always wanted. In addition to her wealth, she’s about to be on the cover of magazines and praised as strong female role model. Her police source insists they’re in the clear. All is well until the feds show up and arrest her husband. What’s worse is that he lost her funds in this scam too.

High praise for Dern’s flip-out. Renata grew up poor and will never be “not rich” again. She won’t even settle for middle class. Get rich or bust. I love how she makes Conrad get out of her car and then makes a U-Turn to pick him up again. She is livid, but she still loves him. Now she fears Det. Quinlan really is out to get them all, she’s even tailing them.

Judging by the promo of what’s to come in this season of Big Little Lies, it seems like Mary Louise will team-up with Det. Quinlan to find the truth. Neither of them believe Perry fell, but are they aware of the pain and violence he spread? Will they ever empathize with the “Monterey Five”? I can’t wait to find out!

Big Little Lies airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

About Tiffany Tchobanian

I'm a Bay Area-based freelance journalist with an insatiable passion for TV, film, and pop-culture. When I'm not watching TV, I'm talking about it...

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