Wow! Can you believe another season of Big Little Lies has come to end? Can you believe we even typed that sentence? Can you believe we just spent seven weeks recapping the second season of a show that probably shouldn’t exist? Lol!
SPOILERS FOR THE FINALE AHEAD.
As Jourdain Searles wrote for the AV Club and as I noted in my recap last week, Bonnie stans, more so than supporters of any other member of the Monterey Five, have the most right to feel pissed off, both at season two in general and the final episode specifically. The subplot of Bonnie’s mother re-entering her life after Bonnie endured years of her emotional and physical abuse as a child was an interesting one, six episodes ago. But like every single other subplot that surfaced this season, it was granted far too little screen time and development and was hardly considered in a creative or plot-propelling manner past the opening salvo. The only depth existent within Bonnie’s storyline this season was wholly a product of Zoë Kravitz’s talent, which was on full display during her “I resent you speech,” but was otherwise muted by poor writing and poorer episode editing. Our only moorings to the traumatic past she survived—the showrunners seem to be completely willing to move past the unfair and thinly veiled racist form of social ostracization she’s put through by Madeline and the rest of the Monterey richy-riches in season one—are a repetitive series of half-second flashbacks that granted the audience a brief glance into Bonnie’s healing mind. Like the rest of this season, there was little of substance for viewers to cling to, despite the writers having numerous opportunities to flip the entire direction of the show on its head. After “kill me,” after constant fake-out flash-forward confessions, after Bonnie literally admitting that she killed Perry to her mother, and admitting to both her mother and Nathan that she doesn’t love him, the Big Final Moment is handled silently, jarringly cutting back and forth between the Celeste’s batshit final day in court and a progressive series of shots meant to tell us that Bonnie’s mother, having suffered a second stroke, is dead. So, no revenge, no confession coming back to bite her, and, save for Nathan getting a little teary-eyed when his damn wife tells him their marriage is a hollow shell, no consequences for her long-held feelings. Had the show committed to telling any one of those stories throughout the past seven episodes, Bonnie’s story could have been placed front-and-center and actually provided us with something interesting to watch. Instead, like the entire season, it was rushed, it was botched, and the only reason it even halfway worked was because HBO’s talent department has lots of money. — Nick Martin
The final showdown between Celeste and Mary Louise was a cutting courtroom cross-examination—if ultimately a bloodless one. Did anyone really think Mary Louise was going to successfully abscond with her grandchildren? Did we really think David E Kelley—who has created at least seven legal dramas across his bloated (if illustrious) career—wouldn’t write his way into a Nicole Kidman-in-lawyer-drag scene? It was a predictably gratifying, zero-calorie treat: Kidman with a laser-focused, unrelenting intensity (she plays a very convincing lawyer!); Streep essentially playing her Kramer vs. Kramer role at an 11, pulling out all the stops (trembling chin, aggrieved breathing, perfectly misted eyes) in service of giving us exactly what we wanted. We’ve been waiting all season to see Mary Louise finally brought down—and boy was she. I’m not convinced that this final fight between Celeste and Mary Louise reached the level of pathos and understanding the show explored in the conversations between Mary Louise and Jane earlier in the season (which, let’s be honest, wasn’t the point of any of this); it just needed to be the final blow that sent Streep’s character packing. I loved how Celeste instructed her demon twins to give their grandma a hug after winning the case—one last empty gesture before Mary Louise hits the road in the pouring rain back to San Francisco. Meryl Streep will win an Emmy for this performance and if she’s not nominated in the same category as Meryl, Kidman will win another. But if the show comes back, as the ending seems to indicate it might, I beg for this poor woman (Celeste), get a long overdue break. — Aleksander Chan
Jane, Jane, Jane. What is there to say about Jane? She didn’t have much to do this season! In the final ep, her “storyline” concludes with two scenes. In the first, Ziggy (aka Young Sheldon!!!!) encourages her to continue her relationship with Squirrel Boy. He says things like, “Do you love him? I think you do,” and “He makes you happy,” and “Your whole face and stuff has been different,” and “I want you to be with him.” You know, stuff that normal human kids absolutely say. I guess this is convincing though because later on, Jane and Squirrel Boy meet up in front of a large aquarium at work and decide to keep dating, despite his shady behavior with the police, and her struggle to get close to him following her assault. They embrace and it’s nice I guess and that’s the end of that!
Jane also gets a few choice moments during the final courtroom scenes and I have to say, despite a pretty lackluster season, the treatment of her PTSD and experience of living in the aftermath of trauma did result in some of the most poignant moments of the season. But her character—like every character that wasn’t Celeste—seemed like a bit of an afterthought. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy spending more time with the Monterey Five, but this season never fully justified its existence. As Celeste herself said, “the lie is the friendship,” but these seven episodes splintered the women (a metaphor???) in a way that just didn’t make for a satisfying narrative. Would it have been more successful if director Andrea Arnold had been given complete creative control? We’ll never know for sure, but I’ll leave you with this thought: most prestige television these days runs for a full hour, ESPECIALLY when you’re dealing with a finale ep. The Big Little Lies season two finale was 44 minutes—73.33 percent of a full hour. Is that about on par with the wage gap for white women in California? It might be. — Caitlin Schneider
Nearly everything came to a neat, tidy conclusion in the Big Little Lies season two finale, which is to say, I was (dramatically) satisfied with almost none of where our leading ladies end up. Madeline’s conclusion might be the most tied-with-a-bow: After watching her husband Adam Scott getting ripped pummeling a punching bag—with her kids looking on, wondering if they’re headed for divorce—he suggests the couple renew their vows in a family ceremony on the beach. OK, fine, I’m not a total monster, this was nice. The girls all have Coachella-ready flower crowns and Madeline is wearing white for some reason as the daughter who revealed her affair in the first place officiates. The whole family renewed, and the couple looking very much in love, they run from the beach as it starts to rain. The rain is a very literal metaphor. All the characters are caught in it! It’s time to be reborn, to finally come in from the storm as, it’s heavily suggested, all five women unite to go to the police together. Is Madeline going to jail, putting a real damper on the vow renewal? We may never know. All we’re left with are hints that never came to pass—I couldn’t help but wonder what the finale would’ve looked like if left to Andrea Arnold—and the idea that absolution is on the horizon. — Katherine Krueger
Renata’s arc sums up this season of Big Little Lies: long on GIF-worthy moments, short on much of anything else. She’s a great character—spiky and ferocious and wounded and irresistible—but the show had virtually no interest in her beyond giving Twitter something to scream about every episode, and no real way to connect her life back to any bigger storyline. Laura Dern was still magnificent, but it’s hard not to wish for something more. Anyway, Renata gets to go out of this strange season in a blaze of glory after discovering that her cretinous husband got to KEEP his stupid TRAINS. Well, at least he did until she smashed them to smithereens with a bat. I must not have been the only one wishing she didn’t also smash Gordon’s head a little bit, but it was still immensely satisfying, and, in an episode where it sometimes felt like women were bludgeoning each other over the sins of men, it was very nice to see Renata find the right target and connect. — Jack Mirkinson